Life List

Jessa Queyrouze

Christmas of 2013 arrives on a Wednesday, in the middle of the week like an afterthought. The Christmas Day Bird Count is three days later, on the Saturday, arriving with a kind of satisfied pushiness that Kelly finds strangely comforting.

The count begins on the polo field at six in the morning, still dark, and Kelly is here, again, like every year. Only this year, she is alone. She is sitting in her car, with the engine idling, staying warm, trying to find the momentum to haul herself up out of the seat and into the cold. The stillness, when she finally shuts the engine off, is startling.

The flock of them, the birders, are huddled at the edge of the cold, shorn field where the reedy grasses have gone to seed, the women (and they are almost all women) in felted wool coats of coal black, or the same fine camel color as the winter grass. Bright cashmere scarves are pops of color at their pale throats—poppy, saffron, rust, sapphire. And high, clean leather boots, shuffling in the grass.

Kelly shifts her feet, cold in her own high boots. Her scarf, soft gold, was her mother’s. She can feel the cold of the pink mimosa that she’s clutching in a plastic party cup through the airy froth of her glove.

Having finally convinced herself, she has waded in to the white linen topped table at the back of the crowd to collect her forms and clipboard, and smiled and made small talk and accepted the drink (cut glass punch bowl, holly, plastic cups, coffee in a silver urn), and now she hangs back, watching the women talk. It’s early still, and the low, clean angle of the sun is hours away from warming anything. The cold air on her face makes her skin feel scrubbed clean, bright and scoured.

The paperback copy of Roger Peterson's Guide to North American Birds is in the wide right-hand pocket of her coat, slapping softly against her thigh when she moves. She doubts she’ll need to pull it out, but it’s comforting—a familiar diner menu, a worn prayer book. The soft, clean colors of the painted illustrations, that gentle authority, the promise of order, of answers, clarity. And the notes in her mother’s penciled handwriting, like a quiet voice in her ear. And the inscription inside the front cover, from Henry to Sara with love, Christmas 1979, in her father’s careful, blocky, ball-point print.

It’s only a swallow or two of champagne, but she’s feeling a little heady now. Off balance. The faces around her—she should know most of these faces, but she blinks in the blur of cold, like a page of letters she can see, but can’t read.

Around her, the mix of women—the polo money and the farmers' wives and the winter tans from year-round outdoor work or beach vacations or tanning beds. All of it. That mixed flock, shuffled, imperceptible. Pearls and freckled necks and careful hair. They’re all starting to shift now, the lazy milling beginning to seem more purposeful, a flock organizing itself to move. Migration. There’s Grace (a face she knows!) at the front by the table, raising a clipboard up over her head and clearing her throat.

Last chance. Kelly steps back, and the book in her pocket gently pats her leg, like a nudge. She could leave now—but instead she gathers herself and steps into the press of the small, shifting crowd, and waits for her group assignment.

She is home from school, for the holidays. (College, her final semester—and the gaping hole of the unknown after graduation, now less than six months away. The coyote in the cartoon who’s just run off a cliff, legs pedaling frantically in midair: that’s what she’s careening toward, even in this quiet minute.) And this is home—the wind slicking across the tall grass in swathes like waves, and the tidal pull of it, Washington Parish, a hundred miles up from the Gulf. But it’s more nebulous, more amorphous now with her mother dead—the loss of that tether (unmoored, un-mothered). And now it’s just her father, clicking around in their quiet house, like a single marble rolling in a box. How strange that everything is so changed, and so unchanged.

This is the first year that she’s come to the bird count without her mother. (The past five years they came together, a handful of days, ticked off.) Christmas itself was somehow bearable, just she and her father and the sheer effort of cheerfully muddling through—popcorn and bourbon and It’s A Wonderful Life on television and fishing scraps of wrapping paper out of the sofa cushions. But all that energy is used up now and she’s feeling crash-landed, wandery and forlorn. She thinks of the birds, migrants crossing the Gulf, hundreds of miles without stopping, without rest—hummingbirds, even—finally descending on the coast, settling into the marshes and beaches, exhausted and bedraggled, so far from home.

