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The Stars


By Zakaylah Porter

     The envelope arrived on a Tuesday, or what felt like a Tuesday at least. The innkeeper always had trouble with days of the week- keeping them straight, adhering to the obligatory business holidays that meant things were open or closed. In her personal life, she’d done away with it almost entirely, instead keeping to her own schedule that she based around her feelings. Tuesdays in particular felt more like Sundays and Sundays felt more like Tuesdays. So, if she caught the blues as one was wont to do on a Sunday, she knew it must be Tuesday. So Tuesday it was because she felt absolutely awful. 

     First, she’d been jolted awake by a flash of thunder so grand, that it shook the tiny nightstand next to her bed. She jerked upright, sure that the breath had been stolen from her body. Alarmed, she pressed a hand to her chest and exhaled, shakily. Beneath her hand, deep within the cavity of her chest, a heart beat excitedly.

     You’re fine. Absolutely fine. She thought. Some small part of her regretted causing such stress to her body but she could never control the weather. That was something she simply could not do. 

     She slipped on her house shoes and wandered into the bathroom. She retrieved from the cabinet, two small vials filled with powder that glimmered like the sun and tossed a pinch of each into the cup she kept on the counter. She looked herself directly in the eye as she filled the cup with water. 

     “Cheers.” she whispered, lifting the cup to the mirror before raising it to her lips. 

     Mornings at the bed and breakfast she owned were always relatively the same. Switch the light on the porch off. Throw out the muffins from the morning before. Brew a new pot of coffee after she drained the last. Every three days, she changed the sheets in all nine rooms and rotated the mattresses. Fluff the bathroom towels, replace the small rose-shaped soaps, and always, always check the voicemail for missed messages. (There were none.)

     The envelope was waiting for her right inside the door which wasn’t odd. There was a mail slot in the front door- golden and as unused as ever. Its presence felt absolutely mundane despite not receiving a single piece of mail in what might have been a year. The innkeeper was never good at keeping track of time.

     In short, there was nothing special about the envelope. Plain, white, with her name printed in cursive black letters. No stamp. No return address. Someone at the beginning of a story would have never given it a second look. It was so unremarkable to her that morning that she threw it onto the small wooden desk in the entryway and didn’t give it another thought.

     Her personal schedule was less tedious but equally as important as the care and attention that she gave her business. Curlers remained in tact from the time she woke up to the time the last bed sheet was smoothed beneath her fingers. Then, it was time to brush and primp and slip into one of the dresses she’d had tailored especially for her. Vitamins were soon to follow as well as three separate temperature checks at 9 AM, 2 PM, and 7 PM. She knew all too well how quickly a chill could set into your bones and kill you. It’d happened to her father just like that or, at least as best as she could remember. Every time, the thermometer beeped she’d feel her heart flutter a bit, worrying that that would be the end of her.

     But that day it wasn’t. A healthy, 98.9. 

     Despite this, something had rooted itself deep in her bones and she couldn’t settle into the rhythm of her day as she usually could. Perhaps it was the thunder. The innkeeper had always had a fear of being struck by lightning. And with thunder, lightning was never too far away. 

     As the day drew on, she found herself making muffins as she did nearly every day. The sound of the spatula hitting the bottom of the bowl was soothing as she danced along to some jazz record she’d long forgotten the name of. Outside, she could hear the wind dancing along with her, soft rustles among the trees. She closed her eyes and smiled. Blueberry muffins and jazz- just like her father would have liked. He’d always spent his Sundays baking with the music turned up so loud, the neighbors would dance in their driveways. What would he think if he was here to see me now? She wondered. 

     The breeze from the window answered her, softly pattering against the sill. She turned, expectantly, hoping to see his round brown face and golden eyes waiting for her at the pane. Instead, there was only a mind-numbing disappointment and the look of a storm brewing outside. The innkeeper shut the window. 

     In the living room, there was a small bench that had been carved out just below the window. She perched herself there, as she often did, and waited just in case someone pulled in unexpectedly. Outside, the long winding driveway looked the same as it always did wedged in between a large mass of trees and shrubbery. She’d never had the heart to trim it and in fact, thought it quite beautiful- all the green. Daisies had even begun to bloom in her flower beds. It wasn’t lost on her, though, that perhaps the bed and breakfast was too well shielded from the outside world as the rooms hadn’t held a visitor in who knew how long. 

     The innkeeper couldn’t remember. Perhaps, she didn’t want to. 

