That night she was on the roof again. The apartment was too small to contain her feelings, which were swollen and bursting. Hestia stared up at the bruised orange sky and listened to the world. The electric sign humming and cracking. One sleepless symphony of traffic, cars honking, motorcycles revving, sirens whining. Vague, jumbled music from parties on other floors.
Hestia dreamed she was ten again. The Soleils lived in a tiny flat above a liquor store in one of the outer districts of Altostrati. She didn’t live high enough then to see any neon lights, but the shawarma place across the street glowed warmly, and so did the Chinese video rental store.
In her dream, it was a dark winter evening, just past six, and it was raining. The lights outside became a soupy puddle of yellow and white and blue. CLOSED said the sign in blue. Rhea had been asleep on the sofa all day long, wrapped in her quilt. Her mug of tea stood on the rug beside her sofa, stone cold and untouched.
Hestia felt her stomach tighten and knot with worry, with anger. She wanted to fling the tea across the flat, yank the quilt away and make Rhea stand up, get busy and do something, anything. Rhea hadn’t made them any dinner for the past four days and the rent was overdue and they couldn’t find any money for food. Rosalie tried her best to heat up tins of tomato soup and used all the money stowed away in their small cash jar to buy a bag of apples, three boxes of spaghetti, and a gallon of milk from the corner store.
“Mom’s sick, I think,” Rosalie explained when Hestia went to her to complain.
“Then she should go see a doctor!”
“I think she did already.”
“No, she didn’t! She’s just sitting there on her stupid couch sleeping all day!”
“Hestia, shush, stop shouting!” Rosalie hissed.
Hestia didn’t care. “The storekeeper lady told me today when I came back from school that if Mom doesn’t pay the rent, we’ll have to move! I’m sick and tired of moving! I don’t want to eat any more canned green beans and I’m sick of tomato soup. I want Mom to get up and make dinner for us or just do something.”
“I made spaghetti…” said Rosalie.
“Yeah, sure you did. It was awful.”
Hestia decided she had had enough. Seeing Rhea’s cell phone gave her a spark of inspiration. Of course! If Rhea was too sick to take care of them, then she’d call Dad. It was the next best thing.
She picked up the cell phone and went through the contacts.
“George Vega here. How may I help you?”
Dad was a lawyer now. When Hestia was little, he had been a multitude of things: law student, mural painter, independent musician, web designer. Hestia knew from stories that Dad met Rhea when he went to Rhea’s first art show and claimed he had never seen such beautiful glass artwork.
He was silly and embarrassing back then, as fathers tend to be towards their goofy kids. Now he sounded professional and upright, and this reassured Hestia.
“Hi, Dad. It’s me.”
“Oh! Hey there, sweetheart!”
“How was soccer practice today, Stephanie? I hope you didn’t get drenched coming home.”
“I’m gonna be late coming home again today. But! I just received word of your report card from mom. Straight A’s in everything again, huh? Soon you’ll be vale–”
Hestia hung up and hurled the cell phone at the floor. Her nose and eyes stung horribly, and she couldn’t breathe.
Through the haze of fat tears, something shone brilliantly through the light from the window. Red-violet, bright as neon, glowing and luminous. It was one of Rhea’s glass artworks, a small, fragile blown glass butterfly perched on the windowsill.
She remembered Rhea smiling in the workshop as she worked with the glass. She remembered marveling at the whirling colors and how the glass spun into seashells, flowers, and pumpkins. In the workshop they were cut off from the world, suspended in that moment of creation and Rhea’s pride in her artwork. It was hard work, and more often than not, didn’t make any money, but Rhea was happy with her art. She was happy.
In her memory, Hestia was crying about Rhea, about home, about food, about Rosalie, about her phone call to her dad. She cried about herself, and how she was selfish and whiney and useless and horrible. Hestia grabbed the butterfly off the windowsill and threw it on the floor, where it smashed into a hundred glinting pieces.
But that was then, long ago. The little family did move eventually, and eventually Rhea began to make money off of her commissions. Hestia cocooned herself in her sleeping bag, wishing the world could be cut off from her forever.
Footsteps. Rosalie sat down beside her.
“Want to visit Mom tomorrow? Convince her to get back into the mood?”
Tonight the city’s neon lights flickered and glowed as they did every night, endlessly. Rhea had made so many, it would seem there was one sign for each blown glass creation.
The workshop was closed a few days later. The whole building was. FOR LEASE said the sign on the door.
Words by Serina Fang