You catch the moon by degrees. One evening it’s almost full, the next a beaming gray silver elfin ball, and then that slow decline to darkness, with the sliver of a smile the night before descending into a black hole. You imagine a world where there is no moon, no tides, no slow pulling away, like a mouse in slow motion evading a cat that sleeps. You know this scenario would make your existence highly improbable. Such a place would be incapable of upright, bipedal life.
The winds would be harsher, the mountains a fairy tale, trees a myth that never gave birth. You would hug the dirt, a small sticky creature with a ferocious hold on whatever you could grasp. Day and night would blend in a mixing bowl. Diana would not hunt. How lucky for you, she exists, the big one-eyed headlight in the sky. Glance up and she is there, even when unseen, even when you are lost. What would lunatics obsess about without her?
Last night, as the orange and red glow faded to the West, she called out to you, friendly like, as she usually does on nights when the day was warm, but not too warm, the sun bright but not over the top hot. Yes, after those days that look like a celluloid dream from David Lynch, she likes conversation. You pick a persona and chat a while.
She tells you she regrets never having any children, how she feels tied down by her job. You tell her about your daughter and your son, the one loud and the other quiet, both too smart for words. You reflect aloud on how you remember them as babies. You recall your son at four months. Each day, like clockwork, he would exercise his lungs for an hour at four in the afternoon, but otherwise he was an incredibly easy child to deal with as a baby. You tell her that his father would sit up nights rocking him while watching VHS tapes of old football games, a game your son would never play, though he has the large bones, thick body, fast legs for it.
And the girl, thin then, thin now, with the figure of some molded Geiger drawing without the horror, just the posture. How she is the fiercer of the two and the more transparent, her moods like shimmering glass, always open for inspection. Fragile, brittle, resilient, powerful; all these words but scratch the surfaces of her paradoxical character. The moon laughs but you say you are serious. Paradox was a word invented for daughters.
* * *
In the universe as you know it, the tree outside your window is enjoying the sunshine, the heat lifting it up after days of rain, sometimes hard slashing splotches of water which threatened to drown us and other times, the tiniest droplets, barely enough to smother an ant.
A giant mosquito, likely male, brushes against the window screen, up and down, back out and in and again crushing itself against what it does not understand. Not sentient, the mosquito is merely here, its limited software unable to deal with a fine plastic mesh. You look at its struggles and you almost feel pity for it. The moon, naturally, is pitiless.
Today, the moon is sitting in the eastern sky after rising early, fat and wide. An orange pumpkin of a moon, the moon graciously waves to the sun as it drifts toward sunset. The moon basks in the sun’s approval, flirtatious as ever. After a while, however, the sun slides away, a not quite darkness falls and it is as if you can hear the moon sigh, forever hopeful and forever disappointed.
Would you like me to tell you a story? You ask her this somewhat timidly. You never can tell what mood might come over her at these moments, but as the sky darkens and her orange coloring turns to silver, she regains her dignity (or masks her sadness well).
What story? She replies, anticipation in her voice.
Oh just a few memories from my youth. Nothing very dramatic really, just a little reminiscence.
Am I in it? I mean, did we talk back then? I can’t remember.
Well, yes, I suppose you were in it, you had to have been, because it happened at night, but this is before we started having these little chats.
Well tell it anyway. You’ve piqued my interest. Besides the stars seem a little preoccupied this evening, and frankly a little boring, always going on about turning hydrogen into helium and helium into heavier elements, and who burns hotter and who’s likely to go supernova. The same old chatter every night. You would think they’d show more of an interest in others besides themselves, but they’re all narcissists, the lot of them. So tell me, do.
This is the story you told her.
* * *
You had a bedroom in the basement, after it was finished, all low ceilings, fake plastic wood paneling and cheap indoor/outdoor green carpeting. But it did provide an escape from your siblings, and you liked the cooler air down there and the nearly pitch black darkness, except for the thin moon beams that managed to work their way down the two foot deep window wells to drape themselves across your bed like a soft layer of translucent silk.
[The moon smiled when you told her this, proud of herself, no doubt.]
The only negative was that you spent many nights in terror listening to the horrible sounds of black crickets in the basement, crickets as large as your thumb. Some evenings you would awaken with them crawling over your body. On occasion one would crawl on the bare skin of your arms or legs, or land in your hair. You’d scream and they’d leap away, and there is nothing like the leap of a large black cricket. They are monstrously quick and agile.
The crickets would vanish into the near dark and, in your panic, you would huddle under the sheets. If they stopped chirping, eventually you’d fall back into an uneasy sleep, but if the creak-creaking began again your nerves couldn’t stand the thought of them down there in the dark. You’d hunt for a shoe or a sandal, clutch it tightly and raise it above your head while listening carefully, in the greatest fear you have ever known, for a clue to their location.
