Night falls as we watch from the front porch. The clear sky births unnumbered stars. Light pollution barely exists here. I wonder if the neighbors take their stars for granted. I wonder if it becomes so much overhead litter.
“I should probably take off,” I say for the third time. It’s not Helen’s fault that I haven’t gone. I simply don’t move. The rocking chair comforts me. The stars still me. Or maybe I’m just not ready.
“Unless you’re planning to fly up to roost in my house, you’d best be going soon,” Helen says this time. Fly up to roost? Is this colloquialism or a plain statement that I’m chicken? Either way, she doesn’t move.
“Have you made up your mind?” she says.
“My mind? About what?”
“Going to the comforts of home or the trials of the road.”
“I think I have to go,” I say.
“Why, shoot,” she says. “You’re a grown person. You can do just whatever you please.”
“Maybe I want to go?” This need for Helen’s validation somehow grates me. “What would you do?”
“I’d stay and tend my girl. That’s what I’d do. You don’t have family to tend. You don’t have a job tethering you anyplace. Only two things would make you go home.”
I wait for her to continue. When her silence drags, I prompt. “And what two things would that be?”
“Firstly,” Helen says as she rises and walks to the middle of the yard, “you don’t believe in what you’re doing.”
All manner of semi-country nightlife buzzes and croaks. Harsh lights approach, pass.
“Number two is, you’re scared.”
“Of what, pray tell?” Uh-oh. The fancier my tongue, the less solid my foundations.
Helen turns my way. She smiles too kindly. I expect the cutting edge of her answer.
“Of doing something great.”
I begin to respond but she isn’t finished.
“Of failing at all of it. Not making a difference. You’re scared nobody’ll listen.”
Helen paces like she’s working up to a torrent of words. I chew the smooth membrane of my lower lip. She lengthens her stride.
“You’re scared of every mite: the money, the travel, where you’ll stay, whether people will have you, what folks’ll say, when you’ll write your book. You fear the hate of the computer bearing down on you. You fear kicking this hornet’s nest. You also fear working yourself out of a project. You’re scared. That’s it. Why, you’re scared of your own shadow.”
Helen’s evenness strikes again. She gains neither speed nor volume. My heart, however, gains both. Blood rushes past my eardrums, beating the truth of every word Helen says.