And daylight savings in November, turning back the time on the stovetop clock, just days after they buried her mother—the strangeness of that unremarkable shift. She had died so suddenly—some tiny, secret bubble in her brain silently bursting, dropping her like a stone. (Like a game bird, shot out of the air, folding and falling and the realization that even birds aren’t truly weightless.) And how in the confusion of EMTs and the coroner and all the rush and details of death, all of the chaos and none of the urgency, none of the haste of emergency—Kelly’s father hadn’t called her for hours, to tell her what had happened. That one bright afternoon that her mother had been dead, and she hadn’t known. To turn the clock back, and keep turning.

They’d gone to the beach for Thanksgiving, Kelly and her father, the two of them. Nothing else had seemed bearable. Walking through the sand and wind in bitter cold, watching the pewter sheen of the waves, and the gulls wheeling overhead, the gawky, huddled pelicans. And then coffee and pancakes in a diner with steam-slicked windows, and her father squeezing her hand across the table. It had seemed possible in that moment—flight, or gratitude. But she’s lost it again.

So through the tide of all of that to this, the edge of this polo field on this cold, bright morning, the memory of her mother hovering at her side. And this league of women that she knows but doesn’t really know, the shuffling wall of their backs and shoulders. She isn’t sure why she has come. The ritual and routine of it, she supposes, like a magnet.

There is some holdup, some delay, as the organizers work to sort the birders into groups. The struggle to take flight, heaving something awkward and reluctant up into the air. For the millionth time that morning, Kelly thinks about leaving.

She used to come here, a decade ago, to this same stretch of fields, flagging polo games as a teenager. Not playing—flagging meant standing on the side of the pitch in her dirty white tennis shoes with a flag and a bucket of balls, hours in the weedy verges of the close-cropped fields, the mud and the flies at her ankles, for twenty dollars a game. The dark, cool caverns of the clean-swept polo barns were wider than the hallways of her junior high school. It had scared her quiet father into rare bursts of red-faced anger, the thought of all those hooves and horses hurtling towards her. But she had gone, anyway, bemused by his response. She rode in the back of a pickup truck from the stables to the fields, clouds of red-winged blackbirds bursting up out of the ditches as they passed, and stood in the weeds at the far end of the field clutching her flag and the white balls in the plastic bucket, waiting for something to happen. She hadn’t been afraid. The days were mostly filled with ladies in feathered hats, stepping carefully around the warm heaps of horse shit. And then back at home at night, her mother, accustomed to horses, placing a calm hand on her father’s shoulder. Always, the peace of that ending.

Her mother. Kelly’s eyes are tearing, maybe from the cold.

She sees Grace again now, striding towards her, and feels simultaneously alarmed and relieved. It is definitely too late now, to change her mind and go—the gears are all in motion. Grace, their kind, gruff, down-the-road neighbor, who Kelly has known since childhood, will walk up and take her arm and steer her somewhere. She won’t mention Kelly’s mother, her funeral service barely six weeks ago, she won’t ask how Kelly’s father is “holding up”—out of kindness or the distraction of the morning, it hardly matters—and Kelly will swallow her tears, and the count will begin.

They split into their groups, and Kelly’s little flock moves off to the left, following the tree line of the wooded lot that borders the furthest polo field, down to the main road and back up through the woods on a narrow, packed dirt lane, and then arcing back—a giant pie wedge of ground to cover and observe. Other groups will cover other sections, and give their final counts to Grace at the end of the day, to compile them all and send in their official numbers.

Some of the groups today are noisy, starting out—too many mimosas, a bit of hearing loss, or just general exuberance. Kelly is glad to be walking with Grace and the rest of her quiet group—Ruth and Vera, two elderly sisters—she isn’t sure which is which, they resemble each other. A man who’s name she doesn’t remember, in a mustache and a soft gray cap. All of them quiet, calm, observant. Reverent, like in church. (Her mother’s ghost beside her, the loudest of them all, a soft puff of scarlet wool at her throat.) Kelly shivers.

Walking quietly through the brush, their small group in loose pairs, they come upon a small clutch of wild turkeys. They’ve barely begun the count—the birds are huddled in the cleared stretch of the field, heads up, like some wary committee. “Oh,” someone says. Up close the turkeys are more beautiful than peacocks—the thick, soft brown feathers, the wash of blue on their lifted heads, the sun blushing red through the bright skin of their wattles. Their dark, sleek strut. The birders are talking softly now, taking note. These first birds seem like a good sign, an omen for the day ahead. Rare, but not like they once were.

