By the Light of the Moon

[Welcome Carnival of the Mundaners. I wrote this piece three years ago. It definitely has mundane aspects--a walk at night, with everyday troubles on the mind--but results are different than we might expect. This isn't what I've submitted in the past, but perhaps we should think about these things more often than just at Christmas.]



BY THE LIGHT OF THE MOON


By the light of the moon you walk down your steps, onto your driveway, and turn down the street. It’s later than you would normally be out, but the full moon bathes the quiet neighborhood in a soft luminescence that makes it seem safe and inviting.


You take the walk every night—or try to, anyway—because it’s the only moment’s peace you get in your stress-filled life. It starts in the morning, trying to get everyone up and ready for school and work. Then at the office they all come to you to fix their problems, like you have a sign on your forehead. Then it’s back home for a rushed dinner before you hurry off to sing at choir practice next to a man who couldn’t hit the right note with a hammer.


And this week is especially difficult, because Sunday is Easter, and besides all the music you have to learn for the service, there is Easter dinner you have to prepare for the brood of in-laws who are invading. Which reminds you to pick up another ham; that one you have looks too light.


The nights are still cold for spring, and you’re glad you have your heavy jacket and gloves on, as you breathe icy mist into the air. You take a new turn tonight—preoccupied with your problems—and see unfamiliar houses. As you glace at the lit windows on your way by, you idly wonder about what their lives are like. Once you were on a plane flying over a city, looking down at all the twinkling lights. It seemed so strange to think of all those people, with lives going on that you’ll never hear about or know about, unless something miraculous or terrible happens to them.


A stranger in this part of town, you’re unsure which way to turn, and you find yourself in a seedier area than you’d prefer. The houses—where there are houses—are more unkempt and run down, and the whole area has a “given up” look to it.


Taking several sharp turns, you quicken your step to hurry back to safety. You spy the warm inviting lights of your neighborhood, and know you’re almost home. But, in looking up you take your eye off the path and you stumble a bit on the cracked sidewalk. You stop to massage a calf for a moment and happen to look over in the shadows of the fence, and that’s when you see him.


On a normal night, you’d have missed him completely, but by the light of the moon you can make out his shadow. On a normal night, he would never be this close to your “good” neighborhood, but there is a steam grate still on over here—they’ve all been turned off in the area you’ve just come from—and the man huddles over it looking for warmth. His shivers remind you how cold it’s getting and you pull your coat tighter against the chill.


The man is without a coat, and even from the distance of twenty feet you’re keeping he reeks of liquor and unwashed flesh. You idly wonder as you stare at him for a minute what could have happened to make him that way. On the other hand, he doesn’t have to worry about the kids’ grades, the mortgage, the reports at work, the awful choir members, or getting enough ham to feed a small army. In fact, it looks as if his biggest problems are finding a warm place to sleep and replenishing his bottle of hooch. Just for a moment, you wish you could trade places with him, and have such a carefree life.


The air suddenly turns heavy and emits a low-pitched hum. The sky lights up and the night is split in two by a tremendous boom.


You’re on the ground leaning against the fence where the man was, and now he’s wearing your clothes looking at you. He keeps staring at your coat and gloves like he can’t believe he has them on. His thoughts seep into your mind, and the first real sensation is one of bitter cold. The steaming grate trying to warm your chapped hands really only serves to remind you how frozen the rest of you is. You remember that you had a coat, but you were assaulted and robbed of it several days ago. The second sensation you feel is the pain of your scraped knee and busted ribs, courtesy of the same man who took your coat. The third sensation is a queasiness in the pit of your stomach; that sandwich you found in the dumpster was apparently older than it looked, and it doesn’t mix well with the two dollar bottle of wine you traded your sleeping place for.


You look across at the homeless guy now wearing your clothes, your jacket, your gloves. And, just as his memories—of the stolen coat, of the sandwich—have come flooding into you, your feel your thoughts and cares flowing back into him. After a time he turns expectantly and spots your home—his home—and starts off. The least he could do is give you his coat and gloves; after all, he knows what it’s like to be here in the cold.

You stand to call out to him but he doesn’t hear you. He’s muttering to himself about altos and tenors and the glaze for the ham. You shuffle painfully into the street, but by that time he’s well down the road, moving quickly in the cold to get home, and out of earshot completely. In fact, you wouldn’t be able to see him at all if it wasn’t for the icy mist from his breath, visible by the light of the moon.



Hyperion
April 14, 2003

Back to the Carnival

Go to the Hyperion Institute Home Page

No comments: