“Where do stars go during the day, Mommy?”
“Where do stars go?” his mother repeated the question. She scanned the blue sky. They sat in a field of tall grass that swayed in the breeze like dancing snakes. The boy’s mother sat in her long, black dress, her knees up, her arms hugging her shins. The boy sat the same way in his black suit and clip-on tie. “The stars go away during the day,” his mother answered.
“Where are the stars now?” the boy asked, squinting at his mother in the sunlight. The autumn breeze teased his hair and caressed his cheeks—the same way his mother often did.
“The sun came out and they all went home,” she said.
“Are they a-scared of the sun?”
“No, they aren’t afraid of the sun. They just know he’s big enough to light the sky by himself, and when he’s there, they can all go home and play.”
The boy sat, looking at the sky. He remembered the hugs and kisses from earlier that day. People were crying. People told him he was such a brave little boy and now he was the man of the house. They marveled at how big he was getting. They messed his hair and pinched his cheeks. They had tears in their eyes. His mother led him to see his father. His father was sleeping. They knelt. He folded his hands like hers.
“Why’s Daddy sleeping?” he asked.
“Because Daddy got sick. And now he’s resting because he has to go away for a very long time.”
Then everyone stood around a big, wooden box. They listened to a man speaking big words with a big voice.
“Where’s Daddy going?” the boy whispered to his mother as the man spoke.
“Daddy has to go to heaven, dear,” his mother answered.
“Heaven is with the stars,” she answered.
The boy sat in the field with his mother. He put his hand between him and the sun. He held the sun. It glowed red between his fingers. He was bigger than the sun.
“Where’s home, Mommy?”
“Where’s the stars’ home?”
The boy’s mother sat silent. Then she pointed to a clear pond nestled in the field. It shimmered like glass. “Some live in that pond,” she said.
Atop the water, billions of stars danced and jumped. They ran across the surface with brilliant, white fire. They twinkled and winked more intense than the boy had ever seen them do in the sky.
“What do they play, Mommy?”
“I don’t know. You’d have to ask one.”
“Why haven’t you asked one?”
“I’ve never been able to catch one.”
“Will Daddy play with them?”
“I’m sure he will, dear,” she answered. Her eyes shimmered like the pond.
“Can I ask them what they play?”
“Do you think you can catch one?”
The boy looked at the pond. The stars dashed back and forth like speeding fireflies. They left streaked trails behind them. The boy looked up at his mother and nodded. “Yeah, I can catch one.”
The boy stood on his short legs and ran toward the pond. The long grass brushed his knees. As he approached the pond, the stars darted away from and toward one another, engaged in a sort of tag or dance. The boy’s breaths deepened. His legs worked as hard as they could. The sun warmed his face and hair. As he neared the water’s edge, the stars moved away from him, cowering to the far end of the pond. “Wait,” the boy called as he reached the edge of the water. “What do you play?” he hollered over the pond. The stars continued to dance and jump and skip across the water’s surface. “What do you play?”