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The Opening Sky

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Also by Joan Thomas
Reading by Lightning
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Joan Thomas
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Copyright 2014 by Joan Thomas
All rights reserved. The use of any part of this publication reproduced, transmitted
in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or
otherwise, or stored in a retrieval system, without the prior written consent of the
publisher or, in case of photocopying or other reprographic copying, a licence from
the Canadian Copyright Licensing Agency is an infringement of the copyright law.
isbn: 978-0-7710-8392-1
ebook isbn: 978-0-7710-8393-8
The epigraph is from the poem River Edge: from the collection Torch River.
Elizabeth Philips 2007. Used by permission of Brick Books.
Typeset in Faireld
Printed and bound in the United States of America
McClelland & Stewart,
a division of Random House of Canada Limited,
a Penguin Random House Company
1 2 3 4 5 18 17 16 15 14
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Nothing is more beautiful
than anything else: this is how April warns us
and breaks us down.
Elizabeth Philips, River Edge:
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what they thought at rst. And at rst this reassured them
how could anything terrible happen to four kids at once?
Then an open Jeep drove into the clearing with two little boys
in the back, the white-blond brothers from Wisconsin. Someone
from a nearby cottage had picked them up on the highway. Their
mother, a pretty woman with platinum hair cut as short as theirs,
ran across the clearing and fell on them, hugging them, cufng at
them (You brats, you stupid little jerk-offs, she cried), and their
father, who had spent the afternoon drinking cider and sleeping
in a hammock tied between two trees, strode around the Jeep to
shake the drivers hand.
So then it was just Sylvie missing, and the dark-haired boy with
the sick mother, Liam.
From where she crouched at a corner of the woodpile, Sylvie
could hear most of what they said. She was thirsty, and light-
headed from hunger, and her feet were cold and hurting. Shed run
barefoot up from the lake, avoiding the paths where the adults hur-
ried back and forth, calling the kids names. The tops of the trees
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were bright, catching the last of the light, but darkness had settled
onto the forest oor. The nameless trees were wide enough to hide
her, and in the dusk shed scrambled from one to the next, stiing
her yelps of pain when the twigs and roots hiding under the leafy
carpet bit at her. Not a child, she was not a child. She was a dark
forest creature, lost by her own hand.
At the edge of the clearing, she squatted in fragrant shreds of
bark. Above her the forest canopy opened to a dome of brilliant
evening sky; a minuscule jet from a different world lifted silently
into it. She saw a police car roll up the lane, and then they were all
around it, the blond boys and their parents, the driver of the Jeep,
the lmmaker, the babysitter, and Sylvies mom. The faun was led
forward. She was the fth child, the one kid who had not been
lost. Two policemen in Smokey the Bear hats (sheriffs, they were
sheriffs) bent over her. She was wearing jeans now, and her hair
had been taken out of its elastics and straggled down her back. She
was talking now too, though Sylvie couldnt make out what she was
saying for her crying.
Then Sylvie heard her own name ring out. She shifted on her
heels and pressed her face to a gap between the logs. Her mother
was standing with her back to the woodpile. Eleven, she said to
the ofcers. Quite tall for her age. Her hairs about to here, sort of
reddish blond. Shes wearing a bathing suit.
No, sobbed the faun, shaking her head.
No, said the mother of the blond boys. Shes not wearing the
So Liz tossed her head and began to describe Sylvies clothes
in detail: her jeans, her sandals, her glittery belt, her white T-shirt
with the turtle design.
Yellow, interrupted the faun. Its yellow.
White, yellow, Liz cried. I doubt youll mistake her either way.
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Did you think of searching your own vehicles? asked one of
the sheriffs. Everyone started eagerly across the clearing in the
direction of the cars.
In her yellow T-shirt Sylvie sprang from her crouch and
slipped towards the house. There was a side door that opened to
the kitchen. The house was quiet and full of warm light. She ran
quickly up the stairs, heading for the front bedroom and a man
was standing there. She gave a little prance of fear. But no, it wasnt
a man at all, it was a shirt hanging on the back of the closet door.
She was alone, in the room with the braid rug and the iron bed and
the big wooden desk, where a family photo stood in its cardboard
frame, and the boy with the falconers sleeve gazed out at her with
neutral brown eyes.
She went to the desk and opened the drawer. In a tray of pens
and paperclips lay a retractable knife, the sort of blade people use
to cut open a cardboard box or hijack a plane. She shed it out and
slid back its casing. The point of the blade bit boldly into the photo-
graph, slicing through it and through the cardboard backing. More,
the blade ordered, deeper, so when she was done excising the boy
from his family, she went to the bedside table and picked up the
book she had looked through earlier, a beautiful gilt-edged book.
First she slashed its cover with jagged lines, and then she turned to
the colour plates inside and took the blade to them. It was a furious
relief, this slashing and gouging; it felt natural, like a language she
used to speak when she was little.
When shed had enough, she slipped the picture of the boy into
the pocket of her jeans and went to the window. Night had fully
fallen. She could hear the squawk and stutter of police radios. A
revolving light revealed and then erased the trees at the edge of the
forest. Car doors slammed and strangers stepped into the clearing;
they sprang up in brilliant detail and vanished. The faun, wearing
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a jean jacket now, stood with the parents of the blond boys. The
father reached for her, and in spite of her size (she was almost as
tall as Sylvie), he picked her up. She clung to him, drooping over
him. Then headlights caught Sylvies mother. Alone, perched on
the edge of the picnic table, her white capris gleaming. Standing
in a fold of the dust-smelling curtain, Sylvie pressed her forehead
against the cold glass and peered down, through hot tears willing
her mother to turn and look up.
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