Writer in Residence · 01/04/2011

Stars Like Glass

in response to Peter Markus’ “The Moon Is A Star”

Each broken piece became a star. The bits of crystal crown swept and collected and glued by the girl to the ceiling of her room to be something wondrous, something new. Each night, she reached up and touched what had once belonged to her mother. Each night, she cut her fingers on the shards.

She was bandages. She was droplets of blood.

One day, she followed the dried drops through the house as if they might lead somewhere different. Another day, she just sat in her room and watched the other girls — the little girls, the new sistergirls — toddle in the yard below.

Are you still moping? the stepmother said. Do you still think we don’t want you here?

The girl had told the stepmother that she’d broken the crown by accident, cut her fingers by accident. But she could tell the stepmother guessed at the lie, that she knew the world had no room for such accidents. Crowns stayed on shelves or they didn’t. Real mothers stayed with daughters or they didn’t.

Why does it matter? the girl wanted to say to the stepmother. Why do I have to be a part of this?

Instead, she said nothing and walked from the room and found her way to the stepmother’s wardrobe. She pulled off her bandages; she smeared blood on the gowns. She cut them to shreds and stood amidst the fabrics and stains. Somewhere, she remembered her mother doing the same to her father’s suits. They’d both been dressed in frills and crowns. They’d sung and they’d twirled and her mother had cut herself and bled. Somehow, this had made them happy. Somehow, it had been wondrous.

The stepmother pulled the shards off the ceiling. She sent the girl to serious men who spoke of loss and healing and used words like masochism and mechanisms and malice. They gave her chores to busy her mind and lessons to culture her spirit. She swept and scrubbed and dusted in the mornings. She sang and recited French and played violin in the afternoons. She did none of these well, none of these right. When her father returned from his business to see what talents she’d learned — how she was, as he said, pulling it together — the girl ran from the den and up the stairs and bolted herself in her room.

She heard her father’s feet following. She heard him lean on the door. Sweetie, he said in that sturdy voice of his. Sweetie, you need to stop this now.

He stayed longer, spoke louder, made demands. He wanted her to say she knew her stepmother was something good. He wanted her to say she knew the crown had just been a bowl left behind when her mother ran away. You can’t keep being like this, her father said. Everyone loves you here, he said.

But the girl didn’t answer. She stood on her bed and ran her thumb across the one sliver of crystal still glued to the ceiling. She thought of sitting in frills and crowns in the mess of her father’s suits. Her mother had run the scissors across the tops of her arms and the blood slid down and spread into the carpet. Her mother laughed. She sang. Tears were in her eyes.

Make it new, her mother had sung. Make it new, make it new to last the whole day through.

The girl pushed her thumb against the shard on the ceiling, felt the edge cut into her skin. She heard her father’s voice rising. She heard her stepmother nearing. She waited for the pain to once again move through her body. But as much as she tried, she still couldn’t find the wonder in it. She still felt only the hurt.

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posted by First Footing