issue ten

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(4380 words)
Jennifer Trudeau
Surface Properties of the Moon
[Updated monthly on the full moon]

       It isn't even American, I tell her. If we take it, won't we be committing some kind of global felony?

We should trust anyone else to deal with this? Nixi returns. You've seen how governments handle this sort of thing. Heaven forbid ours should get their fingers on it. They'd turn it into the Death Star.

We stand together, watching it. A blue heron flies past, wings beating the air solidly, the only sound in the hushed evening.

Then where should we put it? I say.


       At the summit of Mt. Tamalpais, where it appears to totter, I rather feel like giving it a push. The surface is a deep silver powder that doesn't cloud up or fluff out when touched, but molds pliantly around the fingers. It doesn't cling either, not even when I bury my hands in it up to the wrists. The texture is slippery, dense, almost like fur. It is the color of gray matter and terribly satisfying to the touch.

What do you think? Into the bay? Nixi asks.

It seems like a fine idea at first, but only for a minute. What effect will sea water have on that fine fur coat? Plus San Francisco Bay isn't very deep, and there's perpetual marine traffic, and then the Bolinas Preserve lies just north of the Golden Gate.

I point this out. What if we flood the lagoon? We can't take that chance.

Audubon Canyon Ranch, a sort of wildlife preserve, sits beside the Bolinas Lagoon. In the spring, water birds and sea lions feed and breed in the mudflats. Two-hundred-foot Redwoods launch upward, their huge crowns filled with birds and nests. Egrets and herons at every stage of life are here: eggs, hatchlings, fledglings, sub-adults, slinky curves of birds, as graceful as feminine punctuation, vivid glyphs of some white language. Uncountable numbers of nests dot the Redwood crowns like giant fruit. The trees bristle with birds and angles of beak and leg and wing. The adults stand guard, wings held wide over the nests, making shade from the white sun. At dusk, they fly off to fish in the mudflats. I've always wondered if they ever return to the wrong nest.

No, I say again. Volume displacement might flood the lagoon.
Nixi sighs, facing the sunset. The deep orange light softens her edges.

Let's get going before the fog clears, she says. We can decide later.        
We push it like a stalled car. As it rolls, the bottom flattens a little.
I'd have thought it'd be bigger, I say, leaning into it. It couldn't have been like this when they landed on it.
I prefer to glide along controlling my own orbit, the Moon pronounces staunchly.
We jump back, startled.
It is how I circled the earth. Facing you. Politely.

She accepts our apologies with chilly, imperial grace. I suppose that's our own fault.
It is crucial, the moon tells us, to remember this at all times: a celebrity's privacy must be protected at any cost. It's one thing to be visible from afar, but quite another to be accessible. Precautions must be taken, so after dark we troop north along the coast to the bay cliffs at Point Reyes, where we build a fire and chat far into the night. When talk turns to Nixi's name, as it always does, and Nixi tells her about the Roman goddesses of fertility, the Moon regards her closely. Nix speaks quietly, eyes downcast. She's feminine and delicate and lovely, but I know the evidence she holds against herself is never far from her mind: the adam's apple, the voice, occasional facial hair. The texture of her skin. For these and other inconsistencies, modern medicine has provided partial solutions, but there is no remedy for the space where her uterus should be.

       The Moon makes fast, easy friends with Point Reyes, a peninsula which originated near Mexico and has emigrated northward hundreds of miles over the years, creeping along the San Andreas fault. The Moon will in fact grow to favor the whole west coast over the next few months because California shares her intimate understanding of geographical restlessness like no other terrestrial land mass. The only one to come as close is the Pacific Plate, surrounded by the ring of fire at the bottom of the sea, in the Pacific basin.

With the freedom of defection, says the Moon, she now has the opportunity to be an artist, maybe a poet. San Francisco is, of course, the natural choice for a new home for anyone beginning the process of self-reinvention. I ask, gently, about her decision to defect and she gazes, unfocused, at the horizon for so long I think she's not going to answer. When she speaks, she startles me out of a reverie of my own.

There are too many satellites anymore, she sighs. There's nothing original about the work, no reward in it. It's become tiresome and redundant and thankless. As a free agent, at last she might move freely about the solar system. She's been taking orders from the Sun all this time and honestly, she says, exasperated, enough's enough.

