When the sky collector died it was his husband Gary who was left with all the skies, sunsets crumpled in corners and slate grey storms cluttering up the empty apartment. After weeks of tripping over tattered summer days with his sadness swelling to anger at his late husband’s insane hobby, Gary finally decided he had to do something with all these used up skies.
The first place Gary called with God’s house. God’s wife Mary answered the phone with her voice of unfiltered cigarettes and bottle caps, and he explained the situation.
“There are some really nice ones here,” Gary told her untangling an oatmeal sky from a dusty twilight.
“I get that you’re trying to move on,” said Mary, “but you humans keep having babies. They’ll tell you myths about hell and purgatory when you’re little so that you’ll sit still in Sunday school, but here’s a secret, God’s a real softy. Last week I was in a round robin tennis match with Hitler and Genghis Khan. Every human gets to go to heaven. Every single one of them, and we’re over-crowded. We don’t have room for every human and every sky.”
Gary wanted to remind her that she was once a human too, but he knew better than to reason with her when she got like this. Instead, he thanked her for the lilies she’d sent to The Sky Collector’s funeral and hung up.
He looked out the window at a cold grey sky that would inevitably end up in his apartment. It seemed like just last week that The Sky Collector was alive and flipping through the blue skies of endless summer days, but it was fall now, and the weather was turning cool. He went to the boiler room to turn on the furnace, and a sound like a metal train trapped in a metal cage came out. He shut everything off, and tripped over a hurricane on his way out. It was always the Sky Collector who had dealt with the furnace in the winter.
Gary blew into his hands and called local weather man. They had met at a cocktail party some months ago and had exchanged numbers to talk about a croquet tournament Gary was organizing.
At first, the weather man seemed interested in the leftover skies.
“Some of these skies are real collector’s items,” said Gary. He was sitting on the kitchen table wrapped in a Caribbean sunset for warmth. “I think I found the sky on that blue summer day right before that July hailstorm no one saw coming.”
But this gave the weather man pause.
“Listen,” he said. “Thanks for the call and for thinking of me, but seeing all those rainy skies on days I promised sun, and the tornado I wasn’t able to warn anyone about, I think it would break me, you know? To be surrounded by all my failures like that.”
And so Gary accepted an invitation to the weather man’s house for dinner later that month and hung up again, no closer to getting rid the skies than he had been at the beginning of the day. He found another warm summer sky to wrap around himself in the chilling apartment and called the CNIB in case blind people who couldn’t see the skies wanted the opportunity to touch them instead. He called a few art galleries too, but no one was interested.
That night, a new crate of used-up skies was delivered to Gary’s apartment, but he didn’t even unwrap them. He let them sit in the front hall with the skies from the week before, and the week before that. The sun had set now, and an October rain beat against the windows. The apartment was so cold Gary wore both his bath robe and The Sky Collector’s old bath robe as he heat up his Lean Cuisine and watched three episodes of The Mindy Project on his laptop.
Without anything else to do, Gary climbed into bed just after nine-thirty and stared at the sky The Sky Collector had tacked above their bed. It was the sky from the day they met. The Sky Collector had taught Gary all the names of the clouds that day, and later on, he would get so frustrated when Gary couldn’t remember the difference between stratus and altostratus or understand why it was so important.
Of course they had had their problems, as all couples do, but it was never boring with The Sky Collector, and they had loved each other until the end.
Gary fell asleep still wearing his robe and The Sky Collector’s old robe, but he woke to a strange sound a little after 3am. It was a high pitched chirp that at first Gary thought was coming from the smoke detectors, another thing The Sky Collector had always dealt with. Gary followed the sound out of the bedroom and down the hall to the box of skies that had just been delivered. The chirping was frantic by now. Gary pried open the crate and found a little bird that had somehow gotten tangled in that afternoon’s storm clouds. He held the bird in his hands and felt its little heart beat against his thumb.
“How did you get in there?” he asked. His voice felt strange echoing into the night.
Gary’s bare feet were cold on his apartment building’s concrete stairs as he carried the bird outside. The fall wind bit into his cheeks and his robes flapped in the breeze. The clouds from earlier that day had rained themselves out, and Gary could see the light from stars millions of light-years away.
“Go south,” Gary whispered to the bird, still feeling a bit odd. He reached forward and let go as though offering the bird to the sky. The bird seemed dizzy at first, almost running into a tree branch, but after a few flaps it found its wings and flew into the night.
Coming back into his apartment, Gary felt different than he had before. The skies were still there, and he still didn’t know what to do with them. The heat was still broken, and even the Lean Cuisine package was still on the coffee table where he’d left it, but Gary felt lighter somehow, like his chest was opening. Inside, it wasn’t blood and organs and a heart that might give out at any second like The Sky Collector’s had. Inside Gary there was a dark night sky with stars from all over the entire universe scattered across. Some of those stars had never been seen before, and some of those stars would never get named, and some of those stars had already gone out, but their light was still there, shining through the night.