“No, no, no,” I say, shaking my head and hands. “It goes: just like little birdies flutter right up to the sky.”
Stewart looks at me, then repeats.
I’ve been teaching my husband lullabies. My husband, who sings. My husband, who makes music. I teach him, broken-voiced and pitchy, in the car on our way to something cold. Robin looks from the backseat, turning his head toward me, then toward Stewart, watching a song bounce like a ball between us.
Vermont is hard. Every freezing weekend in winter, we’d drive sleeping Robin toward some bitter mountain. It doesn’t take long. At the base, we’d park, sit and peer at its body, stiff and interrupted by boulders. If we left, hatted and puffing, it was brief, tucking Robin’s soft limbs into a down suit. We’d take turns breathing on his face, watching his eyes close as a warmth touched him then left.
I didn’t have to teach Stewart Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star. He remembered. In March, in April, in whatever month winter kept coming, we sang to Robin as the car cut two fields. Sugar shops steamed on both sides. Robin listened, nodding off. I listened, crying. I had forgotten how simple. One star, on and off, up high. It’s like a diamond, but not. And we wonder.
Two weeks ago, we went home to New Jersey. In the morning, we’d visit the park by my mother’s house, the one with the outdoor stage. When I was three, maybe four, I danced there. I wore blush shoes with an elastic ribbon and a stiff skirt I kept trying to smooth. When I moved, I pushed the little stones under my feet to a place closer to the edge. There, my father sat, taking pictures. There, my mother sat, waving. And now, all the benches split with rot.
One week ago, we went home to Alabama. Stewart brought us to the park where he used to run, alone, jumping off the tops of all the little hills. We put Robin’s feet in the creek with the wet stones. We put his hand on the wisteria, sweet. And he slept as we parked in front of the house where Stewart was young. There, the wet hill slopes fast. There, the street falls down into a river you can’t see.
Vermont is hard. When we left—in April—it snowed. We left lawn tracks at dawn. Betrayed, we drove to the airport in silent escape, as if speaking would give us away. Robin slept as we left the car. We slept as we flew away, leaving a place that never invited us anyway.
The other airports were kind, hot. We left the spot, dragging bags, and stopped in a familiar heat. We closed our eyes like Robin on the mountain, feeling some parent’s breath on our face. Some parent, loving. Some parent, dying. And we brought Robin to the places where we ran, fell, and left; where our families grew and then broke, little split diamonds. And we wonder what we are.
There are lullaby lines people don’t know. I didn’t know. It goes: As your bright and tiny spark lights the traveller in the dark, though I know not what you are, twinkle, twinkle little star. I read, then repeat, noting for the first time the imperative. The command. I don’t know what we are. Help.
When we came back, it was night. We drove up to another house that isn’t ours, tracks gone. And I looked up. Robin looked up. There, every single star Vermont just gives away. Every single star we had forgotten. And Stewart said, “Oh.” And Stewart said, “Home.”