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Tanith’s Sky

I don’t really want to talk about it right now.

I can think of nothing else.

***

Tanith is dead. Her spirit is spent and her body is broken, frozen and fractured under the weight of defying the universe’s fortune. But though I cry, clutching her hand as if to thaw and return her, elsewhere others are smiling and living because of her sacrifice. The world is whole, our future is safe.

Later, I hear celebration. Threat dealt with, death and danger limited, now is the time for laughing, for embracing everyone nearby and staring up at the sky. The aurora has already faded—retreated back to the poles when the earth’s magnetic field folded back into place—but the collision of starburst and astrologic shield will remain bright and colourful in the night sky for some hours.

Later, she will be hailed and celebrated. The sneers and hardships she faced while trying to save the world will be forgotten. The people who ignored or mocked her will lie. She will be remembered—almost—as she deserves to be.

Later, we will discover that she is not truly gone. Whether purposely or as side-effect from the psychic kickback her memories were dispersed throughout those whose minds and power she shared and directed.

Belatedly, I will discover that she always made time for me, even as the deadline loomed.

Later—as now—it will not be enough.

***

I’m fine. I’m all right. It’s fine. It’s fine. I would tell you if I wasn’t fine.

Why are you asking me? You don’t want the truth.

I’m fine.

***

Some have mere seconds of her life. They might never realise. Others have hours, sliced and slipped between their own memories.

***

He was one of the Capricorns, he says, that night, then. He doesn’t look at me as he talks about it, the same story as all the others. And then he woke up, he says, and after the worrying and the celebration—and the mourning—was done, life seemed to get back to normal.

Except he’d been left with something. Not a memory. It takes him several minutes of stuttering and false starts. Eventually he describes it. A feeling that began to grow, strange and unbidden, uncomfortable yet familiar. He did not understand, trust or like it. Then he had heard of her memories.

“I worked out what it was,” he says. “Her feelings for you.”

We sit in silence for what seems like hours, but when he next speaks my tea is still hot, my mind still a mess. Her feelings.

“Should I come back later?”

My words are a reflex from weeks of answering the door a zombie. “It’s fine.”

But it’s not and I’m not. She would have known that.

“Sorry. I’m just—”

“Ash.”

Maybe it’s obvious even to a stranger, or maybe it’s only obvious because part of a stranger’s mind sits in his own, but he steps around the table and hugs me. It’s a hesitant touch at first, loose and barely touching me, but when I do not push him away his embrace tightens and he begins to hum. He smells completely wrong. He is the wrong height and build. His heartbeat and his tune is wrong. Somewhere, he says, some part of Tanith is inside him, guiding him from beyond the grave like a morbid golem. I have no reason to doubt him and if I did then this one action would likely have made me a believer.

But I cannot feel her, no matter how I might try.

“I’m sorry,” he says, pulling away, and touches my shoulder for a moment before returning to his chair and coffee. “I’m sorry. But she just—it’s so strong. She—”

“No.” I shiver and rub my arms. “I don’t want to—it’s too soon.” I’m still trying to cope with my feelings.

“I can’t wait for you. It’s difficult enough to love someone I have never met, let alone to explain to my husband that a stranger is more important to me than him.”

I shake my head; I might regret it later but I cannot do this now. She is extracted from his mind by the people who know how, put with the other bits of they’re collecting for who knows what.

***

I’m glad—well, I’m not glad she’s—it’s good what she managed to do. I don’t—I can’t begrudge people, can’t hate her success.

I hate everyone. At the moment the world is not worth it. If all of the other psychics could have died instead—if the entire rest of the world could have died instead of her…

I’m not worth it.

***

“Your auntie says you were born at night,” a Scorpio says she said. That is the extent of her fragment. I remember how that conversation went but I do not share.

***

In my grief my standards slip. I barely leave the house; dressing and washing, non-essential chores, are difficult to accomplish. And so I leave untouched my binders and bras, my corsets and suits, my tight pants and dresses, and grab whatever’s cleanest and closest if I absolutely must change out of my pyjamas. Gendered posture’s ignored when all I want to do is curl around my pillows. I don’t know when I’ll be able to wear makeup again without fear of crying.

“I—I thought you were a guy,” says a Sagittarius, blushing and openly staring at my cleavage. She has a memory of me dragging Tanith to the opera in a man’s suit; I wonder if she ignores or doesn’t notice the makeup I had worn that night. “I thought that people were confused when they called you a woman.”

“They are,” I say, but this is not a conversation I have energy for.

