f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n: "Luna Moth" by Zita Consani

f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

"Luna Moth" by Zita Consani

No-one takes his job very seriously and neither does he. He passes the time reading Batman comics and Playboy in the light of a single bare bulb hanging from the roof, dragging cigarettes; drinking coffee. At midnight he will do his round, walk round the whole building, flash his torch into bushes, corners, doorways, onto the barred windows. Tonight it is almost unbearably hot. He’s supposed to be wearing his security guard uniform but he slumps in a vest and boxers and slurps warm Coke. If he stumbles upon anything, anyone, he can pretend that he, too, is lurking, looking for opportunity. Then when the intruder turns his back he can hit him on the head with his gun. Anyway, it’s always vagrants smashing windows or pissing and passing out in the doorways. Bloody nuisances. Like rats coming out of their sewers. Always nosing around where they’re not wanted. It’s almost too hot to smoke, even. He stubs the cigarette out, glances at his wristwatch, yawns, gets up. He’s not gonna bother with the pants. He picks up his torch.

::

I am hiding under a table, curled under it like a cat. I was not afraid before he came. I saw big steel bowls, so silent and silver, and spoons and spatulas hanging from the walls. I saw knives also and chopper things and wooden boards and rolling pins but I was not afraid because they lay still in the moonlight, quietly gleaming and breathing. I am not afraid of the dark; I am afraid of him and that small light in his hands. I have good eyesight in the dark, like cats do, and the moonlight is kind to me. I am watching his every move. I see his legs are bare but he wears sneaker shoes. He walks then stops; I see the little light flashing in white arcs across the floor. He coughs and I hear the phlegm in his chest. He clears his throat. I see him bending down and peering under tables. I curl myself up tighter, back against the wall. If he flashes that light into my face perhaps he will see only eyes and think I am a cat and leave me. I see his legs stop at my table; I see the dim shape of his head and suddenly the white light I hate blinds me.

They have covered me with a big white cloth like a tablecloth, all starchy stiff. There is no more kind moonlight at all. I lie perfectly still like an animal in a circus ring that has forgotten everything it has been taught while the keepers and trainers stand around me, discussing my fate.

‘What we gonna do with her?’

They say that every time I am caught. They think it is their job to take care of me. They are just doing their job, but they do not know who my keeper is.

‘What’s your name?’

This they also always ask me. But I cannot think properly to answer them when they are all staring and the lights are so bright around me. It is if I am in a play and have forgotten my lines. When it is quiet under the moon and trees I grow strong and can face this storybook world full of ogres and witches, trolls and angels with all its terrible woe and danger.

::

The man who found me is talking to a fat man who scratches the side of his face with a great paw like a bear. He is large and hairy and smells like stale bread and sweat and beer.
‘I came in to check everything like normal. I heard nothing but one window was open that wasn’t open when I checked the first round. So I came inside, not expecting to find anything because no-one can fit through those bars, only a cat or child. Everything was normal; I don’t know what made me look under the tables. Then I found her, naked as the day she was born. She hasn’t said a word. I think she’s psycho.’

The big bear man is scratching his stomach and I watch it fall over his pants like a lump of white dough. Then I realize he is the baker man and maybe he thinks I’ve stolen his biscuits or buns? I saw them all lined up under their plastic and decorated with white icing. I spied little cakes with chocolate icing and flowers with real icing petals and fairy cakes with silver balls. I looked at them and they twinkled at me. I wanted to take one of those fairy cakes and put it in my treasure box. Not to eat, just to keep and look at. But I knew they weren’t mine to have. So I only looked at them and loved them.

They ruffle through my bag but they do not throw all my things out onto the floor. I am glad. I know now that everything will be alright and that this time will not be very hard to bear. They will take me somewhere and give me clothes and a place to sleep. They will feed me and ask all sorts of questions, always the same questions and I will tell them what I must tell them and then it will be all over and I will be free again.

‘Where are your clothes?’

This is the question that makes me feel ashamed, like Eve in the garden after the fruit. Before that, out under the stars, I was unaware as she was, feeling only soft wind on my skin. If I try to explain that it is very hot, they do not understand. When it is cold I have sheets and cloths and robes, like the lilies of the field. I long to lie down on the quiet earth wrapped in my own soft sheet; but instead this stiff tablecloth, this hard lino floor, these bright lights trying to blind me and questions I find so hard to answer.

‘What the bloody hell am I going to do with her? I should call the cops.’

‘Call Glenda, she’ll know what to do.’

