Moon on Fire
Rain dripped onto the tile floor, water pooling around his feet. His clothes hung in my closet and his hairbrush shed stray strands on my sink, but his eyes refused to meet mine tonight, as if he was in a stranger’s house.
He led me outside where we huddled in the yellow glow of the porch light. Lightning streaked its electric fingers and thunder crashed around us. This is just like a bad novel, I remember thinking, the night dark and stormy, trees bending as if their backs were going to break. I glimpsed the moon through the scudding clouds, its halo bright in the sky. I shivered in the dampness, but he held himself away from me, stiff, with no offer of the heat I knew lay in his arms. He started to speak, coughed instead, turned away. My fingers reached out to touch him, console him, but he pulled away as if scorched. He faced me again, and this time uttered the betrayal that every lover fears. Fury, searing pain, disbelief roiled through me, my body battered as if robbers assaulted me in a dark alley. The bad novel had just gotten worse.
I choked out strangled sounds, but no words would come. Nothing was possible, could ever be possible again, I thought. What was there to say?
“Who is it?” I finally demanded, spitting the words out as if one. He flinched as if I had struck him.
“Who? I deserve to know.” Didn’t I? But did it matter when the heart is carved out in chunks with a knife of lies? At least the name would be something to grab onto, someone to blame for this agony.
He spoke her name and it fell onto the cement between us. I gaped, thinking the Earth had fallen off its axis and was now careening across the galaxy like a pinball in an arcade game. The name he had spoken was that of someone I knew, a woman we both knew in another context. And she had made no secret that she loved women.
I shook my head in disbelief. This man who had pursued me desperately barely half a year ago was in love with a woman who lay with women, someone who denied even liking men. My brain shut down, unable to process this lunacy. This was more than being jilted; this mocked the image looking back at me in the mirror every day. And in that moment of silence my heart shattered into jagged shards, all those razor-sharp edges tearing me to shreds.
I stumbled inside the door and left him there, rain coursing down his face. My head fell forward and a hollow keening sound rose from deep inside me, a place I didn’t know existed. My legs gave way and I collapsed, my body shaking. Cheap novels start from such places.
The moonlight snuck into the bedroom, fingers of soft light pulling away the edges of gloom crouched in the corners. My eyelids were swollen shut. How I ended up here, in bed, was a mystery.
“Mom?” I heard my daughter’s voice through the shadows pressing in on me. My throat was raw as I tried to answer her. Then it came flooding back. The rain, his eyes, my pain.
“Mom? Can we come in?” I sat up and turned toward her voice at the bedroom doorway. She stood there with someone else, two reedy shapes side by side. My vision was blurred, and I couldn’t see who was there. Had he returned? I thought before logic took over, the size of the shadow all wrong.
“Is everything okay, honey?” I finally managed to croak. Attempting to console someone else, my own agony could then be hidden away in a drawer to be examined later. Maybe I had misunderstood him last night, a nightmare?
I could see her now as she stood there with her best friend, another high school girl, both of them ready to burst upon the world that would soon be their stage. They stood close together, their bodies touching from shoulder to thigh. Their hands were entwined, too, fingers locked together. I looked at my daughter’s face, aglow with beauty. And love.
“What is it, sweetie? Did you just get home?” I asked. The ragged pieces of my heart ground inside me again, excruciating. I shook my head but could still hear his words echoing between the lightning and thunder, perfect accompaniments for his message. Her name, his secret, their lie.
“We’re fine, Mom.” They looked at each other and smiled, their happiness a radiant gem held between them. “I need to tell you something.”
Suddenly, I knew what they were about to say. None of us can control who we love or why. My pain would ebb, much like the storm that was raging outside. These young women would face their own tempests, but I was not one of them.
I turned toward the window as a bolt of lightning split the sky and yet the moon still glowed.