The Lunar Market of Lost Selves
by Olga Musial
My stake is always, of course, in the unmentioned girl in the plaid silk dress.
Remember what it was to be me; that is always the point
I had scrolled through pictures of the moon, and, as it was exclusively getting five-star reviews, I was determined to get there at first chance and try it out myself. Tonight, however, I wouldn’t recommend it; it is only beautiful to those who stand on earth, but from here horribly saddening, as it collapses into a crescent now and then, until it dissolves into the night sky. Its grey surface, dusty, and perpetually drab, luminates the earth in a blue haze, making one wish one’d never left. But I feel I own you a rewind; besides, it is too late to wish anything.
With early morning drizzle I fluttered around you in a circle, two clockworked girls, both in the way we spoke without opening our mouths and in the way our shoes tapped on the herringbone floorboards, tick, tack, as we panted heavily having just climbed up another staircase. It was the day of your show, and with each step your newly sewn-on wings lifted you a couple inches above the floor, still higher than I could ever wish to be. Our hair chestnut wool, mum’s bony chin and zealous eyes, glanced back at us from tarnished mirrors; I’d never been able to decipher that reflection whenever I saw one, whether it was me or you I was looking at.
The hallways were lined with doors, all solid and hand hewn, with so little space between them and the floor that no light, if there had been any, could possibly give a sign of its presence. No-one ever suggested the possibility of unlocking them, and you didn’t seem to take notice, either, as you dragged me through the seas of carpets without a halt. Two floors down and a turn left, mum’s door stood conspicuously ajar, whispering: I’m empty. She’s gone for groceries, but I didn’t care much for it as I’d already come to know they only locked at her arrival.
“We’re not to go in there!” – I cried, at hearing you wig excitedly:
“It’s not a rule, so it can’t be broken,” as you fiddled with the lock. Circling the room, you swung her nightstand’s drawers open, as if in search of a hidden treasure.
Because everything you said I believed, wholeheartedly, to be true, only now do I admit: you lied. There are many things that aren’t truths and can easily be broken. I shrugged at your revolt and sprang to my feet in the means of turning away.
“Come sit, come sit!” - you said, as you pushed the window open with a loud grunt. The wind pulled its drapes up and down again playfully, hugging your scraggy silhouette around the waist, and we were still sitting so when the night descended on us. I hunched over the wooden frame, and was sure to turn my face, like a blooming flower to the sun, towards the gleaming crescent. I had heard from other tourists (though I was only a tourist-to-be), that it had volcanoes filled with stardust, and was eager to see for my own. It was very distinct against its navy canvas, as it was known to me only second-hand, I admired it with a longing expression; there I’ll be happy, I thought, the very moment I get there everything will fall in place. I’ll ask, I thought, what it’s like to feel whole, because though it only is so maybe a dozen days a year, that’s still better than me. But the wait was unbearable, and the holidays, when I’d have some free time, not a day nearer.
The ballerina and her sister inhabited those endless corridors in solitude, corridors that were, in fact, entirely unhinged from reality. All it took to return was that pulled-up window, and the roar of cars waiting for streetlights to turn green; a reality in which we lived in a small, cluttered flat, north of the city centre, and for passers-by a square of glass, lit until around 11 and then, as darkness fell, even less recognizable amongst the crowd.
My ballet shoes are much too small now, and the shiny pink fabric slightly tattered; I have them before me as a picture I’d snapped in my head, from the better days, to hold it in my palms, like we did when we were toddlers, your jewel-like eyes and a tangerine peel for skin, shiny, and a promise of a flavorful heart. I can’t escape the shiny trophy you brought with you, that scored you a kiss on the forehead as mum ruffled your fluff of hair. There’s always something to be won, even so trivial as such a sign of affection, and I’m no good at competing.
You are frozen in the picture, preserved from time, while my hair now lays flat on my head in a boyish cut and my face remains pale enough to make me dissolve into thin air; until then, I’d been so full of you I could barely call myself my own.
