Corona in the Grass

“Well, I know I inherited an attitude from Mom, but I’m glad I didn’t get of her hippie-dippie side,” Casey said, lighting a cigarette in the middle of the dark street in front of the house that boasted a backyard yurt and an array of rusting metal lawn sculptures.

“That would have been funny if you did,” her boyfriend Kevin remarked lightly, shoving his hands in his pockets in a gesture that seemed to show his desire to keep his opinions about his girlfriend’s family as neutral as possible. He looked at the ground for a few moments and then turned his eyes upwards. “Hey, is that a star or a planet?” he asked, pointing to the brightest spot in the moonless sky.

“Uhh, I think it’s Venus,” said Casey, glancing to the bright shining point among the fluctuating light of the smaller stars. “Dad would know. He loves sciencey space stuff. He totally passed that on to Jess.” She paused, took a drag of her cigarette and glanced at her sister. “And Mom passed on her weirdness.”

Jessica was arched backwards with her head tilted at a drastic angle to allow her a wide view of the speckled sky. She had been standing in this awkward position for the length of the conversation, not really listening to what was being said. Once in awhile her balance would falter and her arms would fly out to prevent a backwards fall. It was a comical posture, but Jess kind of liked being goofy around her sister. “I think it’s Jupiter,” she said. “I just read that we’re supposed to be closer to its orbit right now.” She kept her head back and her eyes open wide. There were so many more stars in this quiet Ojai valley than there were in Los Angeles. She had forgotten how amazing it felt to be able to see beyond a haze of smog and light pollution.

“Dad and Jess used to torture me by dragging me with them to the science museum on the weekend,” Casey told Kevin. “Oh, and the Guitar Center. God, they never got sick of playing the same old instruments they could never buy.” She stared pointedly at Jess, who still arched back awkwardly.

“Oh, come on,” Jessica smiled, temporarily standing upright to defend herself to Casey. “You know you liked it when I would serenade you with the 'November Rain' solo and gaze into your eyes.”

Casey smirked. "Creepy," she muttered in a deadpan voice, glancing back at Kevin with a smile.

Jessica looked back up to the sky. She saw a satellite scooting across the sky like an ant crawling in a straight line across an infinitely long table. She made herself imagine she was stuck to the surface of a marble floating through the vacuum of darkness towards the distant stars and galaxies that filled her vision. The blanket of white lights became an infinite depth of darkness filled with a wealth of bright, hostile furnaces, mysterious, dangerous, powerful and beautiful. She felt so small; a breath might carry her away. Her sister's voice sounded absurd analyzing genetically inherited personality traits. She thought of how lucky we are that we live in our safe little bubble, where we can ignore the intimidating vastness of the heavens as we go about our business. Where we can imagine our tiny lives to be so important and all our silly thoughts worth talking about. All this is hiding every night behind the orange wall of the city sky. She found another satellite and followed its course until it was too small to see.

"You look like you're going to drool on yourself," Casey told her. She moved closer and poked her sister in the ribcage to illicit a response. The leaning tower could not survive the disturbance. In a spasm of flailing arms, awkward wobbling, and wheezing laughter, Jessica tumbled down to the asphalt, bringing Casey along with her. With a soft thud, they landed in the street and lay there giggling as Casey disengaged Jessica’s fist, which was instinctively clenched on the fabric of her sister’s jacket sleeve. Attempting to recover from a lapse of uncontrolled infantile behavior, they rolled onto their backs with their faces to the sky, ready to stand up and resume mature adult protocol.

That’s when they heard it. It was almost like music, a humming, resonant whisper that could have been experimental violin music or an echo of a whale song in the distant sea.

“Do you hear that?” asked Jessica.

“Hear what?” asked Kevin.

“It sounds like whales,” said Casey. She sat up and looked around. “Oh. I don’t hear it anymore.”

“I do,” said Jessica, who was still lying on the pavement looking upwards with wide eyes.

Casey put her ear back to the ground. “I can only hear it down here,” she mused. She sat up again experimentally, and then turned her ear to the earth. Lowering her face, she crept across the pavement to the sidewalk and crawled up over the curb. “It’s definitely louder in this direction,” she said. “What the hell is it? Do mom’s neighbors have an underground aquarium?”

