WHEN MELISSA WAS VERY YOUNG she had a collection of keychains. It was a brilliant set, all two hundred and eighty-seven of them. She kept them under her bed in what used to be the bottom drawer of a dresser. They were all very nice and very well kept. Every so often she would take each of them out and clean them until they sparkled. Melissa loved those key chains, so much.
She got a keychain every time she went on a trip, and every time somebody else did. They would always make sure to bring her back one if they came across it (which they always did) and she would always make sure to tell everybody that she collected them. She had them of cities, and states, countries and continents. She had them of theme parks, stores, and cartoon characters. She had pretty ones and ugly ones and ones that were so nice you couldn’t help but stare at them. Melissa especially loved the one that her Uncle gave her after coming back from New York. It was of course one of New York. It was pretty and copper, shaped like and apple, with the city inside. “The Big Apple,” is what it read.
When he gave it to her she thanked him, kissed him on the cheek and put it on her backpack for the world to see (or at least her third grade class and anybody else that wandered by).
Every so often she would make sure it was still there by reaching back and checking. It always was.
Then something happened, not with the keychain but with her Uncle. He was suddenly real sick and he couldn’t come by so often anymore. So her family had to go visit him. He was her mothers little brother after all. Melissa always made sure to pack a few Barbie’s, so she would have something to play with when she was there. It did get boring after a while. Her Uncle used to play with her outside, but now he couldn’t and he didn’t know how to play with Barbie’s. So she stopped bringing them. Next time she brought her Game boy. But he didn’t know how to play with that either.
The next next time she brought her key chains. He was even sicker now. He stayed in bed a lot. So she sat in the bed beside him and laid the key chains out across the edge of his bed.
“Where’d you get this one?” he would ask.
“My friend,” she’d say smiling, “He brought it back from his trip to France. He told me all about it. Want me to tell you?”
Her Uncle smiled, “Sure.”
So she did.
And after he asked her where she got the next one.
“Disneyland,” she said, “In California. I went there two years ago. It was really fun and Mom even went with me on some of the scary rides. Want me to tell you about it?”
He smiled a bit more.
And she told him, her eyes getting a bit watery, “You should come next time,” she said with a hopeful sound in her voice.
“I’m not sure I’d be able,” he said. “But I’ll try.”
Melissa looked back down over at the keychains. She chose one and picked it up, “And this is my favorite,” she said, “Want to know why?”
He looked at the small copper apple hanging from her finger.
She started to sob, “Because it’s so shiny and pretty and nice. And because my favorite Uncle in the whole world gave it to me…” and she hugged him, “Please don’t die,” she cried, “Please…”
And he hugged her back, “I’ll try, but I can’t promise anything.”
* * *
He died three months later. She spent a bit of time up in her room, waiting by her window. Nobody really knew what she was waiting for, not even her parents.
“Hunny, it’s time for bed,” her mother said late that night. She’d entered Melissa’s bedroom but Melissa hadn’t noticed. “What are you looking at?”
Melissa was sitting at the windowsill gazing out.
“Look,” said Melissa in a monotone, “You can see almost all the stars today, almost all the moon too.”
Her mother looked at her and saw the keychain held tightly in her hand, the small hoop dangling from the chain, “You know what they say about the stars, right?”
Melissa looked at her. Her eyes were set.
“They say that if you talk to them, they’ll grab onto your words and carry them all to the heavens. And they’ll put them back together again, so that the people you love can hear them.”
“So like a wish?” Melissa asked.
“I guess,” her mother answered, “In a way.”
“I don’t believe in wishes,” said Melissa. Her mother hadn’t known that she’d already made a few that had not come true.
“But you have to make them at the right time.”
Melissa thought for a moment. “Maybe tomorrow,” and she got up and headed over to her bed. “I’m tired.”
With that her mother put her to bed, sadly and left her bedroom wishing her a goodnight. She left the door open a crack for some light to sneak its way in.
Only moments after her mother had gone Melissa got up from her bed, shut her door, and locked it. Still holding the keychain, she went to the window. She opened it and looked up at the stars. With all of her heart and her mind and her soul, she wished. It was the biggest wish the stars had ever heard and so it took more of them than usual to grab hold of it. And with all their strength they carried it up and up and up. And you know what? I think it got there.
©Damian Alexander 2010
This story was originally published in Burlington High School’s literary magazine Collab in 2010 and then republished that same year in the yearbook.