Jennifer Chiu

This Vast Expanse of Sky

The day before our eighteenth birthday, we head to the monkey bars. They’re old, cracked yellow paint peeling off and exposing the rusted metal underneath, but we climb them anyway. They squeak under my weight, swaying a little as I loop one leg through the rungs and push myself up on top of them. Once I’ve clambered over enough to give you room to get on after me, I reposition and tuck my feet snugly under the rungs so that if I lose my balance, I’ll catch myself before I fall. Your legs simply hang loose over the sides of the monkey bars, swinging in the warm summer air. We sit in silence, staring at the sky, which is the kind that I want to paint in pale blues and oranges and yellows, the color between high afternoon and sunset, the pale periwinkle color tinted golden where sunbeams break through the clouds and cast an incandescent glow on them.

There’s no need to say anything—we never do. I’ve always liked the comfortable silence that fills the space between us, the way it wraps around us warmly and tastes of a tangible sweetness, like the yellow honeysuckles that used to grow in the meadow behind the playground. We would sneak out in the springtime, the middle of exam season, when they bloomed and fill our pockets with them before sliding back through the open bedroom window, giggling and pretending that we had never left, although our skin was smothered with the scent of dewy nectar and sweet honey candy. When we found out that they were razing the meadow to build a new parking lot, we filled two jars with as many of the flowers as we could until we were dizzy from the saccharine smell, as if we could somehow preserve them forever. I’d like to think we’ve achieved that at least somewhat—it’s been almost one year and when I unscrew the lid, their scent still wafts out.

When I think of honeysuckle, I can’t help but think of the yuzu grove that Baba used to bring us to. How we’d spend the afternoon plucking them off the trees, and how you’d get impatient and eat them right then and there, juice dribbling down your chin and filling the summer air with the citrus scent. We’d pick so many yuzu that there’d be enough peels left over to cure into jars of sweet, thick syrup that we would mix in warm water for morning tea, although you always preferred the sourness of lemon to yuzu’s sweetness. I always accidentally took your mug—they were both yellow, and I could never distinguish by sight the difference between the pale yellow teas—but now yours is red while mine is sky blue, the color of my Columbia acceptance letter, the color of glinting steel and glass in New York City, although that’s a colder blue, more slate and asphalt than sky.

I turn to look at you. Your gaze is tilted upwards, towards where the sky is a rich blue, while I’ve been watching the golden glow of sunlight against the clouds. I shift my eyes to the vast expanse of sky between them, trying to pinpoint exactly where it changes, but there’s no green, no simple mixture of blue and yellow that I can replicate on a canvas. It’s like an illusion almost, this expanse of sky. Like a mirage that shouldn’t exist. If I blink, it might disappear.

As I work my way upwards to the blue sky where you’re looking, I am reminded that at home, there are papers scrawled with blue ink fluttering next to the open window, forms that I still need to fill out and mail, the sky blue suitcase Baba bought for me when he found out I’d been accepted that must still be packed. I realize that I left the jar of honeysuckles open on the windowsill, and that their scent is dissipating into the summer breeze, and when I return, only a faint trace of the scent will remain. Suddenly I remember that tomorrow we will be eighteen. In a few weeks I’ll be watching the blue sky from the window seat of an airplane, and the comfortable silence that fills the space between us now will extend thousands and thousands of miles. I suck a breath in, letting it out slowly like I can fill in this distance, make it smaller somehow.

You lower your gaze and turn towards me, cocking your head sideways as if you’re expecting me to say something. I almost do—I want to thank you for being with me at my seventeen, thank you for sharing this silence with me, but I’m scared of this blue distance called sky that has never felt this far before, that you’ll forget me, and I’ll have to send you forget-me-nots in the mail along with long, sappy letters—but this silence between us is warm and golden and sweet, so I don’t. I don’t say anything because we are there, in that vast expanse of sky where it changes from periwinkle to golden. I’m afraid that if I open my mouth, the illusion will shatter like glass and suddenly we are eighteen and hurtling into the blue sky, traveling thousands of miles away from each other. Instead, I shake my head and turn my gaze back upwards. And then we’re both looking at the sky, where it’s neither periwinkle nor golden, but just this illusion of in between.

Jennifer Chiu is a student at White Station High School in Memphis, TN. Her prose and poetry have been awarded by the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards and Susquehanna University, and are published or forthcoming in Rust + Moth, Blue Marble Review, and perhappened mag, among others. When she’s not writing, she can be found admiring the sky or bullet journaling with one of her twenty-one 0.38mm black pens.

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