Above 472 Bellarmine Drive
Jacob covered the star with his thumb and imagined the sky without it. It was the one she made stand at the tip of her finger while they sat on the smooth stone together in the backyard the day of her diagnosis, and said, “That one. That one is the most beautiful.”
It had been a winter of trucks on the stairs, clattering around bannister spindles where the Christmas garland hung. It had been a winter of lying next to her, his mother, on the couch when she took her naps—so often, then—as long as he promised to stay very, very still. He promised and turned his body to wood. It had been a winter of her shallow breath on his scalp and the medicine-scent of her skin.
Spring lined the trucks along Jacob’s bedroom wall, and the anniversary clock on the mantle ticked out the seconds to the empty living room. Dinner came reheated from casserole dishes, slopped onto clay plates, Jacob and his father alone at the kitchen table by the window.
The stars outside his bedroom flickered, glistened, and Jacob pressed on them one by one, tried to blot them from the sky, but they emerged again, bright and whole. He descended the stairs in the darkened house. And while his father lay on the couch, clutching a throw pillow to his chest in fitful sleep, Jacob carried the extension ladder from the garage. Too big for him to balance, it swayed in the air, threatened to topple him over, but he managed to prop it against the house, climb to the low roof, and then pull the ladder up behind him.
The ladder’s feet he centered on the low slope of roof and extended its rails. It went up and up and it swayed in a low breeze and then rocked in the higher winds and then shook in the jet stream far above the city where the airplanes passed, lights blinking in the night sky. Jacob leaned his weight away from the ladder, trying to keep it upright, to keep it steady, until—at last—it shuddered to a stop and would go no further because it struck the roof of sky. A faint sound like thunder in a distant canyon echoed down to him a moment later.
Jacob climbed the flimsy aluminum ladder up through the breeze and wind and jet stream until his town appeared as a small speck of light surrounded by other specks of light that were other towns and then farther up still until those lights disappeared and the earth was only the stillness of landmasses dissolving into oceans and then forming into landmass again.
At the top, Jacob pressed his palm against the sky and it was made of fabric, thick muslin and dyed Prussian blue. The pinprick stars were needle holes in the canvas, and warm light showed through them from the other side. Jacob could hear the sound of wind through tall trees, like the maple in the yard, and he understood that the sound came from the other side of the sky.
His finger sank into the hole and he felt cool air on the other side, not hot like he imagined. It felt like the artesian spring where he’d swam with his mother and his aunts and uncles a spring two years ago. Jacob thrust his middle then ring finger through, expanding and widening the star, until he could fit his entire hand through the mouth he’d made in the sky. The sound of the wind grew, became the sound of water over stones. Jacob ripped the fabric open, wide enough for his shoulders, and he struggled, lifting his body up through the hole. His ladder swayed, toppled, and fell.
Light, warm like the sun, fell on the house where Jacob had lived.
Born and raised in Austin, Texas, Jeffrey Amos has lived in Chicago, Los Angeles, and Seattle where he worked as a television producer on Hoarders, Who Do You Think You Are?, and Genealogy Roadshow among others. He received his MFA in fiction from Purdue University and is a PhD student in English at the University of Tennessee.