As she navigates her mother’s fainting spells, and through the process of testing and diagnosis, Nona Fernández considers the similarities between stars in the sky and the busy neurons of her mother’s brain, lit up on the test screen by a happy memory.

An astronomer indicating different constellations with a laser pointer, explaining to a group of tourists and me that all those distant lights we see shining above our heads come from the past.

Depending how far away they are, we might be talking about billions of years. The glow from stars that may be dead or gone. Reports of their death have yet to reach us and what we see is the glimmer of a life possibly extinguished without our knowing it. Shafts of light freezing the past in our gaze, like family snapshots in a photograph album or the kaleidoscopic patterns of our own memory.

We exit the neurologist’s office and I look at my mother with new eyes. Now I know that she’s carrying the whole cosmos on her shoulders. I tell her what I saw on the doctor’s screen. I tell her how much her brain looks like the night sky. I tell her about the electrical patterns of her neurons, the glow of her memory, the constellation that lit up the moment she summoned it, the luminescent reflection of her own past. I ask which happy scene it was that I saw twinkling on the monitor in the doctor’s office and she smiles and says she was remembering the moment I was born.