Moon – A Lunar Love Story by Liz Chadwick Pywell
She was moonlight refracted on the water, beams of silver that pierced slow waves and glittered on the riverbed at unexpected angles, illuminating darkness that had hidden itself for millennia. She was beautiful, and she knew it, admiring herself in her many, simultaneous reflections and noticing with pleasure how each was different, one showing off a freckle she’d forgotten, one a forearm that rose up, shimmering, like a dancer, still another a thigh that rippled both in the water and of its own strength.
She was the moon and the moon was both her, and with her. There were things she knew that she couldn’t possibly have known, and she looked at humanity with pity and disgust, seeing each person for what they were, their dank desires seeping from their pores even while they played with their children or prayed to their gods. On earth, even where there was concrete, she found she preferred to walk through the mud, to listen to the soil through her feet, and as the ground begged her for permanency, she would look up to the skies and feel the equal pull of the stars that wanted her body to fracture into atoms, to fly to them and be with them forever.
She was moonlight, though her skin was the colour of the night, an inky blue that was also grey, and black, and blinding, and to look at her was to fall forwards into space and never land. Those who looked into her eyes reported nothing at all.
On the day she surfaced, she was not, like Satan, involved in rising mist, nor like Lamia, suddenly gordian and dazzling. There was nothing, in fact, to herald her arrival, except a brief, invisible intake of breath around the world that went largely unnoticed. A witch in the north reported an unusual flicker in her sea mirror, and another frowned as she pulled a card to clarify the Eight of Wands that had surprised her, but aside from these wise women’s temporary disorientation, her appearance went unremarked, and she slid into the world as though she had always been there.
She explored waterways and under bridges with tide marks that held historical proof of floods long forgotten, and swam through streams that were much too shallow, yet which assimilated her effortlessly, much to their own, brief, sense of wonder, forgotten as soon as she had glided quietly away.
The towns she avoided at first, but she soon learned she could stalk the darkness between houses. Once, she stood in a fountain in a square and bathed, singing at midnight, and the people walking past fell silent and prayerful but couldn’t have told you why. She stared at them as they staggered home, and felt sorry that they would wake in the morning with headaches, though she could not imagine what pain felt like. She knew only pleasure.
The part of her that she had left in the sky continued to circle her new world, and she looked at herself often and was pleased that she was as glorious as she had always suspected. Most people, she knew, were only vaguely aware of her silver presence, but there were some who acknowledged her monthly at least, and she felt a gentle connection to womankind.
Standing on the grass next to a pool of water and gazing at her two selves, the silver midnight moon in the sky and her womanly shape on the bank, a shape which shimmered at the edges and which no living person could see for longer than a second or two, she was content. She had formed herself of stardust, which was humandust, so she was as close to mortal as she could be, and yet there was monstrosity in her slashed mouth even as there were grace and art in her lines and curves. If she was perfect, which she was, perfection was horrifying.
The pool reflected her as she lifted her arms above her head, stretching them to her other self, her face back so she could admire the pure circle of light, and then letting her hands fall forward to her new, still strange feet, feeling the air against her limbs and the clay beneath her which strove to meet this unfamiliar new being’s weight. She dug her toes into the mud and knelt so as to better see her new self. Her blue face was invisible against the night and yet also shone, reflecting light from hidden sources.
She was a figure of beauty and despair, and the water cleared itself of weeds so as to give her a better view of herself. Even the rockpools stilled themselves, barely daring to glance at her, yet unable to look away.
She was in love with herself. She knew that humans also felt this thing called love and professed it to each other regularly, but she felt certain that theirs was nothing compared to hers. Every reflective surface she found provided an opportunity to admire herself, and these makeshift mirrors did not object to her attention, nor her adoration, even though it was herself she worshipped, not them.
The first time she tried to get home, she simply closed her eyes and stepped into the water, into her own reflection. She was sure it would work; when it did not, she was surprised, but not disappointed. Another few minutes or hours on this verdant planet would not be difficult to endure. But after she tried the second time, and then the third, and still her body remained resolutely tied to the ground, she began to notice that her edges were solidifying, and the moon hanging in the heavens was similarly intensifying its place against the blackness. After she had spent three weeks trying and failing to return to the skies, she was resolutely human. Her skin still shone but it was no longer blue. Her eyes were still black but their pupils were visible and showed passing emotions. More disconcerting than anything though, were the lines between her body and the world, the outlines, the shadows she cast, the clear distinctions between flesh and air.
