A SHORT story
An Ephemeral Aurora
The northern lights were out again tonight.
It was quite a show. The dancing green and blue lights weaving in the clear night sky. Those lights and the stars were the only things were my only light source at the moment. I couldn’t sleep, so I was sitting at my desk. And sitting right in front me on the desk was why I couldn’t rest— a neatly stacked pile of letters.
The letters were all from who other than my stepmother? She sends one every month since we lived over nine thousand miles away from each other. Receiving those letters were one of the only things I looked forward to. I’d rush home every day from wherever I was photographing just to check my mail to see if another had arrived.
I’ve reread every single one of those letters. Maybe it was because I was bored or lonely. Over and over and over again, I’d leaf through all of them, so many times. Heck, I probably know them all by heart.
Though I loved receiving those letters, I’ve never written one back.
I’ve never had the courage to, to be honest. I wasn’t afraid of her necessarily, but more of the reaction I’d get. I mean, it’s been three years.
I pondered upon that previous sentence. Three years? Really? Three years since I last seen her? Three years since I’d moved to Svalbard?
Has it really been that long?
I pulled out a journal of my drawer and held it tight in my hands.
I had to be careful with it. It was an old journal— one I’ve had since grade school. Its cover was well-worn, and the pages were creased and folded.
I opened the book to a fairly recent entry, the term “recent” used loosely, and read the words lit up by the colorful lights shining through the window.
March 10th, 2014
After 17 hours of flight, I’ve finally arrived at the Svalbard, Norway.
I’ve already seen a display of the northern lights during the mere 15 hours since I’ve been here. Also, there isn’t much light. The days are incredibly short, and the sun doesn’t really rise at all.
It’s very scenic here, but also very cold, just as you’d expect. Svalbard is one of the most northern archipelagos in the world, after all. It’s quite a change from the weather back home. It’ll take a while before I get used to this.
I didn’t get to bid a proper goodbye to my parents or friends before leaving.
I didn’t get to pay a visit to my mother’s grave either.
Seeing my simple sentences, I must’ve had severe jet lag then from that flight all the way from New Zealand to Svalbard.
I smiled a little and traced my finger over the date. 2014.
So it has been three years.
I sighed, remembering the days. When I was just a confused little girl who just enjoyed things, and when I was an introverted teenager who just wanted solitude.
Looking back down at the journal, I turned to the beginning. This was an early epoch of my life— when I was around eleven or twelve. This was also the traumatic time when my mother had just died, and when he brought home a woman he claimed he was in love with.
There, in smeared ink and perfect and crisp handwriting, was an entry I’d written just a few weeks after she’d moved in with us.
November 17th, 2007
We finally finished unpacking all of Miss Sørenson’s things today. She has lots of pretty decorations, like the miniature rusty birdcage with a wilted daffodil locked inside I found while helping unpack. She told me her mother gave it to her a very long time ago, when she was a little girl.
“The withered daffodil represents what used to be a happy life, the joy that’s now faded into to nothing as it continues to lock itself inside this cage, refusing to let itself grow,” She said, holding up the cage for me to see, “The joy it used to have was something beautiful but ephemeral.”
I looked at her, “What does ‘ephemeral’ mean?”
“It means something that’s fleeting, or short-lived.”
“That’s a very pretty word,” I replied.
“English has many pretty words, Lyra” she answered, “Maybe one day I’ll teach you Norwegian.”
Miss Sørenson also promised me that one day in the future she’ll give the miniature birdcage to me.
“Only if you stop calling me ‘Miss Sørenson,’” She laughed, “I’ll be married to your father soon, so you should start calling me Mom.”
“Mom,” I said out loud. I didn’t like how it felt on my tongue. Even though it’s been months since Mom passed away, it still was a little too soon.
Miss Sørenson said I didn’t have to and I could just call her ‘Anita.’ Thank goodness.
The slight smile that had appeared on my face as I read the entry suddenly disappeared when I read the word “Mom.”
