I’m going to try something a little different today. A short story. Sorry it’s a little long but let me know what you think of this entirely different version of my writing.
Once upon a quilted sky
Jessica lay in her bed staring at the ceiling. The room was dark, curtains drawn, and Jessica was tucked snuggly in her covers pulling them close to her face for comfort.
How could they expect me to sleep? It has only been two days, she thought.
The night before she had slept, fitfully. The exhaustion of the day forced her heavy eyelids shut but the refuge and peace generally found there held no comfort for her that night. She had tossed and turned and dreamed in flashes of color and emotion. When she awoke the next morning, far before the sun, her eyes ached and her heart more so.
Tonight, she lay in her bed barely moving and tried to hold back the tears, but she couldn’t. They came, streaming down her cheeks making her ears tickle as they gathered in puddles there before falling onto her pillow. It was worse at night somehow. The darkness was empty and sad without her grandmother.
Jessica lay there remembering the first time she had been afraid of the dark. It was a night much like this one when sleep wouldn’t come. The tiredness stole over her and made the fear creep in even faster. They seemed to go hand in hand, darkness and fear. She had been about six the first time she got really scared.
– – – – –
Her parents where out of town and she had gone to stay with her Grandma Sally for a few days. The first day had been so fun. She had played in the barn with the kittens who loved the loft and the hay stored there. They would hide under the bushels and she would chase after them digging through the piles for buried treasure. Coming up from her hunt she was rewarded with a tiny kitten fuzzy and purring in her grasp. She helped her grandma pull weeds from the garden and learned that tomatoes start out green and don’t taste very good when they are. Jessica had petted horses and played with some neighbor kids in the afternoon. She had helped with dinner and sat quietly with her grandmother over bowls of macaroni. But her favorite part of the day had been dusk when the sun sank low in the sky and the shadows came alive with little lights that floated and danced between the trees and blades of grass. She and Grandma Sally had been sitting on the front porch in the big swing rocking and drinking tea as the sun went down when she noticed. Jessica was from the city and what not accustom to this new source of light that popped up in the darkness.
“What is that?” Jessica had asked her grandmother pointing to a spot just off the edge of the small house dotted with little white lights. She was obviously confused and seemed to look around for someone holding a flashlight or some other object to explain the tiny lights.
“They are lighting bugs,” her grandmother explained.
“Bugs?” Jessica looked up at her grandmother with huge eyes filled to the brim with excitement.
“Yes, bugs. They light up off an on to confuse their prey. They only come out…” Sally looked at her young granddaughter and realized there was no point in continuing her explanation. Jessica was already lost in wonder watching the bugs dance about. “Wait right here,” she instructed and headed into the house. Just minutes later Sally returned with a mason jar and lid with wholes punched in the top. “Here, go catch them.” Jessica shot a look or confusion and unabashed curiosity at her grandmother.
“How do I catch them?”
“You’ll figure it out. That is part of the fun.” Jessica snatched the container and ran from the porch her brown bob bouncing as she went. Sally sat watching her granddaughter chase after one bug. When the light vanished a confused and disoriented look spread across Jessica’s face. She would then redirect her attention to another one and try again to place the jar over the bug. When she failed she became even more determined. Sally laughed to herself watching Jessica spin and bounce almost as if she were part of the firefly dance. Finally, Jessica set her eyes on two lightning bugs who stayed close to each other. She followed them as their lights went out almost simultaneously. As soon as they lit up again she grabbed them, gently scooping the jar around them and putting the lid in place. “I did it,” she shrieked bouncing up and down more that she had been.
Night came quickly following the firefly catching. As the darkness fell Jessica started to worry a little. She lay in bed in a small room tucked just off the kitchen. The sounds of the country around here penetrated the room. For a girl used to car horns and police sirens the stillness of the air and the repetitive sounds of animals chirping and humming unnerved her. Jessica had lain starring at the ceiling wishing she were home. She wished she could be tucked under her purple covers and hear her mom’s soft voice just down the hallway. Without the sounds of home her uneasiness grew until she started to fidget in bed and tears started to stream down her cheeks.