Kelly remembers her elementary school bus driver pulling over once to show them all a flock of wild turkeys clustered near a fence line, white mist rising behind the birds in the weedy field one winter morning in the weak light. Her small face pressed to the cold glass of the bus window, the idling engine making everything tremble. The driver told them, “You’ll never see this again. Look.” Only he’d been wrong. It was the late 70s then, and it was true—DDT and habitat loss and hunting had thinned the wild population out to nearly nothing. But things had changed—new laws and conservation efforts and things had slowly turned. For these birds, anyway.

And now here they are at her feet, not ghosts—solid and wary, warbling their soft, comical gobbles and retreating, shuffling back into the brush. (A line from Peterson’s Guide in her head—"heavy bodied, largely terrestrial." They won’t take flight.) Kelly counts the birds as they slip away, and marks them on her list.

Her life has struggled lately to lift itself up off of the ground. (Heavy bodied, largely terrestrial.) The sun breaks through the trees as they walk. It’s a mild winter this year, like a small concession to how much they can bear, after all. There’s no wind, and walking to keep up with the group is enough to keep Kelly warm. She remembers harsher winters as a child, and wishing for snow. Lifting sheets of loose ice from puddles in the yard, thick and bubbled as ancient glass. The ache of her hands in wet mittens, and no bright blanket of snow, no storybook snowman companion. Her parents together somewhere inside the warm house, seeming tied to her but also far away. The rare, red flicker of a cardinal.

She’s carrying it with her, the strange, heavy slump she’s been feeling, since before her mother died. Even with the end of things in sight—the end of school, the end of this terrible year—graduation seems like a distant shore, a foreign refuge, six months away. But what else is there to aim for? After a series of brief, unremarkable relationships she is finishing college single, untethered. Unfocused. After her mother’s death in November she took a temporary leave from school and came home, postponing exams and final papers. Everything is up in the air now. She can feel the weight of it, hovering.

“What’s on your wish list today?” The man whose name she can’t remember, dropping back beside her with a smile. For a moment she’s confused, thinking of Christmas, passed just days before in that strange blur of grief and momentum. Her wish? He’s glancing down at his clipboard. “I love the smaller herons—the night herons, or the little green. And—I’d love to see a kingfisher. At the back of our section there’s that bit of Mile Branch, so maybe near the water there.”

“Maybe so,” she says. His name, she remembers now, is Miller. She smiles at him and his eyes are green. She thinks of the kingfishers, plummeting into the water and then bursting back out into the air—crossing that threshold again and again. “I like kingfishers too.”

The rankings of the birds they list are mostly unofficial—what is common, what counts as rare. Or accidental—birds from the tropics, blown miles off course, singular, lost. Her mother had loved those—the unexpected, the out of place. Coincidence stories. (The toddler in church last Easter, wearing a dinosaur costume, her mother clutching Kelly’s hand in a small spasm of glee.) And birds like ghosts, back from the dead practically. Bachman’s sparrow. Ivory-billed woodpecker. Passenger pigeon. Extinct or believed to be, flickering through the brush now, haunting her peripheral vision. At home in the bathroom mirror sometimes Kelly sees her mother’s face, hovering like a loose mask over her own.

Today, the birds they see are mostly common, a roll call of familiar names. It’s a comfort. Her pencil ticking careful boxes. A test she’s studied for, to which she knows all the answers.

For a long time it was nothing but crows in the road, lifting and resettling, shifting but always in the end unchanged. She thinks of it now, the highway between home and school, that bleak, vultured stretch. Going back now seems like a gauntlet. And to what end?

Today, it’s mostly sparrows that fly up. Noisy, common. She notes white throats, and yellow, and wing bars, and ticks boxes on her list with a small, green golf pencil.

Late morning, and the early chorus of birds has begun to ebb. They’re following a short section of the main road now, half a mile to the narrow lane that will cut deeper into the woods. And here now there are hawks, watching the road and the fields from power lines, or circling high in the clear sky. Red-tailed, Cooper’s, Sharp-shinned.

And then from the brush at the edge of the field they hear the sweet, whistled call of a bobwhite quail, calling its own name, like a question, that last rising note. Bob? Bob White? There is the usual quiet debate about whether it counts—a bird heard but not seen. They stand there for what feels like a long time, silently willing it to emerge. Does it count? A thing unseen, and calling. It counts. They mark it down.

