Eyes From the Wild Sky

Photo: © Amy Dupcak. All rights reserved.

I’ve had eyes for Fiona for as long as I can remember. A week, at least. The way her blonde hair falls across her eyes, the dark brown of her thighs. I’ve been watching her from the tall grass up the hill and occasionally I’ll make a noise to draw her attention. I’ll blow air through my lips and run a tight lap around an elm tree. It’s hard to ignore my finesse, and she’s raised her head in my direction more than once. Alas, Fiona is betrothed to Martin. As is Sarah. As is Alicia. As is Brittany. As is Isabella. As is Hilda.

But Martin has been distracted lately. They won’t tell us why, but he and the elders have been meeting at odd hours. Just regular business, they say. Nothing unusual. Even as they huddle together far from the rest of us, sometimes until dawn. After nights like this, Martin sleeps all day beneath the low branches of the crepe myrtle.

I find Fiona alone in the meadow, a sight among the lilies. I nod and she nods back. I flex my leg. Silly, but it makes her laugh. I do a slow spin to show off my form. I let her smell my neck and she breathes against my ear. But suddenly I hear a great thudding, a thunderous clapping, and then there’s Martin rounding the hill, running straight for me with his mouth tight, his eyes pink from exhaustion, and I run like hell back to my mother.


They’ve been staring at the stars, taking stock of the ones we’re familiar with. “Why?” I ask my mother. She doesn’t know, but she’s heard rumors that there are more than there used to be. New lights spotted among the old.

“Big whoop,” I say. “For that they stand in a field all night?” For that they sacrifice naked nights with their wives, I’m thinking, though I don’t make this point to my mother.

She rolls her eyes at me. What would it mean, she says, for there to be new stars? If the sky were no longer eternal? If our sturdiest understanding of the world was shaken in such a way?

“Big whoop,” I repeat.

“Well, there’s more,” she says, and she stomps her feet in the dirt as if to scare off anyone who might be listening. When the dust settles, she leans in. “They move,” she says. “These new stars move.”


I watch the sky myself. Stars flicker, but none move. I watch the elders in the distant dale. I invite Fiona to bathe with me in the river. We rinse ourselves in the shallows and her urine drifts downstream.


For lunch the mothers have arranged the cut grass in a long row. The stalks rest in the shade, while the pale tips lie in the sun just past the shadow’s edge. The tips taste better when slightly warm. We all eat our fill, except for the elders, who are still asleep.

All but Martin. He lumbers among his ladies, eating tip after tip. He’s giving me the stink eye every few bites. He runs a stalk along Fiona’s thigh, even lets it slip briefly between her legs, my god, before downing the whole thing in two disgusting chews.


My mother wakes me sometime past midnight and tells me to look up. Two stars move together high above the elm tree. One flashes green, the color of a tulip bud. The other flashes red, the color of smoldering wood. On such a quiet night I hear the crickets, I hear the faint wind, and I hear a buzzing sound I’ve never heard before.

My mother, usually so unflappable, sidles up against the tree trunk and rubs her face amongst the leaves. A need to touch something she’s sure of, I suppose, but it frightens me.

We’re all awake tonight, our entire community spread across the valley, looking up. Some simply stand, while some, like my dear mother, fling themselves to the ground to feel the earth against the wide of their backs.


“What do you think it was?” Fiona asks. It’s early enough that the sun hangs low through the morning fog and I’m arranging pine branches around a thick patch of pampas grass.

“It was lights, I don’t know,” I say. “Everyone’s losing their minds.”

“They weren’t just lights.”

“Not you, too.”

“They moved!” Fiona says.

I lie a dozen acorns along the top edge of the grass pile and at each end of the line I lay a lovely piece of knotted string.

“I don’t know what they are,” I say. “But truth be told, I don’t actually know what stars are, either. It’s all lights. It’s just what’s up there. Doesn’t mean they’re beings from the sky.” I found a large turquoise rock a few years ago. Proud of myself for having kept it, I set it gingerly in the center of the grass. “What are they supposed to be doing, anyway? Just hovering at a distance, watching us?”

“Maybe they find us strange,” Fiona says. “Maybe they find us interesting.”

“Fat chance.” I place a strawberry on either side of the rock for an extra pop of color, then stand back to admire my work. “Attractive, isn’t it?”

Fiona rubs her foot against the ground. I collect the string of petunias, drape it carefully over Fiona’s hips, and invite her into our refuge. “M’lady,” I say, barely able to disguise my arousal, but she doesn’t smile as warmly as I expect. She stands atop the pampas bed, but her attention is elsewhere—it barely seems to register that she’s crushed one of the strawberries.

“Martin is very worried,” she says.

“Martin’s an idiot,” I say, pressing my body against hers.

“No he isn’t, actually. He’s very intelligent.”

“Why are we talking about Martin?”

“Because he’s worried about something you won’t even acknowledge.”

“They’re lights,” I say. “I acknowledge them as lights.”

