A piece of the sky

On one Sunday afternoon in St. John’s park, a piece of the sky fell into Brenda’s trifle. It entered the bowl without a tail of fire or an angelic hymn; indeed, I never noticed anything out of the ordinary, although she was well within spitting distance.

We often went to the park on Sundays in summer. Dad enjoyed watching the cricket players, while Mom was just glad to get out of church; that building was so warm it made your underwear squelchy.

So on that particular Sunday, we were sitting in the park as usual, just finishing our family sized bucket from the KFC (Dad is a big fan of the drumsticks, but I stick to the potato salad).

Brenda, who is more of a supper person, had already started on the special trifle that Mom had made for desert. Inside the trifle was some chocolate that had come in a silver wrapper with a picture of a goat resting in a mountain dale. The chocolate made you cough when you had it straight from the wrapper, but it was really good in the trifle. Mom mixed it with caramel and topped it all with whipped cream and little chunks of SKOR bar.

And so it happens that sometime after this point, Brenda witnessed a dark blur flying in front of her face. According to her, she gave a good swat after it passed, believing it to be one of the burly flies that inhabit Manitoba in mid-June. But then she noticed a smell that, I quote, “reminded her of Yellowstone Park,” emanating from her trifle. She said that she then looked down to find a tunnel dug into the dessert.

At this point she supposedly angled her body away from the rest of the family and dug around in the trifle with her fork. The fork hit something solid, exactly how it would feel if mom had dropped a thimble into the mix. With the solidity of the object established, Brenda started to dig around it, trying to estimate its volume. Once she assured herself that it was bigger than a bug and smaller than a tree-squirrel, she picked it from the pudding. It was triangular, about three inches on all sides, and less than an inch thick. She then proceeded to lick it off.

“You licked it off?” I asked her after she told me the story for the first time.

“What would you have done? It was covered in trifle!” she replied.

“What if it was glass from the cockpit of an airplane?” I responded.

“Oh…” was all she could say.

After she licked it clean, she saw that it was black on one side, and light blue on the other.

“But when I looked at the blue side for a long timeI saw grey patches slide across!”

Brenda, who only gets good grades in Art and Music, was still bright enough to realize that she was holding a piece of the sky. But rather than sharing this wonderful find with the rest of us, Brenda decided to hide the sky piece in her purse. She even hid it underneath the tampons so that dad wouldn’t find it accidentally.

Next Sunday, we were in the park again. There were more people out playing cricket and the church was hotter than ever. Even long-haired Anna exchanged her skirt for some shorts. The service ended with that old song, “It is Well With my Soul,” which used to be my favourite:

And Lord haste the day

when my faith

shall be sight,

the clouds

be rolled

back as

a scroll.

But as we were sitting in the park, upon a little knoll with a tiny tuft of trees, we noticed that there was something wrong with the natural lighting. In the midst of the blue sky, there was a patch of profound black, as if someone had removed a square from a denim quilt. Through the black rhombus we could see stars even in the midday light.

“There’s Deneb!” Dad exclaimed.

Of course, other people started noticing this hole in the sky pretty soon thereafter. Marney Beane, who worked in the fastener department of the hardware store, was the first person to publicly announce that he had found a sky-piece. He had uncovered it while trimming the weeds in his back yard, and had apparently rushed through the house and onto Main Street yelling, “The sky is a-falling! The sky is a-falling!” That Marney is quite a clown. They put his piece on display in a glass case in town hall, and even hired a man from Bulgaria to guard it during the night.

Within the week, there were a total of nine reports of sky-piece findings.

On July 1, a public memo was posted in the grocery store stating that all sky-pieces were Crown possession, and that anybody who found one had to file a police report immediately. Finders were asked to leave the pieces in the place where they fell, just like in those crime scenes where a woman has her blood spattered all over the pillows. Perhaps there was hope of fitting the pieces together like a jigsaw puzzle, and gluing them back to the sky.

But through all this commotion, Brenda never let on that she had been hiding a sky-piece for weeks. So I got quite a surprise when I found a little blue triangle flattened between the fourth and fifth pages of her diary.

When she and mom got back from the dentist, I pulled her aside in the hallway.

“Brenda, I know that you‘ve been hiding a piece of the sky,” I whispered.

“Wat?” she answered, trying to avoid my accusation. Her mouth was still a little bit frozen.