Tanith and I had had so many when I began exploring who I was and learning how to express that. Though she’d tried to, she hadn’t understood me. I don’t think she ever really did—I don’t think she quite understood anyone’s gender. We were both learning in our different ways and many of our early talks ended as arguments.

I wonder what we’d talk about now. Perhaps has mourning biased me towards one gender? Or maybe how does lethargy affecting performance affect my connection to myself? I spend entire days formulating increasingly-circular responses and writing notes in case a psychic knocks on my door and has her hypothetical questions in their head. None of them do; later I will find these notes and find them unreadable.

Sometimes I dream that we argue for the first time in years. So you’re just dressing up? This is how I tell people who I am. You just want to think you’re special.

I wake hating her, forgetting the times she’d defended me or suffered me clothes shopping, that it hadn’t taken her long to work out when to use what words and pronouns. Yet I cling to the dream Tanith. Crueller than the real woman ever was, she is better than nothing.

***

I think of all the things we could have done, I should have said, she would have liked. If I had known, if I could have suspected, if I had been brave. I mourn the future, regret the past. It is too easy to remember all the times I made her cry or scream or avoid me, the days when I hated her for being herself, the moments when I thought her lazy or crazed or lacking. If I had forgotten favours less often, if I had let her tell me my fortune, if I had baked her more cheesecakes, if I had been an adult and respected rather than expected…

***

I remember when my mother died and my mum started gardening. I was young and I only understood the world through half-truths.

“You hate gardening,” I said as I watched her pull weeds out one by one. “You complain when she asks you to help.”

“Yes,” she said, and asked me to fetch the mulch.

I start reading the daily fortunes.

***

Most days a friend or two check in on me. We might sit silently for hours or awkwardly play cards and discuss politics. They bring me meals and encourage me to leave the house. I tell them I don’t need my mum to drive up and wish I could help my friends who are also hurting. Together we cope.

***

“What are we?” I was drunk; I can’t remember why and the Taurus doesn’t know.

She had a blackening eye but they don’t know why from this fragment of her memory. She’d got into a fight for me. An ex, I don’t tell the Taurus, harassing me with too many old words and telling too-loud stories. The insults were old and would only hurt in the long term but the what are you, her customer or confused too? sneered at Tanith just before she punched my ex in the nose iterated in my head the rest of the night, twisting too close to my own thoughts, until I ran out of shells to throw into the ocean and blurted it out.

She turned to look at me, must have realised I hadn’t been paying any attention to this season’s constellations she’d been pointing out. “The dust of stars so ancient we will never meet those who paint myths and futures with their light.”

Our hands were near on the sand. I moved mine on top of hers; I remember she was warm and she didn’t move, neither entwining our fingers nor jerking away, and I remember being glad for the noise of the surf hiding my heartbeat. “What are we?” I was pretty sure she’d never been with anyone and I had no partner at the time. Too burnt out from coming out and explaining myself to everyone I knew to try meeting strangers but missing the connection and intimacy I used to have—that I knew she wouldn’t give me but didn’t understand that she couldn’t—I was blinded to what we did share.

We stared at one another until she looked back to the sky. “You of all people,” the Taurus says she said, “wanting a term.”

***

I miss her.

I hate her. I hate her I hate her I miss her. She left me all alone. Even before. I think she knew what would happen. She didn’t tell me. She thought I wasn’t strong enough.

I’ve sure showed her. I’m fine. I’m coping and I’m not worrying my friends and I’m fine and I’m getting back into the swing of things and I’ll be going back to university soon and I’m fine. I’m fine.

If I say it enough it will have power and will be true.

***

They all want to tell me their stolen—gifted—memories. And I listen to them all in some attempt at catharsis. Some of the memories are fights at which I cringe to recall, some cause the psychic to stare at me when my presentation differs too much from rumours or Tanith’s visions. Some of them I have forgotten whilst others do not involve me: Tanith tending to her garden, writing up horoscopes, talking with other friends, floating around the universe. Some of the hardest to listen to are when she presented her findings to the astrologers and the government and the army, arguing that these were not hallucinations, being derided and ignored every single time, told to go back to your aliens before doors were slammed in her face.

She hadn’t told me many details about those meetings. Some hiccoughs, she’d say and ask how the exam grading was going. Nothing I can’t handle, she would say and offer to cook dinner. No need to worry about it, Ashie, she’d say and ask for a massage.

She told me that the psychics she was amassing were sent from the professionals she’d canvassed and persuaded. It was mostly a lie, I find out. Many of the psychics who helped save the world were amateurs. She banked on numbers equalling skill.

