The Man in the Moon

By Ashleigh Mounser

Last night I dreamt the man in the moon planted a dandelion inside my lungs. He covered the seed over with soil, and in the morning I breathed petals onto the pillow.

I dreamt he pulled back my hair and opened the blinds. He let the sunlight in so the little seed would sprout, and he said, Tell me about the boy with the sheep’s wool hair, who drew constellations on origami palms. Tell me how you woke with all the burning lights of Pegasus and Perseus on your shoulder, how you swam in milk and honey for years, and still caught his scent in places he’d never been. Tell me how the constellation seeped under your skin, became freckles your mother swore you’d always had, and why were you looking at her like that, and what was wrong, and why were your eyes always shining in the dark? My sweetheart, my dearest, my darling: why do you see the vase of daisies as something already brown and rotting?

Mother dearest, all the brightest constellations are dead or fading and I am crushed under the weight of gilded memories I’ve yet to make. I have made too many wishes on the planted dandelion. Now it is empty; and our nada has never been in nada. Hemingway taught me not to hope. I say it all in one breath and the petals stick against my tongue once more.

The man in the moon lay beside me and combed my hair until it came away in tumbleweed clusters. I told him I’d rather lie here, and trace a dry rot Andromeda on the ceiling than go back again, and again. I drank one glass of cheap bourbon, and then another. I closed my eyes and nothing changed. I still love him, I still love him, and I drank another.

The man in the moon took my hand and we travelled together back to the home I left when I was ten. Swinging a lunchbox of browning apple slices, we lay beneath that never-ending sky and promised not to promise anymore. I watched hearts crack open beneath the leaking tin roof, inside the unpainted brick. I told the man in the moon all the rooted secrets of my dandelion lungs. I tugged away the tubers until the scar tissue ceased to heal. I shall never wake up, I said.

I still love him, I still love him.

He took his tea with two bags and five sugars, man in the moon, and he ate dinner at midnight. He did pre-labs under boab trees, smoked the marrow from limp cigarettes in the rain. He smirked, but never smiled, and he laughed with every crease and pore and artery. One night, under a liquor hum he told me, I am too much in love with being young to grow old, and too in love with living to die young. This is the great tragedy of living, he said, and then he kissed me as if it didn’t really matter. I took that origami palm, folded along the lines until it was a stuttering crane.

I said to the man in the moon, I never loved that boy.
I said, I bury him in an unmarked grave in every beautiful place I visit.
I said, I’ve forgotten his name and his face.
I no longer count his eyelashes before going to sleep. I have decided not to want him anymore.

I stood in front of the mirror and practiced saying I don’t need you until it was true. I stood in the bathroom, held my chin high and put on lipstick seven shades too red. I don’t need anyone.

I turned away from the tequila boys, man in the moon. I pushed away their hands, and I tried not to say that I missed him just as much beneath the dripping mascara and the glass slippers which shattered and bled me dry. I tried not to say that I missed him with all of my cobwebbed nervous system and my anchored bones and my helium soul.

Each night the man in the moon returned. At first he was a will-o-wisp, but over time he became heavy with all that I gave him. Each night, he watered the dandelion inside my lungs. I watched a magpie swallow whole a sleeping worm beneath a boab tree where that boy used to sit.

I said to the man in the moon over and over again until the sun rose and the tide came in and the tea went cold and the toast went stale between my teeth: I don’t need him. I wrapped my heart in fleece and flannelette and I got myself through the winter. I picked myself up off the shower floor and somewhere in the hallway between the bathroom and my bed, I let myself forget that I had begun to miss him the day I met him.

In the summer I was bidding him farewell over the din of cicadas, the ice-cream melted over our hands too quickly for us to eat. The mosquitoes sucked blood from the tips of my fingers, and I let them. In the garden at three in the morning, I kissed goodbye the taste of cask wine on his tongue and misplaced my virginity in the overhanging shadow of a wilting ghost gum. I traced the life line of his origami hands, and learnt I couldn’t read palms.

I sang songs in the dark about gold rooms and Ecbatan trees and the evening spread out against the sky, and he never understood but he listened and he loved and he pressed his lips like bandages against the places where my labyrinth mind had begun to burn through.

While he slept, I read a poem called I don’t know how to love you. I printed it on scrap paper with empty ink cartridges and I left it on my desk for him to see.
I wanted him to understand, man in the moon.

And on the last night, I burnt a citronella candle into the picnic table on the porch; made a palace of warm wax and locked him inside. The turrets shriveled up and the drawbridge receded; the wick kept burning. I wondered about the girls he had loved before me, and the girls he would love afterwards and if he would love them more or less and which was worse.

I didn’t want to ruin him, man in the moon. I didn’t want to leave; but better I than he, and better now than later and maybe girls like me with constellations of freckles and dandelion lungs and labyrinths for minds aren’t meant to love boys with white plaster hearts.

Everyone tells you, man in the moon, that one day you will meet a boy made of poems and coca-cola kisses. But no-one tells you how frightening it is to love someone all alone, or how letting someone else’s hand be what guides you in the dark can make you shiver with fear at three in the white wine morning.

As the man in the moon grew round and full, he began to shake his head while I made myself tea the way that boy used to drink it. I like it black with no sugar, but I saw his face in the leaves. I worried the constellation would fade if I stopped.

One night as I was drifting through the hollow moat, the man in the moon let go of my hand and began to float away towards the wax shore. I went to him, lay beside him and returned the skeletal kisses he had offered me when he was as insubstantial as smoke.

He was a will-o-wisp again, but now he was going rather than coming and he would not take me with him though I gave him my dandelion breath to revive him. You cannot go while I still love him, man in the moon, I said. Take my hand again, and never let me forget.

The man in the moon opened wide his pink lips, and I saw his own twelve dandelions. He spoke around them, and he told me dandelions were weeds that grew where they were not wanted. But still we feed them, and you still love him, you still love him. I know, my darling, but you are letting tin roof heartbreak stop you from seeing the daisies as they bloom. The dandelion in your lungs needn’t die, but you feed a weed which will survive alone.
And so can you.

Break away from the labyrinth: learn one day to live outside your mind. I still love them, too, my little labyrinth girl, I still love them.
I live on.

The man in the moon grew thinner and thinner: he was going, but he kissed my temple and he left me on the wax shore promising not to promise anymore.

You still love him, my darling, he said, you still love him, but you are strong like an Amazon. In your blue pickup truck up with one white door, you want for nothing. You smile in a second-hand sundress and you taste even the hard peach stone, though it breaks your teeth. Drink your tea the way you like it, stop looking for his ghost in the wings of paper cranes and the branches of boab trees. He is gone now, and if he doesn’t return, someone else will and if they don’t, then let your hair go grey in the sunshine rather than the moon. Stop lying awake at night, and looking for the skull beneath your lover’s skin. Tear yourself away from the wax castle you tried to lock him in.

You still love him, you still love him.

You live on.