She dared not go to the towns any longer, for animals had begun to look at her with understanding, and she knew the humans would see her.
She had no clothes, because she had had no need for them, but now she was afraid and ashamed.
Her new body needed washing, and the streams no longer expanded to let her slip, minnow-like, through them, so she squatted in the shallows and cleaned herself, wincing at the cold she had never felt before.
Adjusting seemed impossible at first, but she learned because she had to. She stole clothes in the dead of night from passing travellers camping in the woods. She understood that she needed to eat and drink to keep herself alive, because she was not ready to die yet, so she foraged and learned what she could and could not digest. She slept at night and dreamed of the moon that she could not see through her closed eyes.
The day she first saw the boy, she hid in the high branches of a tree and looked down on him, for she had already learned that men were dangerous. He was young and pretty, but dirty, and he washed his clothes and then himself in the stream just as she had done. Only, she realised, when the figure stood up naked, he wasn’t a boy after all, but a thin, frightened-looking wisp of a woman.
She climbed down and they stared at each other, and then she held out a cloak, because the girl’s clothes were still wet and said, “I won’t hurt you.”
It took several nights of shared fires before they were truly comfortable with each other. They talked about the beauty of the stars, the light of the moon that illuminated their camp, and the pain of being alone. Neither shared their name. Over weeks they agreed without speaking of it that they should share a blanket at night, and that they would take it in turns to cook and wash their few possessions. They fell into an uneasy harmony, both afraid the other would leave without notice. After three full moons had come and gone they started referring to themselves as ‘we’ and to their belongings as ‘ours.’ By the time the summer arrived, they could no more imagine themselves apart than they could imagine living their lives with any other person. They hid from travellers, stole what they could and shared their dreams.
Although she had become real, companionship made her shimmer again, and her edges softened. Her eyes were still dark but often held tears, and her mouth was less frightening now that it whispered stories in the darkness, and knew they were heard. She listened too, and wondered that she had ever expected so little of humans, for they were the most thoughtful and fascinating of all beings. She told tales of the stars and was amazed to learn that the people also had their own stories of creation and expansion, and that they were not all wrong. She became attuned to the world’s ability to regenerate and grow and understood that this was special, for the moon did not grow, but simply was. She started her own cycle, and was pleased to find it kept pace with the changing lunar faces in the sky.
When the full moon rose in the sky for the twelfth time since they had met, the earth bound moonlight stared at herself in the water but now barely noticed her silver twin, and instead saw only a pair of women. She still longed to be home but she could not grasp how home could be in two places at once, and her pale soul was torn. She wanted to leave and to stay, to be herself but also to be her own self, this new being who understood joy and grief, and who felt, for the very first time in her long life, a unity with another being.
The two slid into the water as they often did, to bathe in the glow of the universe, and her heart swelled with what she recognised as love, not for herself but for this woman who had shown her the world. Now, in that moment of peace, as the cool stream enveloped them and their feet touched the bottom even as their arms danced in the air, she felt herself slipping away. She grasped for a hand to keep her afloat but her fingers clutched at the heavens, and she closed her eyes and sank below the bottom of the river bed, below the world, below life. The woman she left behind felt, rather than saw, the moon go behind a cloud, and frantically felt around the mud beneath her, scrabbling for the human touch that she, too, had come to rely upon, but found only pebbles and plants, and sadness. Light re-emerged in the sky and showed her that she was quite alone.
Silver beams blossomed and bloomed in the night sky, and the stars danced in their new abundance, for it was a relief to feel the draw of the beauty they thought they had lost. The light grew and grew, in new ways that had not previously existed, and the blackness was almost entirely driven back into space, as the silver became tinged with blue. Dark, self aware eyes were visible on the lunar surface, and those who looked into them reported a simultaneous sense of serenity and pain that they could not explain.
She was, once again, moonlight refracted on the water, beams of silver that pierced slow waves and glittered on the riverbed at unexpected angles, illuminating darkness, and love, that had hidden itself for millennia.
The moon looked down at the woman in the stream, and the woman looked up at the moon.