The fat man is taking out his phone and speaking on it.

‘Well I dunno, she won’t talk, she’s got no identification on her. I don’t think she’s right in the head.’

I wait quietly while they scrape up chairs to guard me. I’m good at waiting, very good.

Soon the baker man’s daughter comes and pulls back the cloth to look at me. She looks closely into my eyes.

‘She’s very alert. I don’t think she’s drugged. She’s looking straight at us, like she’s compos mentis. Can’t she talk?’

‘She hasn’t said a thing. Maybe she’s a mute. We have to take her somewhere – just take her to the hospital Glenda, they can sort it out.’

‘I’ll take her tomorrow morning. It’s late now. She can sleep at my place tonight.’

‘Jesus, Glenda you can’t do that. You don’t know what kind of maniac she could be. If I call the cops they’ll come and pick her up.’

The baker man is yawning and scratching at his stomach and his head, then his beard. Glenda has her hands on her hips and stares hard at me.

‘I’ll take her home Dad. Look at her. She’s been lying like that without even trying to move or escape for…it must be half an hour since Dave called you and you called me. She hasn’t stolen anything, don’t call the cops. She needs to go into care. I’ll take her home and give her some clothes and food. I’ve got a sleeping bag. She can sleep on the couch and I’ll phone a doctor in the morning. He’ll have to check her and then we’ll decide what to do. Maybe I can find something out about her tonight.’

‘She might have lice.’

‘Or AIDS.’

I do not have lice. I can always feel when they are beginning to crawl over my scalp and I go immediately to Amy in the chemist. She is like an angel; she gives me medicine and almost anything I need.

‘Look at her hair. She must have chopped it herself. It’s so short I’ll be able to see in a moment.’

The baker’s daughter has long nails and she combs through my hair carefully, quite gently.
‘No, she’s clear. She smells alright. Better than you, Daddy.’

The man Dave who found me laughs.

‘She’s very thin but her skin is lovely, pale and rich, like cream. She looks like a snow elf.’

‘You better take her home then if you like her so much. She’s too thin for my bed, what about you Dave?’

Dave laughs and the fat baker man laughs and his stomach wobbles like a barely set jelly.

‘Well my girl, be the good Samaritan. I’m locking up and going back to dreamland.’

::

I have come home with the baker’s daughter. She has trussed me up like a turkey in the great tablecloth so that only my feet can move. She takes my bag and I follow her up the garden path. I can feel stone bricks under my bare feet and I shuffle behind her like a mummy risen from its tomb. When we are inside she switches on the light; with a little moan I turn my head from its glare. She switches it off and fumbles in the dark while I wait at the front door. She lights some candles; I smile at her when she comes towards me.

‘Come into the lounge,’ she says.

I follow her and sit down, as best as I can, on her couch. She opens my bag and takes out my sheet and white robe all entwined, so that one can hardly be told from another. She shakes the sheet open and out falls my robe onto the carpet like a ghost floating to the floor. Then she holds it up.

‘But you have clothes. Why aren’t you wearing them?’

‘It’s too hot.’ My voice sounds strange to me because sometimes I don’t hear it for many days.
She didn’t expect me to talk. I see in her eyes that she is startled, although she sets her mouth in a firm line and speaks strictly like teachers and mothers do.

‘I want you to put this on,’ she says. ‘Can I help you get out of that cloth?’

‘Yes,’ I say quietly.

She puts the robe over my head as if I am an invalid or a child. I long for her to leave, for them all to leave me be. But she is taking the things out of my bag and laying each thing next to her on the couch.

‘You have shoes too. Just one pair. And what’s this?’

My treasure box. Mine. Mine. Don’t open it. Just a winter leaf stripped of its flesh, all pale veins and lace; and some pearly shells oh and pebbles too don’t touch. She’s snapped the box open and shut quick as a clam, shoves it aside, then leans forward talking nice and slow.

‘Now what is your name?’

I watch the candlelight’s rich gold halo. It is an entrancing sight.

‘Well,’ I say. ‘Well sometimes I am Theresa, of the little flowers.’

‘Oh?’ she says. Glenda says. Her name is Glenda, I heard the baker man call her that.
‘And do you have other names?’

‘Sometimes I call myself Kitty, because I wish I could be a cat. Cats are quiet and free.’

‘But what is the name your parents gave you?

‘I don’t know.’

‘You don’t know.’

I am very tired now and I wish she would let me sleep. But she must ask questions, they all must. And I know, deep down, that I must answer them and tell them what they need to hear. So I wait quietly. I have grown so good at waiting.