“Martin would also acknowledge them as lights, but he’d also acknowledge them as a potential problem. He at least acknowledges the mystery of it all.”

“It’s a mystery, it’s a mystery,” I say. “Why are we talking about Martin inside my coital hutch?”

“I don’t know,” she admits, but it’s too late. We share the one strawberry, naked and annoyed.


Martin tracks me down by afternoon. I see him sprinting toward me along the riverbed trail, and since I’m already sharing a drink with my mother, I’ve got nowhere to run.

“What’s he want?” my mother asks, squinting in Martin’s direction.

“Who knows, he’s an idiot,” I say.

My mother settles, but then squints with a new urgency. “He knows something,” she says. “Who they are, what it means.”

I don’t respond because by now he’s here, backing me up against the elm and swinging his fat neck at me.


The lights are back, but dimmer. As if they want to be less noticeable. I see them, though. I hear the buzzing. And I hear enough murmurs across the dale to know that others see them, too.


Fiona doesn’t want to bathe with me this morning. She says she’s tired, up late again because of the lights. I say we can bathe later, and she says I can bathe when I want. I ask if it’s because of yesterday? My poorly constructed hutch? She says no. I ask if it’s because she thinks less of me with my black eye, because Martin got the jump on me, nearly trampling my mother in the process? She says no. I ask if I can nuzzle her shoulder one last time? She walks away without a word.


He’s asleep beneath the violet branches. His eyes twitch against the flies. I want to wake him, challenge him. A race to the lake and back. A fight. A dance. But there’s nothing I won’t lose to Martin. I crush a dry leaf as I turn to leave and the sound wakes him. His twitching eyes snap open, and without thinking, I bring my feet down on his head. Harder than I mean to, more often than I mean to, but after a certain point I know that he’ll kill me if he ever wakes up again. When I’m sure he’s dead, I take a moment to catch my breath, then pluck the largest feather from my neck and lie it across his ribs.

I hear cries from the valley. The lights have returned. The green and the red, and in the daylight it’s clear that they’re attached to some kind of object. Black, like the deep flow of the river, with four rigid branches extending from the body. The severed top of a strange, unnatural tree. It floats directly above me, which means everyone immediately notices what I’ve done.


Fiona, Sarah, Alicia, Brittany, Isabella, and Hilda carry their grief well. They stand in a serene line by the shore as the elders lower Martin’s willow-laden bed into the water. The betrothed approach one by one, place a fresh sweet potato by the body, then flash me the stink eye as they return to their row.

My mother, too, standing with the other mothers, looks at me with exhaustion. She nods as if to say that yes, I have indeed “gone and done it.”

The elders set the raft alight and push it out onto the lake, but the pyre is soon extinguished by the wind. Martin sinks much slower than expected, a bad omen for his peace in the afterlife. We all wait silently for the better part of an hour.

When the galoot is finally out of sight, an elder calls me forth to stand in the water where the raft had been. He then summons Fiona to stand across from me, the waves lapping at our feet. He hands her a garland of celandine weed that she can either hang around my neck or drop into the lake. She stares at me for a long while. Long enough that for a moment I think she’s seen something in me. A memory. A glimmer of what we were and could yet be. I start to smile, but this is still a funeral, so instead I whisper her name. Fiona. Fiona. Fiona.

She lets the garland fall. It makes no splash, just bobs with the waves for a moment until the weeds grow wet and sink under their new weight.


My mother gives me travel advice. To the south, there is death. To the north, there is death. To the east there is the lake, drowning, and therefore death. She recommends west. She prepares my favorite meal—einkorn wheat with sprigs of rosemary and mint—for the last time. She tells me she loves me. She starts to cry, partly because she’ll never see me again, I know, but I suspect she also thinks I won’t last long without her.


The stars look the same wherever you go. That’s true for me, at least. The grass looks the same, but has a different flavor. Sweeter, with an aftertaste like stale onion. The trees are short and lean to one side because of the wind. Water pools in pockets of stone long enough to turn turbid and yellow; it is not refreshing. Yes, in such a foreign place, at least the stars look the same. The old and even the new, because I’ve noticed since leaving the dale that the strange buzzing sound has followed me. Curled up inside a patch of spelt for the night, I see them high above me, the green and red lights. They study me throughout the day as I scramble for bugs in the scraggly earth. As I fail to trample fish in a stream. As I swat gnats away from my hind. As I feel the breeze blow across the steppe. As I escape the heat in a basin of mud. How nice that I’m interesting, at least. Then one morning the lights are gone. I wake to rain and a silent, empty sky.

Benjamin Page is a graduate of the MFA program at George Mason University, where he was an MFA Honors Fellow. He won the 2014 Mary Roberts Rinehart Fiction Award and his work has most recently appeared in The Pinch, Bright Wall/Dark Room, and The Carolina Quarterly. A former magazine writer, he currently lives in Bolivia with his wife and daughters.

Appears In

Issue 19

Browse Issues