They call her Helena, which feels a little bit like sticking a bumper sticker on a battleship. But to say “it” or “that” or “the burning pillar of light that’s hovering in Art’s living room and humming at a pitch barely audible to human ears” feels terrible in indefinable ways, so. Helena. She came down from the sky for Sarah, apparently – and by extent the rest of them – although she says that like this:
THE CRACK OF THUNDER DURING A RAINSTORM
A FIST HITTING A FACE AND THE FALL OF A SINGLE TOOTH, STAINED WITH BLOOD
A LIONESS ROARING IN THE VELDT
THE FIRST TIME YOU UNDERSTOOD THE BLURRING BETWEEN RAGE AND JOY
so who knows, maybe she’s there for any other reason. The apocalypse. The word of some god or another. Whimsy. Whatever the reason, she’s there – holy and terrible and holy, too bright to look at directly. She talks in a voice like feedback, and all her words are too big; she’s made up of wings that, from the wrong angle, look like light through prisms; she has a thousand thousand eyes, and they all look in different directions. Kira calls her “Auntie Helena,” and folds her origami butterflies. It works.
Sarah muttered something sardonic once about having to pray – she meant it as a question, sincere, but it came out bitter and wry. The light coming off Helena lit her up like a tilted spotlight, catching on the edges of her hair and sending it sparking. Do I have to pray, Helena? You being here – does that mean I have to pray, Helena? And Helena whispered:
THE LETTER FROM KIRA YOU KEEP IN THE INSIDE POCKET OF YOUR JACKET
GRAINS OF SUGAR SPILLED ON A TABLETOP AND THEN WIPED AWAY
A BLACK SKY FILLED WITH STARS
THE PATCH OF DRY SKIN BETWEEN YOUR THUMB AND INDEX FINGER
which meant, probably, that these things are inside of you. And that meant, probably, that Sarah didn’t have to pray. Helena is difficult to parse on the best of days, and on the worst of days – when she’s just screaming fractured pieces of memory that don’t belong to anyone – she is intolerable to the point of bleeding. Even when she lowers her voice it’s too loud. She’s always too loud. She’s too loud and too bright and too awful to look at straight-on, and she probably knows.
Sarah loves her anyways, which she never says out loud. In contrast: Helena says she loves Sarah all the time, but she says it in fireworks and birds taking flight and the way Sarah looks at Kira so it doesn’t always come through.
(Sarah knows better than any of them, really, but they all know that’s because Helena is hers.)
Sarah skulks down back alleys and Helena lights her right up. Sarah gets in fights with men outside of bars and they melt into pillars of sugar and Sarah’s knuckles don’t bleed even a little bit. Sarah wakes up in the middle of the night and the room is so bright, even if the sun isn’t out yet. Helena is a pile of golden hair thrown up into the air, Helena is a piece of modern art that’s partway through melting, Helena is what love looks like. Helena is sunlight made into poetry, which is to say she’s incomprehensible.
So, Sarah wakes up in the middle of the night again. Another nightmare. Helena looks at her with all of her eyes and none of them blink. She says:
A SINGLE CHRISTMAS LIGHT BULB CUPPED IN THE HAND
which means, of course, light and warmth and soft pinkness through all that. The way it flickers against the palm. A closed hand holding all that light, and down the string the light going on forever and ever and ever.
Sarah watches Helena through half-open eyes. It’s the middle of the night, it’s blinding. She’s tired enough to slump her head back against the pillow, close her eyes against the glare, and say: “Yeah, love you too.”
Helena hums, one long note coming out of her lack of mouth. The note is low and steady and it just keeps holding, it doesn’t let go. Sarah’s hand unclenches from where it was gripping tight to the blanket. Her limbs unravel themselves, her breathing slows. She dreams about a single dove, flying up so high towards the sun that the only thing she can see is wings and light. She waits for it to come back down to her.