She tried to cover her head with the pillow to block out the eerie sound of the owl’s hoot that was far to close to her window. She tried to remember the sound an ambulance makes as it flies outside. Nothing helped. Soon her light tears turned to strong sobs and she could no longer keep them silent. Her grandmother, hearing the noise, stuck her head into the room.
“Jessica,” Grandma Sally whispered not holding back the concern in her voice, “what’s wrong?”
“I…I want my mom,” Jessica said between sobs. Grandma Sally entered the room then and settled herself next to Jessica on the bed. She rubbed the damp hair from Jessica’s face and looked into her eyes.
“Why do you want your mom?”
“It sounds weird here. It’s too quiet and everything outside makes funny noises.” Grandma Sally tried to hide her smile at the young girls simple explanation of what had frightened her.
“It’s just different sounds then you’re used to.”
“I know I don’t like it.” Jessica’s eyes held all the fear she felt and though having her grandmother in the room make it a little less scary she still was wary of this new place. The exhaustion of the day was setting in quickly but her worry kept her awake making her more and more agitated. She wiggled under the quilt Grandma Sally had placed over her before she tucked her in the first time.
“How bout I tell you a story to get your mind off it?” Jessica nodded in agreement at this point willing to try anything to get the darkness and scary noises out of her mind. “Okay, lay still sweetheart,” Grandma Sally instructed laying her hands softly on Jessica’s shoulders stilling the child’s fidgety movements. “I want you to close out all the sounds and just listen to my voice.” Jessica nodded again. “There is nothing to be afraid of honey, you are safe and protected. Now close your eyes,” Jessica felt her grandma’s soft hand brush the bangs off her face again and started to relax. “Okay, now listen,” Grandma Sally paused for a few seconds letting Jessica hear the sounds outside, “what do you hear?”
“An owl,” Jessica answered with the loudest thing you could hear.
“That’s Oly the Owl, I put him there special to watch over your window. He stays up all night so you don’t have to.”
Jessica’s eyes popped open and she looked at her grandmother curiously. “You put him there?” Grandma Sally smiled and left the question alone to ask what else she heard. “A stream, and crickets.”
“Those are your lullaby my little lady. They play sweet music to lull you off to sleep. Do you hear it? Swoosh, swoosh, chirp, chirp. Swoooosh, swoosh, chirp, CHIRP!” Jessica’s eyes where closing now slow and heavy. “Now for the story.” Jessica turned on her side rolling towards her grandmother and settling comfortably into the pillow and waited as Grandma Sally began stroking her back.
“Once upon a quilted sky there was a…”
“Why did you start the story like that,” Jessica asked her eyes now open wide, defeating the purpose of the bedtime story.
“I always start my stories that way,” Grandma Sally explained. “My mother always told me stories that started with a quilted sky.”
“Well,” Grandma Sally thought for a moment trying to recall why her mother told stories that way. “Because it was how her mother told them I suspect, and because it was different, It gets tiring starting with “Once Upon a Time” every time,” she said with a little laugh. Both ladies smiled at this in the dark room. “And because when I got scared at night, much like you are right now, my mother would tell me that if you look outside over top all those scary noises and shadows there is a big quilt that God put there just for you. He made it so big it covers everyone so that wherever you are you know He will always keep you safe. And He put little lights in it too. They make the quilt beautiful and give you light when the darkness gets a little scary. The lights are like the stitches in the quilt, they make it have texture and make it snuggly,” Sally tucked the quilt up around Jessica’s sides as she said this. “And every time she would start a story she would tell me of the quilted sky that God put right over me to keep me safe and light my night when I got scared.”
Jessica was looking at her grandmother now, with eyes that held no more fear. She lay still and relaxed under the quilt on the bed and the quilt in the sky. “I like that,” she said, “it makes me feel safe.”
“Good, that is why God put it there, so you would know you are safe, no matter where you are.”
Jessica started to smile then and snuggle down into the covers hugging her pillow. “I think I should go to sleep now,” Jessica admitted her eyes once again fluttering with the heaviness of her exhaustion.