“You had it squished between the fourth and fifth pages of your diary!” I said.

“It musht have fallen in there,” said she, “And why were you shnooping through my diary?! I can’t believe you!”

She grabbed my dress by the neck and pushed me against the wall.

“Don’t you know they’re gonna throw you in jail if you hide a sky-piece? You’re stealing from the Queen!”

“Go away!” Brenda yelled.

“You’ve gotta tell them Brenda, or they‘ll send the DOGSafter you!” I said, using my ghost voice to emphasize the horror. She ran into her room and locked the door.

Brenda didn’t talk to me for three days. She even avoided conversation with me at the dinner table, at the expense of convenience. Instead of asking me to pass the mustard, she would climb underneath the table, pop up on my side, peep around like a periscope, grab the mustard, and then reverse the process until she was sitting back in her seat.

I, on the contrary, continually milked her with the most probing and unpleasant questions I could think of, knowing that she wouldn’t reply.

“Hey Brenda, I heard that your friends got caught with cigarettes behind the tool shed. Do you know anything about this?”

Or, “Hey Brenda, I heard you wrote a note to Carson Pales!”Carson Pales has head lice.

Or, “Hey Brenda, I heard that the cops were conducting door to door searches for sky-pieces. What do you think about that?”

“Are you joking?” she replied. I was so surprised that she had finally broken her vow of silence that the fork fell out of my fingers. Dad was in the next room watching English league soccer, and Mom was downstairs banging on the dryer, trying to get it to start.

“I heard it on the news,” I said.

“Nan, what if they come here? I’ve been hiding this piece for weeks. Will they put me in jail?”

“Brenda, I told you to tell them three days ago. Why haven’t you done it?”

She stood up, grabbing her cutlery in one hand, and her plate of uneaten food in the other. Slowly, she walked over to the garbage can, used the foot pedal to lift the lid, and tipped the plate at ninety degrees, letting the potatoes snail their way off of the plate. Finally, she turned to look at me. In a voice barely above the sound of the football announcers, she whispered, “Because I’m scared.”

~

It was another three days before the police arrived at our house. Mom and Dad had left for a members meeting at the church, and Brenda and I were home alone. It was after ten o’clock. Brenda had locked the door to her room and turned off her lights. However, I knew she was awake because I could see a faint blue glow in the room when I looked under the door.

She was looking at the sky-piece. Though it was no longer in the air, the sky piece emitted light, as if its millennia in the sun allowed it to store some of the star’s glory. If you listened closely, you could also hear it give off a low humming noise. Jan Bucket, the seventh grade geography teacher at Garneau High, said this noise was responsible for a spike in the frog population.

Indeed, there were an abnormal number of frogs around town. One got into our basement through the window well. Mom found it in on the fresh wash in the laundry room. She picked it up in a towel and dropped it in the toilet, hoping to flush it into the town’s sewer system. But before she could pull the lever, the frog hopped out of the bowl and promptly ran to hide in my room, where mom decided it could stay. Before I went to sleep that night, I had an uncanny feeling that there was something hiding under my bed. Imagine my surprise when I saw two green eyes staring back at me! So, to pay back mom, I decided to keep the frog. His name is Gorky.

But it was as I knelt there, my cheek pressed against the dusty hardwood floor, and my mind thinking of frogs, that the knock came on the door. It was not the earnest thump of the Jehovah‘s Witnesses, nor the timid tap of a campfire girl. No, this knock bore the seal of authority.

Completely startled and moderately embarrassed to be interrupted when spying underneath a door, I got up too quickly and caused the floor to squeak.

“Sis?” Brenda called out, also sounding moderately embarrassed after being startled when kissing her sky-piece, or whatever else she was doing with it.

I shuffled over to the front door and pretended to look in the eyehole, but I was really an inch too short.

They gave another knock. “Hello?” a disembodied voice from beyond the door asked.

I undid the chain lock and turned the handle. “Hello,” I replied. There were two policemen, members of the RCMP. One of them looked very handsome, but he had a wedding ring, while the other had hair growing out of a mole on his neck.

“Are you home alone, mam?” the unsightly one asked. Mom had told me never to answer this question when a stranger asked it.

“Mmmmmm…” I said, “Let me see your badge.” So he pulled out his badge, and showed it to me. As soon as I saw it, I realized that I had no idea what a real badge ought to look like. But it was shiny, so I believed him.