     If she was honest with herself, which she seldom was, the innkeeper would have been keen to remember a time before the bed and breakfast. A time before blueberry muffins like clockwork- so familiar that sometimes she could taste them just by imagining it. But time wasn’t something that the innkeeper was particularly fond of and time couldn’t remember the last time it had thought of her either. 

     Just when she thought she’d doze off for her afternoon nap- the phone rang. She froze, unsure of whether or not she was just hearing things. Then, it rang again. She leapt from her place at the window and scurried towards the entryway’s hall, where the phone was located. But, when she got close enough to the phone to even graze it, the ringing stopped. She grabbed the phone anyway. 

     “Hello?” She said. And again: “Hellooo?” 

     There was no one on the other line. Disappointed, she placed the phone back on the hook, suddenly feeling the great loneliness that had swept down around her. She bit at her lip and turned around. 

     The phone began to ring. The innkeeper whipped around. She lurched at the phone. Pressing it to her ear eagerly. 


     When was the last time she’d spoken to someone else? 


     She slammed the phone back down onto the hook. The table shook in response, sending the guest book onto the ground by her feet. The innkeeper sighed. She did not like to stress herself out. Stress, she’d heard, could lead to an early death. 

     She collapsed down onto the ground next to the book and resisted the urge to look inside. 

     The innkeeper was not good at facing hard truths. 

     Underneath the guestbook, she saw a small piece of paper sticking out. She tugged at it only to see the mail she had discarded earlier. She ran a gentle finger over the black cursive spelling out her name on the envelope. When was the last time someone had called her by her name? She thought it over…

     It must have been June because it was hot. Stifling, if she could remember correctly. But the nurse had told her that turning on the fan wouldn’t be good for her father, so she’d stuck it out. She’d learned to stick out a great deal of things. 

     The hospital room had been painted a nauseating shade of yellow in order to lift the patient’s spirits. But it did her no good that day as she sat next to her father who lay in the hospital bed. His eyes were open, but they didn’t seem as alert as they once had. She rubbed his hand anxiously. 


     That was the innkeeper’s name. 

     “What is it, dad? You need more water or something?” 

     He shook his head slightly. His voice was hoarse. 

     No, no, no. The innkeeper did not want to think about him or the yellow of that hospital room or even the sound of her name coming from his lips. It hurt her heart more than she could possibly express. She flipped the envelope over and wiped away a stray tear. 

     But this was futile as the memory played on without her permission. 

     “I just wanted to make sure you were… still here with me.” Her father had said. 

     “Of course. Of course, I’m here.” 

     She was, in fact, the only one there. Her mother had died during childbirth and her father was a recluse. There was no one going to come. If she had resented him even in the slightest, he would have been there alone. 

     “Good, good. I want you here.” 

     And she nodded because at the time it made sense to do so. His condition could turn around, she thought. He’d had his issues but was always able to make a full recovery. She needed to be there to keep him in high spirits. She needed to be there to take him home when the time came. 

     “I have the fridge filled with all your favorites- pickles, butter pecan pie, bacon. I even got those awful cans of pop you like from that store down the street. All there waiting for you when you get home.” 

     He smiled at her lovingly and closed his eyes a beat. 

     “I’m not… sure I’m coming..” He started to cough. 

     She grabbed a tissue off the stand and put it to his mouth. “Now don’t overexert yourself. We’ll have plenty of time to talk later.” 

     The innkeeper was never good at knowing when it was the end. 

     And when it did come, her father looked so small in that bed that she thought he might have never existed at all. And when they carted his stuff away in one truckload, save for the things she kept strapped to her back, she thought for sure she’d gone half mad with wondering if she’d made the whole thing up. Having a father, that is... 

     The envelope opened with relative ease, and she was relieved for she always feared a papercut. A papercut was sure to catch an infection. 

     Inside, there was a small, folded piece of cardstock. Nothing spectacular. Someone at the beginning of their story wouldn’t have felt so compelled to unfold the crisp edges. But the innkeeper did so with fervor. Upon reading the message scrawled inside, she gasped, dropped the afronting thing, and ran up the stairs, far away from the inanimate object. 

     The innkeeper ran right to the bathroom mirror. She pressed a clammy hand to her face. She was still real. And then she pressed that same hand to her chest. The heart was still beating. 

     But of course it was. Because it had been so many years since the yellow room that she wasn’t even sure if it was actually yellow or maybe just some sickly green. So many years and her face hadn’t changed at all. 

     It had all become clear for her that day in the hospital with her father. 

     The innkeeper couldn’t feel him once he had died. Not a spirit or a soul or whatever comfort was promised to her when she was a child. She pressed her face against his chest just to see if there was a bit of him left in there. (There wasn’t.)