Atop a wooden stage you stood confidently, chin up in the air, your glossy hair shining in the spotlight, and mum stood as well, with a grin so genuine it comes alive through the walls of time, though I must’ve imagined it. You bowed, along with the nine other girls on stage, as you all tiptoed down to the auditory, silent clicks of the pointe shoes on the theatre floorboards, the roar of proud parents overpowering your coach, in her fruitless attempts of announcing the next dancers. I had never felt so lonely among such a number of people, but then again, I suppose loneliness always takes on the more vulnerable ones from the crowds.
At the celebratory dinner, we talked about drunk drivers from the news, facing prison, or family friends getting divorced, or cousins who ‘oh, what a shame! I remember her as such a sweet girl!’ came out, and, though still welcome at dinners, became victims of stares and sighs, and occasional whispers.
We didn’t talk however, about each time you’d been weeping in the bathroom when I knocked the day before, and the day after, as well, and blew out your nose right after, in attempt to cover the crying; we barely talk at all, that is. I wish we’d surpassed that grueling crack dividing what people say and what they think; we are, after all, made from the same fabric, and that’s rare, even with siblings.
Scene 1, Act 1: Hallways filled with barriers between the people who are supposed to be my blood.
I had proposed speaking candidly, of any matter whatsoever, even if in the game or truth or dare, but that evening the offer was, once again, declined.
Mom lays out a roast chicken on the table, the kitchen cluttered with stacked plates and torn cookbooks: mosaic tiles, potted anemones. A small cloud reveals the sun, igniting the windows, and the rays crown your face.
“I got the recipe from your aunt, you know.”
“Yeah.” – you say, “I remember.”
Followed quickly by:
Telephone ringing in the distance pulls mum away from the table, ready to lean against the doorframe deep in conversation.
“It rings urgent.” – she says
It rang like every other phone call she’d ever received.
“Mom. I’m vegetarian. I told you last month at least.” – you mutter, more to me than to her. Soft wind is filling the drapes as they go up and down in unison with its whistles outside as you play with the cutlery, reluctant to take a bite.
“I am very proud of you” – she said flatly, directing the words not necessarily to you, but to the open space, as she hung up – “The performance. It was really good.”
“Thanks. I’ve been practicing.”
Barely visible mascara smeared under your left eye, that you’d managed to wash off before dinner. She spits out the script and feeds us with it, as befits an ex-actress retired due to two unexpected children (and as follows, the issue of money) as well as broken dreams of eternal abundance. Those meant to succeed already have done so. Clear signs, from the sky, weren’t there? But, oh, how I wished to be able to shed my skin so effortlessly, lose the self that invariably brought me back to reality with a loud bang, when I was younger.
“Next time, mom” – you’d say at the table, too often but still not frequently enough for her to notice.
Next times are too tricky to be taken for granted, and she never heard what you wanted to tell her. It wasn’t a happy family, but for a passer-by it looked a happy family, and that was all that mattered.
Dinner passed together with the sun on that cloudy day, when the remains of winter, lonely flakes lining even lonelier paths, brought a ring of the doorbell; you had ordered renovation, a couple years ago, but they must’ve been quite a hopeless crew, as they appeared at the door daily, with their muddy shoes and paint-splashed uniforms. An hour later they were gone again, but the blank wall (another one!) they had put up over the dining table, and splitting it in two, stands so till today (or so I think; I’ve not been there in a while).
The damage has been done, and the walls put up, and there was no coming back. Your friend came along with us on our daily walk through the same paths that made time feel coiled around us, not subject to change; I don’t remember her name, and for that you’ll have to excuse me. I only know her from your worshipful expression when she stood by the door, leaving the doorframe wet and muddy. If you could do anything in the world, you’d take her hand into yours, as she was very pretty and the hand fit perfectly, and you’d been waiting for the right moments your entire existence. But you were too innocent of a kid, and all innocence is lost once you come to understand the grief of broken lovers.
I had never seen mum either smile or cry, and the one time she did was on the same evening, by your door, and the tears that fell down her cheeks were not out of compassion but frustration, and helplessness, and yet another broken dream.
