I laid in bed staring at the ceiling, unable to sleep. The bright full moon shone through the narrow gap in the curtains and landed on my face. Above me hung several models of airplanes, ships and spaceships. My grandmother would always buy me one to work on over the summer holiday after thirteen years I had a decent collection. Yet as I laid awake, looking at the memories hanging above me, I cringed inside. This would be the first summer without my grandmother, and without a model to build.
It happened several weeks ago; I was still in school when my mom received the news. Since then it was a whirlwind of activity; the funeral, visitors, and the cleanup at my grandmother’s cottage. It felt odd arriving and hot having her be there waiting for me. No cookies on the table, or a new model waiting for me to create. The cottage felt quiet, cold, and dead. My mom busied herself with organizing my grandmother’s possessions. She created piles to be donated, piles to be thrown out, and piles to keep. The longer my mom spent going through the belongings, the more heartbroken she became. I found hers several times crying over a dress or photograph. It was depressing, and even I couldn’t hold back tears when my mom got so emotional. I hoped when my father arrived that weekend, he would help. You know bring my mom back down to earth and make her smile again.
Instead, they fought.
I don’t remember them fighting before – maybe when I wasn’t around they did, but never like this. They disagreed, but always seemed so reasonable in front of me. My mom wanted to keep the cottage, she grew up in there… I grew up in there – but dad said it was too much of an expense and that it would be easier to sell the place. The next argument was about moving into the cottage full-time, selling their small city loft for something with space. Again dad shot down the suggestion, claiming he couldn’t work from home and the commute was too much. That’s when the fighting began, the yelling, screaming… of how dad didn’t understand what mom was going through.
It made staying in the cottage unbearable. They ruined it for me. This place was my summer escape, where I learned to swim, climb trees, catch fireflies. It was a place full of laughter… now all I wanted to do was cry. My parent’s voices rose again from downstairs, they shouted insults back at each other. I couldn’t take it anymore.
Pushing the covers off, I ran to the closet and grabbed my red coat and threw it over my white nightdress. I moved to the bedside table and opened the lower door where an old oil lantern hid. Grandmother taught me how to use it and left it there for me to use whenever I had a nightmare. I hadn’t had one for the past two summers, but she kept it there just the same. Slipping on a pair of boots, I pulled open the curtains and lifted the window pane open to crawl out. I was on the second floor, but a lattice full of vines grew right next to my window. I reached over and grabbed the wooden lattice frame and climbed down.
The kitchen light was still on and shadows of my parents moved back and forth. I hunkered down on my hands and knees to crawl under the windowsill without them noticing me. Clear of the obstacle, I pushed myself up and ran the rest of the way across the grassy green field to the old, twisted oak tree that grew on the hill just at the corner of the property.
There, I hung the lantern on the metal hook that grandmother fixed in the trunk. I reached up on my tip toes and impressed myself by growing high enough to hook the lantern with no additional aid. I hurried to the other side of the trunk where several nailed pieces of wood created a ladder up to the branches. A few planks of wood created benches between branches the further up, but I climbed even higher, to the tallest branch where I could pop my head up above the canopy and see the entire sky full of stars.
I was away from the fighting, the yelling and crying. I was alone, and it was quiet. Grandmother brought me out here on warm summer nights like this. We would climb the tree and gaze at the stars. She’ll tell me stories about the constellations; funny stories, sad stories, lessons learned and passed down. I searched for the constellations I knew, the bear, the dragon, and finally the north star – the brightest star of them all. The moon was large and full, and it filled me with a yearning to see my grandmother again.
Before I knew it, tears streamed down my face. I brushed them away, grandmother was a happy person, crying won’t bring her back, and I knew she’d want me to keep smiling – like her. But at this moment it was so hard. I missed her so much that I couldn’t hold back any longer.
Gazing up at the stars, and the few clouds passing by, I tried to brighten myself up by telling the story of the Palace in the Sky. Grandmother told it throughout the summers. I never grew tired of it. When she took me out here to the tree, she’d tell it again, and point in the distance to a bunch of clouds and say that’s where you look if you want to see the palace.
But there was a trick. The palace didn’t just appear to anyone. One had to be worthy. The palace only appeared to those with pure hearts, of loyalty, bravery, and justice in their souls. I would hold my breath and stare in the sky, wishing I would be lucky to see it. Grandmother would laugh and say I’m too young for them to judge. Another year perhaps – or two. She always ended it off with my youth and gave me hope that next summer I’d see it.
I shifted my gaze towards the direction my grandmother pointed at all those years before. I didn’t expect to see anything; I felt too heartbroken to see such a magical display. Through tear-filled eyes I saw clouds shift and circle around each other. More clouds appeared, or the smaller clouds grew larger. I don’t know how it happened, but the clouds took shape. At first I thought it was a storm in the making. Sudden rain storms were common out in the country, but it didn’t frighten me away. Instead, I kept my eyes locked on the numerous clouds all swirling together. A spire shot forth, then another, followed by a domed roof and large arched doorway.
I blinked, whipped the tears away and looked again. The palace kept its shape – it wasn’t my imagination. It formed just under the full moon, the light of which shown over the palace as it solidified in front of me. Maybe it was my imagination… or maybe it was my grandmother’s story come to life.
I climbed to my feet, waved my hands at the palace’s doors. The Palace in the Sky showed itself. A smile crossed my face as I yelled up the greeting that would grant me entrance.
“The earth greets the sky with open arms, I greet the sky with an open heart.”