Would she still be here if she had been surrounded by trained psychics, seasoned astrologers?

***

We are looking through photos in the memory a Cancer has. Mum had sent them to me after an uncle had found out I was no longer calling myself a girl and reported back to her. I had wanted to tell her in person when I went home for the summer holidays, I explain unbidden. She wrote a letter that made me cry with relief, saying how much she loved me and supported me. The photos were of her and my mother near unrecognisable in their youth—some of those with them I knew as family friends and my mother’s cousins—variously in drag and femme outfits. From the annotations I see one is where they first met, mum in suspenders and my mother in a miniskirt. The last shows my mother pregnant, many of the buttons on her suit and waistcoat undone.

I can’t remember why I shared the photographs with Tanith. She pointed out the similarities she saw, because of course she couldn’t have known that everyone told me you have her smile.

“I don’t know if she understands,” I said. “Or maybe I don’t understand her.”

“If she doesn’t, she’s trying to. Does she still have this dress? You would you look so good in this dress.”

The Cancer tells me I’m lucky and before I can retort adds that her parents still call her William. Then she tells me that she’s available to talk whenever I need, and stays so late we have dinner together.

***

She had always believed in aliens.

“If the stars look different from the other side of the world,” she had once said, trying to explain the fascination to me, “just imagine what they must look like from out in space.”

Bored but financially comfortable from years of dutiful double shifts and frugality, she left the royal institution and drifted between part-time jobs. She joined a group that talked about aliens, believed in them—and searched for them. Some of them had experience in astral projecting beyond the atmosphere but few had her expertise or pure psychic power. Tanith helped them develop and hone a psychic piggyback technique, flinging one another’s projections through the sky and beyond, further than anyone could manage by themselves. Instead of studying the constellations from earth’s orbit or the moon they wandered as far as they could, first to Venus and Mars, then further out. Our neighbouring planets were devoid of psychic signals; they planned to look further.

“Isn’t it dangerous?” I asked; she was not someone you could admonish.

“You can’t discover anything safely, Ash. Crossing an ocean without knowing if you’ll find land, eating fermented fish or smearing dragon mould over a wound, combining ice and shadows—why, imagine being the first person to let your mind float up to the clouds, unsure of whether you’ll ever find your way back down again.”

“But what about the first person to smear dragon blood on a wound, or the person who decided to try and canoe across an ocean?”

“It’s worth the risk,” she said.

I remember the way she smiled, that her eyes were closed and she couldn’t see that I didn’t smile back, that someone shouted and her attention was turned to the meteorite shower. And I remember that even though she twined her fingers through mine and the night’s spectacle was beautiful I still could not smile, that I never found the time or courage to say, But what about the people who loved them?

***

I imagine one day when all of her memories are collected she will return. They will bring her back because she realised at the last second what was happening but she’s really smart and she came up with this plan and she flung out her mind and they’re collecting her and they’re going to make her whole and she’ll be back she’ll be back I’ll have her back and we’ll never argue I’ll never take her for granted she’ll never it’ll never happen what would they do stuff all the memories in her corpse or in a box no no maybe the aliens will come they’re real they’ll bring her back. I imagine it so hard my chest hurts, as though it might not happen if I don’t wish with my all, and as I lie wheezing in my bed I cannot help but wonder if I used up too many wishes when I was younger wishing my body was less inexact.

I imagine one day I will be over this, my grief scarred over, recognisable but not debilitating. I think of my mum finally able to look over old photographs with me, still crying, but smiling too, and I imagine visiting and telling her all about Tanith, being able to say her name without my voice collapsing under the weight of memory, living life as though there’s some worth to it. And somehow, at the moment, that image hurts me more.

***

She got me to do the calculations over twenty times. And then she got my fellow graduates to run them and my supervisors to try alternate models.

“How can we stop it?” I asked.

“Us, of course. Like in the old battles. Caesar’s might broken against mind-powered shields.” She was excited then, before mass disbelief affected her, before the anxiety and the insomnia almost broke her. “I’ll need you to do some more number wizardry when I come up with some ideas.”

***

I’m told that some of my friends are worrying because I’m still not dressing as nicely or as blended as I did before. While it is true that there are few mornings I’m interested in choosing outfits and accessories, balancing how masculine and feminine I feel against how I want to display or how safe I will be, is there such a thing as grieving too slowly? I’m showering and exercising regularly, preparing to return to my studies, laughing and socialising again, healing and returning to life more and more every week—yet I’m still a concern? Had they worried when my presentation simplified during exams and illness?