‘But where do you live? You must live somewhere.’

‘I find shelter under trees and in churches, in people’s homes. Sometimes I sleep in hospitals, even jails. But I don’t steal. I don’t need to because I am always cared for. I am a lily of the field.’

Glenda sits back with folded arms, looking at me, her head to one side. Her face looks long and shadowy in the yellow, flickery light, like a witch’s. She is wearing high pointy shoes even in the middle of the night. I tell her that I’m not afraid, that I was not even very afraid of that man one night who held me down and the other one on top of me, pushing himself into me. At first I wanted to scream because of the pain, but I lay very still and then I began to talk to him because his ear was close to mine and, I tell Glenda, even while he was grunting I think he heard me. Soon it was all over and he wiped me down with my own sheet and they left quickly.
Glenda does not know what to say. She looks at me a long time and then asks, ‘Do you want some cold white wine?’

I shake my head.

She goes to the kitchen and brings back a bottle and a glass. I watch her drink a full glass without pausing.

‘Shew it’s hot. Isn’t it hot? I’m so thirsty.’

She pours herself another glass.

I am waiting. I am waiting for her to ask the question.

‘You spoke to him while he was…what did you say to him?’

Now I will tell her. Now I will tell her and then she will go because it is well into the morning. How many times I have told this story, deep in the night, when people listen best.

‘I remember,’ I say, ‘I remember running away once, from the police. They thought I had stolen something but I hadn’t. I was a little afraid; my heart was thumping like a drum in my chest but I flew in the wind’s arms. I soon lost them and then I slipped into a little church. I was very young then, it was many years ago, I’d never been inside a church before. It was very early in the morning; there were candles burning and I was alone. It was so very quiet and I felt utterly safe. I sat for a long time in that deep, deep quiet, looking up at the windows and at the beautiful people and birds and flowers in the orange and red and blue and green glass all quietly shining. And I began to understand that this was the real world, waiting for me, where there was no shouting or hurting or fear. I began to understand that the world I was living in now was filled with all kinds of dark evils that one cannot see, like dark shapes of sharks lurking under bright blue waters. It was as if someone was telling me a story, the real story of life. There was no-one in the church but me, yet as I looked up at the light touching the glass pictures alive, someone was telling me the true story. I began to understand that God would take care of me, as He takes care of the birds and the lilies, and that no-one could make me afraid ever again. And that is what I told the man who was doing evil to me; that God sees him and can take care of him and help him to stop doing evil.’

‘My God a loony saint,’ says Glenda. The bottle of wine is nearly finished. She looks so very tired and like an old weary witch now, all hollow eyed and haunted.

She blows the candles out. She wants to draw the curtains but I ask her not to. I am left alone at last under the moon’s large, soft smile.

::

Glenda wishes she didn’t smoke so much. It’s only seven-thirty and already she’s had three. The damn girl’s disappeared and she feels responsible. She’s phoned the local psychiatric hospital; they tell her not to worry about her. She’s harmless they say. But, says Glenda, she sleeps naked at night if she’s hot; she’s clearly in need of care. She’s in danger. Glenda has a headache and some psychiatric nurse she’s speaking to is infuriatingly indifferent. Put me through to your head of department, Glenda tells her. He’s busy, says the nurse. We can’t commit her, it’s complicated. There has to be…yeah ok, says Glenda. She puts the phone down. Well it’s not my problem either. She gets dressed for work. Forget about it, she tells herself in the mirror. She finds a blackhead and squeezes it. But so.. well not innocent maybe, but like a child. That snow-cream skin and large eyes. Just forget it Glenda. Time for work. Such large eyes, like moons. There is a quiet gentle mystery about the moon, just like this loony whatever-her-name-is.

‘I’m a lily of the field…I mean Jesus really what…’ says Glenda aloud. She rolls her eyes, shakes her head and picks up crimson lipstick. She paints, pushes her lips together, grabs a tissue and dabs. ‘I s’pose she was abandoned or something and lost her mind. And now she thinks she’s some kind of saint. Well, let her think it. Why shouldn’t she think it?’

She picks up her handbag, sighs, digs in it for her keys.

‘Sh-t my nail. Well, some people have to work my loony lily. You can flit around like a lunar moth with no place to lay your head but I have to look after myself. Ain’t no-one gonna do it for me.’

The door slams; she steps into the street, a car honks loudly at her.

‘O.k., o.k., keep your bloody hair on.’

She looks at her watch, bites her lip.

Then she quickly hails a taxi.