A sweet whirlpool of drizzle and gentle wind danced me through yet another sleepless night. Soft sounds of a piano resonated in the air, as you delved into another evening of practice; your pointe shoes tapped quietly on the floor, muffled, hidden from my ears pricked up by the wall. You took a quick break, ten deep breaths as a magic amulet before the next day’s tournament (you had them one after another, that time, and I was almost too proud to have you as a sister) and resumed the same spins I had seen in the theatre a few hours before.
It was a cheerful melody, and it succeeded at suppressing the aggressive tangle of thoughts at the back of my head; as a silent gesture of thanks, I mentally slipped two slightly tarnished coins from my pocket and put them down, kneeling over your hat. Taking another break, you pulled it from the very top of your head and the corners of your mouth lifted, forming an almost-smile. I lingered around, pacing, seemingly without an aim, to spectate bit more, and then went downstairs. The music was leaving me slowly, until it turned into distinct notes, torn by the wind before they were able to reach me.
I couldn’t bare the silence of the halls, the old-wood smell, shivers at the sound of a creaking stair; the music was sweet and smelled of warm afternoons and lured me back by your door. In silence, there’s always either grief for the past or fear for the future, and that fatal reminiscence of things we’ll never know.
I sat down, feeling the cold wall on my spine, and stretched my legs out on the carpet, dissolving into c-minor sunshine, in the country of merciless rains and bleak afternoons, and it wasn’t until that one evening that curiosity prevailed above all and I pushed to door open. I had never done that before; in the house of closed doors, it is hard to get anywhere.
“Oh.” – you peeked out, with your hair unkempt from the dance – “You could’ve knocked. It’s always open.”
“But it never is! It did come out great, the piece” – I said sleepily
“Thanks, thanks. How would you know, if you never knock?”
Clothes thrown around the floor, an array of dirty mugs and half-eaten biscuits on your nightstand, the wind puffing out the drapes as it slowly blew inside.
You returned to your chair, sat and put your legs up in contempt, with a fishing rod in hand, reaching far out of the window.
“Do you always just steal it like that?” – I asked
“No,” - your face drooped, serious - “I would like to, but I leave it up for the enjoyment of others most nights.”
“How thoughtful of you! I can only wish to be so. But what will you do once you have the moon to yourself?”- I said, startled.
“Oh, there are all kinds of wonderful things to do with it. I’ll travel to the very top of the world, where no man has ever been before, and it’ll be beautiful, and I’ll be happy.”
You turned your head towards the light, and spined the reel more vigorously than before, until it was too bright for me to look. What a strange sight, I thought. But was the earth not enough for you? It stuck in my throat until it went sore, and I never asked. There is a comforting sense of depth and distance in the closeness of the moon, I thought, a foreign brightness with endless paths calling from the sky. I wish we’d had more time, but pulled yourself up on the windowsill and carefully, one leg after the other, stepped out into the night. Your feathers whipped and snapped in the air, and yet I heard your shoes tapping on the wet roof tiles, until the sound ceased and left only quiet thumps of rain against layers of silence.
My hands, raw and fissured from holding the rod too tight and for too long, got a red undertone to them and I had to let go of it. Oceans and rivers of words flew artfully under me and wet the soles of my feet as I passed over their endless glare, waiting for the one last lift, firm and steady, that set my feet on the moon’s veranda. When I grow bitter from homesickness, I have only to glance over my shoulder, for the whole world to rise above the horizon; there are cities, and seas, and deserts, and there’s home, with lights flickering in its windows, but it’s far behind me, and I don’t want to look back. In the house of closed doors, there live only shadows.
Apart from that day, I had never seen mum either smile or cry, and even then, the tears that fell down her cheeks were not out of compassion but frustration, and helplessness, and yet another broken dream. The day after I’d fished for the moon, the sun rose brighter than ever. The day after, all earth welcomed me, and I was at home. The day after, I fell in love with the world.
About the Author
Olga spends most of her time in used bookstores. She is a writer from Warsaw, Poland. Her fiction incorporates the surreal into drab everyday.