Previously published in “The Strange Edge” in February, 2014.
The sun was a pregnant orb that never left its nest in the sky. In its thirst, it unfurled a long tongue to lap every drop from the fractured soils below. So, too, did it drink greedily from our flesh, leaving behind a worn landscape.
I know you remember.
You had grown so ashamed of the map around your eyes that you turned your face from the light—from me. You refused my kiss, hiding your pale, cracked lips behind a hand. You said that the sun wanted to turn you into the desert floor. I knew then that you had stopped fighting. And I resolved to bring you the night—if only for a moment—to chase the afterimages from your head.
I shuttered the windows of my house and stuffed your headscarves under the door. The darkness was complete, and we lost ourselves. Unobserved, unobservable. You kissed me. But it was desperate—an apology. Or was it relief? I couldn’t tell. Your mouth tasted of sand, of dust. You were eroding.
I could feel sun bearing down on the house, forcing its way through the walls. Its presence filled the room like a dark mirror, distorting and aggrandizing that which couldn’t be seen. I heard your breath quicken—a grating rasp.
“The night isn’t black,” you said after a while. You were always confident when stating facts, but you were not so sure of what went unspoken. “And there are stars. So, there is some light … but just a bit.”
“Yes,” I answered.
I pulled open the shutters and painted the windows blue, then black, then blue again until I happened upon a shade of indigo that satisfied you. It was unwise, I knew, toiling away while the sun pressed against the glass, and I sweat. But when I looked at your hands, I saw that the dim light stained them the color of night sky. I felt nothing but the moment, nothing but the need to bring the night to you. To stop your erosion. So, I continued. I pricked star holes in the darkened plane. A cosmos appeared before our eyes.
We lay side by side, regarding our starry field. Patterns emerged, and we named them: the Arroyo, the Rose, the Fountain. Our hands met, but the touch was slow and hesitant. Our hands drifted apart. Stars alone don’t make night. I could feel your stony tension return.
Then you said, “Remember the moon,” and arced an open hand above us.
“Of course,” I said and scrambled to the kitchen. I returned with a pot lid tied to a broom handle. You laughed at first, but later you flashed a smile when I marched the disk across the night sky. It was dark—a shadow passing beneath the heavens. And I thought I heard you sigh, a sound like sand blowing over stone.
“Wait,” I said and grabbed a flashlight. “Aim it at the lid.”
The moon glowed copper as it arced over our cosmos. You relaxed. I propped the make shift moon in our night sky, just touching the cluster that made up the base of the Fountain. You leaned into me. Your hair shone in the dim light as it fell across your face, and your eyes narrowed. You kissed me again—your mouth was warm and your tongue soft as velvet. You pressed your body against mine and stroked my face. You reached out to occlude the moon. I saw another cosmos appear as dust motes danced around your hand. But you saw something else: “I’m turning to sand,” you said, nodding at the luminous grains escaping your hand. “I’m wearing away.” You sat bolt upright and gestured at our moon, our night, “They’re not real.”
I watched you walk toward that place where scorched sky met burnt earth—you were a roiling veil, ephemeral, then you broke apart. Still, the door hung open. Light trespassed on my moon and stars, echoing your last words.
Bio: Brian Hodges lives in the mossy forests of the Pacific Northwest, where he works as a lawyer, researcher, and non-fiction writer. He is an avid explorer of woods, lakes, and creek beds where he finds inspiration for tales of the fantastic and strange. Other fiction is forthcoming in New Lit Salon Press, has received an Honorable Mention from the Writers of the Future contest, and was a finalist in the 2013 N3F Amateur Short Story Contest. He can be reached on Twitter at @brianthodges.