Drawing up the Starlight
"Why can't anybody else see them?" Colin asked, folding his arms across his chest and leaning further against the bark of the elm that towered over us. He sounded tired. "Can you see them, Dennis? Can you see the stars?"
I looked up at the night sky and bit my bottom lip, not wanting to disappoint him any further. He was always talking about these things, these… stars, whatever they were. He said that they often seemed as though they had been pasted into the sky, like it was some sort of ceiling and these 'shining, blinking stars' would just be there. Occasionally, when I stared hard enough at the blankness above our heads, I would think that I had seen a little white dot or two, but they were just hallucinations, obviously.
"You can't, can you?" He sighed resignedly, kicking a small rock he had found at his foot. He toed the soil with his sneaker. "But you still believe me…"
It sounded more like a question than a statement. Every now and then, his talks about 'stars' and his version of the universe were ridiculously absurd to the point where I almost didn't buy it either, but of course it all fell back to rule number one – "You're my brother," I said firmly. "Of course I believe you."
He offered me a small, but genuine, smile, and returned to gazing at the night sky. There was a nagging thought at the back of my mind, something I hadn't told anyone before – not even Colin. These stars, what were they really like? Did they take on shapes? How do they 'blink'? The flame of curiosity licked at my insides. To hear Colin always talk about it so enthusiastically, and then losing all that spirit when someone else calls it 'nonsense' made me frustrated too, because truly, from the bottom of my heart...
"I want to see them."
"Sorry?" he asked.
"I want to see them," I whispered again, pointing towards the sky. "I want to see the stars too. Those that you keep talking about. Can you describe them to me?"
He blinked at me, stunned, then reached into his pocket and produced a handkerchief. "Close your eyes," he instructed as he began to blindfold me. My world turned to black as he tightened the knot behind my head snugly and told me to tilt my head up, facing the sky.
"All right then, what can you see?"
"Nothing, it's all dark. Come on Col, you blindfolded me, how am I –"
"Really look, Dennis," he insisted. I took the cue and was silent. I squinted at what seemed like nothing. It was all just pitch black. My difficulty must have been apparent, for Colin elaborated, albeit impatiently, "You need to spot them. Think! What did I say the stars were like?"
"I don't know," I shrugged, getting slightly agitated at how annoyed he seemed to be with me. "I suppose you said they shone and – hang on." For the first time, I was struck by the darkness behind this makeshift blindfold which seemed to be darker than the night sky. There was no way I could see anything and yet, I could have sworn that I saw something move.
"Can you see them?" Colin asked eagerly. I could hear the smile in his voice. I nodded, feeling the corners of my mouth curl upwards into a grin. He removed the blindfold and I blinked a few times, staring straight up at the night sky and the moon that hung there. But this time, I realised, the moon wasn't the only one there. Colin began describing the stars to me in further detail – what they looked like to him, what he felt about them.
Slowly, one by one, as if the entire night sky had just burst into life, I could see the stars as they winked at me from their places above.
Thousands, no, millions of them littered the darkness above my head, giving the night sky a totally new colour unique to itself. There were hundreds of shapes and sizes, in thousands of patterns. All of them were so bright; they seemed like the very holes in the floors of heaven. Little beacons of life existing in a void of nothingness hanging right above our heads – and we never even noticed.
Comprehension dawned on me. "The one thing that's so far up there that people can't ever catch," I muttered, turning to look at Colin. "You lied," I accused, "they're not actually there." My voice sounded bitter, tinged with betrayal and disappointment.
In response, Colin merely tapped his temple twice, saying, "All here. Every single star you see is visible only to us. Each and every one of them." He had a child-like grin on his face now. "Imagination, Dennis – it's the one thing nobody can ever tame because it is yours and yours alone." I was about to smile and give him a playful punch on the arm for 'tricking' me, when suddenly –
"Dennis! Get inside! It's freezing out there!" My mother's shrill voice pierced the calm night air. My eyes snapped open. There was an empty space beside me, where Colin had stood merely moments ago.
"Just a minute, Mum!" I sighed, looking up at the empty night sky. Closing my eyes just for a moment, stars began to emerge again just as Colin reappeared right beside me. "Looks like I've got to go," I told him regretfully.
"Bother. Well, before I forget, here's one last thing about imagination." He whispered something in my ear, to which we both smiled and I opened my eyes. He was gone.
"Who are you talking to, Dennis?" my mother asked – well, interrogated.
"Oh sweetie." Her tone softened. "I'm sorry, but Colin's –"
" – Dead, for a year now. Yeah, I know." I gave her a lopsided smile. "But he still exists – to me, anyway."
She looked as though she was torn between getting into another heated debate about me and imaginary Colin and hugging me senseless. In the end, she compromised by pressing a quick kiss to my forehead and shooing me to my room.
I pulled out a red and white handkerchief from my pocket – Colin's – and placed it on my bedside table. I closed my eyes and thought about stars appearing on the ceiling, Colin's whispered words still lingering in my mind as I drifted off to sleep.
"And most importantly, Dennis, don't let anybody try to tame it."