from Fairy Tales for a Dying World
I once heard a story about a girl who fell in love with the moon. I heard the story from my babysitter when I was a child. Of course, after so many years, I can’t guarantee the accuracy of any detail. She told me about a girl, slightly older than herself, who everyone simply called Luna.
I asked my babysitter to describe Luna, but she had trouble remembering exactly what she looked like, only that she was pale and very thin.
Luna’s parents had died, and she was being raised by an aunt who was kind to her, but too tired to watch after her properly.
One evening, as the story goes, Luna woke to a gentle tapping at her bedroom’s window. She listened for a while to the soft thud that came in spurts and pauses, until she finally slipped from her bed to draw back the curtains.
The full moon before her radiated a haunting light. Another few taps brought her focus to the windowpane. There, she saw a moth fluttering against the glass. But her gaze was quickly pulled back to the brilliance of the moon hanging low in the sky.
Luna put on her robe and slippers, then headed down the stairs and out the back door of her aunt’s house.
She walked for hours that first night, trying to make her way closer to the moon as it rose higher and farther away in the sky. When she finally stopped, she realized she had reached the outskirts of town. She turned to head back, and suddenly felt a hand caress her hair. Startled, she reeled around. No one was there. Only the moon—now a pale disc of light sitting small and distant in the sky above her.
On the second night she was once again woken by the tapping of a moth on the window. The moon was nearly as full as the night before and clearly beckoned to her. For the second time, she left her aunt’s house and walked to meet the moon. And again, the silver orb rose higher and farther away with every step she took. In despair, she finally stopped and turned to make her way back home.
Once again, she felt the sensation of a gentle hand stroking her hair. But this time she did not react. She resisted the temptation to turn. And with a shaky voice she asked, “Are you there?”
“Yes,” came a whisper in reply.
“Who?” asked Luna.
“Moon?” repeated Luna.
“Yes. I’m the one who woke you.”
“Because,” said the moon, “you were crying in your sleep.”
The moon was right. For the first time, Luna realized that she had indeed been crying when she had woken. It was just that tears had become so commonplace.
The moon walked Luna back to her aunt’s house, and along the way they talked about many things—about how lonely her aunt’s house felt, about how empty her school felt, even though it was filled with other boys and girls. They talked about Luna’s parents and how thinking about them made Luna want to curl up in a ball on the big, orange chair in her aunt’s study.
When Luna returned to her aunt’s house that night and climbed back into her bed, she found that sleep came easily. When she opened her eyes the next morning, she knew that they had not been crying.
The third night was the same, as was the night after that. Night after night, Luna and the moon walked along the streets, sometimes talking, sometimes not—and each night Luna returned to her bed and fell into a deep and peaceful slumber.
During the day, Luna would attend school. She began to realize that people noticed her less. Eventually, it seemed to Luna that people were gazing right through her. In classes, the teachers never called on her anymore, and the other students moved around her as if they were ghosts, their voices mere echoes. Even her own eyes had trouble holding her reflection in the mirror. It wasn’t until nighttime, bathed in the light of the moon, that her body felt fully formed.
One day, however, something unusual happened. After bending to pick up a pencil that had rolled from her desk, she looked up to see a boy named Ravi starring straight at her. His gaze startled her. It had been so long since anyone had noticed.
“I still see you, Luna,” he said.
Luna starred back without replying.
“But you’re thinner,” said Ravi. “There’s less of you somehow.”
“What do you know about anything?” Luna asked indignantly.
“You need to stay out of the moonlight,” said Ravi matter-of-factly, as if helping her solve an algebra equation. “My grandmother says that we’re children of the Sun.”
“Mind your own business,” said Luna before turning around. But she glanced back quickly and added, “stop looking at me.”
Luna quit going to school after that, and her aunt never received a call questioning her absences. Instead, she used the daytime to sleep, so that she could stay awake longer into the early hours of the morning. Even after the moon had said goodnight, the stars would keep her company. But it was the moon that Luna loved, and when the moon began to wane beyond her quarter, Luna felt the old loneliness and tears once again fill her eyes.
“Please stay,” she begged, watching the thin scrap of light through the bedroom window.
“I can’t. But I’ll be back.”
“Take me with you,” Luna pleaded. She ran out of her aunt’s house determined to dissolve in what remained of the moon’s dying light. There, near the apple tree in the yard, at the edge of the tree’s shadow, the moonlight seemed most bright. Luna rushed into it. She tore at her clothing, heaping it at her feet.
“Take me with you,” she repeated. “There’s nothing left here.” The tears burned at her eyes. She looked at her pale skin, grown paler in the silver light. “Take me with you,” she whispered.
The next morning, the sun rose as it had for countless millennia. The birds woke and came to pick worms from the ground around Luna’s discarded clothing. The aunt sat in her kitchen, head in hand, breathing in the aroma of coffee, dancing around the idea that something or someone had been lost.
Only the boy Ravi knew who that someone was. And after the waxing of the moon, as the light once again sat large and full in the sky, he would look up and swear that the moon looked brighter—and perhaps also happier.
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