Moon – Susie Davidson
September 14, 2020
It had felt like a special occasion for the lank, soapy girl to find herself across from a teapot and another young person. She’d been excited to accept the invitation to the house of a gently ugly boy she’d known tenuously, a few years earlier while she was still in college. She’d remembered him perfectly for his trendy, frustrating first name, and his dark eyes which jumped too quickly with the most boring kind of male intelligence, too weak and prosecutorial for the knowing leaps and floating lyricism of human conversation. She’d suffered an indefensible, silent fascination with him and was surprised by his willingness to see her. He must have been able to sense the arbitrary focus she’d assigned to him, like a dancer’s spot, through their thin and occasional contact.
When she’d first met him in one of her poetry classes they’d had hopeless little conferences which he’d use to publicly dismiss an airy idea which charmed her as bourgeois. He was territorial and small-minded, like a chicken, but the eager twitch of his mercilessness seemed like evidence of something usable. In those days she’d made herself busy lighting smoke signals on the shores of herself, and searching for signs of life among crowds who somehow barely knew her while also hating her with a hatred which was fundamental. In those days she’d been a writing student. Already well into that dark, shocking process of transforming from the endearing type of person who likes to read books into the horrifying type of person who might try to write one, she’d trained herself to stare all night with rapt disinterest through a window off into the weather of turning truths which vanished into themselves, at things inside her which changed when exposed to air, like blood. Sometimes she’d painfully coax things through her fingertips for nobody to see. Wandering through four confusing years, she’d remained coldly awake inside herself and had thrashed violently. She was the type of girl who people whispered about.
After graduating, she’d slipped away from school, the way somebody leaves a bad party, and moved into an old Victorian apartment near the ocean, where she ate cheerios and wrote poetry, and lived with people who didn’t look each other in the face. The young people who lived there communicated only through notes. The notes all had an aggressive sameness. They were not embarrassed to care about things like silverware and water pressure. She fantasized about leaving them her own notes. ‘It’s already happening’ on an askew post-it in the center of the fridge, or ‘you can’t control me’ on the microwave. A master class: how to effectively disturb others.
What to do with all of these stillborn ideas? She found herself longing, in life, for the kinds of ancillary devices which she’d long since rejected in her reading material. A group of the students she’d learned to hate would nod together in workshop looking over her life and dismiss the whole thing. It needed “stakes” and “meaningful conflict,” how could it have not even even one fully rounded out character? She’d always considered her interest in literature to be a commitment to making herself ever more unfit for ordinary life, but the small circles of people who she’d kept finding herself assembled around maintained a fussy, unbreakable fidelity to it. She would sit in an armchair at the top floor of the library, and peer out at so many people who didn’t need each other, or people who, at least, didn’t need her.
After all of that was over, she supported herself with different, upsetting arrangements. She cleaned apartments and had sex with fat guys, and mostly she looked after children. Most of the kids were coarse and conformist, and cruel. But there was a beautiful boy who liked to lay on the patio and watch the ants crawl along. She’d take him to a manmade lake on the campus of an agricultural college, to feed ducks, and he’d sit with her on the benches, and they’d stare at the swan. Once the boy told her that he worried about the swan sometimes, because it never got fed.
On the day that she agreed to meet with the person she’d once barely known a few years ago, she laid on the carpet of her bedroom and felt hungry. She thought about how it was easy for people who lived without furniture to become strange, because they saw nothing around them which was made to their scale. She had liked this apartment because it felt like an old attic, filled with the refuse of somebody’s forgotten life, but her housemates aspired to a certain mass produced minimalism. They hung art on the walls so neutral and inoffensive that it surprised one to see it in somebody’s home instead of in a waiting room or hotel. They were fond of little grey pillows with geometric patterns on them. They wanted out of the present moment as much as she did, but in a different direction.
