All summer I’d watch the cool blue light from our neighbor’s mosquito catcher, hanging ten feet from my bedroom window. It glowed mystically, the stillness of night punctuated only by the occasional zap and a small voice beside me.
“Tell me about the world,” she would say.
Genevieve asked this question almost every night. She was six and I was twelve. We shared a room and a bed for a year while our house was renovated – at first I protested the arrangement but soon enjoyed the company.
“What do you want to know?” I turned to face her but she was nothing more than a vague outline of gray against black. I could sense her pupils dilating, absorbing the wisps of light drifting in from between the blinds.
“Oh, I don’t know, how about black holes and supernovas and stuff. Black holes especially.”
My mother started up the stairs and we ceased talking until the clunk of her shoes had faded down the hall. If she caught us we’d be scolded for staying up too late, but that was part of the thrill.
“Well, black holes aren’t exactly in the world, Genevieve. They’re not in the earth. And shhh. Be quieter.”
“What do you mean?’” Genevieve asked. “We can’t go to black holes, even if we wanted to?”
Thinking about black holes stretched my mind to its limit so I did not answer. Instead we fell silent and I could sense her struggling to come to terms with this information.
Isn’t the world everything? What can be bigger than the world? If black holes aren’t in the world, then where are they?
This is how most of our nights went. Silence followed by questions followed by more silence, both of our imaginations spinning as quickly as the fan above our heads.
“Why are animals different colors?” Genevieve asked me after awhile, her eyes bright in the dark.
“Because they’re from different places, “I said. “Doves are white because they come from the moon, and and there it’s all snowy and cold. Crows are black because they come from the sun and their feathers got burned by the fire. And peacocks used to fly by the stars, which makes their blue-green wings shine.”
“Oh,” said Genevieve. “I never knew that.”
Outside our room the mosquitoes buzzed and zapped, buzzed and zapped. It never occurred to me that they were dying and Genevieve never asked. To us, this was just the sound of summer the way rain is the sound of spring.
Sharing a bed with Genevieve, I discovered my passion for storytelling. I had the chance to create a world for my younger sister, as if the six years I had over her somehow made me the authority on things time can’t even measure. Some nights we talked for what felt like forever. But exhaustion always caught up to us and the silences got longer, the air soon filled with ideas, like disturbed dust, settling slowly into our dreams.
Thirteen years have passed since we lay side-by-side, whispering in that four-poster bed. In less than a month, the little girl will go off to college. She’ll study biology and chemistry and physics, learning the true, scientific reasons for why things work the way they do.
But her curiosity for the world will never wane, and she’ll find answers only create more questions. These questions will grow and multiply, buzzing during wake and sleep, swarming invisibly like mosquitoes on a summer night.