As soon as she could hold a pencil, the girl drew her path.
First, a house map—arrows indicating kitchen exits, how to avoid triggering mines. Later she sketched further to frontiers: the High Street, her school. Each version more precise and detailed. When angry, her mother used the paper scraps. She crushed them into balls and fired them across rooms. The girl began to secret away her renderings. She creased the maps into tiny squares, pushed them between stones that enclosed their garden. Curious neighbours peered across the barrier. Her mother provided bags of art supplies, bounty in exchange for her silence. The girl went to school with rainbow fingers and glitter on her cheeks.
After class, she made her way through a parental cluster at the school gate. Murmurs greeted and followed her. The girl hummed away acid words and clicking tongues, avoided looks of sympathy or disdain. No one waited for her.
The girl turned to friends in books and mystical worlds. Adventure tale heroes and heroines: Lucy, Susan. Peter, Edmund, Lyra, Iorek. Gods and goddesses of ancient myth: Perseus, Athena, Hermes, Demeter. She closed her eyes and chanted their names to mute her parents’ boiling exchanges. Floating through the house, she absorbed their distant red faces. Outside, the night air soothed mind’s rumblings. She hovered in branches of the oak, just below its crown, its leaves tickled her forehead. As the sky darkened from lavender to navy, pinpricked by light, she wondered how to join it.
The girl turned to friends in books
and mystical worlds
One morning, a green ribbon laced through a front door key lay on the kitchen table. Her mother put it around the girl’s neck, tucked it inside her shirt. On her way out to school, she passed a suitcase in the hall. When she returned, a new hush pervaded the house. In her parents’ room the girl opened empty drawers, counted vacant hangers.
Her father adopted forced cheer. The girl thought of the new landscape as an Age of Discovery. She spent the hours between school closing and her father’s arrival to expand boundaries. Each day she walked in a new direction, covered different ground. On weekends she drew updated maps. Stacked on a closet shelf, the pile grew month after month.
Two letters arrived with familiar script—one for her father and one for the girl. He opened both, left the envelopes crumpled in the bin. She listened to choked moans through his bedroom door before copying the return address. With her pocket money, the girl bought an envelope and stamps. She posted her map compendium. On each sheet the house marked with a red X.
The town folded as she waited for an answer, her nails scrubbed clean. She rushed to check the post box each day, but only found bills and grit in its corners. The girl stopped searching streets and alleys for the right passage to bring her mother home. Pencils lay composed in multihued rows. Her father neatened unopened paper reams. When he asked about her abandoned artistry, she did not reply, but coloured in the empty heart space with black.
the girl stopped searching streets and alleys
for the right passage to bring her mother home
Some nights later, he gave her a cardboard tube. She reached inside and unfurled a star map. They weighted its corners with glue tubes and paint pots. Her father switched off the lights. The poster glowed. She rubbed fingers across its radiance. Heads touching, they studied constellations. She opened a new paper stack and began to draw. A volatile earth fell away, became a distant memory.
The pair spent nights beside the oak. Sometimes they sat in extended lawn chairs, legs encased in sleeping bags. Other times they alternated between peering through a heavy telescope and checking the chart. She heard celestial luminaries whisper through haze and moonlight, began to draw constellations her father did not see. He bought parchment and ribbon spools. Together they stacked new star maps into pyramids around the house.
The girl grew. She navigated through school years and employment. As her height increased, her father shrank. A harsh winter brought bitter news. She drove him to hospital for tests, then treatment. The girl varied their route, but the results remained the same. When the oak sprouted spring leaves, she found she could lift her father’s frame into his bed at night. Afterwards, she chanted in her room—Ursa, Corvus, Serpens, Draco, Canes Venatici, Lupus—arms wrapped in a solo embrace.
together they stacked new star maps
into pyramids around the house
She saw the cliff in June, distant yet in view. By late July, the brink was visible to them both. One clear night she pushed his wheelchair past the oak to view the heavens. Perseus, the monster slayer, stood in profile. She air-traced the starry outline of the hero’s feet, legs, and outstretched arm. Libra’s scales poised.
The first light streak blazed. Her father grabbed the arms of his chair. Another burned across the sky, then others, illuminating the girl and her father. A cascade of white fingers cradled dreamlands. He kicked away the blanket, struggled to his feet. She reached for his arm but he batted her back. The girl watched her father stumble across dark ground. A silhouette against white-streaked indigo, he hovered on the horizon, then joined the canvas.
In a blink, the meteor shower ended. With a single digit uplifted, she traced glinting dots to outline his frame. The girl opened her sketch book and added his starry pattern, a constellation blotched and locked by saline onto a treasured page.
Art by Moko Illustrations
Moko is a thirty-year-old Croatian girl from a small town in north Croatia. Last year, she decided to quit her job as an assistant for children with learning difficulties and start drawing. Most of her drawings are in a way autobiographic, telling a story of a part of her life. Find her on Instagram @moko.illustrations and see her prints and products on https://mokoillustrations.myshopify.com/
Marie Gethins’ work has won/placed in the Dorset Fiction Award, The Short Story, Tethered by Letters, Flash500, Dromineer, The New Writer, and Prick of the Spindle. Listed in The London Magazine, Australian Book Review, Bath, Bristol, Brighton, and others. A Pushcart, Best of the Short Fictions, British Screenwriters Award Nominee, she lives in Cork, Ireland. Twitter: @MarieGethins