The Distance From the Sky

sept 2019 prompt

“Now I am fled,

My soul is in the sky.”

– ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’, William Shakespeare

My sister and I were born on an island in a cloud.

The days are long and bright, burning into our skin and against our eyelids. We’ve learned how to duck under other clouds to seek respite from the sun, but it always reaches us. Its grip is both a prison and an embrace.

Nights are vast, silent things that we live through, staring up at the stars that are far more brilliant from up here. We don’t say a word as we lie side by side, but our stars contain every one of our thoughts.

Up here, we see everything. Mountains that poke their frosted heads into the sky. Rivers pulsing through towns. Cities made of stone and glass, with buildings that flash with lights at night, and people who scurry about like they’re trying to pack as many things as they can possibly do into their fleeting lives.

We tell ourselves stories to pass the time, peer into windows when the fog takes us closer to the ground, and imagine ourselves walking in someone’s shoes. Sometimes, we would play a game: we would link up every person, entangling them in a web of made-up lives. The barista in the corner coffee shop was the only friend of the banker who ate at his desk daily. The barista had an unrequited crush on the florist next door. The florist visited the old typewriting teacher every Sunday because he reminded of her grandfather. The typewriting teacher’s nurse came from a small town a two-hour drive from the city. And so on.

It’s easier to make sense of the world when everything is connected by a story.

My sister loves it when it rains. So do I. The world is, all at once, louder and quieter. We have company, and we are all alone. We become the raindrops that rush to find a home in the ground, the hollows of trees, as tears on someone’s face.

It’s the closest we can get to anyone, save for each other.

Some days, we dream of being able to walk along streets and look up at the sky like everyone else. We might lie in a field of wildflowers, we might yell at the sea, we might plant a tree, ride a bike, go to school, perhaps even fall in love. We might learn to bake and swim and take photographs. We might, we might, we might.

But when you’re born on a cloud with no way to ever touch ground, all that’s left to do is dream.

How did we get up here? How can we be so light, made only of air and vapour, soul and thoughts? My sister says we are what’s left of the children who never got to live. I say we are the forgotten children, born with so little we weigh close to nothing, able to drift into the sky and remain there, out of sight and out of reach.

Even lost kites fall back down to earth eventually.

My sister tried to celebrate our birthday once, even though neither of us has any idea when we came into existence. Do we even have parents? A birthday seems superfluous, even presumptuous – who else but us cared? But my sister said it’s precisely because no one else cares that we should. We took turns to sing each other variations of the birthday song we learned from people on the ground, mimicking their enthusiasm.

We find our carved smiles reflected in each other’s faces.

It’s hard to tell how long we’ve lived. We count the seasons and trace our fingers on each other’s palms the way people leave their names on trees. But nothing remains. No ink or imprint or memory. We are both eternal and ephemeral.

It’s hard to tell what we’re here for. We can exist as wishes or fears, dreams or doubts, a whisper in someone’s ear or a voice in someone’s head. Maybe a thought that makes them smile, or one that brings them to tears. I like to think we leave our mark in some way or other.

When people die, they return to the earth. Some are scattered in the sea. Some burnt to dust so fine they slip through your fingers. But they live on as part of the world. They can be found in the grooves of the pavement they had once walked, the pages of the books they had once read, in photographs and voice mails. Maybe one day we might find ourselves in those spaces too.

But it’s hard to believe our feet can touch ground, when our souls are in the sky.



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Joyce lives in the tropical island-city of Singapore, where she spends the perennially sunny days writing YA novels and short stories. She holds a B.A. in English and her YA novel, LAMBS FOR DINNER, won a nationwide novel-writing competition organised by the National Arts Council and was published by Straits Times Press. She subsists mainly on green tea and toast, and blogs about books, writing, and TV shows at The Writes of Passage in between writing her next novel. You can read all of her short stories here.


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