Dispute Moon

This is a story spelled out in crow-dropped twigs along a path winding into a forest . . .

Bright moonlight led the listeners to the Chapel-in-the-Sands on the night the Pilgrim told this tale.

‘The Parish Lantern, they used to call it,’ the Pilgrim said, eyes turned towards the white glow outside. ‘A light anyone could use for free. I was given this story by a venerable old woman from eastern lands full of tall trees and fairytales. She was a great traveller from her youth, much to her people’s surprise.’

The night her mother took the geese to market, Eva’s room sweated with heat. Eva could not sleep, so she broke the rules.

Eva opened the curtains in her room a crack, even though a full moon turned their path into a chalked and beguiling line. Brightness flowed over her fingers, weightless as intangible water. Her knuckles cracked with the sound of seeds popping.

Fine lines spread over her lit skin, bringing the sting of frost. This harsh joy was not meant for girls. She pulled her arm back inside its embroidered sleeve, thick and merry with the wool-worked dreams of her family.  Images of protection and memory reminded her what it was to be a maiden of their village.

She tiptoed back to bed, uncertain why she needed to be quiet. She slipped under the heavy covers and rolled away from her little sin. She was still a good girl. But a breeze fondled the hairs of her cheek, and the light waited in its grace, and her body asserted its absolute need. She left the stifling blankets, head down and barefoot.

At the window, Eva loosened the proper vestments of a maiden and opened the black-lined curtains wide. Eyes shut, she let the moonlight on her skin: a blessing, a cascade, a purge.

For the old inherited dreams squeaked and gibbered and fled, flimsy as ghosts at dawn. They had never been truly hers, merely lodgers beneath her flowered kerchief. Lashes flickering with nerves and hope, Eva opened her eyes. She pushed shutters painted with corn sheaves wide and welcomed the mothy night in.

Structures cracked inside her: some rearrangement of bones. Pain cleansed the stains left by the fled dreams. New spirits scoured her throat with each breath she dragged deep inside. She kissed the night air like a lover, drew it into her, drank its cool, forbidden potion.

Lungs still tingling with a scent of dark pine forests she would walk through alone, Eva tidied. She put everything back as it ought to be before her mother returned. The wild had called her and she would go.

‘Moonlight on a maiden leads to tears,’ the villagers said, and they were never wrong.

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