Through the weeping household stalked a small black cat—just past kittenhood, and more gamine than gangly. She darted past the skirts of a grieving wife as the woman buried her face in a... [+]
“You can do it, Luna,” her mother affirmed. “You have your night light, and your eyes will be closed anyway. Every night you’re afraid, and every night the dark does nothing to hurt you.”
Luna lay still trying to concentrate on what her mother had said. Be rational, she thought. Pulling her quilted armor up to her nostrils, she gazed around the dark room at the shadows morphing and sliding into scary shapes across the walls and ceiling.
Over the sill at the end of Luna’s bed, down a few inches, dangling from a deep green vine which climbed the side of the ordinary house, most of the moonflowers were ready to bathe their skin in the dark glow of night. More than most, in fact, all but one moonflower. “I’m scared” whispered Gloria, as her brothers and sisters began to stretch their soft, white petals.
All August long, and for each of week of September, as her entire family unfurled to the moon and the stars, Gloria clenched her petals tight, remaining a budlet, refusing to reveal herself to the dark.
Gloria’s family worried about her. They knew how it felt to bask in the glow of the moon, to suck in the clear night air through your pearlescent pores, to feel the tickle of a night moth rubbing its wings across your velvety surface. They wanted her to experience those pleasures, to soak in the droplets of dew that settled about just before dawn, all before resting the sun away. What was life for a moonflower, if not for these things?
Her green edges were already beginning to take on a sort of cracked brown. Gloria and her family knew what would happen to her if she decided not to open. It had happened to a few others in the past, though it was rare to fall off the vine without experiencing a full life cycle. The ultimatum laid out for Gloria required facing her greatest fear or, albeit inevitable, facing nothing else but the complete unknown.
Inches above the moonflower vine, back through the great window, Luna stared at the ceiling. She cringed at each creak of the old walls, and enveloped herself more tightly in her covers. Beads of sweat formed on Luna’s forehead and the bridge of her nose, but she wouldn’t so much as stick out a toe for fear of touching the darkness that floated all around. Breathe in, breathe out, there is nothing to be afraid of.
As she faced sleepless night after night through September, and now October, Luna took to dozing through her classes, and skipping the cafeteria to rest through lunch in the sunlit nurse’s office. The counselors assured Luna’s mother that it is perfectly normal for grief to trigger new fears, but Luna was becoming unrecognizable.
Another week passed. Luna grew more exhausted. Gloria became increasingly dried out. The moonflower vine had reached up to the window now, and October was underway. The first frost would be right around the corner.
Luna lay in bed fighting her usual terrors. The nightlight shone from the corner, but brighter tonight, was the full moon peeking in from the great window.
Gloria, too, felt the moonlight on that October night. The other flowers were fully aglow, and the night moths giggled as they tousled petals and leaves among the vine. Gloria knew that when the first frost came, they would all shrivel and fall to the ground. Listening to the carefree joy of her family, she wished she could just get it over with. She was embarrassed to even call herself a moonflower.
Luna sat up in her bed, allowing the moonlight to fall over her. How could it be brighter outside than in here? She almost wished she could sleep out there, sharing the soft light with the white flowers that hovered outside the panes of her window. She pressed her face to the glass...one...two...three...four...Luna counted eight flowers as far down as she could see, and one little bud. Odd...she thought. These flowers never last until after Halloween, why hasn’t that one bloomed? She remembered her dad pointing them out for “one last look” as he kissed her goodnight throughout the final weeks of every October. They would laugh as she rolled her eyes, they always seemed to be there again the next day. Until they weren’t. She hadn’t even looked at the moonflower vine this year.
Luna squinted at the closed little moonflower. All around the budlet, the petals of the other flowers glimmered slightly, moonlight seeming to flow right through their fibers. Come on, little moonflower, Luna thought. For some reason, it overwhelmed her with sadness to think that this bud would come into the world and leave it never having felt the moonlight in the crisp fall air.
Suddenly, the window above Gloria slid open a crack. What is happening? Gloria wondered. A gentle hand extended into the air above her and slowly descended, touching the vine around her. The hand seemed to glow, like the moon herself was reaching down to touch Gloria’s vine.
Neither Gloria nor Luna considered the darkness at all.
Luna reached down, traveling her fingers slowly on the vine toward the little bud. It was green and taut, very much alive. Thank goodness. She traced along a few petals of the surrounding flowers, so soft they nearly melted right into her fingertips. Gently, Luna cupped the cold little budlet in her hand. Come on, little moonflower.
The warmth of the moon’s great hand washed over Gloria, radiating throughout her insides before retreating back into the window. Was it all a dream?
Luna yawned, reclining onto her pillow. She drifted into sleep thinking of the little bud.
The next night, both Luna and Gloria awaited the sunset with an unfamiliar hope, curiosity even. As Luna’s mom left the bedroom, flicking on the nightlight, Luna slid the window open, just a crack. She looked down and saw the bud. Does it look a little greener, maybe a bit rounder than yesterday? She reached out to touch the budlet and whispered, “Come on, Little Moonflower.”
Gloria heard a voice from above. Was the moon calling out to her? She drew in a breath as the she allowed the hand’s warmth to surround her.
This continued through the week. Luna slept soundly after her midnight meetings with the moonflower bud, and Gloria pondered whether all this was a sign that the moon would keep her safe. After all, she hadn’t much thought of darkness since she began seeing the moon’s hand and hearing her soothing voice. With this, Gloria decided to trust in her sign. Tomorrow, she would bloom.
On this night, the full moon had left. Luna looked out the window nervously. She didn’t want to give up on the moonflower, but it was awfully dark outside that window. She shielded herself under her quilt, dreading the idea of relenting any part of her body to the darkness.
Gloria waited anxiously. She had made herself a promise, but the moon seemed to be gone.The only light around was a meager glow from the petals of her brothers and sisters. Was this a test? She squeezed inward.
Sweat formed on Luna’s forehead again. Darkness swirled around her and her stomach turned. She wanted to check on the vine outside, but couldn’t bring herself to sit up.
Gloria took a deep breath. Come on, little moonflower, she thought to herself. She could feel the chill of the first frost on its way and realized she would have to try tonight, with or without the help of the moon. Tomorrow it could be too late. Come on, little moonflower. She leapt all in, pushing her petals outward, blooming with all her might.
Through teary eyes, Luna saw a faint light from the window.
She peered out and saw her little moonflower bud in full bloom. Its petals were the most magnificent, iridescent white, glowing from every edge as if projecting the light of the moon from inside. Thank you, little moonflower, Luna thought. She turned in her bed, laying atop her quilt, and drifted into sleep with her face next to the dark window lit by the glow of the brave little moonflower.