She walked to the apartment where the boy she’d barely known a few years ago was living, the long nubs of her elbows poking through a pilled, darkly colored sweater. With the beach’s breeze tossing her hair, which was not color-treated, along her cheeks, she felt like it could’ve been some time other than this particular one which was so unkind to her. She saw someone drawing alone on the sidewalk. A large child waved her hand over the cement, stabilizing herself with one fist, tracing a long line and repeating it again with a different piece of chalk. She pushed the chalk along with indifference to the deep lines between the squares of sidewalk which left ridges in the rainbow. She’d drawn it in the classic style, with white scalloped circles over the limbs of the bow. It was an early hour of twilight, full of loss.
Across the street, three men made long converging lines towards each other. They moved casually, keeping their eyes slightly bellow the space just ahead of them. They passed each other without a glance. They all wore headphones, being kept company by people far away. She maintained an intellectual person’s mistrust of phones, whose influence on life was so much less auspicious for writing poems than found still lifes of pencil shavings and orange peels, and empty air offered by primary sourced, immediate surroundings.
She thought about the Cortès paintings that always made her weak with grief, printed on an English teacher’s wall, or a notebook in an expensive neighborhood’s bookstore gift shop. The little people all suffering their longing, and their beauty, all walking bravely in the emptiness together, everybody carrying a small piece of it. The carrying it around all day made them dignified, and it was their way of earning everything beautiful around them. The people filled the moments of suspension between destinations with wondering about each other, they lived in liminal places, like living in literature. And she thought about the men walking alone at each other, plugged into themselves. You couldn’t wonder what they were thinking about, or know for sure that they were also feeling the same ambient thing you were feeling on the street. A long time ago, the silent beautiful things were all cast aside. And since nobody struggled with their personal portion of the emptiness, all of it swarmed together, into an impossible mass which nobody could manage. She thought about that and all kinds of desperate things which made inside her a high whining sound.
She arrived at a sallow, exhausted house, too early, in a donnish outfit. He rushed to meet her, unbuttoned and drinking a cup of tea. He had a pathetic curly quality from his wire frame glasses and his baby skin. He was meek but full of opinions. He was probably still too similar to her for any kindness to develop between them. They’d be like actors devoted to a certain role who disagreed about how it should be done. She unzipped her jacket so that he could take it, remembering a babysitter who’d loved her when she was little, and used to make her hold onto her sleeves. Inside the house, his was better than her own, he walked ahead to a coffee table with furniture assembled around it and placed her at the far end of a couch whose upholstery he’d neglected. The coffee table had a tea pot for them to drink together too close to an edge, which was smeared with nail polish.
Their relationship to each other was too wispy for the amount of time that had passed. “So how’ve you been, it’s been so long” he asked her, but he didn’t know where she was from. She told him about the dusty place where she had grown up, and the distant siblings who’d been there. Months had passed since she had spoken to somebody her own age. The mothers of the children she nannied had long conversations with her about their marriages, and the children talked about pets.
“Thanks for coming over, I didn’t think you would” he told her, pouring pale tea into a little cup. The cup had a clover motif on it. “Why not?” she asked, looking down into the porcelain. On the floor there was a tidy pile of books whose titles were too far away to be read. “Oh, I don’t know” now he looked at his nails. He seemed to live alone. “You were so romantic.” She thought about all of the soup she’d eaten alone in the cafeteria while feeling sorry for herself, and how people never got offered anything until they no longer had a need for it.
Once when they were in school together she’d gone to the opening night of a small, student-written play where she’d sat behind him and his unattractive friends, and had focused on the tunnel she knew she could build between them in the dark.This was at her most generally desperate. She liked him for the cruelty he’d shown her, but couldn’t forgive him for his eagerness to be kind to everybody else. The play had been an embarrassingly bad version of Peter Pan about what it means to be Native American, but he’d laughed supportively at all of the parts which offended her. It wasn’t easy to know what it meant that he was so ready to be charitable to something empty and so cruel to her earnest crooked efforts.
He told her about the work he’d been doing for people on their boats. He had also been a writing major. She’d asked him to play the blue guitar learning aloofly behind them.
