"Aurora Borealis" by Bristol Palin 

As Told Through John Warner

It's lonely in Alaska. That's why families are big, so there's always someone else around, but most of your family isn't around, and maybe that's why you fall into the arms of the handsomest hockey player in town, let him take your clothes off, let him place his hands on your hips and look at you and bring his lips to your belly and call you beautiful, which is something you've been taught to value.

You're all meant to be important people, that's an article of family faith, but you live in a detached state, which makes it hard. It means a lot of shouting, so much "pay attention to me" that there's not enough attention left to go around, but you've got the Range Rover and new snow machine to show for it.

Maybe even a different nose someday because you got Dad's, which isn't fair. Mom agrees. Sometimes she looks at you and sighs and asks how much you're running, reminds you that the women in the family are prone to thigh cheese if they're not careful.

"No one likes that," she says.

"Dance for me," the boy says. You are in your room and it's dark, even though it's not night yet. You try, but you both know you can't dance, and that dancing's not what you're there for anyway. Your hips sway. You drop the blanket from your shoulders.

"Sexy," he says, which is even better than beautiful.

It's cold in Alaska, but together you're warm, at least for awhile.

The boy looks like a movie star, or maybe a soap opera star, 'cause he's a little cheesy, truth be told, but Alaska is a tough place to be a star, just ask your mom. Winter nights and days, all you see are stars, the sun just a rumor on the horizon, and sure, you might think someone somewhere else, maybe even in Russia — which you think you can even see on a clear night — is looking at the exact same stars, but that doesn't make it any less lonely.

Mom's got other things going on, and dad's got mom, but what have you got?

You've got the hockey player, who always smells like sweat, or chew, or caribou blood, or gunpowder ... but isn't that the smell of home?

The boy always sleeps like the dead afterwards, a hibernating bear. His hair is crazed. You did that to him. Thinking about it makes you smile. The blue moonlight through the curtains slashes across his chest. You've seen him bench press enough weight it looks like the bar is going to break, which means maybe he can lift you out of this place.

Adults gone, per usual, which means you're the adult. You put on the hockey player's boxers and your school sweatshirt and pad downstairs and there's little sister on the couch under a blanket, texting away to God knows who, Scarface on the television for the thousandth time. Mom says it's a movie about the need to show strength. You think it's about loving the wrong person for the wrong reasons, but you know better than to tell her that.

Little sister says she's hungry without looking up. When he wakes, the hockey player will be "starved," so Kraft Mac it is. You like how dust can somehow turn into cheese. Gourmet kitchen, regular American food. Don't sniff the milk too close just in case it's already turned. The stuff's like $10 a gallon here.

It's not true that a watched pot never boils. The steam is nice. You don't need to stir the pasta, but it's better if you do.

On the screen, Tony Montana clutches his little friend and dies in a hail of bullets. He knows what it's like to be misunderstood, which is why it's a tragedy. He's not a hero, but he isn't the opposite either.

You and the hockey player are doing it a lot because there isn't much else to do. He's a stupid, horny boy, not responsible about protection and you don't urge him to be. What's going to happen seems pretty inevitable, kind of like the end of Scarface.

You're okay with that.

School was never your thing, math especially, but you know that one and one makes three. They're going to call you dumb, but you see the wisdom in it. Even if the hockey player leaves, which he will, you know, just like mom and dad and brother did, someone will be left behind. Someone small. Someone just for you.

John Warner is a visiting instructor at College of Charleston and the author, most recently, of the story collection, 'Tough Day for the Army'.


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