So many people want to talk to me—psychics, Tanith’s friends, journalists, curious neighbours, university people, local government members—and even more have been talking about me because of her memories. I don’t want to draw attention to myself right now. I want to be confident again, I want dressing to be enjoyable.

But I also want all the Ash, are you all right, do you need to talk? and disappointed reports to die down so I start going to my wardrobes on days my friends are likely to see me. Sometimes I look in the mirror, pleased, but it takes many more weeks before my preference shifts from low maintenance clothing.

***

What are you two? I was sometimes asked. Are you dating yet? I thought she wasn’t into that? Is it with benefits?

We’re friends, I’d say. Fuck off.

Friends. A nice word. We’d been friends. Close friends. Closer than friends.

Closer to friends than—

Why had I cared? Was love less important than the form it took, the term for it? Would our lives have been more fulfilling if she’d been interested in cuddling, moving in or sleeping together? Had our relationship been lacking? Wasn’t this another way of blaming her, lamenting she wasn’t what she couldn’t be, clutching at the notion that she’d still be here if we’d been something else? She’d accepted when I said I was neither a woman nor a man; why couldn’t I cope with us being between friendship and romance?

I hadn’t been able to help her. What could have changed that?

***

Tanith had no family she’d admitted to. I am her sole named beneficiary. Though most of her money had gone into saving the world, enough of the government and businesspeople she’d originally gone to for help—the ones who had laughed at her—donated to her estate that I will never have to worry about scholarships again. Whether they felt guilty or they wanted to avoid me causing a fuss I don’t know; I certainly never asked.

I tell our friends we have to go through her things. I have to write it down for them. I feel light-headed at the thought of it and my voice keeps giving out as if Tanith’s death has placed a geas on me. Perhaps I could just keep up her rent payments forever. But I remember my mum, stony-faced and trembling, sorting through wardrobes and drawers with my aunts, and I knew that this was something we needed to do.

She had few possessions but we are there for hours. Most of the time we spend crying—do you remember when—and hugging and trying to smile and going outside to kick the garden wall. Which causes more tears to see what neglect has done to her vegetable and flower beds. At least we can rescue the potted herbs and succulents.

I wonder what mum would think of Tanith’s garden and suddenly I am overcome, thinking of her and how strong she was for my sake—had my childish misapprehension helped or made it more difficult?—and I so desperately want her to be here to help me and I wish she’d met Tanith, I know they would have gotten on so well. And though for all my life the thought of what would it be like if my mother had lived? has been nothing but secondhand wistful speculation, I now wonder what she would have thought of Tanith’s garden, of mum’s garden, of me having grown up, and it is as if grief has become an ocean from a sea.

Later someone finds a desk calendar. There are birthdays and work shifts and social engagements, the stages of the moon and dates for constellations and comets and meteor showers, and every single essay, presentation, review and draft due date for my thesis along with midway dates and notes to check on me. She had similar entries for everyone, exams and bad anniversaries and medical tests, but by far most of them were for me. As the calendar passes into the end times there are more and more meeting times written down, and also more and more notes she’d ignored.

“I wondered why she passed on coffee that time,” one friend says.

“She didn’t ring after that exam,” says another.

It’s difficult to remember clearly but I can’t see any dates relating to me that she’d missed. Even on her busiest days, running from disappointing meeting to skeptical seminar, she’d called me or dropped by to lie about how her plans were progressing and ask me how much proofreading I’d done. Sometimes she’d asked if I knew how someone’s interview had gone or tell me to see someone if I got a chance. I hadn’t thought anything of it at the time.

***

I’m getting—I’m not getting better. I’m getting less worse, I suppose. I haven’t cried in three days!

I hate myself. Didn’t she mean more to me?

***

“Come on, Asharoo,” said Tanith—says the Leo. “Don’t you want your fortunes?”

“You know I don’t like them.” I was editing my honours thesis, says the Leo, holding several coloured pens in one hand and running a finger along every sentence and table value.

“I just need your hours and minutes.” She was tapping the uncapped green pen and then dabbing the ink onto her cheeks, says the Leo. I did not remember that, or most of the conversation. We’d had so many arguments about my fortunes.

“Is it in your future to find them out?”

“That’s not—”

“You were smiling, and then she watched you smile,” says the Leo.