I pursed my lips. My mom was a sensitive subject to me. Didn’t my biological mom die a week from today? I flipped to the very back of the book, where I had the date written down all over the last page in red ink.
The day she died, March 20th, 2007, was scribbled on the page and it repeated itself, covering the entire page.
Only ten days after I’d moved, huh? I wondered how I managed to survive that March 20th all by myself.
Oh wait, I didn’t. I spent the entire day inside, reading old entries from the journal.
Relocating all the way to Longyearbyen was a daring move, really. The first thoughts about moving were during a late junior year, and it was halfway through senior year when I started taking action. This was when I started pursuing my career as a photographer. I think have an entry for that too somewhere.
I indeed do— It’s one of my last entries, dated four years ago. In this one, I’d started calling my stepmother “Anita” again, after shutting myself in and away from my parents during my teenage years.
April 3rd, 2013
I told Anita about my ideas of moving to Svalbard tonight.
She didn’t take it well, and yelled at me, asking if I was insane. Asking if I knew how far it was. Asking if I knew how cold it was. And she was crying the entire time as well, which just made me feel extremely guilty.
Anita eventually granted me permission. But she was very upset about it.
Well, that was an unusually short entry. I sighed at myself. Aren’t I lazy?
I turned a few more pages, past the March 10th entry, past photos taped onto pages of northern lights and mountains, the Svalbard Seed Vault and it’s illuminated artwork, and the rows of multicolored houses of Longyearbyen. I haven’t written in this for a while, and I was very sure that the photo I took of Perpetual Repercussion was the last thing in this book. To my surprise, I found another entry. It was a fairly old one, seeing the date.
No, wait. This wasn’t even an entry.
It was... a letter.
A letter addressed to my stepmother. One, at least from the date, I wrote three years ago and only a day after Mom’s memorial.
The northern lights were still going strong, and I read the letter, illuminated by the luminescences in the sky.
March 21nd, 2014
Dear Anita Sørenson,
Hey, Anita. How is everything going back home in Wellington? I received your pre-mailed letter a day after arriving. I planned on replying the day your letter came, but it had to be postponed due to various reasons.
I’m sure I don’t have to explain what those reasons were. You’ve known those reasons ever since the day you met Dad.
Today is March 21st, a day after the day my biological mother passed away.
I’m sorry, I know this is something you’d more rather not discuss. I’ll stay away from that topic from now on.
So yes, I’m now living in Longyearbyen, Svalbard. It’s a quaint town with its strange artistic feel. It’s a town that looks as if it came out of a painting with the shops and almost identical houses in tidy columns surround by hills and mountains. When it’s dark, which is pretty much all the time, the streetlights outside light up, and the snow reflects that light, making the town almost seeming to be shining. Northern lights are very common here as well. I’ve seen them a few times already. This was my first time seeing one, and it’s an extraordinarily beautiful exhibition. They’re ethereal iridescent beams of light which blaze across the nearly black sky.
I know you used to live in Oslo, but at least the sun rose there, right? Here in the Arctic Circle, in winter especially, the sun never really rise. What it does is inches up to the edge, and then disappears. The glow barely even in sight, with most of it obscured.
But the sunrises here are one of the most stunning things to exist. More specifically the almost ineffable auroras, a poetic synonym of dawn. It’s during those auroras, when the light blankets the tips of the white mountains, and it’s like glowing silk clothes of gold draping over the clouds.
But like you said, the most beautiful things are often very short. Very quickly, the light would go back down behind the mountains.
It’s an ephemeral aurora.
Such pretty words, so fitting for such a spectacle.
I wish you were here to see this with me.
I hope I’ll see you again, whether soon or in the very distant future.
Love, Lyra Bayne
What sweet words. I smiled. I couldn’t recall the last time I told either of my mothers I loved them face to face. What a shame. I shook my head and rested my head on the desk, staring at the open journal sideways. And I just kept staring at it, thinking of those words. I knew why I never sent it out— it revealed a bit too much about myself to her, which would leave me simple to figure out and defenseless.
