Home > Wider than the Sky

Wider than the Sky
Author: Katherine Field Rothschild




You know how you can read a poem, like, ten times and still not get it?

   Teachers say: just read it again because something magic happens and suddenly you’ll get it. Well, the day my dad died I totally understood this Emily Dickinson poem called “‘Hope’ is the Thing with Feathers.” Not like the understanding helped. Poems can’t bring people back to life. But suddenly getting poetry was a weird little gift that got me through what happened next.

   On that day, my sister, Blythe, and I stumbled into a windowless, overly air-conditioned room in Huntington Hospital. Inside we found a doctor, my cashmere-sweatered mom, and a cluster of silent machines. And my dad’s dead body. No one said he was dead—no one had to. The space his soul had taken up in the room had vanished.

   The doctor unhooked one more monitor and put her hand way too casually on my dad’s dead leg. “Take as much time as you need.”

   Like time was what we needed.

   When the doctor was gone, my mom reached for us and we ran to her like we’d survived a plane crash or something. Which I guess we kind of had. We were surviving this empty room, weathering it the way our bikes did the ocean air, oxidizing and cracking—and crying. There were tears, teary questions, and more tears. When we finally stepped back to wipe our noses, the air filled with the silence only hospitals can achieve: a bustle and racket in the outside, but in here? No more beeping. I felt a stone in my heart, round and cold, sharp against my sternum.

   Then someone cleared his throat. A man stood in the doorway. For a blink of mind-time I was sure it was my dad. He couldn’t be dead. He had barely even been sick. He was fine. He was right there.

   “May I . . . ?” He let the question hang in the air, like Southerners do. Like my dad did. Had.

   Maybe we were all thinking the same thing, because no one said a word. Then he stepped into the room, beneath the glaring fluorescent lights. He was not my dad. Of course he wasn’t my dad. My dad wasn’t anywhere. When we walked through the jerking automatic hospital doors, the stone in my heart knew. My dad was gone. And this man? He was just some random middle-aged guy with sandy hair. Standing beside us. Staring at a dead body. Like a total creeper.

   Blythe and I turned to our mom. She was looking from my dad to this guy and back to my dad. When she spoke, her voice cracked. “Charlie?”

   He nodded. She swept the salty mascara from her cheeks and pushed her short curls behind her ears. She cleared her throat. “Girls, I have to take a moment—I’ll be back. Stay with your father.” As if he needed supervising. Then my mom walked into the hallway with a stranger.

   I took my sister’s hand and squeezed.

   My mom’s voice rose above the din. “No. Not for at least a month.”

   “We don’t have a month,” the man said.

   Silence. I held my breath, listening.

   “I thought we agreed to see this through.” His voice was almost too soft to hear. “Allies.”

   “We are.” My mom’s voice hitched. “We are.”

   “I won’t stay even though . . .” He coughed, and I lost the words. “I won’t attend the memorial. But you must come up by next week.” There was a long silence when I wondered if she would ask, Come up where? But she didn’t. Footsteps fell behind us, and I finally looked away from my dad long enough to see that she’d come back alone.

   “Who was that guy?” Blythe asked. She squeezed my hand so hard I felt her bones.

   My mom didn’t say anything, and Blythe didn’t ask again. And I didn’t want to know. Because we were all staring at this dad who wasn’t breathing, who wasn’t alive. This dad who would only be there until the orderlies had their turn. I should have been falling apart, with tiny pieces of myself flicking into the curtain and rolling under the metal bed. But instead, that stone in my heart stirred. It softened. It shuddered and shaped itself around my heart, not hard like a stone anymore, but soft, like feathers. Then I felt a flap, like wings. Like a second heartbeat.

   I rubbed my thumbnail over my lower lip. Back and forth. Back and forth. Blythe saw and shook her head. She knew what I was about to do. But it was too late.

   “Hope. Hope. Hope. Hope is the thing. Hope is the thing. Hope is the thing with feathers. Hope is the thing that perches in the soul. Soul. Soul. Winged soul.” I heard the words before I knew that I was whispering them. Chanting them. I swallowed the words down, and they dove inside me. All the way to my toes.

   And right then, I got it.

   Hope is what’s left when nothing else is.

   “Hope” is the thing with feathers -

   That perches in the soul -

   And sings the tune without the words -

   And never stops—neverstopsneverstopsneverstops—at all.

   The next time we saw Charlie, we were moving in with him.





It only took a week. Seven days to find a resting place for my dad, to fill our house with friends and casseroles, and then to empty it of everything. Even us. And then it was over. Even our bikes were sold to the kids down the street. A six-hour drive later, we pulled into a completely new life.

   A moving truck blocked the driveway, so we parked on the street. I stepped out of the car beneath a street sign. It read: welcome to thornewood: where everyone knows everyone. Right. Everyone except us. It felt personal.

   I turned and got my first look at our new home and stared for a long time at number six Magnolia. I’d expected none of the strange and terrible things that had happened to us this past week. Not a single day felt less than surreal. But this? This was a new level.

   “Dad died and left us Hill House,” I said. Blythe squinted up at the ramshackle mansion, maybe trying to make out if that was a raven on the roof, or just a splatter of jagged shingles. We blinked at the monstrosity.

   “It’s closer to Amityville Horror. Or the house in The Shining.”

   “The Shining was in a hotel,” I said.


   “Realities.” I turned to my mom, who was in the back of the minivan, half swallowed by bags and boxes. “Are we seriously living in a house possessed by evil?”

   She pulled herself out of our life shrapnel and handed me a house key. It was plain silver, shining, and newly cut. It looked like our old house key. I’d half expected it to be made of human bone.

   “You love old stuff,” Mom said absently. “Just watch out for floorboard holes.” Holes? In the floor? She gave me a pat on the back and marched toward the offending moving truck.

   When Mom was out of earshot, Blythe turned to me, mimicking Mom’s tinny voice. “You love old stuff, don’t you, Bean?”

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