“I think that is a good idea, we will finish the story tomorrow,” Grandma Sally said getting up from her seat on the bed. She kissed the girls forehead lightly praying the little girl was already comfortable sleeping. As she tiptoed to the door she noticed the fireflies sitting on the night stand next to her sleeping granddaughter and smiled at God’s brilliance of bringing that quilted sky right down into the room.
– – – – –
Now, nearly six years later, Jessica thought back on that night and wished she had her grandmother to tell her the story of the quilted sky and make her feel safe. But no, Grandma Sally had passed away two days before and as hard as Jessica tried she couldn’t shake the scared feeling that crept over her knowing her grandma was no longer in the world.
“Once upon a quilted sky,” Jessica whispered to the darkness. “Once upon a quilted sky,” she said again, more slowly this time, hoping that the familiar words would make the ache in her chest go away. When it didn’t tears fell from her eyes again, this time more rapidly then before. Jessica climbed out of bed grabbing the quilt off a chair near by and headed for the window on the far side of her bedroom. She pulled back the curtains and shimmied up onto the widow seal. Though she was no longer six she was small enough to balance herself on the little ledge and look out into the big sky.
“God,” she whispered, “if you’re up there, which I know you are because I can see the quilt you made me, could you please keep my grandma safe. She isn’t underneath your quilted sky anymore and I just want her to be safe.” Jessica started to cry now so hard that she fell from the window seal. She pumped into her dresser on her way down and landed with a loud thud on the floor in a heap of little girl and homemade quilt. Hearing the noise her mother ran into the room and rushed to her gathering the heap up into her arms.
“Honey, what are you doing? Are you okay?” Jessica couldn’t say a word she just sat in her mothers lap and sobbed into her shoulder. “Oh honey, I’m so sorry,” her mother kept whispering tears now flowing down her cheeks as well. “I’m sorry Grandma Sally is gone.”
After a long moment of crying and sorry’s Jessica pulled away from her mother a little. “She’s gone and I miss her so much.”
“I know you do but she is safe and happy now, and she won’t be sick anymore.”
“Are you sure?” Jessica whipped her face looking at her mother.
“I’m sure honey,” her mother said whipping the bangs from Jessica’s face just as Grandma Sally had always done. “She loved you very much, but it was her time to go be with God and she had to leave you hear so you could grow up and be the wonderful girl she loves.” Jessica nodded feeling a little better though the ache was still stuck in her chest. “How about I tell you a story?” Jessica smiled at this idea and headed for her bed at her mothers nudging, the quilt still wrapped tight around her.
Once Jessica was settled between the covers her mother sitting comfortably at her side the story began. “Once upon a quilted sky.” Jessica looked at her mother in amazement and shock, she had only heard Grandma Sally tell a story like that. Jessica could barely believe what she was hearing and her astonished look had caused her mother to stop the story.
“What is it honey?”
Jessica didn’t know how to answer for a moment then asked the only thing she could think of, “Why did you start the story like that?”
Her mother smiled remembering back to all the times her mother Sally had told her stories growing up. Stories for nights that where dark when the shadows seemed to move about the room. Or nights with skies filled full of thunder and lightning and her mother had always started those stories the same way, “Once upon a quilted sky.”
“It is because that is how my mother told them. When I got scared at night my mother would tell me that if you look outside there is a big quilt that God put there just for me. He made it so big that it covers everyone so that wherever you are you know He will always keep you safe. And He put little lights in it too. They make the quilt beautiful and give you light when the darkness gets a little scary. The lights are like the stitches in the quilt, they make it have texture and make it snuggly,” Jessica snuggled into the quilts then, remembering the first time Grandma Sally tucked her in under the quilted sky. “And every time she would start a story,” her mother continued, “she would tell me of the quilted sky that God put right over me to keep me safe and light my night when I got scared.”
“Once upon a quilted sky,” Jessica whispered. She closed her eyes and saw her Grandma Sally dancing in the sky with light floating all about her much like fireflies do in the summertime. “Once upon a quilted sky,” Grandma Sally whispered back, and Jessica fell right to sleep.