Woman in the Moon
(dedicated to Delonto Mae)

Terrie Relf

The seductively sweet scent of oleander entranced and distracted me at the corner of Gramma's house where the magenta, mauve, and pink-tipped flowers bloomed in the moonlight. I touched a delicate petal. When I brought it close to my face to inhale its intoxicating fragrance, Gramma said, "Don't touch the Oleander -- it's poisonous! If you eat it you'll lose your voice!"

"I'm not going to eat it, Gramma. Just smell it," I protested, amazed, even as a young girl, that something of beauty could be dangerous. I turned away from the flowers, away from the real or imagined threat of muteness.

Even though Gramma constantly reminded me that she was an old woman, she didn't look or seem elderly to me. Her waist-length blue-black hair cascaded down her back and over her shoulders; only a few strands of silver flowed through it.

"Let's walk around the block again," shesaid. At first I hesitated, then wanting to please her, agreed.

I squirmed as we walked but she didn't seem to notice. I often wondered why she wanted me to walk with her when she was in one of her reflective moods, but then so much about Gramma was a mystery. "There's a woman in the moon," she said, while I covered my eyes in fear of the cold white light.

"OK, Gramma, there's a woman in the moon." A part of me wanted to believe her -- still wants to believe her -- but I now know that belief, like so many things in life -- and death -- is an illusive power.

Gramma had powers. Her son, my father, called them "dark." She called them "light." I often felt that there was but a horizon's edge that separated one from the other. "You're a lot like me," Gramma would often say, and then become unusually still.

I shivered, feeling the moon's cold stare as I took one step and then another down the block. Sometimes I would try to count my steps, but I would often become distracted and forget what number I was on. How many steps had I taken with Gramma? Could I ever count that high?

As we neared the next corner, Gramma stopped in front of a familiar house, turned to me, and said, "You remember Lenore, don't you, Lily? This is where she lived," Gramma said, pointing toward a small cottage with an unkempt yard, where flowers lay without their sweet nectar, trampled by a recent rain.

While Gramma was reminiscing aloud, Lenore appeared in the front window, seated in a dark-green velvet chair, a grey Persian cat on her lap, its tail furled around the book she read. Sensing our presence, she set down her book and rose slightly from her chair in greeting. Her cat leapt gracefully from her lap onto the window sill, watching us through the window with iridescent eyes.

Passing the next yard, Gramma nodded to a man watering his roses across the street. Their eyes met, rested for a moment, then seemed to part reluctantly. He reminded me of a photograph on Gramma's piano, someone she had known long ago, someone I sensed she loved. I turned around to see if he watched our passage, but he -- and his roses -- had gone.

As we continued our walk, Gramma occasionally paused in front of someone's house, tilting her head towards it, listening. It was a while, though, before she stopped for longer than a moment or two and spoke.

"And you remember Bernice -- don't you dear? How I miss our card games!"

Gramma leaned against the fence in front of Bernice's house. A strand of ivy reached for and clung to her hand. She removed it gently, so as not to break the stem, then sighed, "How I miss my friends."

Out of the corner of my eye, I watched as Bernice appeared the door, holding the screen open just far enough to beckon us inside.

I shivered again, feeling a familiar call, from whom I wasn't sure.

"You should have brought a sweater," Gramma said, as if a sweater's warmth could protect against this penetrating chill.

We came to the empty lot just around the corner from Gramma's house where I had spent so many afternoons alone. I would lie on my back, watch the play of light and shadow through the overhanging branches of the lone Pepper tree. Oftentimes, I would roll the mauve-brown peppercorns between my fingers, imagining that they were magic.

Gramma wanted to walk some more, but this time she wanted to walk towards the ocean. "It's so beautiful at night," she said.

Longing to return to the house but unsure what would happen once we arrived, I shielded my face and eyes from the moon's presence. Gramma pulled my arm down.

"Look!" She pointed at the moon. I felt courageous for a moment, until I noticed how the moon's visage shined full upon me.

Sensing my concern, Gramma said, "Don't worry about it, dear -- she will guide and protect you."

"Who?" I asked, believing then as I do even now that Gramma was the only one who could take care of me, that she had been the one to bring me over when I drowned. I moved closer to her, reached for her hand as we neared the beach. The closer we came to the boardwalk, the tighter I held onto her.

