La Bella Luna

La Bella Luna

Catherine Pugh

Silence. That was my first thought upon approaching the place where I once called home. No signs of any living creature; not even a bird in the sky or an ant on the stones. All I saw were the shattered concrete and twisted metal bones of my beloved city.

My city. Once known as the most technologically advanced city in the United States, as well as the safest. Ha, safest. No one left to protect here.

I understood now why they had a law preventing citizens from leaving. Inside the city, the roads in the sky and the buildings once blocked the worst of the sun. There were still patches of sunlight, but somehow the temperature stayed a pleasant constant throughout the seasons. Outside, an angry red fireball in the hard blue sky burns. Every second Outside made me wonder if my clothes would melt or if my hair would burst into flame. The largest shadow I had seen in a long time was my own, and no matter how hard I tried, there was no way to take shelter in it.

I made my way back to my little camp in an old, crumbling town not far away from the great stone bones. My few belongings sat in a tiny bit of shade against the old foundations of a building. I slumped down next to my bag and reached inside for a water bottle. Savoring a mouthful of tepid water, I settle down into a more comfortable position to wait for nightfall.

*            *            *

I traveled under the black blanket; guarded by the sad silver man and his pet stars. No one believed me when I told them about the Moon and stars ten years ago. My friends laughed and called me a lunatic. “Don’t believe in what you can’t see, smell, taste, feel, or hear,” they always said. My teachers had several conferences with my grandmother; they were concerned that I would try to go Outside. Year after year. New teachers, more conferences, more concern. Eventually, I quit trying to be a “lunatic” and they stopped worrying. That doesn’t mean I forgot what Grandma taught me, though. It only made me want to learn more…

*            *            *

“Imagine a soft cloth thick enough to block out the sun. A huge black blanket with tiny little holes to let bits of sunlight through,” said Grandma, gesturing with her hands to the orange-gray night sky.

“Why does the blanket have holes?” I asked, reaching my own tiny hands above my head.

“When the Sun goes to sleep, there’s no light for the animals to see by. So the sky, being kind, lets some of the Sun’s gentler rays shine all night. Those rays are called stars. There’s also another light. You already know what the sky’s daytime face is called.”

“Sun,” I said, trying to imagine Grandma’s facial features on the ball of light. I giggled.

She smiled as though she guessed what I was thinking. “Yes, the Sun. But the sky also had a nicer side, a face that only shows itself at night. Moon.”

“Moon,” I repeated, fascinated. The word sounded foreign, yet familiar at the same time; its presence was as natural to me as the Sun. “What’s it look like?”

“Silver and round, like one of those old fashioned coins. If you look carefully, you can see a man’s sad face on it,” Grandma murmured, her eyes out of focus.

“Why is he sad, Grandma?” I asked, tugging on her sleeve.

“He’s sad because he knows people will eventually forget about him and his stars. He’s still sad now, but no one can see his face at night because of our city lights.”

I bit my lip thoughtfully. My six-year old head was filled with a wonderful black canvas bright with dots of silver light.

“I want to see Moon and his stars,” I declared.

Grandma looked down at me, her eyes smiling. “Not now. When you’re older, you can see Moon and his stars.”

*            *            *

I wish I asked my friends to go Outside with me that night, after Grandma’s funeral. To explore the rocky terrain and take pictures as proof of our adventures. To chase the little mice and lizards that come out from their burrows at night. To see Moon and stars. Anything that could have saved them from the night the buildings collapsed.

Instead, I hiked alone, away from the bright lights and orange sky. I only wanted to walk far enough away to get a glimpse of silver Moon or even a glitter of Stars. I had only just realized how many miles I would have to walk before the light polluted heavens faded to its intended blackness when my home crumbled, trapping everyone inside. For the first time in my life, the world was dark.

Slowly, though, a soft circle of light appeared, a dim spotlight on a wall of shadowy mist. When the clouds finally cleared, my heart nearly exploded from my chest. It was Grandma.

A huge orb so white, it looked iridescent. Darker silver marks suggested a long nose, a mouth with its corners turned down slightly, wise eyes that have seen dark times. Gentle light edged every stone on the ground, giving the wasteland an ethereal appearance.

How could I have ever thought Grandma was like the Sun? She was the most important part of my life, just like how the Sun is important for life on Earth. Yet, now I know its cruel rules of survival, forcing me to travel in its shadow. A new arrival, a silver deity, rushed in to comfort me with her gentle glow. Just like how Grandma used to do when I fall and scrape my knee. The Moon is not like Grandma. They are one and the same.

I looked up at the Moon. Grandma smiled.