by Sylvia Heike
Night after night, Ida dreams of bones. They’re snow-white and perfect with a sheen like milk teeth. She stands in a cave, bending over two small skeletons holding hands. Sometimes it’s just a single skeleton, with two skulls, a spine, and twice the number of limbs. It makes no difference. Even then, she kneels, longing to touch the hollow cheek that she knows, once under her fingertips, will feel as tender as a peach.
These dreams are not nightmares; they’re the most peaceful thing Ida knows.
It’s Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year, and the last happy moment for Ida. In the afternoon darkness, fiery stars fall from the heavens, and one burning piece of sky lands in the forest behind the house. Ida’s hands are busy rolling puff pastry when her twin girls flit out the door.
Dusting flour off her hands, she follows their footprints and laughter into the woods, not knowing she should run, run, run.
The children’s sounds fade, and the woods fall silent. She runs–snow crunching under her feet, blood thumping in her ears.
All she finds is a clearing, a snowless crater surrounded by charred pine trees. Faint smoke hangs in the air like breath. This is where her girls should be, but there is no sign of them, no footprints leading out of the hole. Ida kneels and begs and scratches at the hot dirt, but it won’t give back what it’s taken.
Countless people go missing that night: children and adults, even whole families if they’re unlucky–or perhaps they are the lucky ones. Since that cursed night, people wish upon shooting stars as often as they curse them.
Only in Ida’s dreams, does the universe grant her closure.
For the first few years after the girls’ disappearance, the endings in Ida’s dreams were either happy or sad. That isn’t the case anymore. There’s only one finale, and it is both at once.
Ida digs through the hot, tarry soil until she falls into a cave. There she discovers the delicate, snow-white skeletons of her girls with their soft, soft cheeks. She has found them, and despite their hopeless state, in dreams, her heart is blind and infinite like a mother’s heart–only capable of love.
Her arm extends forward, gentle and loving like a branch of her heart, but she isn’t allowed to touch the girls. She can never touch them.
Seven years pass before Ida sees it again. Hope. A blazing star falling in the forest. She charges after it, trampling through untouched snow. This time she won’t be late.
She discovers the impact site among scorched pine trees. No rock, no ship. Nothing but a black hole, its blackness more perfect and complete than anything she has ever seen. It spreads slowly, eating away snow and trees, moonlight twisting and bending at the edges.
“Mummy, mummy.” From the black vortex, her girls’ voices call. Ida steps closer, arms reaching to hug and to hold.
She hears laughter–her own. She shrinks away from the black, fighting the gravitational pull of her heart. Time feels thin and stringy, a giant coil stretched out, loops and knots unravelling.
There’s a good chance it’s a trap, but in her heart the choice is already made. She has nothing to lose and everything to gain. The black nearly touches her toes. She smiles. This is the end; this is all ends. “Take me to my children,” she shouts defiantly as she leaps forward.
Ida sits up in a hospital bed as the nurse comes in and nestles two wrapped bundles in her arms. Her babies have been kept away in the isolation ward, but after a quiet, lonely wait, she is finally allowed to hold them, finally allowed to touch their soft, soft cheeks.
She will love them until the end of time, and all the way to the beginning.