by Grace Fitzgerald
You can’t believe it’s been twenty-seven years since you were last in California. Twenty-seven years since your dad’s funeral.
You remember leaving, saying goodbye to family members — aunts, uncles, Grandpa Jim. You remember boarding the plane, asking your mother if you could sit in the window seat. You spent the eleven-hour flight to Ireland looking out the window in the hope of seeing your dad in angel form, perched on a cloud, waiting to wave hello.
Now you’re all grown up, and back in California. You spend the following weeks listening to family stories about your dad. You get to know him, as an adult, through shared memories, letters, and scrapbooks. You piece him back together again.
You still remember your last summer with him in the California desert. You used to sit outside at night-time, past your bedtime, waiting for the stars to appear. One by one. Thousands by thousands. You remember him teaching you the constellations — Orion’s Belt, the Big Dipper, and how to find the North Star. He used to use a flashlight as a pointing device. It almost worked. At least, that’s what you remember. When the sky was clear enough and dark enough, it worked.
You hear enough stories for the time being. You feel dizzy with information and memories that are not your own. You go to clear your head and get some air in the dark August night. Your flashlight’s beam jumps ahead of you, hitting off trees and rocks. You hear a coyote’s cry from the faraway hills. The crickets’ chirps surround you, a sound you’ve missed ever since you left.
You come to a clearing. The blackened hills roll out from under you, diffusing into the darkness. You look up at the cloudless sky, dusted with a mass of stars. You locate the Big Dipper, and diagonally up from it, the North Star.
‘Are you there?’ you whisper. Silence.
‘Are you there?’
A little louder this time.
You switch your flashlight back on and point it at the Big Dipper. You connect the dots of the constellation, running the beam of light back and forth, back and forth. It feels like the only way to reach him. Like writing him a letter.
You wait. And you wait. You shine on, and you wait.