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Moments lately, I think I am on the brink of an epiphany, swept right to the threshold by, say, the pulp of a grape or the progress of a Beethoven sonata or some other spiritual force, and were I to cross over it, loosed into the light of that knowledge, it would also mean my days on earth are numbered, that I have understood all that is needed before this life meets its resolution. But each time I am held back, caught by the hem of my shirt, denied whatever I thought I might see, allowed it only in periphery.

I overhear an incorporeal choir of angels singing from the deck, but no, it’s the sound of my breathing in a can of seltzer. I try again to confirm—an otherworldly effect. Yes, just my breath in the can. My youngest points to an object in the sky that I cannot perceive. “What’s that around your neck?” my oldest asks.
     “What?” I ask, feeling nothing.
     “It’s a heart,” she says.

Outside, white specks float through the air like bits of ash. There is no sign of fire, no siren, no smell of smoke. “These,” a colleague says, brushing one from a leaf, “are aphids.” When one lands on my arm, I can see its eyes, its flecks of wings, its antennae bristling. I blow it away.

The palpitations return when I do not expect them—driving home from the dentist or lounging on the couch reading a book—and often so violently that I wonder if something is striking me from the inside, a tiny batter in my ribcage swinging for the fences. I fixate on my breathing, tricking myself into thinking that if I were to stop paying attention, then my body would forget what it was designed to do.

At dinner, my oldest sees her ghostly reflection in the blackened window. “Who’s that?” she says.
     “It’s you,” I tell her.
     “No, that,” she stresses. I look. It’s the two of us, the table, the vase, the chandelier, all hovering in a golden glow, congregating in the night.

We are moving to a new house. I weigh this as I lay in bed, reading-but-not-reading the topmost book on my side table, my eyes drifting to the highest point of the cathedral ceiling, the tall blank wall a mast bearing us through the night. I am too tired to read or plan, so both futile exercises merge into a waking dream—imagining, for instance, that it is already tomorrow, that I tell the girls it’s time to go, but my oldest keeps repeating, “Tis a consummation devourly to be wished,” and I say, “Devoutly,” and she says, “No, devourly.”

Jupiter is visible in the east after sundown. It appears before any stars, sharp and persistent. We read a great deal about outer space, and many of the questions my oldest asks I do not know the answer to. Even those who know the answer are only offering educated conjecture. One book has a blurry image of Pluto, the best image at the time it was published. It looks not like a heavenly body as much as an apparition, a sighting dismissible as a smudge on the lens. I can find a clearer picture on my phone, one that reveals a painterly attention to texture and shades of white, the spill in the middle where the artist worked with abandon, but to look at it does not make the dwarf planet any less mysterious, any less unknowable.

The reality that I am a mote of dust—or better, ash—is not as discomfiting as visiting these far-flung objects in space. I am fine being small but not fine with the universe being quite so large. Perhaps the distinction lies in how desolate and lifeless it appears. I see why Holst ended The Planets with a choir singing offstage, their voices growing ever fainter—not the voices, I have come to imagine, of the planets singing to us, but of us singing to the planets, our songs distorted and lost as they transmit across the cosmos, destined for what, or for whom, we long to know.

My husband and I have lived in a different place for each year of our marriage. The last time we moved, I said, “I am dying here.” I sat on the porch and drank seltzer. I said these words facetiously, but I have come to worry it was an augury.

When we bought our first house, I found evidence of another child in my oldest’s bedroom. Lodged underneath the baseboard was a heart-shaped gemstone, the kind for paper crowns. I tried to loosen it with the toe of my shoe, my fingers, a hanger, a pencil, a knife, but nothing worked. It was still there when we left.

“What keeps us on the earth?” my oldest asks.
     “Gravity,” I say, as though it’s a very simple thing.

I watch my husband eating an orange by the kitchen sink and I think, I remember a time before you, but I hope I will never know a time after you. But that is not up to me.

I read to my girls from the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, ending, “Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost.” My oldest stops and corrects me: “Spirit.” Her eyes are afraid, so I tell her they are the same, from breath.

Somehow, we end up at the mall. I lose my youngest among the racks of clothing. I cannot find her and enter a dimension without time where existence is a suffocating suspension of this single event. I was never lost as a child—I was too cautious for that—but in a dream, I was left on a playground. I had gone down a slide, and my mother had not been there to catch me. The fear of losing a parent is not like the fear of losing a child. As a child, the world circles on, frightful and big; as a parent, the world stops entirely. It’s not unlike finding myself suddenly on the moon, or even further, on one of Jupiter’s moons—Ganymede or Europa—in a part of the universe I intellectually understand but do not know how to survive on or, indeed, cannot survive on. But in reality, she is only behind the next rack of clothes.

“Are books people?” I ask a student.
     “No,” she says, confident.
     “If I wrote this book,” I say, sliding it onto her desk, “and then died, and all you had was that book, is there any sense in which that book is me?”
     “No,” she says, smiling slightly.

My colleagues left, but their empty desks offer no sign of their existence. When I walk into the building, the air sticky; it is void as only a place once filled with life can be void. Their desks have accumulated dust. Only nondescript office supplies remain behind, shiny plastic paper trays and cheap ballpoint pens, the kind that could belong to anyone, not the particular people I have known and loved. Who will know they were here? As I stare at the green heat of the day, I have an intractable desire to bring them back. But no one comes in or out all morning. It is as quiet as the grave, or as Pluto.

There once was a man who came through a wall and left his ghost. I hear he’s not dead but he’s moved. I hear his ghost is here—in this house.

I imagine my colleagues walking in to see my empty desk where I once sat, my things gone, me gone. Soon someone new will sit there and it will be their desk. It is not, I realize now, mine. None of it is mine.

