LOOKING UP .

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An email came through from an address Sarah didn’t recognise. She could hardly credit what she saw, but printed it off and then deleted the original, just in case it had a virus. There the message lay, fresh and warm from the printer: ’Are you sure that what you see is real? Look up, look up, as if your life depended on it. And then you’ll know.’

Well, that seemed unambiguous enough. She looked up to the ceiling: nothing remarkable there. A few cracks, a few spiders’ webs, signs of careless painting. It was night, and she went outside and looked up at the trees: interlaced branches, birds in their nests. Sarah looked up again. The moon had set. There was little ambient light where she lived, and once her eyes had settled down, she could see the stars. She had never known that there were so many of them. Constellations. She had been told that the earth was at the furthest edge of the Milky Way, on the end of the dragon’s tail, as it were. That had made sense.

Sarah looked up and looked up, and her neck began to ache, tilted as it was. She lay down on the grass, attentive and apprehensive. Something was about to happen. The sky looked like black velvet. Suddenly, at the horizon’s edge, a dazzling slit of light could be seen. It was as though the black cloth of the night was being drawn off: and as it moved on apace, she suddenly saw that the stars were not planets at all. She and everyone else had perceived them wrongly. Behind the blackness was the most astonishing, overwhelming light. There were pin-pricks in the black covering, and we were habituated to glimpse the radiance through them, and to interpret it as starlight.

The blackness drew off apace, and she lay on the grass, utterly consumed by the brightness. She never knew how long she lay there. Then gradually, gradually the darkness returned, like a curtain drawn across a window, and the pin-pricks of light could be seen again. She knew she would never be able to see them as stars again. When Sarah went back into the house and looked in the mirror, she looked a little burned, a little dazed. As it turned out, her revelation was impossible to impart. No-one would believe her, as it ran counter to common sense. People looked askance at her, and dismissed as foolishness her talk of the bright light. But she looked upwards for it for the rest of her life.