My son stares out his window, a question on his lips about blues and grays while bronze threads stitch the clouds together overhead. When we pass the Wells Fargo, the blades of its ornamental windmill blur in the wind.
“Molecules,” I say, and “refraction,” pointing up toward the sun, which is blotted out behind an endless slab of altostratus.
“But where’s the blue now?” he insists, fingers rubbing as if to conjure the color. Scientist’s son, raised on a diet of doubt. “Where’d it go?”
“Nowhere,” I say, when I should say everywhere. “It’s up there still. Above the storm.”
He frowns, unwilling to take my word. “Why is the sky blue anyway?” he says. There’s defeat in his voice. He knows this answer. He’s asked me before.
“The sky is every color,” I say, like always, “but blue waves are shorter and smaller, so that’s mostly what we see.”
Even if it’s the correct answer, it’s the wrong one, and tears come. It’s visible, the continent of questions massing within his ribs that he lacks the diction to release.
“Rods,” I say, fingering my necklace of polished stone. “Cones,” I say, “perception.” But those words are wrong too. They stoke the rumbles within him the way a blend of water and sand and 600 kinds of poison can force gas and oil to the head of a well. What we don’t see inside the belly of the earth while we’re hunting our treasures are the fissures that prime faults to slip, triggering tremors that rock the places where we sleep at night and grow our food and raise the kids we try to make better than we are.
Tears marble his cheeks while one hand claws at his chest. “But that’s not—” he tries. “It’s not what I think.”
“Okay. What’s your theory?” We are almost to his daycare. In an hour I’ll stand in the bottom of an auditorium filled with three hundred bent heads, a pointillist painting too dim to discern.
“Well, the earth’s round,” he starts, “and it spins. So some parts turn upside down.”
“Sort of,” I say, “but gravity—”
“So when it spins, I think the ocean falls into the sky, and the sky falls back in the ocean. Blue and blue,” he says, palms up.
The light before us turns red, and I stop beside a coupe where a woman wields a wand to magic her lashes longer. My son’s eyes find mine in the mirror. He is frozen, waiting for me to correct him. A tear still clings to his jaw, but when I smile, his lips part too.
“Blue and blue,” I say. “Blue and blue, blue and blue forever.”
I don’t notice the light change, but he does, his finger a twirling turbine. “Come on, Mom,” he says. “Let’s go.”
As the first drops fall, I comply, and when thunder snarls behind us, it’s a tiger’s low purr from somewhere out of sight, still many miles away.
Katie Cortese is the author of Girl Power and Other Short-Short Stories (ELJ Publications, 2015) and Make Way for Her and Other Stories (University Press of Kentucky, 2018). Her work has recently appeared in VIDA Review, Gargoyle, Indiana Review, Blackbird, and The Baltimore Review, among other journals. She teaches in the creative writing program at Texas Tech University where she also serves as the fiction editor for Iron Horse Literary Review.