Every night, we wrote down the names of the stars which had gone. So we could watch the skies, Nora brushed the star ash from our window – our parents still called it snow. Sunset was ‘curtain close’ and then we weren’t meant to look out. So after we’d gone to bed, we lay awake listening for sleep sounds. The old space books were under our beds, but when we held them up to the window their pages had stopped matching the skies.
When the star ash first started falling, we were in school. It looked like cloud feathers. We didn’t know it wasn’t snow. The teacher shouted us away from the windows but we just heard the silence more: it was space-wide. The windows were behind us. Nora sat in front of me and didn’t turn round even when I nudged her chair. The classroom became cold. I sneaked peeks at the windows. The world was white wings.
In the playground, I ran until my legs were wobbles and everything felt like downhill. Nora grabbed my hand and we fell onto a drift – it was as soft as hushed mist. We lifted our hands in the falling snow but when we stared up through it, we could see the clouds weren’t there.
By home time, the streets were wading-deep. The others raced off, but we lingered behind. The snow looked like it was falling on the wrong speed. When we finally got home, we shook it from our hair. Nora said it didn’t smell like ice or cold, and I opened the window to see. Outside, the air smelled like underground sounds.
We never found out the name of the first star that crumbled. Nora looked for missing glints in the skies and I imagined stars which had never been there. We huddled under our blankets. The ashfall was as cold as crystal song. At night, all the windows down our street were full of faces.
No one was allowed space books anymore. I tried to draw all the stars before they were gone, but my pictures looked like torn webs. We went to the library to find the old books. Nora led the way through streets that sounded like mountain hearts. The sky shivered into star ash and we tried to breathe it in. We stole books and space maps from the cupboards where they’d been packed away. When we walked home with them, my bag felt as heavy as storm winds. I stared at my feet in the ash and tried to pretend it was snow.
I didn’t want to see the ash ploughs. In the mornings, when they cleared the streets, I hid under my blankets and covered my ears until the crunch of the ploughs sounded like folding feathers. We found the piles they’d left behind. When no one was looking, we played in the star ash until we smelled of space. Nora filled her pockets with it and pressed it into our notepads next to the names we’d copied from the old books.
At school, the teacher pulled the blinds down so we couldn’t see the falling ash. But its hush stretched over us like lightning paths. Nora said ash silence was so loud because it was as old as the stars. No one was allowed out at break. Our class played cramped games. But we crept away and searched until we found a window the teachers hadn’t covered. I pressed my hands against the glass until the coldness hurt. We didn’t know which star was crumbling. We wanted to see what was left of it before the ploughs took it away.
When our parents were asleep, we pulled the space maps out from under our beds. I blacked out the missing stars on mine so it matched the night. Nora left the stars on hers and when she held it next to mine, we ran our fingers on the galaxies of the old sky. I tried to pretend they were still above us. Sometimes, I wished them back; but when we peered out the patches of the sky were still black. There were no faces at the windows anymore.
I was glad when the ploughs stopped coming. Nora talked about trying to find where they’d taken the crumbled stars, but I wouldn’t go. I didn’t tell her that I wanted to believe winds carried them away, back out into space. I knew it wasn’t true. Every night, the skies were blacker. I counted the stars left on my space map. We filled our jewellery boxes with ash so we could keep bits of them with us. We didn’t know how long before they’d all be gone.
After the ash stopped falling, no one talked about the stars. We wondered if they still remembered them. Nora slept with her space map under her pillow. Every night, we looked at the old books and turned all the pages until we’d seen all the stars there used to be. We knew their names.