sara backer

Don't Count Any Star Twice

On a new moon midnight, the father drives his seven-year-old daughter to a distant town, walks her into the middle of a large field, turns off his flashlight, hands her a toilet paper tube, and tells her to count the stars. He is saving her from herself; he knows her idea of drawing constellations can’t win the science fair.

Her cold fingers fumble with the tube pressed to her eye. When she counts eleven, her father grabs the tube to see for himself: “Don’t count any star twice!”

She tries again: nine?. . .seven? Stars jostle and hide behind each other. Wet grass soaks her sneakers. Ten counts for each of six fields.

Parked in their driveway, her father shows her how to average numbers, but her brain is tired and she can’t stop shivering. She has forgotten the project is to measure light pollution; she only knows she can’t count. While her father finishes off the math, she looks out the windshield. Two . . . none. 

Hand Tools

My father’s tools hung on pegboard in the basement, each in its place: crosscut saw and coping saw, plane, pliers, wrenches, hammers, chisels, rasp, and a harmonica of translucent yellow screwdrivers beside the red hand drill. With these, he fixed the house, built shelves, and put up closet rods. He was meticulous. No job was done until the tools were put away, and every speck of sawdust swept into the dustpan, dumped in the incinerator. My favorite was his level. How could green bubbles trapped in tubes determine a frame was straight enough to mount a reproduction of Monet?

 When my father was at work, I sneaked into the basement. I tapped chalk lines across my legs and arms. When I traced the coping saw over my palm, I could perforate my skin without bleeding. I aimed a drill bit over my heart and practiced turning the handle.

A former world-wanderer, Sara Backer currently teaches at UMass Lowell, lead a reading group in a men's prison, and grows cactus in snowy New Hampshire. Her writing has been nominated for two Best of the Net and five Pushcart prizes. Recent publications include Waccamaw Journal, Gargoyle, Carve, and The Pedestal Magazine

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