“Okay,” I said, “I am not alone. My sister is in her room, right over there.”

“And where are your parents?” they asked.

“They’re at church,” I said.

“Don’t you know you’re not old enough to stay at home by yourselves?”

I did not.
“Yes, but mom says we’re responsible young adults,” I replied.

“He, he, he,” the good looking one chuckled, “Well, we’ll let you off with a warning.”

Then the one with the protruding mole crouched down on his haunches to look at me face to face. “The real reason we’re here is part of a town-wide search,” said he.

“Ohhh,” I said. I felt as if I had just taken a bite of lasagna and realized it contained mushrooms. I knew what question was coming, but I didn’t know how I should answer.

“Have you ever seen one of these, mam?”

He held it in his open palm. It was tiny, only the size of a walnut. Yet the sight of it made me gasp, as if he was holding a gorilla’s eye. As I pondered how to answer, it vibrated and gave off a clicking sound like a telegraph.

The door to my sister’s room opened.

“Nan, who’s…” She trailed off as she saw the officer’s uniforms.

“Do you know if anyone has one of these pieces in your home?” bellowed the other policeman.

Click.

Click. Click.

Click.

I could picture Brenda being grabbed by the officers and dragged out the front door bathing in red and blue light. Terrible. Or justified…

“No,” I told the mounties. “I have never seen one of these.”

The kneeling officer glanced at the standing one.

Click.

He tipped his hat, rose to full height, and the two walked out of the door, expressing their apologies for interrupting us this evening.

~

I am a sinner.

I lied to good people. I lied to those who depend on the truth. I lied to something that is much bigger than me.

~

We walked around aimlessly for two days. Brenda knew she had been spared a horrible fate, though she had yet to thank me. And I realized that the blood was now on my hands for Brenda’s dark secret. We ate soft ice cream on the tables in front of the store on Friday. It melted and ran all over our hands. We played jacks outside under the muggy tree on Saturday. It rained that night. And of course, we went to Sunday School on Sunday.

 As fate would have it, the lesson was on the story of Jonah. Mrs. Beane even prepared to illustrate the tale using the flannel graph board. There was Jonah, a rather stock biblical character with a long white robe (if flannel wings were added, you could have yourself an angel. If you added the blue sash, voila! Jesus!). Mrs. Beane placed Jonah in a brown boat. The blue flannel board made the seafaring experience particularly vivid. On top of this fuzzy ocean rested two white cities, one on the left side of the board, the other on the right. It turns out that Mrs. Benson, who was an alto in the church choir, had a voice that was well suited to bellow out the words of God.

Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry against it, for their wickedness is come up before me.”

And there was Jonah, fool that he was, turning his ship for the right hand side of the board instead of the city on the left. Sure enough, he made but a few inches until the whale was there to swallow him up. Mrs. Beane moved the fish towards the brown vessel with the most elegant bend of her wrist. The whale’s blue colour was more rich than that of the water, and for a second I entertained the notion that the fish was the true ocean, and the lighter blue of the board merely sky. And then, in this moment of epiphany, the ship and the whale collided, and Mrs. Beane tipped the entire board over on its face.

Having no dark flannel board to illustrate the despair and desperation of Jonah in the belly of the beast, Mrs. Beane simply went on to narrate the rest of the story. When this wrapped up and Jonah was saved (she forgot to include the whole scene with Jonah and the shady tree), she thought it would be effective to give us a quiz.

“Why did God send the whale to swallow Jonah?”

Susie mentioned something about Jonah’s disobedience.

“But what was he disobedient about?”

“About going to Nunavut!” Susie said, with enthusiasm.

“Nineveh, yes!” replied Mrs. Beane. “And why was Jonah supposed to go there in the first place?”

Susie was quiet. I didn’t feel the need to answer. Tanna put her hand up for a second, then had second thoughts and dropped it quickly beneath the table.

“Because they were wicked!” She paused here, far too long for my comfort, before continuing, “But they repented by putting on sackcloth and crying out to God. And God had mercy on them and they were spared.”

She paused again.

“Have any of you done any bad thing that you have not confessed?” Here it was, the awful truth about to be exposed, so cleverly built up for in this string of questions and dramatic illustration that ended with the flannel board and all its characters tumbling upon the table.