“Have you been writing poems?”
“Writing is a good way to have a terrible time.”
“Are you having a terrible time?”
She imagined an afterlife where she was a tattered book he found on the street and read underneath a tree without having to be asked. He agreed to play the guitar for her. It was a perfect moment. Blue was a slightly embarrassing color for someone’s acoustic guitar to be, but he looked intellectual holding it and she let the song he sang make her feel holy. Sometimes people seemed to her like she was going to be able to get close to them.
“Do you miss school?”
“Sometimes, it’s hard to know.”
“Why is it hard?”
“Because of how miserable I was then, but I’m miserable now too. It seems worse now but I’ve probably just forgotten.”
They listened to jazz albums and talked about the future. He told her about the beekeeping book he liked to read on people’s boats, and how he was learning to speak Portuguese. He picked along at his guitar, but she could tell already that this wouldn’t work.
Even years later, with someone who was acting like he wanted to be her friend, who liked hopeless furniture and who worked on sail boats. He would always understand her but hate himself for it, and he’d never admit it to her. He would file his self into an icepick to prick holes into the things she felt. She wasn’t upset about all of this the way she would’ve been a few years earlier. It was preferable to know that she hadn’t narrowly avoided a confidant or, God help her, a boyfriend. She had just avoided it. There were so many things that wouldn’t work. The boy from poetry class was just another one of them.
The resigned élan she held crossed in her arms on the walk back home alone was something suspect. In her eyes sometimes there appeared a game familiarity with moments where one had to be brave and to pray. There were perforated lines along the timeline of her life beyond which people knew to stop directing any follow up questions. All of the troubled young girl trajectories, scenarios which kept repeating themselves, her own responsibility in them increasing each time. She clicked along in her shoes with quickness, but only for the fun of pretending to be afraid.
She often walked unaccompanied at night, and had in fact wandered this particular way before, much more slowly and absently vulnerable at a much later, more mysterious hour. The traditions she liked to maintain with herself dictated that she would take small inconvenient risks for amorphous reasons. Walking alone at night was an attractive risk, silent and full of air and mood. One imagines that wandering aimlessly through the streets one will come upon a similarly desperate person. On one night a long time ago, trying to leave a drawing classroom, a politically conservative boy had spent thirty parallel minutes with her, intrigued by her distaste for the bus. It was unclear if these nonsensical memories added up to anything.
It always felt nice to participate in traditional experiences, like shivering alertly in stockings on the way home from someplace. The fear of being attacked now, being raped or sliced up like an orange, seemed like a comforting fantasy, anxiety to be kept always in your pocket, to protect someone from proper fears. Like living out the rest of a desperate, alone life, never once being suddenly attacked by a stranger. People always feared the totally wrong thing. They feared the awkwardness of fidelity to others, instead of the roaring aloneness, the certainty of themselves remaining forever inaccessible, which was only ever a body’s width away.
There had been many evenings like this one before, evenings of togetherness which inspired regret at the delicate combination of discrete tragedies which conspired to make her this particular person on this particular evening. She sometimes got too close to the normalcy which eluded her, and the external world looked so easy, because there, things could be had and kept. A lifetime of obsession with the useless beauty all around her had preserved her in its glass, only to learn, too late, that she’d been more alone than she’d imagined.
On the slow nighttime outings she sometimes took herself on, when her loneliness dropped screaming beyond the borders of reasonably tender soreness she’d made a house for herself inside of long enough ago that it was decorated with clever art, hung on walls which needed new paint, beyond the limits of her dry masochism, wandering gravely at midnight on the beach, she’d felt like an instrument of divinity tangled in her own line of thought. At three in the morning, the moon shined a flat sheet of light on the water, and she felt like she could see almost the curve of the earth itself— the reflected light of the moon reflected again on the ocean; it was so indifferent to the depth of the water caught in its light, or the girl driven by her own broken mind to walk slowly all night along the shore.