Introduction to Beware the Moon
Alexis E Santi, Editor-In-Chief
There's never a dull moment running Our Stories. In the midst of reading over 130 stories I stumbled across this short story, well I should say, a version of this short story. I started reading it and slowly fell in love with it. I saw flaws in it but on the whole it had moments of grace that I couldn't ignore. When I saw the name of the author I was crestfallen. Tatjana had signed up for a workshop with Josh Campbelland as an unwritten rule we don't publish short stories from those who take our workshops. It just ain't good business. Yet, with this story, I saw something beautiful in it that made me believe it was one of Our Stories. I contacted Josh and I asked him to work through a few drafts with her and get it ready for publication. Within 4 days something remarkable happened. This story is at the heart of what Our Stories is about–a story that isn't quite ready is given the chance to achieve its greatness. We say maybe and leave it up to the author. Tatjana has agreed to let us showcase her story here and more than that she has allowed our readers to see the process in which it emerged. Click here to see a draft of the story and what our comments looked like. This is what Workshops @ Our Stories is all about. What emerged is simply a graceful piece rife with beauty. Yet, what I am absolutely certain of is that Tatjana lifted this piece up with Josh Campbell's help and through the process of revision it has attained its proper shape. Hat's off to writer and instructor here and without further ado....
Beware the Moon
THE SCALPEL GLINTED IN THE ORANGE LIGHT POURING IN THROUGH THE WINDOW OF THE OPERATION ROOM, LIKE A BROKEN-OFF GOLDEN WING. A beautiful Gypsy woman was lying on the table in front of him with an IV needle inserted into her arm, her eyes half-closed in a grey shadow. The woman was young, twenty-two.
____When he stopped by her room earlier that morning, she was braiding her charcoal hair. A sheaf of light was cutting her face into two, the dark forehead, and the bright nose and dimpled chin.
____“Will I die?” the girl asked and looked at him with quiet blue eyes.
____“People don’t die just like that,” he said walking towards the window. He glanced at the mimosa trees blooming underneath and knocked at the windowpane twice, then turned around and looked back at the girl. Her elongated dark fingers were folding and unfolding with an unusual speed. In that moment, the fact that she had a small tumor on her liver sounded like a lie to him.
____“Last night was the night of a full moon. My grandmother always tells me, ‘Beware of a full moon.’” That’s what the girl said before he walked out of the room. The ring of her voice followed him as he rushed down the fluorescent-lit hallway.
THE NIGHT BEFORE, WHEN HE OPENED THE HEAVY BLACK DOOR OF HIS HOUSE, HIS WIFE GREETED HIM NAKED, STARING AT HIM FROM THE DUSK WITH MURDEROUS BLUE EYES. Their small house on the edge of the city was silent and smelled of dust and rosemary.
____“That’s not why I married you,” his wife was saying in a loud whisper, “the piles of trash in front of our house, orange peels and rotting tomatoes and shattered eggshells. I married you because I expected you to take me to a place where no one has taken me before. I expected you to wash the smell of trash off me. What did I get instead?”
____At this point, she was screaming, and he could hear the next-door neighbor shut the windows.
____“The stench that can kill…did kill me. Kill, do you understand?”
____Knowing that there was nothing he could do to calm his wife down, he still extended his arms towards her tanned shoulders. That’s what he had always done when she would start yelling, every time hoping that her eyes would open up for him, that she would be able to see him.
____She slapped his hands away from her and spat at his chest. He pushed her aside, turned on the light and walked past her towards the staircase.
____“Like a fish, a little beautiful shimmering fish. I am that fish, do you understand? A little beautiful shimmering fish. Coiling, weeping, dying. I want back into the sea. Take me to the sea…please,” his wife whispered, just before tears began to stream down her face. “I am a fish you took out of the sea with your big dirty hands.”
____His legs got heavy, he felt the darkness rising in him like fog, but he kept walking away from his wife until he couldn’t hear her any more. Once he was in his room, behind a closed door, the darkness turned into a hole, a void empty of words, voices, people. Every time he heard his daughter’s laughter ringing in the hallway or his wife’s asking the child to go to bed, he put his hands over his ears and sank deeper into the hollowness he carved for himself in the hours after work.
____Later that evening, while he was still lying in the dark and looking at the changing patterns on the ceiling, his wife walked into the room on her tiptoes, sat next to him and put her hands on his chest. Her face was shiny and white. She was wearing a lacy nightie, through the strands of which he could clearly see her voluptuous body, heavy hips, large breasts, wide folds of fat.
____“You said you married me because you fell in love with my sunset-colored coat,” she said sliding her hand to his crotch. “You remember, the one I was wearing when I met you…never took it off even when all other clothes came off…you called it a peacock attire…” His wife moved her hand back to his chest and looked out the window. “I cut the coat into pieces and threw the pieces out the bedroom window, one by one. It’s spring now.”
____She started laughing loudly while caressing his neck with her cold hand. Her open mouth looked like a giant dark hole to him, and for a second he could clearly see their daughter, even himself, disappearing in it.
____“Naked, I want to always be naked,” he remembered his wife saying many times when she didn’t have anything else to say, when she was tired, hot, cold, scared. She ran to any corner of the room, crouched, and started taking her clothes off frantically. The hairpins came off first, the strands of uncombed bleached hair spilling on her shoulders like straw. Then she would pull her shirt over her head without unbuttoning it, and slide out of her skirt in a rush. She never failed to rip her bra and panties off her, piece by piece, using her nails, sharp like razor blades. She then stayed in the corner, silent, with her hands over her ears.
