Does The Moon Remember Who Gave Her Each Scar?

Image of Short Story
Moon-Face had lived among us for many summer days, but nobody actually knew her name. She just appeared one night, like a fox who had scavenged one dead city and had now moved on to another. We watched her build her house on the edge of the village. She worked slowly, patting the clay into lopsided bricks with clumsy, red-stained hands, and her eyes never once left her work. Sometimes, as night fell, she would sing a little song to nobody.
It all sounds strange and harmless. But even so, we were afraid.

If you ever saw Moon-Face, you’d understand her sobriquet. Her skin was pale yellow and run through with little cracks, as though frescoed in dandelion paint and aged a thousand years. Her looks were eerie, but we could see past that. Something else froze our blood.

It was that day at the marketplace.

The white-hot sky sat atop the red-horizon like boiling milk on blood, one never swirling into the other. The air smelled of smoke. People, vultures, and desert-flowers alike harmonized in comfortable silence. I wiped a yellow bell pepper on my linen shirt and tossed the vendor a few coins for it. It was summer. We were happy.

She screamed.
A shocked moment stumbles by, blinking and looking for a screeching crow. But it was Moon-Face.
“I think the demon’s in her teeth,” muttered Rizhki, flicking ash from his afternoon cigarette. His sun-browned face betrayed neither sweetness nor malice. “Do you see?”
I looked at her, melting in the middle of the market. Her red-skinned limbs were twisted and her hair speared the soupy air in every direction, like blades of a tiara that longed to escape her brow. The air rippled where the heat made it cry.
“Her teeth? It’s everywhere.” I away to stare at the ground. The scene burned me.
Rizhki smiled darkly as a gaggle of people with sand-lined faces gathered around Moon-Face. “You see that? They’re not taking pictures. They’re not even speaking. They’re all too afraid, but not enough to pay her any respect.”
I glanced again, sideways, the way you watch a syringe as it enters your arm. She writhed, and there might have been screaming, too, but l had plucked the sparse clouds from the sky and filled my ears with them.
“Do you really believe them, though?” I let my voice drop. “You think she’s got a devil in her?”
He puffed a cloud of black air and leaned down, so that his next sentence could slip into my ear like an asp.
“I don’t care either way. If she does, she’ll fit in.” Something hid in his voice. “Here- let’s go back.” And in the empty desert air, we walked home in silence.

The first time I spoke to Moon-Face was on a day as colorless as a sympathy letter. There was nobody else. There wasn’t even an invitation- I just noticed my shadow pointing towards the sunset and decided to follow it.

Her house straggled at the end of the street. It had a low roof and lopsided, carved-out holes in its walls that pretended to be windows.

I peered around the door. The heavy oak was tired-looking from all of the gossip that must’ve cut its cheeks in the short time it had lived here. I knocked with remorse.

No response. The sun dripped on my cheeks as it sunk, splashing orange shadows all over the world. It could do nothing to help me.

I turned my shoulder on the woman’s home, remembering the last time that I had shown her my back. She was suffering then. Maybe she was, now, too. But what could I do? I remember Rizhki’s insinuation through his teeth.
A devil would fit right in here.
(Was he talking about me?)

Then the door began to creak, slowly, revealing nothing but darkness.

I leaned into it.
“I know you’re here.”
Silence. The silhouettes of cacti watched me through the narrow windows like hangmen.

“Please.” a brittle voice then wavered like a reed in the wind. “I have nothing to give you.”

There she was. An uncomfortable second passed. I felt like a child who shouted curses about tigers into a canyon, only to see the shadow of one over his shoulder. She already seemed wounded, and we had hardly spoken. Something in my heart cracked.
“I’m not here to take anything. I just... wanted to meet you.”
She sighed.
“Here I am.”
“Yes.” I still loomed outside of the doorway. Anybody else would have invited me in- but I remembered that she was not one of us.
“Why is your face like that?” I spoke clumsily, honestly, wrongly. She knows what to do- the door is slammed. The sun is down. In the dusk sky, the stars snickered. I pursed my lips and lined my words up like corn-stalks in a row before leaning into one gash of a window.
“I’m sorry,” I said, shame branding my cheeks.
“You should be,” Moon-Face whispered back.
I stood there for a few moments longer, expecting nothing. Soon night would settle in and it would be time for me to go home. Moths would begin to run their errands. Constellations would rise and mock me. To abandon her now would be leaving a sentence unfinished.
I sunk to my knees, by Moon-Face’s window, and waited. She poked her head out between long cricket-songs to see if I had left.
(I hadn’t.)
After what felt like many centuries in the sand, she drifted beside me.
“Don’t you have a family to return to?” A breeze could’ve blown her voice away.
“No,” I lied. “Don’t you?”
She sipped the tasse of herbal tea in her hands and said nothing. Flowery steam billowed and faded in the air.
“You want to ask about why I’m here.”
I shrugged, as if she wasn’t correct. In the starlight, the cracks in her skin looked wildflower-roots. The wind sung its wordless hunting call, and the cacti listened to her speak.
“I’ll have to move on soon, anyway.”
“But why?”
She looked at me harshly. Her eyes were ringed with darkness.
“You’ve seen why.” She tucked her empty tin teacup between her wool-clad feet. A sweet, chilled breeze whistled by. “I go blind for- for a little while. It’s as if someone put a candle in my mouth and lit the wicks through my eye sockets.” Her brow was knit, and it deepened the fissures in her face. “People in my old life thought I was turning into an animal. They said- that I seemed primal. But could be fixed.”
She paused. A coyote in the mountains bayed mournfully to nobody.
“Fixed how?” My voice tries to be soft. Moon-Face smiles, and for a moment, no evil can be done.
“To be in the sun, every hour of the day, and to sleep by fire every hour of the night. They thought it’d kill the parasite, but all it did was shatter my skin.” Her voice turned strangely warm at the memory. “My parents- they defended me. But I didn’t want to hurt them anymore. So when everyone was asleep one night, I left.”
“And here you are.”
She nodded. The darkness made her ghostly- and in certain angles of her sorrowful face, I saw my own.
“What will you do?”
“Live.” Her dark braid rests on her neck like a sleeping snake. Poison always sends us back home. “It’s all I can do.”
“Okay,” I tell her as my ribcage sunk. “Maybe we can heal your skin before you take off again?” I think of the chipped jars of flowers and medicine in our cupboards. But Moon-Face shook her head.
“Nothing works. I’ve tried. But- do you know what I like to imagine?” She holds her sun-broken hand out, not waiting for an answer. “This shell is like a cocoon. One day it’ll leave me, and I’ll be beautiful beneath.” Her face glowed with hope, and I wished I had the right words to say to her.
But my head was blank because it did not want to cry. I rose. Moon-Face’s smile fell.
“Right... you need to go.”
I did not look at her as I took a few steps forth. The wind would wipe them away before the sun rose. I looked back.
“What’s your name?”
The smile, tinted with faraway sadness, appeared on her face again.
“I’m still looking for one.”
And that’s what goodbye is in some languages.

My walk home was unfamiliar. I could see every crack in the terracotta, every wing on a dragonfly. I imagined Moon-Face with those wings, glowing like a star about to burn out.

Her house disappeared the next morning.