I want to know the fruits of my labor, says she. I want to understand them. It's a powerful statement in this place, a place of dense mists and unrisen clouds wending along the sharp shanks of the coast, soft cataracts of fog spinning. The tide and broken teeth of rock have made massive, eternal creatures out of cold salt and earth and fog; immense things made to live forever, things that have been here since before Christ, things that already cleave the sky. Things that were created to grow all the way to the moon.

Her huge dark eyes fix on them with affection, with pride.

I want them to know me. Before it's too late.


       Turns out the Moon is a brilliant mathematician. From her we learn more than we ever wanted to know about circles, sectors, spherical volume, multiple revolution speeds and intersections, orbitals and ellipticals. She speaks lovingly of her parentsÂ… Her father was an asteroid; her mother, like ours, Earth herself. I make a sound of surprise. We are sisters.

She's as sensitive and intuitive as any woman and straight away seems to sense Nixi's particular vulnerability, her Y chromosome. Perhaps she senses deep truths of the feminine nature; in this case, truth that even Nixi's own body does not know.

The Moon's presence - or absence - causes problems for the ecosystem from the beginning. Temperamental jellyfish become confused with no satellite to shift the waters. It's easily resolved - they and the other sea creatures can sense her directly, so the Moon deals with them singly.

The coastal fogs are the most notably compromised, because with the end of the tides, the fog dissipates. It isn't long before the Redwoods grow irritable. Soon thereafter, the sun gets angry at having been upstaged.

I do not negotiate with terrorists, she says.


       Physical symptoms emerge in the females of the species.

Since one of the Moon's great talents is reflection, it shouldn't surprise us to learn that she burns us at this proximity, but it surprises us all the same. We scorched along the genes so badly I think I can smell it, the ragged edges of my proteins destroyed. With any other molecule, the consequences might not have been so dire. But this chemical displacement went to the marrow of the identity. Our very constitutions were altered.

We didn't notice it though, for a while. By the time we had, there were other concerns.

Images are my native language, the Moon explained one afternoon. Dreams are chemically rendered. You are a pool, a sea of biochemistry, self-polluting and self-cleaning, as self-fortifying with your dreams as plants are with their chlorophyll. I am your sun.

Prolonged close proximity to the Moon makes blood flow reverse, an exquisite sensation like a good back scratch. Visions spontaneously appear when it happens, visions with the ill logic of dreams.

It causes all kinds of problems long-term, she says of that strange reversal of the blood. Don't get used to it. I hear her, but don't really listen; I'm concentrating on the strange pleasure in my veins. And the Moon seems to hear my thought, for she answers it wordlessly, visually: A 3-dimensional image of my body comes into view, revolving as if on a vertical spit. My circulatory system visibly jerks along, shining, scarlet. My heart beats. The view zooms in, and then the perspective is from within the blood. Miniscule glittering bits float everywhere. A horseshoe magnet appears overhead, and lightning-bolts flash from the magnet into the blood, which begins to glow. All the little glittery bits pull sharply up toward the magnet. Instantly I understand: iron in the blood causes the sensation.

After this, I notice a peculiar effect. Like a headache, only not quite. It makes me squint.
Direct contact with the Moon's surface directly influences the imagination. Normally the visions flow fluidly, fueled by proximity but if you touch her, visualizations lobe and swell and vibrate. In the background they play continuously like low music and run by on all sides in rivers, a theater of dreams.

It's a fascinating effect. I spend happy hours poring over it, trying to put my finger on the common ground between the Moon and these phenomena, between her presence and the vivid, ever-molting ideation. After a prolonged period in her presence I find I have trouble seeing; afterward I can't go outdoors for some hours. Normal daylight becomes intolerable, and after-images burn even my closed eyes. The Moon recommends waiting a few hours before going outside. She says too much of the direct contact can cause permanent blindness, permanent sleeplessness, all of it stronger in the female of the species. Plus, she says, there may be other problems.

The gravity of the Moon accelerates metabolism. This disrupts sleep, throwing off the body's "tides," the biological diurnal cycles, and they discontinue. Somehow this makes bodily hunger disappear. You weaken considerably but don't realize it because you take false energy from the magnetic effect, which I've taken to thinking of as my magnetosphere.

