We were young when we first fell in love with the moon, he and I, fell in love with it with the hopeless passionate intensity of first loves, the love that lives in grand gestures, noble renunciations, glorious rejections. I had a few years on him — he was ten and I was thirteen — and should have protected him but I’ve always been slow to develop that way. Plus what did I care? It got him off my back, and I was plenty fed up with his tagging along behind me and mooching around sweet on me like he was doing. The moon took all that out of him, and if I didn’t realize until it was too late exactly how much was going out I can only say that I was thirteen and he was a bug.
Anyway, he met the moon like a dark lady waiting in the shadows under the holly trees and he came clattering after me to tell me all about it. The moon was tall he said (stretching up, way up to show how tall he meant; his fingers, outspread at the end of his trembling arms, would have just brushed my chin if I’d let him get that close to me) and had a voice like the creek after it’d gone down from the spring floods. The moon, I said, what. That’s dumb. The moon’s millions of miles away and it’s a rock. You can’t talk to it. Or anyway it can’t talk back.
–I don’t care, I know what she was. She didn’t say she was but I know. You know how you meet someone and you can tell she’s your aunt even before your mom introduces you? Like that. The backs of his shoes were stomped down from shoving his feet into them. He never untied the laces – I don’t know that he’d have known how to tie them again. That was the way his family was. You weren’t there. What do you know?
–More than you, I told him, and meant it.
–You come along. You’ll see.
It was a hot night that night and I couldn’t sleep. Summer pressed down on you in those days – not like now – like a big, badly-trained dog. I couldn’t breathe, couldn’t relax, couldn’t stand to touch my thighs together in the way that I liked when I was sleeping. So when he came scratching on my window tentative as a cat I was awake to hear him and miserable enough to slip off into the woods with him to meet the woman he claimed was the moon. If I’d been caught it would’ve meant a hiding, but I’ve been beaten before and it’s not so bad. You scream and she cries and then it’s over.
It was always my mother that thrashed us.
She was waiting for us in the long line of evergreens by the side of the road. Even from a quarter mile away her teeth caught the light and threw it back at you, I remember that. So white, so big a smile. You knew she was smiling even when there was no way you could have made out the details.
–What’s your name, she asked me, and I told her. That’s a nice name.
–It’s my mother’s aunt’s name.
–That’s good. That’s real good. Family’s important. You want to hang on to your family. There’s a lot of power in those blood-ties. You know. (He dug his thumb into my side as if to say, see? You know.) It works in both directions.
–He says you’re the moon, I said and he hissed at me. If he’d had claws he’d have taken a chunk out of my arm just for spite. That’s dumb. The moon’s not a person. The moon’s a big piece of rock. We learned about it. I’ve seen pictures, people walking around on it.
–Well, you never know. That’s true enough, the moon’s a big piece of earth half-born and umbilicalled to its mother, bright with sunlight and airless and cratered. That’s all true. But that’s true of here, too. If you get close enough to something it’s all airless and empty space. You’re empty space. The red blood that sings in your ears when you let it is empty space. But you’re full to the brim with it. So, no, I’m not the moon. I’m not that bright rock with a flag on it. I’m the blood that burns in it and I’m the nickel and iron that crash into it, the thumb that drags across it sculpting a face over millenia. You know.