***

When I return to my studies it takes a few weeks until most people are comfortable talking to me, convinced I am back to normal enough to handle proper conversation. My supervisor is understanding when I cannot make my matrices work, reminds me that another time extension is easily attainable when I hand in a tenth of the writing I should have done and spend the afternoon crying in her office. But Tanith did not save my life and the world for me to wallow in my bedroom forever.

One day a fellow postgrad visits my tutoring session and waits until the students are gone. I’ve been strongly masculine lately and today I’m wearing a man’s suit with chandelier earrings: still lazier than previous standards but this is the first time in a week I’ve worn something that needs ironing. Tanith would have found it interesting to hear who judges my fragility on how feminine I appear and who judges by how multigender or casual my dress is.

“Ash, why didn’t you tell any of us that you were betrothed?”

“We… weren’t.” We were friends.

“There’s someone going round saying they’ve got the memory of when she proposed. It’s… nicely told.”

Every day I try to wear something which reminds me of her. Usually it is her meteorite necklace but today it’s a birthday tie embroidered with proofs of Pythagoras’ theorem. I fiddle with its end, reading upside-down proofs until I am capable of calm speech. “I see.”

I suppose it’s a better story. More tragic, for Tanith to be in love and betrothed. Her sacrifice is somehow more.

I do not know who I am angry at.

***

The Pisces who tells me their memory of a young Tanith walking along a beach for several hours, collecting shells and standing in the surf and talking to fishermen, was a coworker and friend of hers and he spends a day telling me of his own memories of Tanith. Sometimes, the boring work too easy, she’d prank her fellow psychics. He tries to explain the best to me but they are a little too you just had to be there and also have a good understanding of the mechanics of astral projection and manipulation and he moves on to other things. Inevitably he talks of that day.

“At least they’re not ignoring it,” he says, but I can see that he doesn’t think it enough. “They don’t want it to happen again. There’s going to be sky surveillance.”

“Maybe someone’ll see an alien.”

“Weather balloons don’t get that high.”

He picks some leaves from Tanith’s basil and mint and gives me several photographs of her last birthday, a costume party, that he recently had imaged from his memories. His favourite is of me, Ada Lovelace, pointing out a shooting star to wolpertinger Tanith. But the one I frame and put on my bedside table is of her dancing, surrounded by friends and lit by fairy lights, looking so blissful it makes me forget how tired and bitter she became.

***

You don’t mean that, they say and some of them say it confidently and some of them say it shocked and some of them say it to shore up their own beliefs.

But neither of us are people to them and whatever I say will not change anything.

***

A Gemini tells me of another time Tanith tried to wheedle my exact birth time. I remembered this one: we’d gone to the spring carnival, she’d won me a toy tiger, the second-best prize, from the shooting booth—and other prizes for some children who’d passed by—and then we negotiated fair rides and animal shows until the fireworks. We were waiting on a hill amidst the crowd when she asked me.

“How can you believe when you know what you know, have seen what you’ve seen?” I asked, pulling up my socks. “The constellations are just scattered stars seen from our particular angle. They are nothing with any inherent power. A not-insignificant percentage of fortunes are wrong. So why?”

“I know you hate it when I say things like it’s different when you’re a part of it but it’s true.” She pointed up to the night sky, starting with the constellations I had perhaps heard of once or twice and then finishing with those I knew well. Then she looked to me.

“So?”

“Some of those, you saw more than just scattered stars seen from a particular angle, didn’t you? Like the water-bearer.”

“The name evokes an image but it doesn’t match what’s actually there.”

She smiled and buttoned up her coat. “When you’re up there, you see more than just the stars, you see more than just an image of someone with a water jug. You feel more than just emptiness, more than just expanse.”

I sighed. “Don’t start on the aliens again.”

“No, no.” She laughed. “I think I can tell the difference between aliens and starlight.”

“So, what, are you saying there’s an Old Man Aquarius up there?”

She pursed her lips, tried several times. “There’s… what we believe, I suppose. We leave something behind every time. It grows.”

“You’ve created an Old Man Aquarius?” I was sitting straight, leaning towards her, wearing the dress she’d said I’d look good in.

“Maybe? I don’t know. But when you’re up there, you’re not alone.”

“It must be the other psychics.”

“Maybe.” She smiled.

“But what about other zodiacs—”

The fireworks began.

The Gemini talks about it, what she has seen above the sky, what she believes lives in the stars. Others have tried to talk to me about their experiences as a psychic, what they think about the universe, but I have ignored them. This time, however, I find myself listening. A few times I even mention something Tanith had told me, and some of those times my voice doesn’t give out.

***

Of course I did the maths. I am a mathematician.

