Dad bolted the shutters every afternoon, well before the sun had called it quits. He re-opened them every morning, and welcomed its rays into our rooms and across our floors with an exuberance no living creature should feel at any hour before lunch. My sister and I once cried to him that we missed the moon. He was silent for several days, thumping morosely within our shuttered walls while my sister and I wondered if he was angry or sad, or just not interested in us anymore.
After the fifth day of silence from our father, he met us after school in his pickup, on the edge of our playground. We climbed in, and he drove us to Maurice’s cornfields about a mile from our house. He walked us to the middle of a barren field, and had us sit in the crunchy aftermath of a long ago harvest. We sat there in silence; we ate the apples we’d avoided from our lunch, giving each other sneaking glances when we thought Dad wasn’t looking. He uttered his first words on that field as the sun began to sink;
“We can see her now. But we’re out here till morning, so make yourselves comfortable.”
My sister and I squawked loudly and immediately, but Dad shook his head. We hushed. We had asked for the moon; he was giving her to us. We bent our heads back and sucked in the last rays of light as the moon peered shy at us from behind the fading brilliance of a clear blue sky.
She emerged in all her glory some handful of silent minutes later, round and shining and eager. We let our smooth soft faces get kissed by her gleam, the dark around us hugging our shoulders as the wind stilled. We finally glanced over at Dad, our faces riddled with our glee at being out so late for so magnificent a sight. Dad was hunched over, breathing heavily. He peered at us under knitted brows and growled his tale with the even rumblings of a waiting storm that knew its thunder:
When Lily was pregnant with Megan, she started to have contractions when she was only a few months along. There was blood, and I got scared, so I put her and Dee in the back of the pickup with a bunch of blankets. Dee, you were only two at the time, and putting you back there with your mom in trouble was stupid. I was scared that night, you know. I wasn’t thinking.
It was late and raining pretty hard. When we got to town, the streetlights were on and all the streets were empty. I turned off the main road to drive into the hospital’s ER entrance, but the intersection was flooded and I was going too fast. We skidded. Your mom screamed, and I saw you go flying, Dee, I swear I saw you go flying right out the back of my truck.
I slammed on my brakes, of course. I’m screaming at the road and I see those thin beams from the streetlights tugging on the front end of my truck, you know how they do that. I’m staring at those lights thinking ‘if only they were ropes! If only they could straighten this mess out and put my life back in my truck again! I would trade all the years of my life for these lights to fix this moment!’
And girls, those beams shook their wings and wrapped my truck up in their reach. They put you back in the truck bed, Dee. Gentled us right into the ER driveway.
When we got there, girls, your mom wasn’t even bleeding anymore. The contractions were gone. She was wet from the rain, and shaken from the drive, but not much else.
The streetlights followed us home that night, all the way out on the lightless roads by our house. They streamed from my brake lights and coiled around the windows as we drove. They waited by my truck while I got you all inside, and then they whispered in my ear, before they left,
Dad sighed and looked at the moon. Megan gazed at the moon with him, and asked,
“Why keep the moon out, though, Daddy?”
Dad smiled sadly at her. He continued:
I thought I’d hallucinated everything. The rest of your mother’s pregnancy passed without a hitch. By the time she was in labor, our road had been given streetlights. It was raining again. I knew we had time, and even if we didn’t, I knew we had to take time to get there. No catastrophes allowed, this time around. Dee, you stayed home with Maurice.
We got to the ER, and they took Lily in. She was in labor all night and most of the next day. I stood in the dusk, just outside the hospital, having a smoke. The streetlights came on, and sent their silvery streams to the tip of my cigarette. Snuffed the notion it was all a hallucination. They were snickering about their trade. I thought they’d kill me right there.
I got angry, this time. I yelled at them that it was a bad trade to leave my family without its father and husband, that they were sick for making deals with desperate people. I swore that if they took me, I’d find a way to warn every last person on the planet about them and they’d never make a deal again.
The beams of light grew brighter. I looked up, and saw the moon had gone dim. I hoped the moon would save me, somehow.
But the streetlights sent their snakey beams into the hospital. I stood in the parking lot, and watched the moon disappear. I’m turning round and round, staring at a suddenly empty night sky, searching it. Then a whisper cradles my neck as it says,
I whirled to find my face inches from the moon herself, bigger than my sight and colder than anything I’ve known. I blinked, and she was gone, back in the sky where she lives.
I wanted it to be a dream.
But when I went back into the hospital, Lily was dead.
We lay in that field and stared at the moon with freshly horrified eyes. Dad told us the streetlights gave her movement in our world. Then he shrugged and said,
“Maybe the moon is being controlled by whatever lives in the streetlights.”
Megan cried and Dad looked guilty. I forgave him right away because what if he never told us and we just thought he hated us all our lives? I was glad I knew.
I’m brushing my teeth when Megan calls. I pick up the phone on the fourth ring with toothpaste smeared across my face. Megan is frantic; Dad’s live-in nurse was switched this morning, and no one told either of us until just now. The sun set an hour ago.
She’s already driving, crying into the phone about be careful and only look at the road. I’m barefoot, in my pjs, streaking for the door without really hearing her. I jump into my jeep and careen down the back roads to my father’s house.
I screech to a halt in the driveway behind my sister, who has leapt from her car to the sidewalk. We are calling his name, running for the front door, wide-eyed gaping at the gleaming exposed glass of the unshuttered windows that covered the entire front of our childhood home.
I near the door; Megan has fallen behind me. I turn to look at her and see her staring, stone still, at the second story window above the front door. The window to Dad’s bedroom.
Dad is half in, half out of the frame, his arms a stiff mockery of the sternness he wielded his entire life. A large piece of glass drips blood that we can see clearly in the gleam of the streetlights that caress its angles. He’s dead. The moon has won.
I drive home, two hours later, in a mindless fury that I have let my father down, that I have let the deal be completed, that Megan will never feel hope because neither I nor her father could provide it in any real way. My foot is heavy on the pedal; the grind of the road beneath my jeep makes me sneer in minute release. I’m glaring through glittering soaked lashes at the lights as I pass them, so I miss the log that has fallen across my lane.
My jeep jumps and spins. My shock catches the immediate pique of the streetlights. I can feel the beams around my waist. I bare my teeth, and mutter, “Fuck you.”
I let go of the wheel.
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