She couldn’t remember the last time she’d seen the stars. For years, Sarah had taken Bethany up to the roof to look at them, to point out the constellations and tell her their stories. “This, this is majesty,” she used to say with a deep sigh, her eyes upturned and her face aglow. Bethany had watched her curiously, but with a lack of rapture that Sarah never noticed.
Because of those evenings together, Bethany grew up knowing the myths of the sky better than she knew the nursery rhymes and fairytales her schoolmates recited. Every now and then, she asked her mother to tell her a “normal” story, and while Sarah had obliged, she never stopped to wonder at the request.
Somewhere along the way between Bethany’s childhood and her teenage years, their stargazing had dwindled. Maybe that was when everything had started to fall apart. They hadn’t been up on the roof together in two years, other than that last time, a few days ago.
Now, Sarah felt both sickened and mesmerized to find herself looking up at the stars again in one of the church’s soaring stained glass windows. It wasn’t the usual holy scene, just a wall of glowing royal blue, flecked with tiny golden shapes. She couldn’t tear her eyes away from it.
She shivered from the cool dampness, momentarily aware of the hard wooden bench beneath her and the smell of furniture polish, lilies and candle wax. Despite the people surrounding her, she felt she was alone.
I should be paying attention at a time like this, she thought, but she couldn’t do it. The boys’ choir began to sing while she let her mind continue to wander. She yearned to get up and run away. To escape. Instead, she kept her eyes fixed on the window and thought of earlier times.
Sarah had always been a present and involved mother and Bethany a quiet, calm child. Anyone would have thought they had a deep bond. When Bethany started swimming competitively at school, Sarah became assistant coach, spending her free time composing cheers and ushering the girls to their meets. No one would have guessed there was a chasm growing between them. Sarah did what she could to reach out to Bethany but you can’t control another’s reactions. Her daughter never reached back; she was already fading away.
The choir stopped singing, dragging Sarah back to the present. The Minister would be getting up to speak soon. Sarah had given him something to read on her behalf but she didn’t think she could bear to listen, or to feel all eyes turn toward her.
Had Bethany been trying to get closer to the stars when she went up there? That’s what Sarah had thought at first, when she’d gone looking for Bethany and found her at the edge of the roof, teetering perilously with her eyes turned skyward. She thought maybe the roof had become Bethany’s refuge because of all those times she’d brought her up there as a child, that she went there when things became difficult because it was a safe place, full of happy memories.
But Bethany had released her from that illusion. Her parting words as she drifted out onto the air left no doubt. The stars, the roof, those childhood memories, they held no happiness for her. They never had.
“There was never any light here, Mom,” Bethany said before she leaned backward, her bright blue eyes locked on her mother’s.
At first, she appeared to be floating, suspended. Sarah stood and watched, marveling at her daughter’s beauty as her hair billowed out around her. In her shock, Sarah imagined that Bethany would never crash. But of course, she did. Her slow motion free-fall sped up like a film reel suddenly switched to the right setting.
Sarah never had time to speak. It was over before she even realized it had begun.
She is with the stars now, thought Sarah as she listened to the Minister reading the final line in her eulogy. They were the words she had never managed to say in the light of day.
“I’d do anything to make you stay.”