"The Grunion are running," someone had said earlier, and I remember wanting to see the silvery bodies undulating in the moonlight, burrowing deep into the sand, their eggs foaming from their bodies like the froth of a wave. Did they really exist, or were they part of someone's dream?

The tides were high due to a sudden storm, but it was low tides that frightened me because they uncovered what was usually hidden.

I watched a wave as it neared shore, thinking how beautifully it swelled and peaked, curving around and under itself. Even as it tugged at my feet and the silvery sand gave way beneath me, I thought of how it would feel to be held in its embrace.

The water was cold -- brutally cold -- so I imagined that I was a seal playing out beyond the breakers, rolling over and under the surface with each oncoming wave, and then that I was a mischievous mermaid, playing hide-and-seek with my Selkie sisters far out beyond the storm-thrashed breakers.

But I grew tired of my fanciful thoughts, and rolled over onto my back to gaze full upon my first Blue Moon. I was in awe of her beauty resonating across the wide expanse of an indigo sky, her hair alight with stars which I traced with an imaginary hand, unable to lift my own. A curious tugging began in my lower abdomen and then a cold-heat coursed through me, exploding into a brilliant light. From somewhere far away, I heard a haunting melody, so exquisitely beautiful that my eyes began to tear. I followed the sound and saw an old woman lifting up a fragile form from its nest of tangled seaweed fronds and driftwood limbs. She held the child close against her, then leaned back in the water, disappearing from view.

"You're dreaming again," Gramma said, gently shaking my shoulder. I remembered times when she would tuck me into bed at night, pulling the warm flannel sheets up to my chin, followed by a series of multi-colored afghans that she had crocheted with my Great Grandmother and Great Aunts. Before turning out the light, Gramma would place a rouged kiss upon my forehead and say, "Sweet dreams and no worries -- goodnight."

"Don't forget my night-light, Gramma," I would reply.

"The moon will light your way, sweetie," Gramma would always respond.

I wanted to believe that her simple spells would work, that nightmares would vanish once they were remembered, and that the horrors within them were like stars -- an intense but faraway light.

But I know differently now.

I awoke in the middle of the night and Gramma was kneeling at the side of my bed whispering something in my ear. When she saw that I was awake, she said, "Go back to sleep, Lily, it's late."

"Then why'd you wake me, Gramma?" I yawned sleepily.

"I just wanted to see you again," she said softly, "before I go."

"OK Gramma, g'night."

In the morning, the aroma of lemon and poppy seed muffins roused me from sleep.

"Good morning, Sleepy-head," she smiled as I sat down at the table, watching her smear butter on hot muffins.

"I had the strangest dreams last night, Gramma."

She paused, set down the butter knife, placed her palms together, collecting her thoughts.

"Dreams are like the layers of the onion. When you peel each layer away, there's another and then another -- and still another layer," Gramma said.

"But then there's nothing left," I responded, perplexed. But Gramma just smiled at my confusion.

"No, Lily, there's more. So much more."

We continued to eat muffins and sip Earl Grey tea in a comforting silence. After a time Gramma said, "Are you ready to go back now?"

She knew the answer before she asked, but Gramma always said that I had a choice. I knew that my family might miss me. I had a few friends, too, but what I really wanted was to stay with Gramma at her house forever.

"OK, I'll go back -- but Gramma?"

"Yes, Lily?"

"I always knew you'd find a way to visit me when you'd gone, but I never thought it would be like this."

Gramma laughed heartily, throwing her head back, nearly losing her balance in the shifting sand.

"Will I ever see you again, Gramma?"

"Perhaps --" her voice trailed off as she turned to search the sky over the horizon's edge, the moon a pale grey in the approaching dawn.

"Let's walk a bit longer, Lily. The living can always wait."

© Terrie Relf

Terrie Relf was born in Coronado, CA, and grew up in La Jolla, CA, two blocks from Wind 'n Sea beach. Since she's also a Moon Child/Cancerian, bodies of water, phases of the moon, and dream scapes figure in much of her work. She is the author of two novels, Cafe de la Noche and The Missing Piece of Sky, which is scheduled for publication in 2002. An earlier version of this piece was published in Vision Magazine as well as posted to Pegasus Dreaming, a Suite 101 site.

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