Written by Thanisha Chowdhury
Art by Min An
Sometimes when Mom’s not home, I climb up to the roof to see if I can touch the clouds. Once I hear her truck hum out of the driveway, I lace my feet into my tennis shoes and crawl out onto the shingles. There’s a cricket somewhere below me that sounds like a door groaning. Open or closed, I haven’t decided yet.
It’s clearer tonight than it was yesterday, but I reach up anyway. One hand on edge of the window, the other strained towards the sky. There was a boy in my class whose daddy used to make him hang by his fingers from the tree down by the creek, said it’d make him taller’n all the other kids. I never did find out whether it worked, but I’m doing more or less the same thing now, just right-side up— hanging from the ground up to the sky, hand outstretched to wherever gravity takes it.
The stars like to blink back at me on nights like these. I haven’t quite skimmed the edges of the clouds yet, but they whisper out at me.
Higher, reach higher. Breathe out deep and long and imagine you’re a stick of saltwater taffy.
I do as they say and when it doesn’t work, I bounce back from my toes and onto the edge, but I keep my gaze on the sky. “Get lonely up there?”
Sometimes. There’s a million miles between each of us, it’s easier just to talk to y’all.
“I get it. Mom told me she had a friend all the way in China she used to write to. Pen pal, she called her. One day she just stopped writing back. And so Mom did too.”
It’s not all bad. We can see everything.
“Everything? Even asteroids? And black holes?”
Even asteroids and black holes. See, when you live in nothing, you haven’t got a choice but to see everything. And that’s what we do. It’s quiet up here. Peaceful.
“Must be nice,” I say, and the cricket laughs at me.
Say, you could be one of us. Wouldn’t you like a spot in the heavens? Looking down at every particle in the universe?
“That’s alright, I’m fine down here. Someone’s gotta feed the cows.”
Don’t worry about the cows. Don’t worry about the cows when you could have the universe in your hand. Wouldn’t you enjoy that?
I pull at the loose string on my pajama shirt even though Ma told me to leave it alone.
Just let go of yourself. Let go of the roof. We won’t let you get hurt.
I inch to the edge, hand clenched in my pants like it’ll stop me from the fall. The sky’s more white than black now but night still soaks the fields.
Go on. We’ll catch you.
I dangle my legs in the air, get a taste of free fall. One finger. Two fingers. A hand.
There’s nowhere to go but up.
The wind’s whistling in my ears like it’s screaming, like the trees have turned themselves inside out and the air’s caught fire.
You’re so close. Let go.
I clench my eyes closed, then open. The front of the house purrs. Mom’s back.
With a grunt, I heave myself back onto the roof, grin at the gleaming night. “Maybe tomorrow.”
I fling myself back through the window and pull my covers to my chin just in time for her to come in and tuck me back into bed, with a kiss on the forehead that feels like gasoline and honey.