After a term without sleep, one enters a kind of ongoing hallucinatory state. These were expected occurrences, according to the Moon.

Only there are also surprises, things that have never happened before.

For example, eyes: the iris deepens and widens into a funnel, receding into the core of the eye. In some of us the iris simply burns away, leaving the pupil open and the brain visible through it, dark and pulsing. There's no pain, it's just very bright, and hard to endure opening your eyes. The visions, more vivid, never cease.

It's harder, once these changes have taken place, to really focus on the matter but I get as far as asking what seems, even in my compromised state, a significant question about the connection between these changes and contact with the moon, all directly influenced through the organ of the dreams, all happening, as far as we know, just to the girls - is it possible that this link is in some way creative, dreams and the uterus?
We understand more the true unpredictability of the situation when the Moon also develops problems of her own, and reacts badly to them. The polarity of Earth's women in simultaneous menses influences the Moon's own system, since all of us were made in the same image. Her volcanoes act up. New ones form.

Since she's subject to our climate now, there's the problem of mud, which she's never before had to face. She develops a standing pool of water she cannot get rid of, and a slender ring of stratocumulus forms around her equator: a nascent climate. She becomes inconsolable and will see no one for days.

Nixi is depressed because everyone else is bleeding.


       In the days which follow, there's a lot of debate. Some hold that the Moon doesn't belong to herself, that her original role was one of service. She's accused of abrogation of responsibility, of renouncing her Divine appointment, of being a Goddess whose abandonment is seen as direct damnation of her worshipers. We all giggle at this one. The Moon rolls about in mockery making tight little circles and stentorious grunts. We howl with laughter.

It's good to hear Nixi's laugh. There's no timidity in it. Her smile is the real thing, thrown wide open; it changes her entire appearance and when it fades, the smile remains in her green, unfunneled eyes. It changes the color, intensifies it. Even the whites look brighter.

When we're alone again, I ask her about the recent effects and her own body; she tells me there has been a rather profound change which appears ongoing, but more she will not say. I do not press.

       We've settled on a hideaway for the Moon: an underwater cove in Half-Moon Bay. Half-Moon Bay is seductively named, a golden crescent. When we went down to inspect it, our lady floating in the Sea - there was just no other way - the Sea was overwhelmed. I've always loved your work, she said. How great your influence has always been!

The continental shelf offshore at Half-Moon Bay abruptly drops several thousand meters. By comparison, the San Francisco Bay is thirty meters at its deepest. Great white sharks hunt the shelf ledge because so many whale migration paths follow it; when cows calve they stay close to shore, away from the drop-off, to protect their young from predators, but most adult whales swim the depths. The Farallon Islands rise from the water a little more than twenty miles west of the Golden Gate. Once this part of the Earth was the shore, says the Moon. She herself fits nicely in the sea here, where it's deep. Once she's in the water, my physical symptoms lessen. I remain aware of a faint buzz; the magnetosphere, but the bite's gone out of it.

I note the change with dismay.

News of the Moon's defection spreads far and wide. Betelgeuse even drops in at one point; she and the Moon's father went way back. Nixi and I notice the blinding light of her arrival; we're in Amoeba Records on Haight, shopping, when the blaze flashes. I look up, expecting nuclear attack, but nothing explodes. The light's gone by the time we go through the checkout with an original print of First and Last and Always.

We're properly awed when the Sea details the visit for us - how friendly and grounded Betelgeuse is in person, if terrifying - her immense size and heat would scare the pants off anyone, especially the water-based. All of the vegetation around Half-Moon Bay is scorched.

We hear the Sun was dwarfed when she went by (Betelgeuse is a thousand times her size), and was greatly displeased.


       The Moon grows homesick.

We visit often to offer support. She rolls upon the beach, inconsolable. The visions come in pulses then, bright at first, then dim. They hum.

There's been a change in her internal pressure from immersion in the sea, and it's dampened the activity of her volcanoes. Now she's second-guessing herself, whether she should have given in to climate-anxiety so early, chucking acclimation and going straight to the ocean to subvert the loss. The lunar dust coat she was so vain of is gone, washed off in the sea and her rock mantle is exposed, delicate as an orbital, the bone socket around the eye.

