Fiction: ‘We ran as if to meet the moon…’

77 - We ran as if to meet the moon

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I don’t have any friends, so when I get lonely, I talk to the moon.

The moon can be a most brilliant friend.

Sitting there alone in the yard outside the orphanage, I’d look up to the sky and tell her all of my secrets.

She was my light, even in the darkness.

Sometimes she’d turn her entire face upon me and bestow her full attention. On those nights, my heart was full of gratitude. Other times she’d hang above me, thin and small in the sky, but still there to listen.

I could always feel her gentle presence.

But tonight she feels different.

She hangs above me in her slimmest crescent, and yet I’ve never seen her so large and all encompassing.

I sit on the doormat and tell her about the sick little baby that had died from fever earlier that day. She looks down at me as the tears roll down my cheeks.

He had been tiny.

Much too feeble to survive in the draughty halls and bare floors of the city orphanage. He was so thin when his mother had left him on our doorstep the night before. But we were children, and we were excited to have a baby of our own to raise. In the morning the matron pursed her lips into a tight line as she dabbed at the baby’s scarlet cheeks with a damp cloth.

Her firm voice sent us all running outside.

Like sheep scattering under the command of a sheepdog.

The grass was white with frost and the sky a looming grey blanket. Everyone gathered around the window to peek inside at the matron as we waited. I sat alone on the back step, listening to the baby cough as the matron spoke softly in a voice which we all knew during flu season.

The children grew bored and restless.

They began to busy themselves in their imaginary garden, fed up with waiting for a baby who couldn’t play anyway.

As silently as possible, I pushed open the door and sank away into the shadows of the hall. Crouching down so she wouldn’t spot me, I watched the matron from the doorway where a door had once been but wasn’t anymore.

There was a creaky floorboard which I carefully avoided, and held my breath as I waited.

She gently laid the baby down onto the bed and felt its chest with the palm of her hand. She didn’t move for a long time. Finally she leaned down and pressed her ear against his little chest. With a sharp breath which echoed off the bare walls, she stood up again and rushed out of the room.

I could hear a choking sob from the kitchen.

Everything remained still, so I crept forward to the bed and peeled away the blanket. The tiny hands were motionless, his fingers lying limply on the sheet. His eyes were closed and all the scarlet had drained out of his cheeks.

‘Hello there,’ I whispered.

His eyes didn’t open.

I felt his chest just like I’d seen the matron do, and felt nothing but the fragile bones.

There was neither breath nor heartbeat.

By the time evening had arrived and we had eaten another meal of soup and stale bread, the baby had mysteriously disappeared. The matron returned late. She said she had given the baby to the church so that they can look after him and find him a home.

‘But he had a home!’ cried Lisa indignantly.

‘Yeah, we would’ve looked after ‘im!’ chimed in Dylan.

The other children complained and voiced their disappointment. No-one noticed the dirt on the matron’s knees or how worn her pale face looked that night.

‘Settle down,’ she said in her sternest voice. ‘He’s in God’s care now. End of discussion.’

First the other children sulked, as children are wont to do. And then they talked and played, and eventually forgot their disappointment. Later that night as everyone slept to the rhythmic creaking of the house, I crept out of bed and made my way outside.

Under the silvery moonlight, I tell my only friend how we had lost our baby brother. I feel a tightness in my chest as I think of his little body and my heart hurts knowing that he’ll sleep forever beneath the ground where it’s always dark and cold.

The moon listens patiently.

She’s just a sliver tonight.

But the arms of her crescent wrap themselves around me and cradle me long into the night. Slowly, silently, the frost creeps up each blade of grass. Dew forms in my hair as I lay in her glowing arms. I can feel the cold seep down into my bones, but after a while I’m too numb to mind.

I don’t want to leave the comfort of the moonlight. Besides, there are no windows in our dormitory. It’s always dark, which makes the night seem endless, and even the sunrise doesn’t reach us in the mornings.

Eventually I stop shaking and the ache leaves my body.

I rise through the air, as light as a feather on the breeze, and leave this place to join my beloved moon in the sky.

            ~ Ekaterina

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