After bedtime the child climbed on her dresser and peeled phosphorescent stars off the sloped gable-wall, dimming the night vault of her ceiling like a haze or the interfering glow of a great city, small hands anticipating eons as they raided the playful patterns her father had mapped for her — black holes now where the raised thumb-stubs and ears of the Bat had been, the feet of the Turtle, wakeful eyes of the Mourning Dove. She stuck those paper stars on herself. One on each foot, the backs of her hands, navel, tip of nose and so on, then turned on the lamp by her bed and stood close like a child chilled after a winter bath pressed up to an air duct or a radiator until those paper stars absorbed more light than they could hold. Then turned off the lamp, walked out into the dark hallway and called. Her father came up. He heard her breathing as he clomped upstairs preoccupied, wrenched out of a rented film just now taking grip on him and the child’s mother, his day-end bottle of beer set carefully on the stairs, marking the trail back down into that evening adult world — he could hear her breathing (or really, more an anxious, breathy giggle) but couldn’t see her, then in the hallway stopped, mind spinning to sort the apparition of fireflies hovering ahead, till he sensed his daughter and heard in her breathing the pent, grave concentration of her pose, mapped onto the star chart of the darkness, arms stretched high, head back, one foot slightly raised — the Dancer, he supposed, and all his love spun to centre with crushing force, to find her momentarily fixed, as unchanging as he and her mother must seem to her, and the way the stars are; as if the stars are.
Copyright © 2004 Steven Heighton. Reprinted with permission of House of Anansi Press, Toronto.