My name is Sky. Judith, my stepmother, said that is because my mother gave birth to me in the yard under the summer midafternoon sky, the kind where rifted white clouds skimmed the highest reach of the Heavens. Lacking imagination for a decent Christian name she had muttered, “Sky,” when asked for a name for the skinny, white-haired baby the midwife handed her before she promptly fainted.
My mother was not a strong woman. She was always thin, bone edges protruding from the angles of her body, her collarbone a shelf for her neck and head. Childbirth seemed to steal what little life force she had. I was the oldest. My little brother came next, named Dusk, signifying the time of day he entered the world. And my youngest sibling, a sister called Valley, was the youngest and the one who stole my mother’s last breath, releasing it in a sigh as Valley took her very first gulp of mountain air, then promptly screamed, startling the birds from their trees where they had settled during the unusually quiet labor.
Maybe because of my name, or by some intuition of my mother’s, I have always been entranced by the sky. I have watched it lighten in the early dawn, pale in the waning evening. I have tracked the scuttle of clouds from storms ripped to shreds and blown by the wind. I can trace the years passed by my impressions of the sky.
My feet had gone numb minutes ago, curled over the bar of the chair legs I sat hunched in. They were bare, they usually were. Shoes were a commodity this far in the country, and her Daddy would only buy us one pair a year, usually more often trading for them, whatever cheap, canvas lined things he could find that would barely survive the winter slogs through shin-high snow and boggy mud to get to the schoolhouse 5 miles away. I was used to numb feet.
What I wasn’t accustomed to was watching my sister staring lifelessly outside, brown eyes that once glistened with spirit now half shuttered by pale, blonde lashes and roguishly red cheeks. Too red for her lack of vitality and splotched from her cheekbones to her collarbone where the quilt sagged to reveal a brittle frame.
Valley’s tiny body lay still under the ratty quilts. Her face was angled towards the window, her jaw a sharp, white line against the dirt-stained fabric.
In the hills, everything was dirty, but nobody seemed to mind. The dirt was our link to nature, and nature our inheritance from God. When you didn’t have a lot, you made what you did have a blessing.
There was a chill in the air, even inside the cabin, fall had come to call and wasn’t waiting for us to open the door. Our coal stove sat in a corner unused, dusty, black with the soot of fires past. Valley didn’t have the strength to light it. I didn’t have the heart.