My small feet pattered up the steps as I made my down the stairs of my Grandparents’ rickety steps that led to a wide kitchen. The screen door creaked open, then snapped shut behind me as I continued to join my Grandfather on the porch.
Peeling paint pricked my toes and a chilly breeze nipped at my small ears. A perfect night for soup, as my mother would often say. Mother always loved soup.
“Could you not sleep?” The lilting voice of my grandfather broke the night. There leaned against the railing, slightly bent, bearded, tan, and plump, my grandfather beckoned me over to lean with him. I accepted of course.
“You told me I could stay up late!” I accused. Surely, he hadn’t forgotten. Did he?
“Are you sure?” Grandfather leaned his head back and stroked in his beard as if he were deep in thought. “I don’t recall…”
“You said at dinner that I could come out and see the stars fall!” I informed him. Adults always thought they were so funny. And Grandfather often was but he didn’t need to know that.
Grandfather smiled at me and even though it was dark, I could still tell that his eyes are sparkling in amusement. I could hear it in his voice.
“Well, you did.” I finally concluded. Grandfather seemed satisfied with this and returned his gaze to the sky.
All around, light streaked the sky. Mom often described stars “like diamonds on tapestry”. But these stars were not diamonds. They moved and danced across the sky, leaving a glowing pathway behind.
“What are they?” I found myself asking aloud. “Why can they go so fast?”
“Because they’re ships, Molly.”
My 10-year old self was aghast. “I thought they were fire? Burning fire and chemicals and stuff. I remember from our astronomy class at school.”
Grandfather shrugged. “That’s the boring answer. You already get a bunch of boring answers at school. Wouldn’t you like to hear a fun one for a change?”
“Even if its not true?” I was very concerned with the truth, even as a 10-year old.
“Good stories often aren’t.”
I was fortunately intrigued. “Tell me about the ships then.”
Grandfather’s eyes shut as he began to imagine. “Ships often travel in big groups. You’ve learned that in school, right?”
“Of course!” I responded, eager to demonstrate my knowledge on the matter. “They’re called fleets. The Pilgrims traveled in one to America.”
Grandfather seemed entertained by the Pilgrims remark, half smiling as I came to the end of my sentence, but he would not be sidetracked. “Look out then, M. What you see is a fleet. Ship after ship passing by.”
I still wasn’t fully sold on the idea. “And why do they glow white then?”
“That’s their sails of course,” responded my grandfather. “Sails that reflect and are powered by pure moonlight.”
“And where are they going?”
Grandfather shrugged. “Who knows. I reckon it’s not for us to know.”
A beat of silence ensued as I wrapped my mind around the idea. I didn’t believe it and the both of us knew it wasn’t true, but perhaps that was what made it a fun idea. It was so utterly impossible. Then I was struck with another thought.
“What about shooting stars?” I wondered. “What are they?”
“They’re ships too,” Grandfather said, now a little more quietly. “The ones left behind and lost.”
This thought saddened me.
“Maybe they’re explorers. Like Columbus. I learned that in school too.”
Grandfather opened his eyes and leaned back to look at the sky. “Maybe so, M. Maybe so.”