Once upon a time there was a little boy who believed he could touch the stars. If only…
Every night he would climb out his bedroom window and crawl up onto the roof of his house. While the world slept below him, he would lie on his back and gaze up into the night time sky, memorizing the positions of all the stars, dreaming of one day flying to the moon, of soaring amongst the celestial beauty above.
One night, his mother came to his room and found him missing from his bed. Not realizing he was on the roof, she became frantic. She woke up his father, crying fearfully. They called the police. They called their neighbours. A search party was organized.
Meanwhile, the little boy lay on the roof, lost in wonder of the stars above. He didn’t hear their frantic calls. Didn’t know that they were searching for him. He knew only that he was safe amongst the wonder of the nighttime sky, dreaming of one day building a space ship and flying beyond his wildest imaginings of life here on earth.
As he always did after an hour of star-gazing, the little boy climbed quietly back down from the roof into his room to go back to bed. But this night, he found his mother sitting on his bed, clutching his teddy bear. Tears streamed down her face. Her body shook with sobs.
The little boy saw his mother and did not understand why she was crying. He ran to her, touched her arm and asked, “Mummy, what’s wrong?”
The mother, stunned to hear her son’s voice, opened her eyes and saw him standing before her. Relief washed over her. He was safe. She grabbed him and pulled him to her breast, holding him tightly. She called out to her husband who was downstairs talking to the police who were in charge of the search party. “He’s here. He’s here.”
Everyone raced up the stairs. The little boy heard the pounding of their footsteps, felt the tremor of the floor as they raced into the room.
His father burst through the door, strode over to him and angrily demanded, “Where were you? Don’t you know you frightened your mother almost to death?”
The little boy was confused. What were the police doing there? Why were they all standing in front of him, arms crossed against their chests?
In a tiny voice he replied, “I was on the roof.” He hesitated and then whispered tentatively. “Counting stars.”
His father was angry. “You’re a bad boy,” he yelled. “How dare you cause such terror in our hearts. You will never go on the roof again.”
The little boy stood his ground. “I’m going to be an astronaut. I’m going to fly amongst the stars.”
The father shouted back. “Quit your foolish dreaming. You can’t eat stardust. You will be a coal miner, just like me. Just like my father before me.”
And so, a dream was lost. The father put bars on the boy’s window. The boy put his dream of one day being an astronaut away.
Years passed. The little boy became a man. He worked in the coalmine. Just like his father. He had a wife. A little cottage and a family of his own. A son and a daughter.
Like his father, he was stern. Distant. Uncompromisable. Like his father, he loved his wife and children but never told them. When asked if he had dreams, he would reply, “Dreaming doesn’t put food on the table. Dreams are as impossible as flying amongst the stars. It will never happen.”
They were happy, in a strict kind of way. There was food on the table, clothes on their backs and a roof over their heads. No one spoke of love. No one spoke of the stars above.
One night, the father walked past his son’s room on his way to bed. Out of the corner of his eye, through the open door, he saw the tiny figure of his son slipping out the bedroom window. Fearful that his son might be hurt, he raced across the room, and grabbed his son just as he was about to slip over the sill and onto the roof.
“What are you doing?” he bellowed as he pulled his son back into the safety of the room.
The little boy, not used to being held in his father’s arms, burrowed into his chest, snuggled his head against his shoulder and whispered, “Counting stars.”
The father stood still. He felt his son’s heart beating against his chest. Felt the softness of his arms around his neck. With his son in his arms, he looked out the bedroom window to the darkness of night. Stars glittered in the sky above. The world slept below.
“Counting stars.” he whispered. And then he repeated it. “Counting stars.”
The little boy nodded his head. “I do it every night,” he said proudly. “One day I’m going to be an astronaut. I’m going to build a spaceship and fly to the moon!”
“No you’re not,” the father began and stopped. As he reached out to close the window, he caught a glimpse of himself holding his son in the reflection of the glass. His eyes misted up at the sight of the tiny figure held in his massive arms.
His son, squirmed in his arms and leaned his body towards the window. “Look dad!” he exclaimed. “A comet.”
The father turned his head and looked up into the stars above as a streak of light flared across the inky black sky. He closed his eyes and took a breath. When he opened them, he looked down into his son’s eyes and saw the starry wonder of his dream reflected back at him.
His heart softened. He smiled. And pushed the window open. “I don’t want you to get hurt son. It’s okay to go on the roof at night as long as you promise to take me with you.”
The boy’s blue eyes opened wide. “Really?” he asked in a tiny whisper. “You’ll go with me?”
Holding his son safely in his arms, the father stepped through the window onto the roof. “When I was a little boy, I used to climb out my bedroom window so I could count stars,” he said. He looked up into the night sky. “I forgot how many stars there are,” he whispered his son clutched tightly in his arms. “Can you tell me how many you’ve counted?”
The boy pointed up and started to count. “Two thousand and twenty-three. Two thousand and twenty-four. Two….” and his father’s voice joined in. “thousand and twenty-five…”
Together, father and son lay on their backs on the roof gazing up at the starry night blanket spread out before them.
And the stars shone brighter than they had ever shone before.
I wrote this story many years ago before I even know I was dreaming of Thurlow James’ arrival.