And red-winged blackbirds, just as they’re leaving the road, back into the woods—rising up from the ditch to the trees and the sky like bubbles in a champagne glass. They keep rising, keep on coming, as if from nowhere. Kelly tries to count them, holding her breath. Dozens. A clown car of blackbirds.

“Well,” Ruth-or-Vera says, when the last bird has risen and vanished. “That was lovely.” And she gently squeezes Kelly’s arm, and they step into the woods.

It’s dimmer here under the trees, and colder. They’re out of the wind now, but they’ve lost the sun. The shift is unsettling. The first stretch is quiet, no birds, though they all go slowly, and listen, and watch. At first it isn’t clear what they are seeing—trees stripped bare, or clutching dry brown leaves, weeping dark fluid down their trunks. Some kind of blight, though it seems to be contained to this small stretch of woods. The canopy is patchy here, and the sun breaks through. Kelly tilts her face up. High in the dying trees, bunches of mistletoe reveal themselves, that bright, parasitic green. (Her mother buying it fresh from the florist once, years ago. White berries like wax. A red ribbon. Her father kissing her mother’s forehead in the doorway.)

Grace is beside her now, quiet, taking in the stretch of blight, the ferns and pines breaking back into green further up the path. “Let’s break for lunch,” she says, patting Kelly’s arm.

They separate for lunch—for Kelly a packed sandwich in the warm bubble of her car, and come back together late in the afternoon, the sky already purpling into twilight. Regrouped, their footsteps sound noisy in the brush, the quiet woods. The birds are flushed out as they walk, and then settle back to roost. Kelly ticks the boxes, her mind far off. Another cold hour, two.

And then something white, back in the brush by Mile Branch. The stream in winter just a thin wash now, through the marshy woods. At first Kelly thinks she’s seeing wrong—it’s just a plastic bag, caught and shifting in the wind. But then everyone is looking, caught, murmuring. Not an egret—small, and slender-legged, with a slim, curved bill. An ibis. Grace is checking her list, saying—I don’t think we’ve ever— And Kelly has the Peterson guide out of her pocket, flipping to the page. It’s not so rare, but there—she was right. No checkmark by the listing. A bird her mother’s never seen.

Back at the edge of the polo fields, the last birds of the day are a pair of barred owls, waking, silhouetted in the dusk. They call back and forth, resonant and throaty. For a while the group pauses to listen.

Then Grace slides the papers from her clipboard with a snap, breaking the spell. “Well,” she says, wrapping things up. Kelly hands Grace her list, drops the little pencil back into the box with a click. She’s suddenly longing to be away, back in her warm car, following the glow of her headlights home.

Grace catches Kelly’s gaze and holds it firmly for a moment, like she’s taken her chin in her hand. “It was a good count,” she says. “I’m glad you came.”

When Kelly gets home it’s dinner time, late evening. The day warmed up a bit toward the afternoon but by now her fingers are thick and stiff with cold, her feet numb in her boots and layered socks. She sheds her coat and scarf there in the warm hallway, expecting her father to call out or appear, but the house is dark and quiet.

“Dad?” Kelly calls, but there’s no answer.

She finds him asleep in his lounger in the den at the back of the house, his reading glasses slipped down to the tip of his nose and his chin on his chest, spotlit in the lamplight. The book on his lap is fanned open, the splayed pages like white feathers. She can’t see the cover—something about World War II, or Michener. His tastes are comforting in their predictability. Across the small room her mother’s chair is empty and the other lamp is dark.

She watches her father sleep in the lamplight, his face loose, un-rallied. There’s a slot here she could slip into. Is that so wrong—to want that? She thinks about her grief, thinks of vultures swirling, that upward spiral, rising.

Without waking him, she retreats to the bathroom to wash her cold hands.

Her father’s pedometer is lying there on the bathroom counter, a white clip-on device from the pharmacy with a digital readout. It seems vaguely medical, like a blood pressure cuff, or dentures in a glass. That morning before the bird count he’d offered her her mother’s. It might be interesting, he said, to see how many steps she took at the count that day. And the sadness of that washed over her, and kept on washing. She thanked him, and showed him her watch, how it counted all her steps and saved the data. Her father peering down at her wrist through his glasses, his face close up and unguarded, and it was all she could do not to weep.

He must have woken—she can hear the radio now, playing softly from the den. So much of life, it feels like waiting for winter to end. The birds though, those bright arrivals—and she’s nearly forgotten about the new year, just days away now, looming like a cliff—or the light at the end of a long, dark tunnel. How many steps, to get there?

