When the meteor falls, I am watching Oona breathe. Mama hasn’t said it, but I know it is my job. To watch for earthquakes inside my little sister. To catch them, to read the fault lines of her sleep twitches.
I have a washcloth, twisted and readied in my fist. I’ve seen Mama do it before, but I worry I won’t be quick enough, that something will get bitten off. That I’ll fall asleep and miss the whole thing: eyes gone in search of something behind themselves, tongue left bloody.
So when the sky cracks open, I think it is Oona, rattling the windows, shoving a boom through my insides. As if earthquakes could escape bodies, walk into other bodies.
Mama says they may never leave her. Mama puts little drops under Oona’s tongue, little pills down her throat, little wires in her veins.
Mama says they’re not catching, but I wish they were. The way a sneeze comes out of you like a thousand dandelion seeds, settling and sprouting and making snot-rivers in other noses, while you get better.
Mama says Oona’s earthquakes don’t work like that.
When the sky splits open, so do Oona’s eyes. I am ready with the washcloth, but she just sits there, looking down at her hands, her body, which are still. Not me, she says, running her fingers over quiet limbs.
The field outside our window is on fire. Oona sees it first, places her palms on the pane. It is nothing big. Smaller than the campfire Mama built for us last summer. I remember the way she cradled a lichen nest, the way her breath gave life to orange light, the way she wouldn’t let us get too close.
We should wake up Mama, but we don’t.
We hold our breath, unlock the back door, slide it open. I follow Oona, all shadow, toward the small flames. The grass is tall enough to hide her feet, and for a moment, I am convinced that she is flying. That she is something else. That the earthquakes have left her and in their place is a wildness I do not recognize.
We stand above it like witches. The lit grasses burn in little curls at our toes, and the tail of the thing lingers in the sky. I throw water from a bowl, and the thing hisses. Steam licks the air.
I think about dinosaurs and craters and ash-covered skies. Choking to death. But the thing in the field is no bigger than my heart.
Oona crouches. Picks it up. It must be burning—all that friction, all that falling—but she brings it to her chest like she were its mama, like it were a part of her once, and even in the dark, I can see the pink growing on her chest, dotted and splotched, like a galaxy unzipped.
Anna Gates Ha earned her MFA in fiction at Saint Mary’s College of California. Her writing, nominated for the Pushcart Prize, has appeared in Harpur Palate, Watershed Review, and Literary Mama, among others.