Not all of her went to the psychics. Even allowing for some outside who were swept up, who realised or felt what was happening and tried to help in some way, unless there’s some—none of whom have come forward—with weeks and months of her life there are just simply too few people.

Some of Tanith is missing.

***

Sometimes I hear the front gate open and I know it’s her, that’s the sound the gate makes when she comes by, she’s here, she’s come to make sure I’ve eaten something in the last couple days of editing or she’s brought me a new cake recipe or she’s wanting help with the weeding or she’s—she’s—

The gate makes the same noise whoever opens it. I curl over as if I’ve been stabbed. How did I forget? How do I keep forgetting?

How do I stop remembering?

***

It is late and I am tired and my equations are not working and my new deadline looms. She would know what to say, how to coax me into taking a break and relaxing.

I think I went back too soon but I wonder if I would have noticed when too soon became too late. Leaving the house and talking to people and rediscovering laughter are one thing, but time limits and responsibility… At least maths is a patient subject.

The vice-chancellor treats me to breakfast every fortnight. Usually she also invites junior lecturers and other post-graduates but sometimes it is just her being fascinated with my study and exaggerating the academic opportunities that will no doubt be available to me at this university and almost certainly at no others. I never received this much attention before but now I am famous, now my calculations have helped save the world. I could possibly hand in a thesis of stick figures and still be acclaimed. More importantly, I will bring her university acclaim.

I think about asking if she thought the threat real, if she offered to help and if she argued for Tanith’s cause before her life had been saved, or if she only considered Tanith trusted and praiseworthy once it was safe, once she was too late. But whether she is shocked and whether she lies, I will be the fool and it will be my future and career that could suffer.

But do I want a life in academia now, where my work might never be as important as whose memories I clutter? What do I want? What can fill the holes in my life? What can I dream of?

How can I repay her?

***

This is not grief.

This is living.

***

I had little understanding of how the psychics worked. I had to hope that Tanith’s plan would succeed. The models and the calculations seemed sound and she was confident. She amassed—scrounged—ranks of psychics, organised by constellations that did not always match their birth signs. Each had their own specific tasks at various levels through the atmosphere and space, communing in that strange astrologer way with the starman-belief-spirits and channelling power through shields and pulling the magnetic field at just the right angles at just the right time.

She had been at their centre, had been their commander, had been their saviour.

***

Her feelings—it’s difficult enough to love someone—a stranger is more important.

At the time I’d bristled, thinking that the Capricorn had said too much, Tanith too late. Now I understand—at least I believe I understand—and I can’t help but think that it was me who said too much. Had I spent less time worrying would I have more pleasant memories?

What were you two? ask the psychics. I thought you were just friends? ask our acquaintances. Did she have any lovers or was she a loner? ask the journalists.

We were important to one another, we loved one another, and I miss her so much. Isn’t that enough?

***

I plan to spend my birthday locked in my room with a tub of ice cream and a carton of wine but an Aries arrives at my house.

“I do not have a memory,” she says. “I have a wish. To be with you on this day.”

I cry like I haven’t cried for weeks.

It is awkward for her; she is shy and she has heard so much about me and Tanith and me and Tanith and I am crying. But she copes and she fills the day. I am not sure how much is Tanith’s influence, how much is her improvising. We talk, we do chores, we stroll around and we eat and in the evening we find ourselves at the beach. We watch the sunset and we watch the stars come out and I point out the constellations Tanith taught me and she watches me cry again. She gives me her jacket for my bare arms when she sees me shivering and we have run out of star names but neither of us mention leaving.

“Your birth hour was twenty and your birth minute was three,” she says during a lull in which we listen to the waves and my hiccoughing.

“What?”

Her watch suddenly begins beeping.

“Happy birthday, Ashie.”

She takes my hand and points to a spot in the sky where suddenly a light flares into being, soon followed by four others. They are new stars—or old ones, rather, their light only having just reached us. They are far apart, we will find out, and tonight is a wondrous coincidence.

I stare at this new constellation as she holds my hand and tells me my fortunes.

***

She would want me to heal and continue living in this world she saved. Some days it is a struggle but I am not alone; some days the future looks worthless but this grief has not made me hollow. Her sacrifice won’t be for naught and her love will not be forgotten. I will live. I will live in the shadow of her story, under the light of her constellation.

And I will live brightly enough for both of us.

A bit about the author:

Penny Stirling wrote this story for R. She has work published and forthcoming in Goblin Fruit, Aurealis, Deimos eZine and Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine, and she can be found at pennystirling.com Visit author page