To me, this arctic island was a safe haven.
I had no idea how long I laid there. I think it would’ve been even longer if it weren’t for the loud thunk outside my house that snapped me out of the trance I was in. The thunk also triggered one of my instincts, sending me bolting downstairs and to my doorsteps, where I presumed a new letter was waiting in my mailbox.
However, it wasn’t a letter that’d came. It was a package. A brown cardboard box, the return address stating it was from Wellington, New Zealand.
I a rush, I took it upstairs, where I swiftly sliced it open. The box was filled with tons of tissue paper, and it took roughly a minute for me to get to the bottom of the tissue, where I found a smaller white box and a letter in an envelope.
I put the letter down, and carefully opened the small box.
In it, I discovered a little rusty birdcage with a fresh daffodil caged inside. I recognized it immediately, even it’s been over half a decade since I’d last seen it. It was unmistakably Anita’s she showed when I was twelve.
I reached for the letter, and this time, I ruthlessly tore through the envelope, unable to wait to read the letter.
In my hands was a fancy stationery, inscribed with “To my dear Lyra.”
To my dear Lyra,
So it’s been three years now, yes? It seems like just yesterday you were proposing the idea of moving. Time sure flys by fast.
I know there must be a good reason you’ve never replied to my letters for the past three years. It’s alright. I’m always waiting for your letter.
Also, I do believe your mother’s memorial is coming up at the time of receiving this. I wish you and your mother best.
I know I’m only a stepmother and not the real thing, and I know it must hurt to have someone you loved so much pass on. But disregarding all those things, I’m still here for you as a mother figure.
Lyra, do you remember so long back, when you first saw this birdcage? Do you still remember what I said?
I told you, “The withered daffodil represents what used to be a happy life which has faded to nothing as it’s trapped inside this cage, refusing to let itself grow. The joy it used to have was something beautiful but ephemeral.”
But I’ve taken out the wilted flower and replaced it with a newly bloomed one, because I do not wish for you a joyless and gray life. I wish for you a radiant one.
Also, once you’ve received this, please open up the cage and replace the flower every time it begins to wither.
Please stop keeping yourself enclosed in this metaphorical cage. Let yourself be vulnerable sometimes, because believe it or not, vulnerability can heal. If there’s anything troubling you, don’t lock yourself back in. Like I said, I’m here, and so is your father and friends.
I await your response. Don’t be scared, Lyra. You mean so much to me.
I sat there in my chair, staring at the words on the page, dumbfounded why her words. The something splattered onto the page. Something wet that stained the page.
I wiped away a tear from my eye, “Huh?” I kept rubbing at my eyes because they just wouldn’t stop rolling down my cheeks, “Why am I crying?” I asked myself out loud.
Upon a sudden realization, I noticed that I was involuntarily tearing up because of the memories I’ve tried to keep locked away for so long, and the people I shared them with I’ve tried to hide from for the past nine years, just so I wouldn’t be hurt again. Just so another March 20th wouldn’t affect me.
“I’m so stupid,” I laughed to myself as I cried, “I’m so stupid.”
I dried my eyes with my sleeve once more, and reached for the journal on my desk. I turned to the page of the letter I wrote, and ripped it out. I kept the letter the exact same except replacing every single “Anita” with “Mom.”
I taped a dream-like photo I took a while ago of Longyearbyen from atop a hill with the golden streetlights lit with the dazzling dawn up above in the sky that was kept in the journal. Finally, at the bottom of the letter, I added a note.
This is a letter I wrote three years ago that I never had the chance to send to you, because was never brave enough. Thank you, Mom. Maybe you’re right. Vulnerability can heal. I’m so sorry it’s been three years. I’m so sorry for hiding from you for the past three years.
I’m very thankful for a mother figure like you.
I put the letter in an envelope and stuck a stamp on it. Then I placed the birdcage on my desk, fronting the window.
I opened the cage, letting the daffodil face the rays of sunlight that slipped barely over the mountains. I looked out of the window. An aurora was beginning again.
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