The Stars / Les Étoiles

Just like Scarlett O’Hara, her dress was made from curtains. It was white now but it had once been purple.

A long time ago before she was even born the curtains had been selected for the living room because they matched the wallpaper perfectly. She grew up in a living room of purple paisley. Everything was purple, actually. Her father liked it like that and her mother never thought to complain. But she, their only daughter, never really cared for purple. But they didn’t listen. And so purple it always was.

The last time she had a growth spurt, she outgrew everything she owned so her mother had to spend the morning sewing her a new frock. (She was late for school but no one noticed.) When she returned home, she blended into the wall. Perhaps she would disappear into the drywall, get pulled into the foundations and be left to stew for eons in the dirt under the house. A few years from now, would her father look up over his paper to her mother and ask: “Hey, what ever happened to our daughter?”

It was the only dress she owned. Always she blended in. She had hoped that growing would help. She always wanted to be bigger. And growing would mean a new dress. And so she wished she would be. She wished and wished but nothing ever happened. Little and insignificant she stayed. At dinner times she would pass the salt when requested and that was where she remained.

Then, one day, she heard a rumour: there things upon which a person who desired something could wish. They were called “the stars,” or “les étoiles.” She liked both names and couldn’t pick a favourite. She wished every night now after she put herself to bed: “Please, les étoiles, please. I have grown so little these past few years. I want to be bigger. So big that no one can ever ignore me again. Please, stars, please. I want to grow and grow and grow.”  She wished every night with her head poked out the bedroom window and her hair hanging down in tight braids brushing against the rose bushes below; she wished on les étoiles.

There was something special about one star, she thought. It flickered like the candle she once saw her grandmother carrying down the dark hall when the lights went out. It flicked blue and red. She smiled to herself and felt the cracks between her loose teeth with her tongue as she closed the window. The stars were special, she thought, they would heed her desire.

She knew her wish would be answered. And it was.

By the next morning, she’d outgrown the curtain dress. It stretched tightly against her skin, the seams bursting , the hem skimming far too high above her knees. Again her mother ripped another panel of curtains from the living room windows. Again she haphazardly stitched together a frock. (Again she was late for school. Again no one noticed.) Again her father sat at the dinner table, his newspaper stretched in front of his face: “Pass the salt.”

Again she poked her head out the window. Again her braids brushed against the roses.  “Please, les étoiles, please, stars. I am not big enough yet.”

The next morning, she’d grown again.  (She was late for school and still no one noticed.) “Pass the salt.”

That night, l’étoile blinking red and blue:  “Please, les étoiles, please, stars. I am not big enough yet.”

“Pass the salt.”

“Please, les étoiles, please, stars. I am not big enough yet.”

“Pass the salt.”

“Please, les étoiles, please, stars. I am not big enough yet.”

“Pass the salt.”

“Please, les étoiles, please, stars. I am not big enough yet.”

“Pass the salt.”

“Please, les étoiles, please, stars. I am not big enough yet.”

“Pass the salt.”

By the next week, her mother was setting her alarm clock earlier and earlier in preparation for the new dress she would have to sew.

“Please, les étoiles, please, stars. I am not big enough yet.”

“Pass the salt.”

“Please, les étoiles, please, stars. I am not big enough yet.”

“Pass the salt.”

Within another week, all the curtains in the entire house were not big enough to make a dress for her.

“Please, les étoiles, please, stars. I am not big enough yet.”

“Pass the salt.”

A week after that, she didn’t fit in the house any more.

A week after that, she didn’t fit in the yard.

A week after that, she didn’t fit in the local football pitch.

“Please, les étoiles, please, stars. I am not big enough yet.”

A week after that, she was sleeping several miles away in the farmers’ fields, the cornstalks making her pillow, the pumpkin patch at her ankles. She wore all the curtain dresses stitched together around her body.  (The school eventually sent a letter wondering why she had missed so many classes.)

“Please, les étoiles, please, stars. I am not big enough yet.”

Her mother stopped sewing all together. Whatever fabric she could find was lashed together with duct tape. They used sticks and wet rags to give her a daily bath. (The school claimed that the field was out of their catchment area and she should longer attend.) But still she had no seen her father. The newspapers did not deliver to fields.

