She reads us a story. We’re outside in the dark and the birds are so loud, they overpower us. You can smell smoke on nature’s breath. My head rests in the dirt. There are leaves and sticks nesting in my hair and I will be fishing them out for days. I sink my hands into the soil. I listen, softly, to the breath she takes at the end of each sentence and the way she swallows after saying something beautiful. I match my breath with her cadence.

We lay is silence while she reads aloud. She speaks of rubies as if she’s held them. She whispers “diamond” as though it’s a secret. It’s all of the bewitching things all at once and I close my eyes so I can hear better. When she finishes the story, an utterance of “beautiful” escapes me. Then, we are silent until the birds are too.

How do you thank someone for doing something like this? Something that no one has done since your mother sat at your bedside and read Cinderella while you fell asleep? How do you hold that story the way it deserves to be held? And how do you ever leave that quiet, the way it changes you, and the peacefulness of it all?

Weeks later, I sit on my front porch. Through cracks in the verandah, I feel the first rain in many weeks fall into me. I drink hot chocolate and I spend a lot of time sighing. I think about the girl and her story; and wonder if I will ever feel normal again. 

Mia Boonen

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