Since Thursday night I've been counting the stars on the ceiling in the green bedroom at my mother's. After announcing I was packing no suitcase and going away, I ended up the very next morning packing a bag and heading over to my mother's to stay with her during a recurrence of atrial fibrillation. It's like going back in time, photos everywhere, of my childhood, of two of my husbands, my daughter at various ages, my father before, during and after he got sick and died. Relatives no longer alive, relatives I never met.

There are too many faces and memories shouting from her walls and I need silence, so I can listen to her breathing, her old heart, her stories. I can't focus on the photos too much, so I've been trying to count the stars even in the day time. One night I thought it was 125 stars and fell asleep, thinking that was a sensible number.

The next day, I realized some were planets and a half moon, a full moon. I put my glasses on and laid back on the bed, thinking, there must be an easy way to do this, other than getting lost in the clusters, possibly counting a star or planet more than once. I saw comets and two crescent moon slivers, waxing or waning. Second count was 143, an unsettling number, for some reason.

Friday night, I fell asleep at 90 or was it 95, after discovering I had in the midst of chaotic or artistic arrangement, actually simulated the Big Dipper. Last night I was so tired I didn't count them, but woke at 3 am and gave it another try. I imagined my younger self, probably standing on a chair because my parents didn't believe in ladders due to the Lindbergh baby kidnapping.

I was probably also in my twenties, arranging stars that glowed when the lights went out at night, covering the whole ceiling for my daughter. It's a mercy we are given children to enlarge our small hearts, to help us give love when we are exhausted from life, and in that giving, count stars that in 38 years haven't fallen.

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