“Please, les étoiles, please, stars. I am not big enough yet.”

Her mother and the farmers, gathered together with the sons and daughters who would take over their plots one day, dressed her every morning. The potato farmers hoisted on socks stitched together from a thousand potato sacks. The corn farmers wove their corn silk into rope and thread to bind the fabrics around her limbs. The blueberry farmers used their rakes to comb her hair; it took ten of them four hours to plait her hair and tie the bows. Their field was directly under her; she’d ruined not only their farms but also the bottom of her dress. The curtain-dresses-frock was stained with a blue sweetness that cost more than her parents could afford. Her mother passed along messages from home that the newspapers issued columns reporting on the increase in the price of blueberries and why oh why could these have happened?

“Please, les étoiles, please, stars. I am not big enough yet.”

When the point was reached that her mother, along with all the farmers, had to work out a system of ropes and pulleys to get the curtain-dresses over her growing body, she made the front page of the newspaper. They came out in hoards to see her and this wooden contraption built around her growing body. Photos were taken in endless succession of the docks built up to her shoulders; of the toothbrush, like an oar from an ancient slave ship, which took six men to work; of the now-ragged curtain dress hanging in lashed-together shards from her expansive skin; of the patchwork fleet of tarpaulins strung up over her head; and of her face, freckles the size of hula hoops. They needed to back up nearly a hundred yards to get her in frame.  The flashbulbs sparkled around her and she realized with glee that they noticed her. They asked her questions and questions. “How much do you eat?” and “How do you bathe?” and “Is purple your favourite colour?” They did not ask how or why she grew so large. And so she kept the secret of les étoiles to herself.

That was when her father came for the only time to the farmer’s field.  He brandished the newspaper with her picture across the front, grinning proudly. He wore his best sweater vest when he came to visit. She stopped wishing. Even though she no longer needed to poke her head out a bedroom window, she stopped wishing. She wasn’t sure how many weeks had passed since that first wish had been granted, but it was then that she finally stopped growing.

She was famous for a week.

Then the fields fell back into silence. The farmers finished counting up the money they’d made from letting the reporters and sight-seers park in their driveways. Her mother put her hands back on her hips. Her father returned home, the newspaper tucked under his arm once more.

She tried to wish again: “Please, les étoiles, please, stars. I am not big enough yet.”

But nothing happened.

She never shrank again, but she had stopped growing. For years she stayed that size. For years she stayed in the farmers’ fields. She got to know their names, their histories, their dreams. The rains came. The rains went. The snow came. The snow went. The sun came back. The sun left again. The contraptions around her gradually grew more permanent. The seasons swung by: year falling into year springing into year then falling again then bouncing back again. Metal replaced wood; polyester fleece replaced wool; industrial cables replaced corn silk.

Her curtain-dresses faded from purple to lilac to lavender to white.

The crops around her had long since withered. The farmers retired when their money went and nothing else could grow to replace it. The sons and daughters of the farmers, who had once planned on taking over the farms, married, had children, and moved away, leaving the farms behind. She heard occasionally how they went into the city. Eventually none of the farmers were left anymore. When her mother herself disappeared, her knees too old and rickety to row the toothbrush anymore, there was no one left to see her anymore.

That was the first night in nearly ten years that she wished upon a star again.

“Please, les étoiles, please, stars. I don’t want to be seen anymore. I’m sick of being seen. Please. I don’t want to be seen anymore.”

Years later, Stella, grand-daughter of old potato farmers, drove near the fallow fields, remarked casually to her own grandchildren in the backseat of her jalopy: “Look ahead and you will see a giant. I remember her when I was younger than you. She wore all purple then, but it’s white now.”

The grandchildren laughed, “Silly Grandma! There’s nothing there!” As the jalopy disappeared down the lonely, quiet road, the invisible giant let go her breath, sighing again, alone once more.

Originally published in Sad Magazine, issue no. 14 The FANTASY issue (2013).

Author: Ashleigh Rajala

Ashleigh Rajala is an award-winning writer whose work has appeared in numerous journals, both online and in print. She is passionate about using story-telling to build community in Surrey BC, where she lives and works on the unceded traditional territory of the Coast Salish peoples.

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