At first, they were easy to creep up on, and in anxious fury, your weapon would come down ferociously on their black carapaces, turning their bodies into a pulpy mess that you would dispose of as quickly as possible with wads of toilet paper or Kleenex. But the little bastards got smarter. You swear they did. They became better at anticipating your stealthy movements toward them, leaping away at the merest sign of movement. Sadly, they could never stop their incessant noise making. They had no choice in how they behaved and neither did you
* * *
Is that all? You sound like a cruel child my dear. Not that I’m judging you of course.
No, there’s more. There are good parts to my tale too. There were things I loved so very dearly about that time in my life, things I’ve never told a soul. Until now…
Though the basement had its terrors, it had its pleasures as well. At night in the spring or summer you’d pop open the windows beneath the window wells and crawl outside to stare at the stars in the quiet of the early hours when all the homes above and below ours had turned off their lights. You would sneak out, half or sometimes fully undressed, heart racing, chest full of a rising tide of blood that excited you beyond any thoughts of anxiety or fear or common sense. It was the one time when you abandoned yourself to sheer recklessness.
The grass was always cool, and often a breeze would pass over my bare skin and I would shiver deliciously. Completely alone, you felt the world thrown off, only the stars above sprinkling their light like fairy dust down upon your nakedness. Only the hum of the electrical wires that ran from tall wooden poles to the top of our house reminded you that this was not a dream.
It was the most peaceful feeling you have ever knew and the most exciting. It was as if anything were possible, anything. All you had to do was imagine it and it could be made real, or as real as you needed it to be. You often dreamed of meeting a boy or girl your age and running away. We would chase after each other as little children often do when they are 2 or 3 not caring care whether they are wearing clothes or not. You had many other foolish thoughts, more than you will ever declare, but when alone, the only fool awake in the deepness of night, all thoughts partake of paradise.
* * *
Oh, that was wonderful! It’s a truly marvelous – no, make that a fabulous – story! So I sprinkled my light on you like fairy dust? How charming!
You didn’t have the heart to tell her that the part about fairy dust was an embellishment, a metaphor for something you still cannot explain. The moon seemed so happy. There was no need to spoil the moment with the truth.
It must have been so magical when you were younger, yes? The moon asks this question hoping to lead you to the answer she wants to hear.
Yes–and no. As time passes, those days seem so distant that you remember them more fondly than perhaps you should. Life now is just as magical as it was back then or even more magical perhaps. Now you have my children. Seeing them each day, seeing them grow wiser each day in many ways, that is a little miracle. You’re blessed to know them, be with them, see them now, so alive; and there are you memories from my past, too. What could be better?
But the moon was silent now. You understood. She has no children of her own. You lifted your hand goodbye, and stepped back inside the house. The gnats and mosquitoes were starting to bite anyway.
* * *
This evening you watched all the daughters at play, jumping, dashing, and flicking red, white and blue balls over the volleyball net with such precision. After winning a point, they clustered around one another to perform their choreographed dance routines and chant their not so subtle taunts at their opponents. Later you witness them tenderly forgiving their teammates for mistakes in ways that boys would never openly acknowledge.
You sit with all the rest of the old ones, in the bleachers, looking down at what’s left of your immortality, your invincible youth, now transferred to these creatures you know so well and don’t know at all. The mothers talk, you tell the Moon, about all the “positives” they see in the girls’ play. They never criticize any of them and praise each one as a perfect instrument of grace and goodness (for the most part). The fathers, on the other hand, analyze the girls’ games constantly, each man with the same solemn glare pouring out his eyes. They talk in murmurs, assess each player’s strengths and weaknesses, the coach’s stupidity when things go wrong, and make brash caustic remarks about the child whose parents are in absentia.
When the game is over, the fathers puff up, the mothers glow, for today was a victory, a time for celebration and cheers. You feel sorry for the parents of the girls from the losing school. You know the special brand of helplessness that comes from vicarious defeats.
Outside, walking back to the car the moon is full and under its light, you catch glimpses of your daughter’s bruises and her small cuts and floor burned skin. You watch her take off the brace around her hand she wears like a gladiator’s armor to protect her injured thumb, carefully stowing it away in her bag until the next battle. That done, she returns to playing the baby of the family, looking to you for all those mundane tasks that fill up your day: meals and washed clothes and hugs. Later you will put away her Power Puff Girls blanket, the one she still takes with her to matches, and her beloved brown bear. You cannot remember when you had a bear anymore. You envy her that straddle, half in, half out of two worlds.
How do you deal with it? The moon asks you plaintively. The pain of having them and then losing them so fast, so fast? It would shatter me.
You make no response. Some things you refuse to share. Not even with a barren rock a quarter million miles away that shines down its reflected glory onto the road to help light your way home.