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An Affectionate Moon
In her mind, the rain and the cold had always walked arm in arm, celebrating dreary beginnings. Leaving, she knew her hair would get wet and her fingers would cry, but she loved not to care when the night was so beautiful.
As the door closed behind her, she bounced onto the sidewalk with a small green umbrella over her head. Rivers had begun to flow down the slope of the gutter, and she imagined tiny people in canoes, holding on for dear life as they raced down it. The thought made her smile.
How wonderful it was to hear each breath she took mixed with the putting of the rain on the arc of the umbrella. Breathing, that was something marvelous. It seemed her life always ran two steps behind her until she made this trip once a week, from her home to the coffee shop and back. In the summer, cool winds softly rubbed her shoulders as she watched the sun set, and in winter the moon addressed her with affectionate respect.
The moon did not feel sociable tonight. It barely peeped hello as she saw its beams through a passing thin cloud. She thought about speaking to it, and she would have if she had been alone, sitting on her window seat, watching it carefully, but she always regretted talking to inanimate objects in public.
She paused for a moment. This was her least favorite part of the trip, if she had one. The sidewalk suddenly dipped in a lazy slope just before the street opened into shops and various forms of commerce. She raised her umbrella farther above her and began to take slow steps down the slick walk. The sound of her feet against the concrete was irregular until finally gravity evened out with the ground.
Then came the open street, now nearly abandoned of pedestrians due to the rain. Those who were outside were huddling under awnings or running to cars. She enjoyed the solitude; even though she lived alone, it was always something she savored, especially in public places.
She passed the fancy shoe shop, the tiny deli, and the jewelry store and saw that their windows were still alight. The florist was her favorite place to pass, with a beautiful window display of every color of flower imaginable, all of them smiling at her as she walked by. The coffee shop was the last one on the block, taking its unassuming stance. From the outside, she thought, it looked like a place that might either sell label makers or else designer jeans. It was a plain, one-story brick building with two long windows on each side of it, promising it had nothing to hide. The inside of it held something different.
The door handle was cold and burned her hands as she opened it, but with the light of indoors came warmth. While taking in the sweet rush of the smell of coffee and the gentle sounds of peaceful conversation, she folded up her dripping umbrella and dropped it into the silver bucket by the door designated for such a purpose.
The bottom of her boots squeaked against the tiled floor as she moved to the back of the room, passed the soft sounds of cups being placed on tables and the pictures of Paris in winter hanging on the walls. Cast in a bold shadow was a swinging door with a dark handle. It opened so easily that she assumed no one had even noticed her slipping into the dim stairway behind it.
She always had to stop a moment to let her eyes adjust to the light. She blinked one, two, three times before taking the hand rail and easing herself down the steep stairwell with her slippery soles.
“Finally, finally, oh dear, sweet agony…”
The voice of someone she’d never before heard began to wiggle up to her ear. She smiled, as this was no doubt this poor young man’s first reading. He stammered over every word, and as she reached the bottom of the stairs, she saw him on stage, sitting on the dark wood stool the nervous used. The room was even darker than the stairs were, the main source of light being the ones cast on the small stage. Still, it was not difficult to find Eustace.
Her boots still felt the need to make mousey sounds as she found their seats near the middle of the room. Eustace was very easily picked out of the crowd because he looked exactly like his name, with finicky glasses and unruly curly hair. This was his most wonderful feature. “Hello there,” he greeted, in the same manner as every week.
She greeted in turn. They exchanged smiles, then turned back to listen to the poetic lamentations of the nervous young man. He finished, the small audience in the room applauded, and the microphone once again became open to the verses of anyone willing. A slow chain of people arose to read, some from perfectly neat copy paper, others from frayed spiral notebooks.
When one man’s angry stanzas erupted into fits of screaming, she excused herself to get a drink from the small coffee bar in the back of the room. Ashamedly, she ordered her decaf coffee heavily flavored and sat back down. As she sipped, she supposed an hour passed, or perhaps two, but she never cared to glance at a watch. When everything was perfect, what was the point?
It seemed like the words didn’t end, sitting in her wooden chair, encircled by them. She let them talk her into a near sleep as she slowly put her head on Eustace’s shoulder as she sometimes did. He always responded by gently c***ing his head and resting it on top of hers. Sentences began running together.
“In summer’s hand, drops of sweat…”
“Dirty faces, broken dreams…”
“Oh the curse of eternity’s being…”
Sleep had almost taken her by the hand when the lights in the room came up and she cringed. Standing with shaky legs, she grinned at Eustace, who grinned back yet again.
“Well, beautiful, next week?” He asked her for the thousandth time.
Sleepily, she nodded.
He took her hand and together they were some of the last to exit the basement and ascend the stairwell. The main upper room was empty as she grabbed her umbrella from the bucket and stepped into the cold once more. Eustace said goodbye, and she pulled her coat closer around her. It was still raining, though now, it was so light that an umbrella seemed superfluous. Almost all windows were dark now, asleep as they should have been. She trudged back up the slick slope one careful step at a time and let the streetlights guide her back.
Walking in a dream, she breathed in and out in wonderment of such a beautiful world.
At home, she heard the clack of her keys on her kitchen counter. Her boots slid off easily and off came her damp coat. Her clothes changed into the first pair of pajamas she could find as, still in the sweetness of dark, she felt for her bed.
Covers said goodnight to her feet and then to the rest of her. Before she closed her eyes, she saw one final, slipping glimpse of a moonbeam, come to gently kiss her forehead another time, another night. Just as sleep finally enclosed her, the moon wrote a word in her mind.