I looked at Brenda. She did not return my eye contact. I shook my head, trying to signal her to stay quiet, to keep her deed a secret. And then Susie spoke up. The area around her eyes was red; she was fighting off tears.

“I prayed… *sniff*… that I… did not want… Mom to… give me a…. baby… brother.” Mrs. Beane looked slightly startled, and was about to move over to comfort Susie when Tanna came out with a confession of her own.

“I, uh, left the lights on in my bedroom yesterday, when I went to the mall.” The class was silent, until Susie sniffled. Brenda felt the need to continue.

“Mom said that the sky was breaking up because people are leaving their lights on, or driving to work, or burning their styrofoam cups in campfires.” I saw Brenda twist in her chair, as if she was getting ready to speak. Desperate to prevent her from making this most terrible confession, I cut in with words of my own.

“Yeah… Tanna. Our mother (a sharp glance at Brenda) told us the same thing.” The class was silent. Brenda’s eyes met my own, and then they turned towards the teacher. I had to keep speaking.

“She says that when we disobey, God gets angry with us and shakes the world with his hands. He brings down the sky…”

The sharp squeak of the classroom buzzer cut through my words.

“Oh! I guess that our time is up! Get that verse memorized for next week!” said Mrs. Beane. The other girls grabbed their papers off the table and ran squealing out through the door. Brenda remained in her chair, slouched so that just her head could be seen above the table. Mrs. Beane tidied up the glitter from the ongoing craft and dropped her lesson book in her bag. I saw her glance at me, and I quickly dropped my head. She spoke.

“Alright, girls. Enjoy your day.” With that, she left the classroom, and we could hear every click of her heels as she walked down the hallway.

~

We had our lunch in the park that afternoon. There was coleslaw left over. After the meal was cleaned up, Mom and Dad lay down on the quilt. Dad pulled his fisherman’s cap over his eyes and had a nap (although his knees were up). Mom turned over on her belly and was reading a new book about an Amish love story. Brenda said that she was going to use the washroom.

I sat cross-legged in the grass, watching the ants. One was trying to carry a piece of french-fry that was much too big for it. After two minutes, I decided to go and find out where Brenda actually went.

I walked down the trail past the bathrooms, for that was the direction she set out in. Up ahead, the path curved around through the maple trees (the leaves just beginning to turn yellow) until it met with a broader road used for biking. There was a small guidepost beside the intersection with arrows directing people around the park. Opposite the arrow that pointed to the eating area and the washrooms was an arrow labelled ‘Duck Pond.’

Within viewing distance of the duck pond, I stepped off of the trail into the bush. The leaves from the thistles scraped up against my Sunday-shaven legs, and I was swarmed by the mosquitoes that were congregated here, in the shade. Sweat started running down my face, and I could feel its bitter sting in my eyes.

I crossed over to the far side of the small grove and found a clear view of the pond. It was shaped like a large kidney bean, and it looked to be only a foot deep, with a bottom made of tumbled stones. A small cluster of rose bushes were growing in the middle of the kidney, and geese and ducks were walking all around.

Marvellous creatures, they were, with their glistening brown and green feathers, and their flat webbed feet. But their clucking and guffawing was deafening at this distance when some quick movement or piece of bread caused their sound to crescendo. And there, between the old men in their sweater vests and the toddlers (who were throwing the crumbs into the water), was Brenda.

Her hair was down in front of her face. It looked blonder in this light, strangely twisted now due to the blackness of the ever-growing hole.

She knelt down at the kidney’s edge.

A mallard swam by, its feathers, brighter, too.

Her hand reached down and undid the zipper on her purse. She dug around for a few seconds until she pulled it out, clasping it between her palms.

A mother pushing a covered baby stroller walked by on the path behind her. They did not notice.

The bottom of her hair was touching the water now.

Click.

She moved her clasped hands down to her lap.

Click. Click.

She opened them up, just a crack.

She saw the clearest blue. She saw a cloud pass by.

She raised her arms quickly, opening them up like a flower in early morning.

The sky-piece flew for a few seconds through the air, and then it splashed down into the water.

A few ducks dove after it, but came back up to the surface, realizing that it was not bread.

Brenda fumbled around to get her purse zipped back up. She looked once to the left and once to the right, and then slowly rose to her feet. I saw her shoulders heave, just a little. She put on her sunglasses, and walked past the toddlers and the old men until I could no longer see her.

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