She thinks often of her father. He goes to space and comes back and does not go again. Her mother, while washing dishes and talking to a friend on the phone, says something about her father’s time in space. He’ll never tell me. Something happened, though. The way he looks at the sky, when he thinks no one’s watching. It’s like he longs for it and he’s terrified of it. Angeline asks her father if he misses space. He shakes his head and says that space is too far from her. She likes that answer. When talking at her father’s funeral, she thinks of it and starts crying. Not only because she misses him, but because she finally realizes that it may not be the complete truth.
When Angeline is young she thinks she wants to follow in the footsteps of her grandfather. To go into the sea, to study the depths of water. At age fifteen, though, she nearly drowns after a misjudged dive into a pool. Spitting water onto concrete, gasping for breath, she feels a different sort of fear than she’s ever felt before. It’s a fear not of monsters, or teenage embarrassment, but rather a fear that her body can be broken. That all bodies can be broken.
When Angeline first goes into space, she thinks of her mother’s paintings. Her mother’s art is often of gardens. Not pretty ones, but rather ones left desolate, barren, fountains cracked, birds pecking amongst rotting fruit. But when her mother paints, she smiles, laughs, looks happier than at any other moment. It is like she is letting the darkness seep from inside her onto canvas. Angeline makes the connection only later, after years, how space can also be a collection of darkness and shadows.
When Angeline sees the world flying up at her, she tries not to blink. There is something beautiful there, though she tries and she fails to put her finger on it. She wonders if her life will flash before her eyes. She wonders if she would have changed anything. She remembers her mother painting, her father speaking, the sea, the sea. She remembers the way water looks when the sun is almost down and the light hits waves and everything shimmers and shines.
Angeline, go to sleep, her father says from the doorway. Tomorrow he leaves, goes into a spaceship and up into the sky. He comes back. He is different. Space changes everyone. Angeline says, tell me a story. Once upon a time.
Her mother cries at her father’s funeral. She doesn’t speak and so Angeline speaks and her voice shakes and she thinks, how did I get so old? Where is my father? He was just right here.
As a young girl, Angeline wakes one night after a dream of being all alone on a new planet. She goes to her window seat, peeks out at the darkness, and looks at the stars blinking. For now, they are bright enough to make her feel safe.
UPON RETURNING FROM THE HOUSE OF BABA YAGA
Her house was easy to find; there are not so many built on chicken legs. She gave me a broom upon entry and so I swept. There are so many corners in her four wall rooms. How can there be so many corners? If I squinted one eye and turned twice in a circle, then sometimes I’d count them all up. Swish swish went the broom. Swish swish.
The dust rose into the light and formed phantoms— faces of the dead in particle swirls. So many faces and they asked me all to tell them stories. I told them about how when I was a little girl I baked cakes, small and sweet, for my dolls. Oh cakes, they said. Oh sweet, they said. Oh taste, they said. Please tell us about taste. The dead can remember so little about life, they lose the senses of things first: the dark sugar of chocolate, the smell of lilacs blooming in May, the waves rushing against the shore, the way the light made the hair of a lover shine and shimmer.
I washed the bed clothes in the river where men were known to have drowned; I imagined that they must have become water eventually, for I saw nothing. Oh drink deep of the water; are your dreams that night the memories of dead men?
I even made her a cup of tea, stirring in a spoonful of golden honey, as she prepared soup from the tongues of liars; it tasted of regret and the impossible. I tasted I love yous. I tasted I’m sorrys.
For my payment she gave me a skull; it was filled with light and it showed me a path back home. She said I could return. I never returned.
I tell the story years later to my lover, when we are still at the point where we can’t stand for our limbs not to be entwined, and he turns to me and asks if I had been afraid.
I shake my head because the only time I’m afraid is when I think how much I long to go back.