Illuminated

Sarah Richter

A single star falls from the night sky, lazily drifting toward Earth like cottonseed on a
windless day. In the middle of a field stands a child staring up at the star, her eyes glinting with the sparkling light. She holds out her small hands, receiving the star gently with cupped palms. The star pulses with light. She presses it against her heart, and the star melts into her chest, illuminating her whole body. The meadow brightens with her glow, and small animals watch her with curiosity as she reveals the field’s evening activity.

 

The glow dissipates slowly while the girl looks at her hands with wide, doe-brown eyes. And with a quick turn of her bare heel, she runs home.
 

***


She is older now, old enough to know that the world is not full of good. She walks
through town with her mother, who has warned her not to walk alone on the streets or run 
through the woods by herself because “of the way of the world.” She has heard many warnings like this and more, increasing with intensity and worry as she grows.
 

She does not fully understand what the Way is, but she knows that it can change. She is determined to change it herself.


***


And as she grows older and experiences more of life’s twists, corners, and bends, she
realizes that there is a Way. The Way is broken. It is like a blood clot in the heart, slowly accumulating with cells as they try to flow through the path they were created to travel. The world is stuck. There is a sense of growing pressure as the flow is disrupted.

 

She is a young woman, bright with the possibilities of the future and her life as she
graduates college, but she feels a pull from her heart—to where, she is not certain. All she knows is that the reverberations of her heart do not align with the world’s Way.

 

The light glows softly at the edges of her vision, but she confuses the world’s aspirations with her own as she enters adulthood. She assumes it is the light of her predestined wealth and fame. The light slowly fades away.


***


Years pass, and she is a nurse at the local hospital. She holds hands with an old man as he watches her with watery blue eyes and trembling lips. A tube is lodged in one of his nostrils. His hands are cool and moist, and she warms them with her own.
 

“Thank you,” he says, and he coughs violently. An inhale, and he is still. Her heart aches; he died without family, only a nurse at his feeble side. He didn’t know her name. She rests his hands on his stomach, one folded over the other, and calls for the doctor.

She retires to a break room and pours herself a cup of coffee, sits at a table by a window, and stares outside. The town bustles along, the one she has lived in her whole life. She has held many hands. Her own hands are strong, wide, and olive-toned, but they seem weary to her now with calluses and dry, thick knuckles. She stares at them, holding the small mug with a pressing sense of sorrow. She feels as though she is the warden to the gates of death: she leads people into the other world, holding their hands as they transfer between this reality and the next. She is their comfort as they face the greatest human fear: the ultimate end, the indescribable and unknowable afterthought of life.


A glow permeates from her palms around the cup. With a gasp, she pulls her hands away from the mug and puts them under the table, staring at them. Something tugs at her mind, a memory of light and wonder.
 

I thought that was just a dream, she thinks as her hands continue to brighten. The light emanates from the center of her palm with a gentle heat. She presses her hands against her chest, feeling the crisp nurse’s uniform over her beating heart. She closes her eyes and can see the star falling from the sky in her mind.
 

She opens her hands to see that they have stopped glowing, but she can still feel the light, the dust of starry intuition, coursing through her body. She is that young girl again, determined to change the world with her soft hands and shimmering eyes.
 

***


A young man is wheeled into the hospital in a panicked flurry. Paramedics try to control the blood loss as he is flown into the emergency room; his band T-shirt is soaked red. The woman is called into action, and she prepares herself along with the other doctors and nurses.

“A car crash,” says one of the doctors as they pull on their latex gloves and face masks. “He’s been drinking.”


She steels herself as she enters the surgery room. The boy is unconscious, surrounded by beeping machines, fluids, and white-cloaked professionals.
 

They begin their work. The hustle of saving lives electrifies the room, and she can feel
the energy in her skin, her bones. Her gloves are covered in this boy’s blood—warm and wet, the thing of life itself, and it leaves his body at an alarming rate.

 

The head surgeon commands the team, and they work methodically to his voice. She can see them and herself from bird’s eye view, everyone moving in rhythmic motion over the boy’s still body. He is too still. The blood is slowing in his veins; he is losing too much, too fast. The team watches with agonized faces and blurred hands as they try to save him. He is only seventeen, in the spring of life, and too confident in his youthful immortality.
 

The woman grabs his cooling hand in her own, staring at his reposeful face: Do not let go. She looks at the surgeon, who stares at her with apprehension. She nods at his chest, his struggling heart, and he moves to the defibrillator.
 

“Clear!” The electricity vibrates through the boy’s body. His heart rate does not improve. The surgeon moves in to shock him again. “Clear!”
 

The boy’s limbs shake with the impact. She grabs his hand and squeezes, sending her
plea not to him but to the stars, to the light. Her hands glow around his, seeping into his pallid skin. Please.

 

The monitor responds to her, picking up the boy’s heart rate with cold, mechanical beeps. Never has something so emotionless caused her to feel so much joy. He will live.

***


In the morning, she brings a tray of orange juice, applesauce, scrambled eggs, and bacon to the boy’s room. She sets the tray down on the table by his bed, and pulls up a chair.


He looks at her with a distinctly hungover expression: his blue eyes strain against the
morning light, and his chapped lips grimace with displeasure. She chuckles under her breath, thinking back to her own morning mishaps.


“I’m sorry,” he said, looking down at his lap.


She puts a comforting hand on his knee. “It was very, very stupid, and you should be
extremely grateful that you hit a tree and not a person. But you are okay, and that’s what matters right now.” She points at the tray. “Eat.”


He obeys, taking the cup of applesauce and slurps from the tiny spoon. He smiles at her, still weak from the previous night. “Thank you.”
 

She nods her head and starts to get up, but he grabs her hand. “No, really. Thank you.” She can see the light in his eyes, the light of her childhood magic and wonder. “You saved me. I know it was you.”

The woman’s heart leaps as she clasps his hand, feeling the shared energy between
them. “It’s my purpose,” she replies softly, “and you have one, too. We all do. So make sure you don’t do anything to mess it up. We have work to do.”


With a ruffle of his shaggy hair, she steps out into the hall, noticing the light in
everyone’s eyes, no matter how downcast they seem. The world, she realizes, may be spinning off-center, casting a strange shadow, but the light remains. And so she walks with a lighter step, hands open to give and receive.

Sarah Richter is an English major minoring in history as well as a publishing administrative assistant. She is a lifelong writer, and her passions include reading, writing, and painting. She is working on her certification to become a yoga teacher, and she hopes to one day become an English professor.

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