What Do You See?

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Other  |  House: Booksie Classic

The stars are something which many people seem to be either indifferent to, or adore. I happen to adore the stars, as they have always been a source of absolute fascination. This fictional short
story, titled "What Do You See?" is about a Southern woman named Addy recounting how her father, Murphy, for nine years, asked her to ponder the stars. She never knew what his goal was until years
later, with children of her own. She realizes through his seemingly pointless tradition the value of spending time with those you love.

Submitted: June 07, 2018

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Submitted: June 07, 2018



Every clear night when I was a kid, my father would take me out in the backyard and lay back in the grass. His eyes would fixate on the stars, then on me. "Addy," he would say softly, "What do you see?"


He would never skip a night unless the rain was relentless, or the clouds blocked our view. So, from age seven to age sixteen he would walk me into a silent Georgia night, sometimes dry, or sometimes glistening, often warm, with mosquitoes threatening my skin. He would lay back, and I'd follow suit. We'd watch for a bit, and I'd wait for him to speak.


But there were always just stars. When I was real little, and he'd ask me, my answer was always a confused, "the stars, daddy." He'd say, "Yes, sugar, but what else?"


"Space" was a popular reply, or sometimes "the moon." I'd give a few attempts and he'd say something like, "Alright," and we'd sit in silence for a while until my mother called us in for bed.


As I got older, I was a bit more creative; "There's emptiness, daddy. A void full of children's wishes and transfixed gazes of people all over the world. Of me." I'd look at him all expectant and in typical Murphy fashion he'd nod, and his eyes would crinkle up with a grin, and he'd say the inevitable, "But what else, sugar?"


Growing up, I imagined that there was a deep, enigmatic reply that he was searching for. He was a pensive sort, after all. I'd look forward to him walking me out to the backyard, because I'd have thought of something new this time. Something that would surely be the answer. "There's infinity up there. An ever-expanding universe full of every possibility. Maybe even new life," I would shrug.


Deep down, though, no matter what I said to him, I knew with all my heart what his reply would be. His wisdom would always be greater than mine, I thought. It's something I'll never understand.


Of course, I'd ask him about it. A subject change, or some cryptic reply like, "You'll see" would meet my inquisitions. It was a kind of joke to me when he said something like that. I accepted it as a little tradition that was to make me think more deeply about simplistic things, and then I hardly questioned it again.


But then the day came when we couldn't go out there anymore. The day came when I didn't want to. We didn't see it coming; he was driving home from wherever the hell it was, and then it was all over. The guy that hit him was drunk, or so they told me. None of the details mattered to me, really, because they didn't change the fact that he was dead. It was quick, though. We were told he didn’t suffer.


My mom and I were never close like my dad and me. She tried to comfort me, but I was never an open book anyway, so a lot of good that did her. We both made an effort to bond; once she took me in the backyard and ask me what I saw in the sky, and when I gave her an answer, she tried to sell me his reply. But the way "sugar" rolled off his tongue couldn't be replicated. The warmth of it was a comfort that she could never understand. She was my mom, and I loved her, but my dad was too special to be replaced. I knew it, and she knew it.


With or without her, I'd go in that backyard every clear night, staring up all teary-eyed into that damn sky and I'd just lay there thinking about how I wished I could have given him a better answer. I felt like I must have let him down somehow. I'd think up all kinds of new answers that probably weren't right.


It had to have been, what, ten years later when I laid down there with my new baby. The grass was itching the hell out of me, and it was pretty hot that night. But when I looked up at the sky I thought that maybe, just maybe, all he wanted to do was spend time with me. That he wasn't trying to get me to develop my mind, but to lay there for a while and talk to him. When life got busy, and I was doing my old teenage thing, I would still look forward to laying there with my dad and pondering the stars and the universe.


And here I am now with my sixteen-year-old darling girl, asking her like I have every clear night since she was seven, "Selena, honey, what do you see?" And she gives me some deep answer, and man have I heard them all before. So, I hit her with the, "Yes, sugar, but what else?"


I feel real silly doing it, and I'm sure my daddy did too. But I know that when I'm gone she'll look at those stars every night and think of her mama. She'll ponder why I'm doing this, and maybe she won't even care. But someday, if I'm lucky, she'll do it with her kids because she realized that it's a damn good way to slow down time. A way to talk to your precious babies and hear their most creative musings about the universe.


I can't tell if it's working on her, but I can take a guess since she hasn't bailed on it yet. Someday I bet I'll look down from heaven with my daddy and we'll watch them, night after night, asking that good old question: "What do you see?"


© Copyright 2019 Sarah Day. All rights reserved.

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