An elderly woman drives up to our new house, asks if it is ours, asks what happened to everything inside, begins weeping, her hand shaking as she speaks. “It was my best friend’s house,” she says. The woman comes inside. She walks to the back room and says her friend was a seamstress; that room had been filled with shelves and shelves of fabric. I try to imagine it, but what I picture is from a storybook, not the very room in my new house as it once was, but a different, fictitious room. It is nearly impossible to reconcile reality and imagined reality. When she leaves, my oldest says goodbye. Usually so shy, never talking to strangers, even she can tell that the woman needs a proper farewell. But houses are not people.

The girls are upstairs. I can hear them moving above my head. We lived on the same floor yesterday, and now we live apart. When I cannot hear them for minutes at a time, I call out. The house is old and pocked with doors and drawers and closets and crawl spaces. My oldest says, “I wish there was a real kitchen upstairs so we could be together.”
     “It’s only a stairway,” I say. But it’s more than there has ever been between us before. She calls it “our house” and I don’t correct her. Even my body acts in ways I don’t recognize as my own, a strange ache in my side. When you move you cannot believe the illusion that you will stay in this world. Of course not. We are all moving.

My friend says she has a dream for me. Christ is standing in my house, he is holding everything, and he says to give it up. When I step inside, I do not see him, but the air has the thin, porous quality of being lived in. Someone has cracked open a window above the sink.

This is, I suppose, what I am trying to do: To be here before and after. To remove time. After all, one reason to write is to say, I was here, I am still here.

In our new house, we are running late but my husband is craving an orange. He brings it in a bag in the car, and I peel it for him, juice running down my fingers. The car smells of citrus. We share it with our daughters. We have one napkin. We share that with our daughters. We drive and eat quietly together, passing over train tracks and seeing no trains.

We leave a light on at the end of the hallway so the girls can see their way down the stairs if they need us. We have not found the shade yet; it’s in a box. The lamp is tall. The bulb is bright. It reminds me of my theater days, the lamp we kept burning after everyone left, to guide whoever returned in the morning—the ghost light.

There is a piece of music my father wrote that’s name means love. In the house where I was born, he composed it, and in four other houses, he has played it, and each house keeps that song in its walls. I have returned to those houses as though slipping into another dimension, but from the outside, you cannot hear it, how it sounded when he practiced. But his song’s trajectory is not like the end of the Planets, the voices dying out, because he is not the only one who plays that piece. Other musicians play it, some he knows and many he doesn’t, filling their houses and practice studios and recital halls with it, and this is, I realize now, how my father will be here when he is gone.

I have forgotten how lonely it is. In our new home, we are unknown. The thump of the boiler, the floor board that creaks so loudly it echoes in the basement, the peeling cabinet liners printed with blue windmills—they belong to someone else. I mistake strangers for friends. I think, If we drive further this way or that way, we will find that place we know, those people we know. But they are all too far. They have been relocated to a part of our lives we will now call the past. I have come down the slide and see only the expanse of woodchips, the field, the forest.

When we leave our old house, I see my daughters’ warped reflections in the storm-door glass. We are standing by the curb, on our way out, but it looks as though they could still be inside. In fact, they have just been; only the light glancing off the glass could place them back now or something faster than light, something that could not only dissolve time but reverse it. The tree in the front yard is ornamented with cicada molts that attach to your clothes if you get close. Their buzzing leaves a blank space in my hearing once we shut the car doors.

At the airport, months earlier, when I am leaving to interview for a job in our new town, I call my husband in case I die in the air. The palpitations are no doubt the result of stress, but I cannot rule out the possibility that it is the beginning of the end, that my heart will give out on the plane, that I will never hear his voice, or the girls’ voices, again. I am boarding in group five and crying into my sweatshirt. I sit next to a ball-capped man who continually turns around in his seat to talk to his buddy. At one point, he pokes my shoulder and says, “I’ve never seen anything like it.” And neither have I—a rainbow in a perfect circle, like a target, hovering above the sheet of clouds. My phone cannot take a picture of it.

Cottonwood puffs through the air, raining across the field like an army of fairy paratroopers leisurely storming the earth. I try to grab one as it careens past my youngest’s face, but it eludes me, catching an unseen current and meandering toward the Queen Anne’s lace. Those flowers grew in the field near my house when I was a girl, when I thought of them as flowers and not as weeds. That same field grew dandelions, the dandelions I used to make wishes, wishes I thought would only be granted if every last seed was dispatched by a gust of breath, a breath I could not muster. I do not have much lung capacity; this same problem inhibited my extinguishing birthday candles and playing the flute. But I thought God would allow a few tries. A couple spittly blows and off the seeds flew—carrying, I imagined, a number of chances at fulfillment, a host of entreaties that were collected and considered.

Lately, I wash the dishes and listen to old lectures. I learn that Aristotle postulated that the planets are held in their tracks by wonder. They move toward their unmoved mover like a lover toward its beloved. I imagine Pluto not isolated but in contemplation, not enslaved to gravity but led by affection. And I realize how much I crave that silence. I go to the grocery store and listen to nothing at all—no lecture, no music, no phone call. I move about in uninterrupted quiet, finding the grapes.

Kelsey Peterson's work has appeared in Necessary Fiction, West Branch, and Witness, among other journals. Her story "The Unsent Letters of Blaise and Jacqueline Pascal," originally published in Conjunctions:71, A Cabinet of Curiosity, was a recipient of the PEN/Dau Short Story Prize for Emerging Writers and anthologized in PEN America Best Debut Short Stories 2019 (Catapult).