She wasn’t sure what it was, but something compelled Virginia to stop walking and look up. She was on her way to the much-coveted internship she had landed in the big city. The sidewalk she was on was busy and the crowd had no patience. As she stared upward, several people bumped into her, a few even cursed and told her to move along.
It had been several weeks now, and she was getting the hang of it. She still stood out; her country girl look was hard to shake. Many hours had been spent in the bathroom practicing more modern looks than the simple braid she was used to wearing every day. Her first paycheck, meager as it was, had been spent almost entirely on a new wardrobe. It had been a slim couple of weeks, living off rice and noodles and leftover ketchup packets. But if she could just fit in, if she could just prove to the world that she was something special, that she was talented and bright and useful, well, then it would be worth it. Plaid shirts and cowboy boots tucked away in the suitcase under her bed, something new was beginning and she was ready.
Yesterday she was on top of the world. Her boss had complimented her work, and another superior promised to put in a good word for her so that she could get hired on after the internship ended. She strutted down the street towards her tiny, grimy studio apartment, feeling important and accomplished. She was going places.
Liam hadn’t understood, and they had parted on uncertain terms. He couldn’t fathom what she could see in the city, what it could possibly offer her that was better than what she had on the farm. The city didn’t require her to be up at inhuman hours milking the cow, for one, nor did it demand that she shovel manure or brave feeding an ornery, devilish goat. She didn’t miss the mud, or the hateful rooster, and certainly not the blisters, slivers, or dust.
“But the air…the stars…the mountains,” Liam had argued, as though three simple words would change her mind. He didn’t get it. She was bigger than that one small corner of earth. She was meant for something more exciting.
Feeling bigger and more exciting than she ever had, Virginia made it back to her apartment that evening and fell into the old armchair that had been left there by the previous tenant. She had covered it in a spare sheet and decided not to think about what kinds of diseases or creatures it might be home to. Everytime she sat in it, a musty, dirty smell resurfaced. Didn’t matter. Someday soon, she was going to be a big shot. She’d buy a real nice armchair then.
She sat revelling in her accomplishments, dreaming of how she would keep moving forward and the places she would go. She kept looking around the apartment, like she was looking for something, but she couldn’t figure out what she was searching for. The feeling kept on for a while before she realized she was looking for someone to talk to about her successes. She picked up the phone to call Liam. It had been several days since she’d called–things were busy at the office, and by the time she made it home she barely had enough energy to eat something before collapsing on the twin mattress on the floor in the corner.
“Hey, this is Liam, I’m probably milking the cow or feeding the chickens or fixing that dang tractor again. Leave me a message, I’ll call you back when I get in.”
Virginia smiled. He really ought to get rid of that old tractor. The time he spent repairing it far exceeded the time he was actually able to use it on his little farm. She remembered working with Liam and his grandfather on that piece of junk one summer, learning all about the different parts and their functions. She remembered the kind old man’s funeral the following summer, and his tiny, sweet wife’s funeral a few months after that. She remembered Liam working on the tractor, by himself, on the farm that now belonged to him, as pouring rain leaked through the roof of the rickety barn. She had walked the short distance between his little farm and her parents’ every day for weeks, helping him settle in and trying to keep him from being lonely. His patch of heaven, only about fifteen acres, was all he had left.
Wishing she could talk to him, missing his voice and his simple wisdom, she fell asleep with that feeling like she was looking for something she couldn’t remember still nagging at her.
The next morning, as she was walking down the bustling sidewalk, she stopped to look up. She stared at the towering buildings, reaching so high in the sky that the glare from the sun made their tops disappear. She stared and stared, ignoring the people bumping into her. What was she missing?
“Look at those stars,” Liam’s voice said, floating in from memory. “Don’t they just make you feel so small, Love?”
Those buildings were so tall. Up and up and up they went, and she was just a little speck at the bottom of them.
“Looking up at those stars makes the important things seem so much bigger, and the unimportant things feel seem so much smaller.”
I’m always going to be small, Virginia suddenly thought. She understood now. She was missing Liam. The farm was small, but he was there. He’d told her he’d marry her the moment she was ready for it, and she’d told him she had to see the world, she had to fulfill her dreams. He’d seemed so broken hearted, and she had felt so indignant. How could be begrudge her her dreams? Why didn’t he think her aspirations were worthy of realizing?
Like ice on the window of her old farmhouse bedroom slowly melting away with the rising winter sun, her vision started to clear. To Liam, she was the world. She was his dreams. It didn’t matter where she went, to the world she would always be small. But to him, she would always be the stars.
So what? She should just resign herself to living on a little farm, doing wretched farm chores for all of eternity? She felt angry for a moment. Then she thought of the night before, and the void she had felt. Nothing was exciting if she had no one to share it with, and there was no one else but Liam with whom she wanted to share. Nothing was worth living without him.
“Hey, this is Liam–and Virginia! We’re probably feeding the cow, or busy editing another manuscript, or feeding the chickens, or on a conference call on the other line. Leave us a message, we’ll call you back!”