Jessica followed Casey to the spot where she was approaching the lawn of the house across the street from their mother’s. She, too, kept her head low as she crawled sideways towards the direction of the sound. She looked like a large clothed crab moving slowly across unstable sand. If she had any intention of giving Kevin the impression that his girlfriend’s older sister was intimidating, sophisticated, or serious, it was long gone the moment she accidentally stepped on her own hand while trying to listen to whales under a lawn.

“You guys look like lunatics,” said Kevin, sauntering apprehensively towards the spot on the lawn that the sisters were crawling toward like some sort of drunken grazing animals.

“Here,” said Casey. She had stopped at the place where the noise was the loudest. She had her ear to the ground on the patchy green and gold grass of the neighbor’s lawn, and she squinted her eyes to hear the crystallizing sound better. It was no longer whales. It was dissonant music with syllables—long, drawn-out echoing syllables with hissing esses and humming emms punctuating a sound that was all the vowels at once and none of them at all. It could be the sound of the sea if it could speak words or the sound of a person whispering into a static-plagued microphone on the other side of the world.

“I don’t hear it,” said Kevin, tilting his head to the side. “But I don’t really see myself as someone who likes to cuddle a dead patch of grass on the neighbor’s lawn, so I’m going to stay over here.”

Casey sat back on her knees and looked down. “Weird,” she said. “It is dead. But only right here.” For living in an arid climate, people on this street liked their lawns green. The miracle of running water could bring fields of green and meadows of clover and wildflowers to the middle of the driest desert. This lawn was no exception, save a circular patch of brown and gold, about the size of a pizza at the edge of the pristinely groomed yard.

“Weird,” said Jessica. She put her ear to the circle to hear the sound Casey had heard. Casey gave her a shove to make room for her own hungry ears. With the shove, Jessica rolled onto her side and then onto her back. She moved her head to where she heard the noise and looked up at the sky. It was whispers, and it was music. It was whales and words without meaning or language. It was the wind in the trees and waves on a beach and a cello and a harp and secrets told when no one else could hear. It was not below the ground; it was a cloud of sound around her resting head.

She knew what she saw. As she let her mind wander in the cloud of the strange sound, a small cluster of stars rearranged themselves in the sky far above her head. They had been set in place, and then they played musical chairs. They dislodged themselves from their positions and wandered aimlessly until dropping back into their symmetrical pattern. Six lights of similar size and shape forming a twinkling triangle. Their movement had been so surprising she could barely let herself believe what she had seen. They lingered in formation for a few moments before moving once again. They could have been fireflies in their delicate flight from position to position on the branches of a tree on a heavy summer night. But they were not insects. They were far out of reach. She wanted to shoo them from their places once they had settled again, but reason told her such an action would be futile. She settled on watching the phenomenon again, her eyes sparkling in the light of uncountable fires, and her head encircled by a halo of brown grass. She could swear she heard Casey’s voice calling to her from far in the distance, begging her to wake up, telling her a joke wasn’t funny. She wanted to look over to her sister to see if she was speaking, but she couldn’t tear her eyes away from the spot in the sky where the stars were disobeying the laws of science. If Casey would just be quiet, she knew she would hear what the other voice was saying. It was a slow, muffled, and strange voice, but it was a voice nonetheless. It said something. Something important….

And then she felt a jolt as she was pulled by the arms into a sitting position and Casey’s shrill voice filled her ears. She blinked and looked up into the troubled face that was shouting something that sounded worried and angry. The lawn surrounded her, but felt far away. The stars were close and comforting, like specks of daylight shining through the holes in the roof of a blanket fort during a childhood winter.

squaresjessica owen

Jessica loves online classes because they've allowed her to pursue an education even though she works full-time during the week. She designs hats for a costume company, but wants to keep learning because she is interested in too many subjects to settle for just one. She received an Associate’s Degree in philosophy from West last spring, but is planning to transfer to a four-year college for painting or French next year. She’s loved science and science fiction since she was young, and she wanted to take English 270 (Science Fiction/Fantasy) from West since she first saw it in the online catalog two years ago. She’s glad that she finally did! (Editor’s Note: Jessica wrote this story in English 270 in Fall 2010.)