On clear nights stars drop into the lake, little gold fuzzballs that are cool to the touch but white hot at the center, where the heart is. If you’re gentle you can catch them in your hands like fish. I want to put them in my mouth but I don’t because of that time I put a Hostess Sno Ball in the microwave and blasted my taste buds off. I keep the stars in jars, even though this will kill them, even though that’s risky. There’s nothing more risky than a dying star.
Magdalene squats in the red hyssop. I don’t have to see her to know she’s there. She’s been there my whole life.
“Spying on people isn’t nice,” I say.
She comes out in this old burlappy dress, red braids traintracking her scalp. Her wingspan as much across as I am tall.
Standing in the water, I’m twins joined at the ankles, wingtips peeking over my shoulders. A vestige of Magdalene, a greatgreatgreat dimestore knockoff. I snatch at my face, scattering me across the lake, and when I come back together I see myself as others do: dark circles, skin tight over bones.
“You gotta quit this,” she says. I guess she means the stars, who are disappearing because of me.
Under the tongue, along the gumlines, my sister L.P. checks everywhere for the pill. The doctor doesn’t know what’s wrong with me, so he gives me pills.
“AHHHH!” I pull my cheeks back. I’m going to eat her; I’m going to scare her to death.
“Come on.” She doesn’t need this, she tells people on the phone. If I don’t cooperate, she’ll have little Fleur crawl in my lap and tell me she’s praying for me.
When the pills are working, she’ll have peace. The doctor explained how the ragged edges of me will be filed down and she’ll have peace. She can leave me home without the tub overflowing, without Max having to help. Nobody says what peace the pills will give me except Fleur, who talks to Jesus. Hands tented, she asks please fill up the hole in Binny so she’ll quit hurting. Maybe cookie dough.
I swallow the pill for them, for the relief on L.P.’s face after she checks. She doesn’t know that with or without it I’m the same person.
Max tells me this bullshit story. “I ran out for batteries, and it was the dangdest thing. Only place that had what I needed was the Revco by your house.” Last pack of batteries in the county. L.P. and Fleur leave for the barbershop and he comes, thirty seconds on the dot. They think I can’t count.
“Are they the rechargeable kind? Let’s see,” I say. He doesn’t feel like going out to the truck.
I’m on him like a fly to honey, like I’ve come unlaced after being sewn shut my whole life. It’s always this way: the work of swimming back to sanity, it makes you want to screw. L.P. says I shouldn’t fool around with Max, but she sends him over. That’s how desperate she is for peace.
“Whoa, now,” he says. When we were married, it was the other way around, him trying to sneak a baby into me until I zipped out of my skin and sat around in my bones. I yelled anytime he came in the room until after a while he stopped coming in the room. I yelled about the baby’s life. Getting beat with wiffle bats, mean girls hanging bloody costume wings from lavatory lights. Did he want that? No he didn’t want that. Who in their right mind would want that?
When he doesn’t let go of my wrists, I know that while I was on the moon this time he made a decision about us.
The stars pulse with held-back energy, enough to tear a hole in the universe. I drop them in the jar and try to see into their hot Sno Ball centers, to find the source of their power, but Magdalene is bothering me. She lectures me about letting go. She says I can because she had to once, some guy she took up with who left her high and dry. It’s a story I’ve heard before. People say when Earl Sparks joined the army he really went and lived with Magdalene, but I can’t imagine anybody wanting to get in the bed with her. Those yellow teeth, body gangly like a bald fraggle, you’d have to be sick.
“You’re the ugliest thing I ever saw.” When I was a kid I told her she stunk of old wet leaves. She ratted my ass out, telling Mama how I let boys touch my wings for money, so I made up this song to hurt her. Stinkalene, Fraggalene. So ugly I could kill myself. Mama didn’t know what to whip me for first.
I make the monster face like after I swallow my pill.
“Your face is gonna freeze that way. Your soul is gonna freeze that way,” Magdalene says. She is too late.
“Christ on a bike,” L.P. says when she finds my stars. They’re all dead, slowly breaking down into something else, something that will kill us all. “I’m throwing this shit out,” she says. That’s how I know she can see them, that she’s been pretending all this time.
After Max tells me, he touches my wings. He touches my insides. Afterwards he’s real still and won’t let me touch the back of his neck because it makes him shiver and I know he’s thinking this is the last time. He’s hoping Patsy, the new wife, is still at book club.
After he’s gone, Magdalene wraps her wings around me, hushing me when I say how lonely I feel always. “Shut your damn mouth,” she says. I’m Thumbelina, folded in wet leaves, the only light in the world from the jars on my dresser, full of stars she’s caught just for me.