Authors: Susan Palwick
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For Jim Winn
Melinda Soto, four years old, looks out her bedroom window and sees the full moon, orange and bulbous, rising over the Washoe Valley. Melinda has seen the moon before, has listened to her parents explaining why it waxes and wanes, but she has never noticed the pits and shadows on its surface. In her picture books, as in the pictures she draws herselfâat school and at home, in bold marker or wavering pencil or the waxy smudge of crayonâthe moon is always purely white, as spotless and serene as a newly peeled egg.
Now she rests her arms on the windowsill, breathing the wildness of sagebrush and frowning up at the orange circle marred with dark blotches. “Mama!” she calls, and a little while later her mother, smelling of soap and sweat from mopping the kitchen floor, comes up behind her with a hug. Melinda could have gone to find her mother, indeed half expects to be scolded for not doing so, for interrupting kitchen tasks, but she's afraid to lose sight of the moon, as if only her gaze keeps it safe.
“What is it, baby?”
“The moon's dirty. Look. There are spots on it.”
She can feel her mother's smile, a warmth at her back. “That's how it always looks. You just never noticed before.”
“Can you wash it?” Melinda wonders if Mama could mop the moon, the way she mops the floors.
“No.” Mama laughs. “I can't wash it. No one can wash it. It's too far away. And anyway, those aren't stains. They're holes. Craters where things crashed into the moon. Rocks. Big rocks that move through outer space.”
at the moon?” Melinda is both astonished and indignant. Why would anyone want to hurt the moon, and how could anyone throw a rock that far?
“No. People don't throw them. They're rocks that fly through outer space. They're called asteroids. A long time ago, some of them crashed into the moon, and now it has craters. Like when your ball bounces in the dirt, and it leaves a little scooped-out place.”
“But you can fill the dirt back in.”
“Here you can, yes. But not up there.”
“The moon doesn't look right,” Melinda says, her words definite and her fingers clenched on the windowsill. “I want to fix it.”
“You can't, honey. That's the way it is. You can't get there to fill the dirt back in. It's too far away for mending.”
Melinda resists the urge to suck her thumb, a habit she has only recently broken. Sucking her thumb would mean she was a baby again, and surely only a big girl can mend the moon. She likes the word “mend”âher mother's word, a grown-up wordâlikes how the m sounds in mend and moon and Mama blend into mmmmmmm, into the sound for happiness, or for someone thinking, or for cleaning. Mop. But the more she stares at the pockmarked moon, the more the shadows look like bruises, like the painful places on her knees and elbows when she falls. “I want to anyway. I'm going to. Will you help me?”
Mama kisses her head. “As soon as you tell me how, I'll help you with all my heart. Let's get into bed now, all right? Sleep tight, Melinda. Sweet dreams.”
Melinda never finds a way to mend the moon, but decades later, all her friends will know the story of how she promised herself that she would when she was a child. It is, she often says, her origin story.
*Â Â Â *Â Â Â *
Sixty years later, in a dormitory at the University of Nevada, Reno, Jeremy Soto wakes up on the floor of his room. He has a headache, and his face is glued to the latest issue of
by a trail of drool.
He groans, rolls over, and looks at the clock. He remembers groggily that he fell asleep after lunch, thanks to spending too long in the CC chat room last night. Now it's five o'clock, and his English class starts in half an hour, and he hasn't even finished reading the book, which has to be the most boring thing ever written.
. A book about lonely old women: no wonder Very Bitchy assigned it.
He gets up and makes his way to his backpack, a journey of three feet that requires him to sidestep two piles of textbooks, three dirty socks, and an empty pizza box that's several days old. He isn't even sure which of the books and socks are his and which are his roommate's. On the way, he glances at the mirror over his bureau. His hair looks like stuffing coming out of a torn couch, and the trail of drool shines faintly white against his dark skin.
Pathetic. “This round to the Emperor of Entropy,” he mutters.
He rummages in his backpack and finds his copy of
. He's been using a crumpled copy of the class syllabus as a bookmark, which at least makes it easy to figure out how much more reading he has to do.
He checks the syllabus, checks his place in the bookâhe's forty pages behind
week's assignmentâand checks the clock. Twenty minutes to class. This is not going to work.
The logical approach would be to skip class, but VB has a strict attendance policy. He's already used up his three allowed absences. Any more will hurt his grade, which isn't exactly great to begin with. He could always hide in the back of the room and hope VB won't call on him, but since she's one of his mother's best friends, that's dicey, too.