“Kelly?” He calls to her, from the back of the house. Who else?

She spends the next few days in a quiet, determined frenzy, the put-off task of sorting through her mother’s things. The opposite of nesting.

She goes through all the bathroom cabinets, throwing things away. The floral, powdery smell of her mother’s makeup bag, like a haunting. She isn’t expecting skeletons, and she finds none, no surprises. Just things she doesn’t want her father to have to do, to deal with. It seems almost alarming, that her mother has left everything behind. Purse, and shoes, hairbrush, grocery lists. The day she died she left wet laundry in the washer, the mildewy smell haunting Kelly and her father days later. She left hand cream on the nightstand, vitamins, reading glasses. Wedding band. It seems unfathomable that she’ll have no need of any of this, at all, ever again.

Distracted, Kelly lifts a string of green, glass beads from a dish and the strand breaks—or is already broken—and the beads scatter across the bathroom counter and down the open sink drain, bouncing and skittering over the cold tile floor. Irreparable.

If she burned things, would her mother receive them somehow? Like a funeral pyre. The ghosts of her possessions.

“Kelly?” Her father, calling from the hallway. “Are you all right?”

Birds on a wire, scattering. It’s so hard to focus.

That whole strange stretch of days, time made meaningless and garbled between the solid facts of Christmas Day and New Year's Eve, Kelly wakes in her dark bedroom feeling choked—wakes from dreams with a retained, persistent sense of panic—something important she’s forgotten, or left behind. Some sprawling, cosmic checklist.

Closing her eyes again in the dark she can see the birds ticked off in her mother’s guidebook in sharp, slick pencil. The rows of checkmarks, all the years. And all the birds unmarked, unseen. Gone themselves, some of them, like her mother—slipping unheralded into extinction, sometime between the book’s publication and this dark, cold morning. Crowded out.

She finds her father thumbing through the bird book one afternoon, not really looking at it, just feeling the soft riffle of pages at the corner with his thumb.

“Next year—” he says, “I could go with you next year.” She’d told him about the turkeys—had seen something small light up in his shuttered face. Things shifting. She thinks about the year ahead, unfurling. All those days as yet unmade. Unknown, unblemished.

“I’d like that,” she says.

This week she has watched her father out in the yard, with a steaming kettle, pour warm water into the icy birdbath. The duty and kindness of that. Getting on with things.

They play Scrabble in the quiet house, the tiles clicking down. Hull, she thinks, or hollow. Hull. She sets it down. The lamp-lit evening, the den like a childhood diorama. Her father studies the board. He spells out spool, building down to the L she’s laid. She thinks of things wound up, the world unraveling. Those plastic curlers of her mother’s, unused for twenty years, pink, waiting.

Monday morning early, he comes in with the paper, slips it from its plastic sleeve. She thinks—a dog for her father maybe. A reason to be up so early in the mornings, cheerful and persistent, company for his pedometer walks. A setter, she thinks, or a lab. Her father like a shoe that’s lost its mate. A perfectly good thing, rendered abruptly useless by the loss. But she watches him carefully cutting recipes from the paper now, her heart clenching like a fist. She knows he is unbroken.

She sees that she was wrong. Her mother is a presence, not an absence—in the house with her father, going through the paces of his days, and here with her at the end of this strange, dark year. Not a light in the darkness, but a trust in the dark, trusting herself. Things unspooling. Memory as a flashlight, forward motion. That a little pool of light can be enough, a way forward, a single headlight on a dark and unfamiliar drive.

“A dog would be fine,” he says. He glances up at her, catches her eyes. “I don’t want you to worry,” he says.

Late in the evening, wiping down the kitchen counters. For the first time in weeks she thinks about her own apartment, empty, waiting for her. Campus, empty for the holidays, its shady courtyards and stretches of cracked and rolling sidewalks. Her lab, her research, her notes, waiting. Her friends, their kind and patient phone calls. She could go back a few days early, before the rush of the new semester. Her key in the lock and the lights flicking on and the tick and whoosh of the heater thermostat. She puts the sponge back in the kitchen sink and stands there in the quiet house, her mind spooling out ahead.