I was rash, she laments.

No, we say. No.

I was rash, impulsive! There are no seasons here! I miss the seasons!

The side of the Moon facing Earth never changed when she orbited; her attitude was held in place, so she could have experienced seasonality only in the most limited sense, but I say nothing. My head throbs; I try not to squint.

What have I done? she howls. What have I done?


       We remain at Half-Moon Bay for two weeks. I justify it by saying the Moon comes first, she might need us. Nixi agrees. Our reasons for sticking around aren't compassionate. We've both noticed that our symptoms are stronger with the Moon herself in distress.

My first series of visions are almost all of nature, gardens and jungles, sweet bends of bamboo, vines like fingers, banyan and grove calypso. Heavy spider mosses, white and blue and yellow. The plants undulate and seem to communicate in a slithery plant sign language. Sometimes other moons swing through the sky. Birds of Paradise open their wings. Through the palm shadows things are always moving like dark, slow animals close to the ground. Very late Earth moves through the constellations and fills the heavens. From here, Earth looks peaceful.

Nixi is often dozy, eyes closed. A couple of girls from next door stop in to inquire after us then stay, ostensibly to chat, but it's understood: congregating like this intensifies the effects for all of us. The sensations are not as prominent as they are in the close presence of the Moon, but it's better than any of us can do on our own. The air brightens around us; we light up like fireflies.
One morning the four of us sit on the patio with coffee, taking the air in, when I recognize something about one of the visions.

It's a woman who sits alone in a wide, bright bedroom. Sunlight rides up and down walls papered with a yellow Victorian print. The woman roams the room or sit in front of the wallpaper, appearing to study it. Her finger moves over it; she holds her face close to the wall. Sometimes she rocks on the bed, arms crossed.

The sky is brilliant and bright. I sip my coffee. The girls rub each other's feet. In the vision, the quality of the light in the room runs through its spectrum: morning, full day, late day, twilight, darkness, dimness, daylight, morning. The woman moves about, stands with her hands over the small of her back, peers out the windows, sits primly on her bed. She writes in a notebook. Rocks on the floor. The light grows, fades, grows. The woman paces, rocks, examines the wall, claws at her own face. Her mouth widens in silent anguish. At one point she puts out her own eyes; at another, she tears out handfuls of her long, dark hair. I am captivated.

The events repeat and repeat as if trapped in some kind of echo chamber. The woman, the room. The Yellow Wallpaper. I know the story. Why's it here now? Did it come from someone's memory? Am I somehow perceiving echoes of the original idea, the first vision through which that story became part of its author?

I start paying more attention to the events rivering by in the visions. It isn't long before I recognize another one: another young woman, this one in breeches, deep in conversation with towering, masculine angels, running on a battlefield in chain mail, kneeling in a church, standing shackled in some kind of torture chamber, tied burning to a stake. I'd not remember her face if I saw it but I'm reasonably sure of the events of the history of Joan of Arc. Variations included fire, no fire, a tiny, bald head with blackened face, face white with fear and red with blood, eyes wide, a view of the sky, a view from within the flames. I look around to see if anyone else notices: Nixi is reading. The girls are kissing feverishly, their fingers twisted into each others' hair.
Most of the time I lie with my eyes closed, reaching around in the mind for my own visions, waiting for them to flower open and stroke me, cat-like, inside. I'm continuously frustrated by the dampening effect of the Sea; when the Moon is submerged the physical effect of the visions are muted, but I can still see everything. A naked woman lounges near a river among fruiting trees. Her amber hair reaches her knees. She drags her fingers in the water and rubs the faces of small, yellow-antlered animals. Her skin is deep brown. A tremendous yellow snake slithers through the grass, its massive body six inches high. It slips into the river, winds up a tree, loops out like a noose, seeps back toward the river. The woman watches it, stretches, lies in the grass, stands. She reaches for its head. She reaches for the heavy fruit.

Nixi has become lank and pale; she's really let herself go. I say so. She tells me I look like hell. Her voice is changing, it's lighter, smaller somehow, though it still sounds like her. The tenor and pitch are different. She seems unaware of this.

We make bonfires and sleep beside them. The combination of the heat of the fire too close to the skin on one side and the cold sand under me this close to the Moon is exquisite.