     This made her think that maybe he was gone forever, which made something deep inside of her sink. She would never hear him play Coltrane while he danced around the kitchen. She would never get to hug him again or hear him tell her that he loved her. The list of nevers went on and on until she was dizzy. 

     Suddenly it occurred to her that someday, she too would arrive at the same fate. She would cease to exist, like she hadn’t built so much of her life on mattering. The same girl whose cries at birth meant something ultimately life-changing for her father, would go quietly into the grave. The reality of this wrapped itself around her bones, her heart, her very soul. Something changed for the innkeeper. 

     As she stared in the mirror, she realized what a comfort it was to see that same face staring back at her. She ran a light finger against the glass. 

     If you would have asked the Innkeeper what the secret to eternal life was, she wouldn’t have known what you meant. Because, although it had been more years than one is typically granted on earth, she woke up every day in fear that it would be her last. Maybe it was the powders- the golden ones she’d grabbed from the apothecary. She reached for them then, in that bathroom, still reeling from the contents of that envelope. 

The shimmer of the gold, swirled around in the cup. She’d never noticed how chunky the powders had gotten. She broke apart a hunk of powder with her finger and raised the cup to the glass. Cheers. That’s what she wanted to say. But instead, the loud hiss of an alarm startled her out of her daze. 

     She cursed under her breath. The damn muffins. 

     She ran down the stairs in the same hurry she’d ascended them and waded through fresh smoke to the oven. She turned the knobs until they were off, flinging open the oven door, and grabbed the muffin tin from the racks. The innkeeper was not wearing oven mitts. 

     Searing pain rushed up her hand and the pan went clattering onto the ground. She stuck her hand under rushing water and let out a sob. For the first time, she allowed herself to wonder why she was making the muffins in the first place. 

     For the guests, she reminded herself. 

     And the same voice in the back of her head said, you haven’t had a guest in years. 

     To which the Innkeeper said out loud: “Shut up!” 

     But there was no one there. There was never anyone there. 

     The Bed and Breakfast had been a good idea at the start. She liked the idea of meeting people for a night or two and giving them an experience they would never forget. They would leave and tell their friends and suddenly, everyone would know about the owner of that Bed and Breakfast with the red lipstick and rose-shaped soaps. But things seldom go the way people intend them to and that was no different for the innkeeper. Business was dry from the start and the few people that did come, seemed weary of her. They didn’t want to have nighttime tea or a breakfast in the nook with her. They locked themselves tight into their rooms and scurried around when she wasn’t looking. 

     And still, she persisted. Not because she thought it would get better. Well, she thought that too but mostly because the routine was the only thing keeping her sane. She’d done it so many times that it was mindless. There wasn’t a single moment in her day that made her think. Well, a typical day at least. You could never account for Tuesdays. 

     Or a surprise letter at the door. 

     Wounded hand wrapped in gauze, she made her way back into the entryway. Staring down at the letter lying face down on the ground, she felt her breath catch in her throat. Such things would have alarmed her any other day but that day, was different. That day had deviated so far from the path that she couldn’t be sure what she was supposed to be doing. 

     Don’t you think it’s time to come home? 

     That’s what the letter had said. The innkeeper muttered this over and over to herself. She, of course, had no living relatives. No friends to speak of. But something deep inside of her knew that it wasn’t some distant cousin who had written the note. 

     Don’t you think it’s time to come home? 

     They couldn’t have meant her childhood home. It had long since burned down. She could still remember the smell of the ash. Or maybe, she was just smelling the burnt muffins in the kitchen. 

     Don’t you think it’s time to come home? 

     Cryptic, really. Who could ever know what that meant? But the innkeeper did. The innkeeper knew exactly what it meant. This knowledge, this knowing, made her want to run up the stairs and lock herself in her room until she could forget about the day in its entirety. 

And yet. And still. 

     The house was so lonely. Hidden behind the overgrown trees, it too hadn’t changed since the Innkeeper came to own it. Nothing changed when she was around. But even houses miss evolving. She could feel that then.

     She looked once more at the window. At her hand. At the living room she’d taken such care to decorate. What a lovely prison she’d made for herself. 

     Then, the phone rang. And with her free hand, the innkeeper answered the call. 

     Don’t you think it’s time to come home? 

     A person at the beginning of their story would have never given the letter a second look. 

     The Innkeeper knew it was the end.

Zakaylah Porter (She/her) currently resides in her hometown of Lansing MI, where she is pursuing a degree in creative writing and publishing. She has poems and short fiction on personal blogs as well as non-fiction essays. 

Instagram: Zakaylahshyanne

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