It’s very early in the morning and Kelly sits up in bed, in the dark of her childhood bedroom, the day spooling out before her, fast and loose. It’s New Year's Eve. She knows she should get up. Begin. The air in the room is still and cold, and there is strange comfort in how well she can see in the half-dark—all the familiar things around her, as her eyes adjust. The quilt, a bright flying geese pattern made by her father’s mother twenty years before is spread out across the bed and rucked up around her legs and hips like waves. The posts and spindles of the footboard, the low bureau and the dark shapes of the items ranged across its surface, the faint glint of the mirror and the white ghost of the curtains. New Year’s Eve. How the year begins in winter, like the new day begins in darkness.

Early as it is she can hear her father moving around in the kitchen, his slippered step, the tap turning on and off as he fills the coffee pot. He works quietly without making an effort of it, a lifetime of quiet, as though her mother is still curled in sleep in the bedroom down the hall, and he’ll be waking her in a moment with coffee and a hand on her shoulder.

It must be starting to get light outside, behind the thick curtains. Kelly can hear the birds waking up, can sense a shift in the dim light in the room. She should fill her mother’s bird feeders while she’s here, she thinks. The Carolina wrens in the bushes by her window are startlingly loud, insistent. She touches the “geese” on the quilt by her hip, triangles flying out in one direction, no hesitation.

Breakfast. Her father cooking bacon, burning toast, and unfazed, throwing it out and starting again. “Jam?” he asks her. “There’s plum, in the pantry.” He seems unfocused but serene. Her mother would have asked her—wouldn’t have let it drop. What about school? When would she be going back? What was happening with her missed finals, her incomplete classes? Her father hands her a plate.

Her mother other years, coming home after the Christmas bird count and sinking into her chair, Kelly’s father mixing her a drink while she went over the day in her sweet, rough voice—the birds and the women, the petty scandal and politics of the birding club hierarchy—things Kelly had missed, right beside her mother all day, that undercurrent of drama and detail. Her mother in the lamplight, the ice in her glass and the bright red cherry and the smell of bourbon, like Christmas. Her father laughing. After the long day and the early dark it would feel like the middle of the night, the three of them there in the den, feeling hungry and tired and smelling the good smell of whatever casserole her father had remembered to put in the oven, the relief at the end of the day.

She wonders, abstractly, if her mother had felt something of that, in the end—some small relief, the contentment of being all done. Birds all counted, and come home at last. Even with it all over so fast—still.

Brevity, the soul of wit. And her mother, brief and bright.

The phone rings that afternoon while Kelly’s father is out in the garage, looking for something. It rings and rings, loud in the quiet house, and Kelly watches the kitchen receiver and doesn’t pick up. Eventually, it stops.

This is the hurdle, then, looming. The point where her life could lift off out of the dusty road and into the air. The glow of her laptop screen in the afternoon twilight of the bedroom, the first hesitant line of her letter of intent, her fingers hovering over the keys. Either way, she is afraid.

Once, when she was flagging polo, the first game of the day and the field still wet from rain the night before, a running horse had swerved, and fallen, and slid towards her across the slick field, a churning wall of hooves and and saddle straps and black, heaving belly that came to an abrupt stop just a few feet from her muddy tennis shoes, and the stunned rider, pinned hip-in to the soft earth under the trembling horse. Twenty years later it still replays in her head sometimes like a sports reel, in bright slow motion. The chalk line that separated her from the field—it meant nothing, in the end.

That horse sliding toward her that summer, or the vein bursting in her mother’s brain while she laughed, teary and breathless, at some comment of her father’s.

That night they sit up to watch the ball drop. Her father pulls two bottles of High Life out of the fridge.

“It’s the champagne of beers,” he tells her. His grin looms up, a sweet, surprising ghost of his old face.

Kelly expects him to fall asleep there in his chair—she’s drifting herself—but the lamplight is glinting on his glasses, pushed up on his forehead, and his calm, open eyes. Her father, not afraid of anything. She understands now, that nothing is left. The way death can come at a gallop, a wall of slick muscle and hooves. Rolling eye and dark, flared nostril. The sudden flick of a wing, a hidden flock surging up into the air.

Midnight is still ten minutes off but outside there’s the sound of fireworks, from some neighbor’s yard nearby. She could stand, and go to the window, and pull the drapes to watch—those bursting paths of light, the streaks across the sky. But she stays where she is, at least for a little while. She pictures the world, swung around again, like a ferris wheel. Another year.

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