____In those moments, he never knew what to do. That woman was his wife, not his patient. She slept in his bed. She ate at the same table with him. She bore him a child, a beautiful golden-haired daughter that liked to wear frilly dresses and bows in her hair, ran into his arms whenever she saw him and called him “Papa-zo.” After their daughter was born, his wife changed, but he still loved her.
____Whenever his wife took her clothes off, his daughter circled around her mother’s naked body and kept repeating, “Mommy, it’s OK, it’s OK.” He followed his six-year-old daughter trying to pick her up and carry her out of the room, but these were the only times when she didn’t want his hugs, when her little body wriggled out of his hands the moment he laid them on her.
____He then crouched in front of his wife and put his hands on her fat knees. She would slap him. He stood up above her curled-up body, then sat on the chair, closed his eyes and just listened to the child’s tender voice, “Mommy, it’s OK.” At least for a fraction of a second, he believed that everything was indeed OK.
WHEN THE SUNLIGHT LANDED ON THE SCALPEL, HE THOUGHT OF THE SMALL POT OF GOLD HE SAW HIDDEN UNDER HIS FATHER'S HAY BED. And the golden tooth that fell out of his father’s mouth just hours before the old man died. And then the gold of the trumpet to the sound of which he left his village when he was fifteen. The village drunks were playing a harmonica too, and an accordion, but the only thing that came back to him that morning was the trumpet, that desolate sound of the golden trumpet. Loud and frightening. Transparent and beautiful. It filled his heart with sadness and longing for the life he abandoned many years ago when he decided to go to medical school, a life kind, decent and simple, among corn fields, forests and a village tavern. He left the village, but the recollection of the music followed him like a shadow for many years, most clear when he picked up a scalpel, when he cut into the human flesh.
____The music of the trumpet went wild a few hours later, after the young woman died. It pressed on his forehead and pulsed in his eyeballs, stark-naked, piercing, maddening. It was heavier, darker and more biting than silence. It cut into his eardrums and throbbed in his chest after they tried to bring the young woman back to life. After the electroshocks. After the machine signaled an irreversible death with a continuous level sound coming out of the EKG machine like wire--black, stabbing, relentless. The sound lasted and lasted and lasted, and eventually faded into faraway music, indigo-dark, beautiful.
____The young woman had a heart attack while he was operating on her liver. Because last night was the night of a full moon, that’s the only thing he could think of later, after the trumpet stopped. After the woman was wheeled out of the operation room. When he finally looked out the window, at the afternoon sky. Because last night was the night of a full moon, the girl had said.
AFTER HIS WIFE LEFT HIS STUDY THE NIGHT BEFORE, HE GOT UP AND WALKED TO THE BEDROOM WINDOW. The neighboring houses buried in the shadows of chestnut trees looked ominous. A full moon was spilling its light into their small backyard. The ripped pieces of his wife’s coat were gleaming in the dark grass like snowflakes.
WITHOUT TAKING OFF HIS SCRUBS, WITH A SINGLE SPOT OF BLOOD ON HIS CHEST, HE RAN OUT OF THE HOSPITAL, GOT INTO THE CAR AND DROVE TO THE BEACH. His wife and his daughter spent many afternoons there, close to the sea. He liked to join them after work, sit next to his wife’s soft body, watch seagulls, the sun, the sea, his daughter playing in the sand, building castle after castle.
____When he got closer, he saw his wife sitting near the water, naked and alone, like a big fish ablaze with the purple light of the late afternoon and the glare of the sea. The ripped rainbow pieces of her clothes were flying over the beach. He shivered. The hours he spent with his wife and his daughter at the beach had usually been peaceful. The blueness surrounding them, the sea and the sky, made his wife calm. She would rest her head on his shoulder and hold his hand. His daughter dug holes and built walls in the sand, and screamed every few minutes, “Look, Papa-zo! Look!” And then, “I love you, Papa-zo!”
____He got out of the car and broke into a run. His wife got up from the sand.
____“She is gone,” she said when he approached her gasping for air.
____He was motionless for a second, then shook her fat shoulders.
____“Our baby is gone,” she repeated in a deep, distant voice. “She walked into the beautiful blue sea and didn’t come back to finish the castle.”
____His wife was staring at him with numb eyes, with her hands on her cheeks.
____“I had to let her go, honey…I had to…” she said nodding her head as if it were only halfway attached to her shoulders. Her heavy breasts and belly glistened in the golden light while her mouth kept opening and closing like a crab.
____She was saying that the wind was strong, very strong, a monster pushing the small body into the cobalt water, that it was a beautiful sight.
____“Really beautiful, the golden hair and the blue sea, and the wind on my face like the veil I was wearing when we got married, you remember, the beautiful purple veil getting into my eyes and my mouth…” his wife said and put her fingers into her mouth, like a child. He looked away at the deep end of the sea. “I wanted to cut it right then but couldn’t because I didn’t have scissors…no scissors that day,” his wife said and clapped her hands violently, almost cheerfully, the way their daughter used to do, “no scissors that day.”
____She extended her limp arms towards his face. She was grinning while kicking with her bare feet the remnants of the sand castle their daughter started building earlier that day.
____“We don’t need scissors. You can just pull your hair out. I can pull your hair out. Hair by hair. Until you are bald. And your head looks like the sun. I want to touch the sun. Where are you, my sun? Come to me, beautiful sun!”
____A flock of seagulls took off from the beach, screaming into the air. His body was shaking. His wife was staring into the darkening sky, now laughing loudly, her big head swaying back and forth, whispering every now and then, “Come to me, beautiful sun…big beautiful sun.”
____Hours later, when he looked at the black sky, he noticed that the moon was missing a slice.