mike oliphant

Our Waning Love Affair With The Moon

        When we first looked up, we were surprised that we hadn’t noticed the moon sooner, because of course it was always there—right in our own backyards, hidden between the leaves—our constant neighbor.

        What followed for years was moonlight that hit the earth with bare, shameless pride. Pretty soon we couldn’t remember a time without it. We were so accustomed to its presence that we smothered the streetlamps, slept more during the day and stayed up longer into the night. Businesses extended hours to adjust, schools rescheduled classes—we reshaped ourselves to fit this new, constant light in our lives. The impact grew palpable, a glow could be felt in the way we spoke to one another, a warmth in our voices, a calm in our steps—there was no longer an hour set aside to rush. Some nights were colder than others, but they were never darker or more mysterious. That’s why, the first time that it hid between the clouds, we scratched our heads and puzzled at the gray mass above us.

        All that week we saw little of the moon. We knew it was there. Some things need not be seen to be pres­ent. The ocean still rocked, the night air, though quite darker than usual, still rang with a white aura.

        Weeks later, it returned, full and beaming, all of it there for us to see, so close that we called it Super Moon. We hoped to boost its confidence and we contented ourselves when it returned our ecsta­sy with waves that thrummed the shores, with paths in the woods lit well enough to walk without the light of a lamp. This new, abrupt intimacy, the moon’s face so close to ours, brought fresh detail before our eyes. 

Previously unnoticed pockmarks now distinguished its surface—we traced with our fingers in the air each line and crevice. It stood then so plain before us that we felt as if it were the first time we had really looked deep into its valleys and cliffs.

        For three nights, white light splashed on our hillsides, thrown from the moon’s open mouth, like a halo of silence, a sound not heard but felt in our bones. We danced beneath it, our hair loose in curls, looped around our own mouths. We made love in the fields, grass stuck to our thighs, and in the morning no one spoke, no one left to go home, even the moon hung around all afternoon, a pale outline, a soft freckle in the sky.

        We asked the moon, now that everything felt safe again—how safe we felt in the crook of its gaze!—we asked if anything had been wrong when it went behind the clouds and turned its back on us. Was it us? Had we done something wrong to push it away? It replied that no, it was fine, everything was fine. This, of course, was a lie. And we sensed this, like a soft tremor in our muscles, but smiled and thought best not to push the matter, afraid that we had fouled the air between the moon and us with this question, this doubt.

        Our fear gave way to great trouble when we next saw the moon. All day it had disappeared, making an appearance in the evening, but a sliver of it now turned in another direction, as if it gazed just over our shoulders at something behind us. We thought to ourselves that maybe the way we felt was not the moon’s fault, maybe it was just our own growing paranoia. That night when we asked the moon what it was thinking about, it told us don’t worry about it, still not quite meeting our eyes and we sighed. All night we slept with our backs turned towards our open windows.

        The next few days only deepened our concerns. And it didn’t help that we had to wait through the daylight in order to see the moon again. It used to be that from time to time the moon would pop by, bobbing in the air like a familiar face in the crowd. Not anymore. Now we had time to do nothing but worry and guess at what the moon was up to each day. Then night would come and we were so exhausted and anxious that we had yet to draw ourselves a bath or to cook dinner or even to collect the mail. Those nights the moon gazed down on us with a dim orange light, disdain reflected in its shape and distance. We reached out to place our hands over its surface only to discover that pocks of dark and light were different. Here was a new and foreign landscape we had yet to discover. There was nothing familiar left in the face we gazed at each night.

        Our anger simmered beneath the surface until one night we boarded up our windows in protest, plunging the moon into darkness, denying it a city skyline to wink back at it. We thought ourselves clever, justified, wholly the victims of the moon’s cruelty and indifference. But the thought of the moon alone, isolated in the night sky, satisfied us in a way that also alarmed us and our sadness clung to our frail shapes as we sat huddled in lamplight.

        It went on this way until one night we snuck outside, hoping to catch a glimpse of the moon without it seeing us. Shame burned our cheeks, our hands almost too slick to hold our flashlights, now necessary in a dark that felt worse than unnatural. Our mouths hung open as we stared at the fingernail of light that winked back at us, our moon no bigger than the stars that pinpricked the dark around it.

        We fumed for days, cursing the moon, ourselves, everything around us. We damned it all, threw some dishes against the kitchen wall, drank more than we had in years. We didn’t make love anymore. We pitched ourselves against our beds and fitfully threw ourselves at anyone who would have us. We became withdrawn, kept to ourselves behind closed doors and gazed at ourselves naked in the mirror, searching for the answer to a question we didn’t know. All we knew then was that there was no moon and there never would be again.

        Months passed and we made a pilgrimage to the shore, assuring ourselves that the surface of the ocean would bring us peace, some closure, like it always had in the past; its constant movement a reflection of our own spirits, our best and worst selves. We thought that we would see the water run right up to our bare feet and we could look out across it, content that we could enter the water now with a new strength, without being hurled back or tugged by our ankles in another direction.

When we arrived at the beach it was the early hours of the morning, the sun not yet a thought on the horizon. We saw the still surface of the water, a motionless mirror that stared back at the sky. We col­lapsed, kneeled for hours, unable to tear our eyes from that darkness, doubled in the wakeless sea.

        Down the coast the shriek of gulls sounded as they fed. We saw the ripples that reached out from their plunge, unmet, and heard the crash as they once again lifted their bodies into the air.

As of 2016: Mike Oliphant’s short fiction and poetry have been published in Shooter Literary Magazine, NANO Fiction, The Molotov Cocktail, The New Poet, Carcinogenic Poetry, and Every Day Poets. His collection of poetry, A World Set Apart, earned him the 2013 Ione Sandberg Shriber Young Writer’s Fund. He currently occupies Bellingham, WA as an MFA candidate at Western Washington University and teaches composition there to sustain his caffeine addiction.

Find Mike today: instagram