The Weight

Alicia Zadrozny

Silas Garner had just finished his coffee and pie. From the edge of his fields came the pops and snaps of a ball game. Either the October night was especially quiet or Silas especially lonely; he couldn’t ignore the sounds. His feet brought him quickly through his fields.

The stars were at first shy as he approached. Silas paused and let his hands swing open. A very tall star nodded and arced the ball over to him. The sky people didn’t seem to have any discernible rules but Silas kept up fine. The stars never tired. And as they jumped and ran after the ball, a molten joy lit up the ground around them.

After hours of it, Silas bent over breathless. The stars began to collect their things and climb into their canoes.

"Wait," Silas called. And Lara turned first. He walked to her. He took her hand. She began to hum. And the rest of the stars faced the heavens and sang their ancient song, lest they crash down to the greedy earth.

Lara settled into Silas’ farming life. She had so much to learn at first. Most of it had to with filling pantries and bellies. Mending what was broken. She hummed upon waking and all through the work of her days. She even hummed when she slept, so softly though. She managed small talk around the town. And so Silas got used to it.

Silas’ corn stretched to the sun. He walked the rows each day and came home to Lara's meals. There were sweet moments when they woke. Then twins. A boy and a girl.

One autumn had followed another before Lara thought about Sky Country again. The children were napping and Silas out fixing his machines. Lara sat on the cool stoop. She listened to a mourning dove rising to its nest. A breeze crackling the corn stalks. And then she heard the stars playing ball.

She hurried through the fields to them. They were gone by the time she got there. Lara’s heart broke. She had begun to love the things of this life. A set of kitchen shears with tiny swallows engraved on the handles. The cotton mountain of Silas’ threadbare undershirts. Her children's sticky fingers on her face as they insisted she was pretty.

Over in a patch of long grass, she saw a flash of blue paint. It has to be a canoe, she thought. I can go back—
But her children’s pounding feet interrupted the thought.

"Ma, Ma! Where you going?"

She held them to her waist. "I'm not going anywhere. Let's go see about supper." She held their hands and she walked them back.

That night Lara’s humming woke Silas. He busied his mind with plans and projects. The new roof he would tack on with the help of his brothers. The swing he would tie to the oak out back. He could almost feel his hammer in his hands—the sureness of it—and he drifted back to sleep.

Lara swept out all of the rooms the next morning as Silas prepared to hunt. She had packed the freezer full of meals. And before Silas could come back for his coffee, she called the children.

"Jenny, Rory, go tell Dad to get us a rabbit too. We're going to need more than I thought. Hurry now, before he comes all the way back."

They ran like mice.

She took the long way to the canoe, weaving between farms. Her foot grazed a blackened ball as she went. At the boat, she knelt in the grass and pulled out weeds from around it. She flipped it and climbed inside. The burnt orange drained from the sky. And she looked toward the door between worlds. Before she could summon the lifting song, the cowbell rang. It rang not one bell for dinner, or two for a visitor, but three for trouble.

Silas’ foot healed over the long winter. The twins searched and searched the bloodstained floor of the shed but never could find the offending bullet. Lara felt as if she were living through one agonizingly long day.

And finally October came again. Silas worked in his shed late into the evening. The twins sat with a puzzle between them. Lara stepped outside, quietly closing the door. The twins looked at each other and burst into tears.

Silas found his children waiting at the back window. His foot ached. He looked up and saw a star streak down the sky.

“We’ll go get her. We will,” he said.

Silas found a canoe in the rafters of the shed. He cleaned it and checked it for leaks. That evening they all climbed into it together. He looked at his children.

"You must know something," he said.

And out came the song knit deep within them. Silas watched their faces fill with light.

“Up Dad! Up!” Jenny said and pointed. And he did. They passed into the world before worlds.

There, an old woman waited on a doorstep.

"Do you know where our mother is?" the twins cried.

Elsie beckoned them inside, "Yes, yes come.”

They followed.

Silas and the children sat around a table. Elsie placed bowls of stew before each of them. They ate greedily as Elsie went about the room, pulling up seven shades and turning on seven lamps--humming as she did.

Silas stood. “Where is she?” he demanded.

Elsie hobbled over and leaned on his arm.

“Across the way, she’s dancing. But wait ...”

She pressed a dried corncob into the children’s hands.

“She might not see you at first. Get her attention if you have to.”

They walked into a plain and square building. Inside, it throbbed with light. Lara danced with a star from that first game. They spun further and further away.

Silas pressed his hands to his eyes.

As they came around again, the children moved fast, calling “Ma! Ma!”  Their corncobs hit her skirt.

Lara stopped. "My children. Oh my children!" she cried. They ran into her arms. The three of them hummed. Silas walked over and embraced his family. He was happier than he knew possible.

One earthly season followed another. The twins went to school. Lara went for long walks. Silas cut into his new roof to install a skylight above their bed. He slept soundly each night. Lara didn’t hum or really sleep. Nor did she look toward Sky Country.

And then Silas came home from a late afternoon hunt and they were gone. His dinner sat hot on the table. He waited one day and then another before he pulled the canoe from deep within the shed.

Silas sang what he could remember. The canoe soared over the quilt of fields first pieced together by his father. That spring, he would add another parcel and sow even more heirloom seeds. Above him, Lara and the children danced in a hall of light. Silas Garner looked down.