Under the Painted Sky
Wisps of gray clouds hover above, covering the last rays
of the setting sun. The chill of the night stings my bare
cheeks as I wait outside the hostel. Tugging at my mittens,
I rub my hands together to try to generate some warmth.
an astrophysicist. His voice echoes in my mind.
The low rumble of an engine crescendos as I see
something come closer and closer. The glare of bright,
white lights strike my eyes as a minibus pulls up onto
the side of the street, and out jumps a tall, middle-aged
man in a thick, red coat. A blue knit hat dons his head.
I look at the window, trying to be present, marveling
at the snow-capped mountains all around us as the
bus is driven further and further into the darkness. But
images of the past start to surface. A telescope, the
hill near our house, the orange rays disappearing into
the velvet sky, my father’s hand holding mine. Crickets
chirping, the warmth of July, my eyes peering through
the lens of a telescope. My father at my side, gazing at
stars, in the days before his cancer. This trip was his
graduation gift for me. He didn’t live to see this day.
“Hello!” he smiles, holding out his hand, “I’m
Magnus. You must be here for the tour?”
“Hi,” I reply back, shaking his hand, “Yes, I’m Lisa.”
“Ah, yes, there is your name,” he says, checking it off on
his clipboard, “You’re the last one we’re picking up.”
He gestures for me to follow him into the vehicle, where
he introduces me to the seven other people in our
tour group. It seems as though everyone is a couple
or part of a family, and I am the only one who came
alone, and I can’t help but think there should have been
someone here with me, too. But instead, he is not.
Magnus revs the engine up. “And off we go to chase
the northern lights!” Everyone whoops and hollers,
and I want to, too, but it’s almost as if there’s a chain
around my neck, choking me slowly. All around me I
hear voices, but all I want to hear is my father’s voice.
The bulbs of the street lamps flicker as we navigate
through the city center. We pass by wooden houses,
the roofs decked with sharp icicles. When we cross a
bridge, the water below us looks as though it is frozen.
We leave behind the city and venture into the darkness,
the open road leading us further and further away from
Tromsø and farther and farther into the wilderness.
We head north, unknowing of what is to come. I can
hear the tour guide’s voice, explaining the science
behind the aurora borealis, pointing out how particles
escape from the sun, hurtling solar wind into space.
But it only thinks of my father, even more. He is, was,
“And when these winds reach the earth,” he would say,
pointing up to the heavens, “they light up the sky.”
The bus begins to slow down as we turn a bend and stop
in what seems like the middle of nowhere. Not a single
lamp illuminates the path. Darkness surrounds us.
“We’ll be stopping here, for a bit,” Magnus says,
parking the vehicle yet leaving the engine running
“Feel free to stretch your feet outside. While we’re
waiting, we can pass around the hot cocoa.”
I step outside, my boots sinking into the frosty snow.
The polar night pulses with the glacial aura of Norway.
Though it is cold and my toes are already freezing, I stand
in silence for a moment, letting my lungs drink in the
fresh, crisp air. Snowflakes begin to fall slowly, landing
gently on my nose, and I close my eyes and breathe.
The same memories of my father swirl in my head, all those
summer days in July when we’d go out to the park, climb
the hill, set up the telescope, and wait for the sun to set.
But when do the stars come out, Papa? I used to
We have to wait until it gets darker, my father would
explain, or else we won’t be able to see the light.
When the evening waned into night and
darkness enveloped the land, I didn’t fear,
for he was with me. And when I
finally did peer through the telescope, I traced my