Phases of the Moon
by Alice Towey
Edited by Danny Lore
Copyedited by Chelle Parker
815 words — Reading time: around 4 minutes
I found your red cardigan.
It’s the one you love, with the tiny metallic buttons and the sleeves that don’t extend past your elbows. You call it your French sweater, because it makes you feel like a Parisian. I always thought it was silly, a sweater that doesn’t cover your arms.
It was too late to tell you I’d found it. By the time I saw it, a flash of cardinal crumpled at the bottom of the hamper, you were already leaving Earth’s orbit.
I was late getting home, because I decided to watch you take off after all. I sat alone in the viewing deck until your rocket was just an idea in the sky, no longer visible, but I swear I still felt the rumbling of its blast in my bones.
Last week, you proposed. I still don’t know how to answer you.
I received your message today. I’m glad you made it safely and that you’re settling in. It’s hard to gauge emotions from emails, especially yours; your dry scientific training spilling even into your love letters. You spent two whole paragraphs on the technical specifications of the shuttle but only a sentence describing how you felt: “At some point, the moon became larger than the earth.”
Even so, as I read, I imagined the excitement in your voice. I pictured you sitting by the window, breath fogging the plexiglass as you watched our world shrink. You’ve been dreaming of the moon since you were eight; you’ve been trying to get there for all the years I’ve known you, the moon orbiting our courtship, a strange satellite. It’s odd to feel jealous of a celestial object, but there it is: I envy the moon your attention.
One of the buttons fell off your cardigan. I found it on the floor by the hamper.
You wore the cardigan a week before you left, when I treated you to dinner at your favorite Italian bistro; I was trying to remind you of all the good things about earth, in the hopes that they might counterbalance the moon’s enticements.
After green salad and pasta alla norma, you swirled chianti in your glass while I considered the dessert menu.
“Rachael,” you said, tilting your head like a crow. “I don’t want to worry about us while I’m gone, and I don’t want you to worry, either. I want you to know that I’ll always come home to you. Will you marry me?”
I lowered the paper onto the table.
“What’s wrong?” you asked
I placed my hands flat on either side of my plate. “You could stay. Then you wouldn’t have to worry about us.”
“It’s only a year!”
“A year is a long time.” I scraped my chair awkwardly as I stood. I didn’t even wait to order the cannoli.
Today, I bought thread. I took your cardigan to the fabric store, and the owner helped me match its bright carmine. “It’s a lovely color.”
“My girlfriend’s,” I said as I pulled out my wallet. “She doesn’t know how to sew. Can’t even fix a button.”
The woman laughed. “My husband is the same way. Where would they be without us?”
I almost said, “The moon,” but then I remembered cooking dinner for you when you were studying for your entrance exam, how I would listen to you rattle off facts and numbers as you ate. I remembered driving you to your first day of training — you were so nervous, I sang along with the worst pop songs on the radio to make you laugh. You wouldn’t have made it to the moon without me. And suddenly, that thought didn’t make me resentful. I’m proud of our story.
I tasted the words before speaking them. “Actually, she’s doing research at the international lunar station.”
The owner smiled. “Isn’t that amazing! Well, she’s lucky to have you keeping things together down here.”
Last night, the moon was bright enough that I could make out its craters and ridges. I know it’s silly, but every time it transitions from thin crescent to fullness, I imagine that it’s truly getting bigger, that you have new territories to explore every night.
I’ve been reading about the lunar mare — Mare Tranquillitatis, Mare Crisium. My favorite is Mare Cognitum, “the sea that has become known.” As I learn more about the moon, I’m learning more about you.
Perhaps the moon and I can reach an uneasy truce. She can have you for now, as long as she stays where I can see her every night.
In a few months, I’ll drive to mission control and wait for your shuttle to land. I’ll wear your red cardigan, even if my arms are cold. We’ll kiss, and I’ll tell you yes.
And there’ll be nothing the moon can do about it.