I can see in the dark now.


       The Moon's figured us out. She won't come out of the bay much anymore, and it's maddening. I try to be patient but I'm angry. Her knowledge of what we're up to has increased her feelings of animosity by a factor of ten and the effect on the magnetosphere is even more highly pleasurable, almost wildly erotic; I can hardly sit still. The heart races, races. Sometimes the Moon cries and rants and screams into the sky; at these times the buffer lifts and we all but shudder with pleasure. It's not just us anymore. There are gruesome, mangy little posses of women up and down the beach. How did they get here?

The visions run full-tilt and vivid now, nearly indistinguishable from the rest of us except that we're easily identified by our gaunt vileness while they are hale and healthful and robust-looking. Each of them originated from one of us, so it hardly seems fair they should be so hearty under the circumstances but indeed, they appear to drain our vitality to feed their own.

I try to run my hands through my hair but it is matted and full of sand, with a piece of a branch in it. I tug the branch free. Judas Priest, I say. Look at us. Look at you!

It's the sickness, a dirty, tangled Nixi whines, averting her eyes. A sickness from the visions. Vision sickness, like an infection or something.

That isn't a sickness, you ass, a clean, longhaired redhead hisses as she goes by, shanks and flanks all shining and taut, hair glossy. You're a junkie.

Well, that was harsh, I say when she's gone. I think they've started to turn on us.

Nixi begins to cry. Her tears stain her face in long, black angles around her eyes, upward and downward in diamonds, like a mime. They fall onto her breast or her arms and turn to tiny, funneling roses. I brush at them absently, shushing her.

We'll find a cure, I say, don't worry. When she looks at me, eyes welling, I see her green irises have begun to funnel. She's as unhappy as I've ever seen her.

       Most of us have stopped menstruating now. I talk to a girl from Monterey whose hair is falling out. It started in her nether regions, she said; now her eyelashes are gone. The female visions have multiplied. They populate the environment in layers. Speak to one and she'll turn to you.

Along the shoreline, strange animals graze. The beach has filled with scenes: streets packed with traffic, births in process, trains derailing, bonfires with flames of dancing women. The bodies of the dead decompose in fast forward, flesh melting from their bones. There's one of what I guess to be our gametes, a long line of ova, multiplying and bursting and bumbling along, furrowing, some of them, into uterine walls, disappearing or dividing or being replaced in rapid succession. The redhead stands near the water's edge, sipping from a martini glass, watching the mad menagerie.

Nixi stands unsteadily in the sand. I take her arm.

God, she says, her hand over her abdomen. I have such odd pain.


       There's been an intervention by the Sun's Boss.

The Moon's vacancy has been filled: a hungry young asteroid from beyond the Crab Nebula has her job now. His introduction wasn't the dramatic event the Moon's was, with orbital-disruptive collisions and Extinction Level Events. He nudged quietly into orbit, the only fanfare a brief, partial solar eclipse which was accidental.
He's a workhorse, eager to prove himself. The tides resume. With their return come winds that blow for two days. They smell of rain and earth and the sky. They tatter the visions and when they cease, the beach is empty.

The tide is high more often than it used to be. This is what a male satellite will get you; low tides aren't the gradual, subtle transitions they used to be, warm lobes of seawater slipping over the land like a great eyelid nictating - now the water just rushes out, or in, perfunctorily either way, all business, as if the land has been lifted from it or dropped in. The waves are so long and furious they reshape the beaches.

The Moon was in seclusion for a long time. We were given to believe this was intentional on her part; years afterward we learned that gravity distortion had thoroughly uncentered her. We mourned when we learned, from the Sea, how she had spent her last days, grieving, insane.

We should have known, Nixi cried the day we found out.

I hold her, my own tears falling on her hair. Shh, I tell her. She wouldn't come out.

We should have done something. We should have done something! Nixi clutches my arms. We had done nothing. Blue smoke had tightened and spun and embedded itself in her heart like a nautilus shell, golden ratio spiraling. We had all seen it unfold along both hemispheres, opening like wings, long wings with tails of living lace. They lengthened down the sides and up her center like a long, bleeding butterfly.


M  C  R

This work is copyrighted by the author, Jennifer Trudeau. All rights reserved.
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