It’s time to leave again. She unplugs the fridge
and watches until the orange coils on its back
have faded down to gray. She turns off the gas.
She papers the windows in layers from the outside,
because if she doesn’t, the moon will reflect in the panes
like a lamp in every room. And then the house will still
seem lived in. And then how to move on?
The last thing she does, always, is go with them
one by one into their rooms and hold them up
to pluck the glow-in-the-dark stars from the ceiling.
They place the stars inside a wooden box. Which
is what they are, her children, little hinged boxes
full of a chemical that makes light out of nothing,
that glows all on its own. They’re wearing coats
over their patterned pajamas. When the stars are away
the house is completely dark, and somehow the sounds
are louder, the final shut of the door, the porch steps,
the frogs like small rocks clacking in the trees’
throats. In the yard’s farthest corner, she asks
her children what they can see. As always, they say,
“Nothing.” The house could be invisible. It could
have shrunk to the size of a blackberry. The hill
could have grown up to swallow it. It might have
changed into a tree. She’s relieved. She can still see it
so clearly, like the retinal burn of a light bulb long after
it’s been turned off. Like all their other houses,
the already and the not yet, ranged like old flares
across the hills. She starts walking and her children follow.
They’re kicking up moss in a trail for the night to erase.
They’re mimicking a screech owl, then listening,
because if they call in the right voice something might
call back. Before long they’ll be climbing the hill
to the new house, opening the unlocked door,
claiming bedrooms. Then waiting for her to reattach
the constellations, asking, “Is this a cat? A cave?
A sleeping bear? A little spoon?” And they won’t know.
And she won’t be able to correct them.
And soon she’ll unwrite the stars again, and they’ll go on.

 

Watch Emma Hine and other Issue no. 234 contributors read from their work at our Fall 2020 launch event.