He speed-flips through
wondering again why he signed up for this section. What was he thinking? That Very Bitchy would go easy on him because she's known him since he was three? They've never liked each other. Mom still tells the story of how he bit VB the first time she babysat and tried to get him to eat spinach.
Literary spinach, with a hefty dose of beets. His friends in other 101 sections are reading, like, two-page essays and newspaper columns. Very Bitchy has them reading fucking endless British novels about old ladies.
And Mom's coming home from Mexico tomorrow. He's already gotten her postcard; she sends one every trip. One to him, one to VB, one to Aunt Rosemary. Rosie's not really his aunt, but she's Mom's other best friend, even if she and VB don't get along much better than he and VB do.
Mom prides herself on finding the perfect postcard for each person. Jeremy's shows sea turtles swimming past coral, probably because he had a series of pet turtles when he was a kid, although they kept dying. Lame, Mom.
Her neat, tiny script covers the other side.
Sitting at sunny poolside. Great food here: you'd love it. Just met guy your age, Percy, who likes CC too. He was impressed that I'd read some issues. His mom won't go near it. I told him I couldn't talk about the discussion boards; that's your territory. Snorkeled with turtles like ones in pic. Miss you. Be good. Love, Mom
When she's back home, she'll call him to have lunch, and maybe he'll be able to get out of it for a few days, but eventually, he'll have to face her. She'll ask him about English, and he'll tell her it's going fine, because he can't tell her that one of her best friends is the worst professor on the planet. And she'll ask him what he wants to major in and he'll have to say that he doesn't know yet, except that he knows he doesn't want to major in English.
And she'll ask him how Spanish is goingâor worse, try to speak it with himâand he'll have to tell her it's going even worse than English. He didn't have to take Spanish at all; he had four years in high school and managed to pass, barely. But when he was signing up for classes, Mom insisted that he take a Spanish conversation and culture class, so he wouldn't lose his roots.
His roots are Guatemalan, not Spanish or Mexican. He told her that. He even tried telling her that if she wants him to study his roots, he should be learning K'ichÃ©, not Spanish. That promptly sent her to the Internet to find somebody at UNR who taught K'ichÃ©, which promptly sent
into a speech about how he doesn't care about his roots;
the one who cares about his roots, and if she cares so much, why doesn't
learn K'ichÃ©? Why can't she let him be an American? Isn't that why she brought him here?
And she said that it was important for him to learn about where he came from, and he said fine, and did just enough research to figure out that if your birth parents were Mayans who spoke K'ichÃ© and were probably slaughtered by Spanish-speaking troops funded by the CIA, English and Spanish are the
languages you'd want to study.
And she said, yes, she could see his point, but English was required in college, and Spanish was really useful.
How can she complain that they never talk?
And why'd he cave in to the pressure, anyway? He's the one taking the classes, and he doesn't need Spanish to graduate. Next semester he'll only take things he either has to take or wants to take. It's his life. He has to stop letting Mom control him.
He looks at the clock again. Fifteen minutes until class, and it takes ten to get there. Crap. Think, Jeremy. Panic is not your friend. Panic is the ally of entropy. That's what Comrade Cosmos always says, and he's right. There's more than enough entropy in the room right now anyway, with the socks and pizza box. Jeremy really has to clean up. He's good about picking up after himself at home, where he has Mom to nag himâalthough she's a fine one to talk, with her rocks and books and lists scattered all over the houseâbut here, everything winds up in heaps on the floor. Entropy.
In his psych class, which is required but much more interesting than Spanish, the prof talks about internal and external loci of control, how people with external loci are less mature than the others. Mom, Jeremy's pretty sure, would completely agree.
Maybe he should have lived at home this semester after all, like she wanted him to. But that would be caving again, and the dorm really is more fun, and if he didn't live on campus, he'd have even more trouble getting to class on time.
Ten minutes to
. Time to go. He hears Mom's voice in his head:
Get a move on, kiddo. Time's a wasting.
He crams the novel back into his backpack, shoves on his shoes, and does a quick visual scan for his cell phone. He can't find it. All right, never mind: VB takes a very dim view of phones in class anyway. But just as he's shrugging into his jacket and getting ready to sprint across campus, he hears the theme music from the latest CC movie, the triumphant “March of Order Restored.”