The Sun and the Moon
a short story
by Mark Wildyr
by Mark Wildyr
Michael Lanier was my best friend and next-door neighbor. Had been since forever. At the El Rey Community College, the initials M&M didn’t represent chocolate candy but Mitchell George and Michael Lanier. Yet we were so different nobody understood why we were such buddies—probably me least of all. I was physical; Mike, cerebral. He nurtured me in the classrooms, and I protected him on the playing fields. I was a healthy, popular, golden-haired blend of many cultures and bloods; he was a dark-haired, pale, enigmatic Celt. We got along like the opposite poles of magnets.
If I could keep him out of his notebooks, he was a great guy. He had volumes of the things filled with his constant scribbling. They were part diary, part observations, and part poetry. How close we were was brought home hard when his cancer showed up last year. I hadn’t understood how much of a hole he would leave in my life, my heart, my soul. The last time I saw him was etched into my brain for eternity.
“Sunshine,” he had wheezed weakly.
God! “Hello, Sunshine!” That was his way of greeting me each morning. Thereafter it was Mitch or Mitchell, but always the first time of the day was “Sunshine.”
“Hi, Tiger. How you feeling? I saved you a place on the soccer team.”
He gave a shadow-smile. “Gimme a week, okay?”
Damn, I hoped I could get through this without bawling. I didn’t mind him seeing me cry. I just didn’t want him to know how scared I was—for him.
“Mitch, I want to give you some things, okay?” He nodded to the table beside the hospital bed. That sentence wore him out and tore me up inside. I damned near lost it when I saw what was there, going blind in spite of my resolution not to weep. The silver Celtic cross he’d worn around his neck for as long as I could remember lay atop a thick blue binder, one of his famous notebooks. “The cross is to remember me by.” He clutched my hand, surprising me with his strength. “The notebook is to know me by.”
“I know you, Mike. Better’n anybody.” I gouged my eyes with my palm to clear away the tears so I could see.
“Maybe. But promise me you’ll read it. Might take more than... once.”
“I’ll read it until I can recite it,” I swore.
“Don’t go nuts on me, Mitchell.”
Michael Roger Lanier died that same night. I didn’t know a jock could blubber so much, but that’s what I did in the privacy of my room. My parents understood and left me alone to work through my grief. Now the cross hung around my neck where it will remain forever.
I read through the notebook twice simply because I’d promised, sobbing over some parts and laughing over others. Someday he would have been an author or a poet or a journalist or all three. His writing reflected him so perfectly I felt we were reading it together. But I was still puzzled by his last words to me in the hospital. There was nothing in the book I didn’t already know except for one poem or poetic essay that I did not understand. He’d gone mystic like he sometimes did in real life. Determined to figure it out, I sat down in my bedroom and reread the piece he’d written just before they discovered the cancer about a year ago.
“Naught but a distant star, I am Venus glittering low in a sun-starved, moonless hemisphere, one of a myriad of astral motes slung carelessly across the distant cosmos.”
The hair on the back of my neck rose, unbidden, unexplained. I glanced around the room, freaked out by my own skittishness.
“The Helios of my universe cuts bright and blinding across my path, nourishing even as he eclipses my luminance with his green Phoeban fire. Oh, how I long for this enervating, nurturing Apollo, this Greek Charioteer, this beautiful Egyptian Ra, would not his glowing incandescence sear my caress, shrivel my kiss, and turn fevered passion to pale ash. Thus is Venus fated to orbit second in his precious vortex.”
I whirled about in my chair, convinced I was not alone. But I was. Hackles raised, I rubbed my puckered forearms as if they were cold. I swallowed and resumed reading.
“Then comes Luna to my sky, whose shimmering beauty merely bedims my glow with his shaded shine. This Artemis, this brother of Helios, this sibling of Eros, accepts my timid suit, my kiss, my shy caress, enriching my aura with a molten, milk-white nimbus.
“Selene’s time is tender, but fleeting. Then again Hyperion’s son ascends, obscuring my silver-footed king whose taste is oh so sweet, except… he is not my Roman Sol.”
I finished reading, uncertain why my upper lip was touched with sweat. Whatever the cause of my unease, it receded as I closed the notebook. I was alone again. Of course, I was; I had been all along. No doubt this was the piece Mike intended me to “know him by.” I’m a jock not an intellectual, but this was something he’d asked me to do, so by damn, I’d understand this piece if it blew out all the circuits in my feeble brain.
So I dragged my fanny down to the library and took a stool before the biggest, fattest dictionary in the place and started making notes. An hour later, I moved to a reading table to assimilate what I had learned. Venus, of course, was the second planet from the sun, moonless and the brightest star in our solar system. And Mike equated himself with Venus in his poem. Helios was the ancient Greek god of the Sun, sometimes known as Apollo. The Egyptians called him Ra; the Romans, Sol. Okay, so Mike had a sun in his heavens. So far, so good. And the sun turned off the stars.
Shit, he’d have my ass for thinking like that. The sun obscured the stars, or eclipsed them, as he put it. And it was both enervating and nourishing, like the real sun, I guess. It was necessary to nourish life, but if it got too hot, it drains you. So this sun made the planet feel inferior. Okay, got it.
“Then comes Luna to my sky.…” Luna was the Roman Goddess of the Moon, sometimes known as Diana or Phoebe or Selene or the silver-footed queen. And Artemis was another name for the moon goddess. Hey! The guy found himself a girl. The devil had fallen in love and never even told his best friend.
But wait! Something was wrong. I hauled out the notebook and read, “Luna bedims my glow with his shaded shine.” His shine? The goofball mixed up his genders. He meant her shine. I frowned as I reread something else. Artemis the brother of Helios? ‘Silver-footed king?’ Uh uh. Mike wouldn’t have made one mistake like that, much less three! He’d turned the moon goddess into the moon god.
The notebook slipped from my fingers as the truth struck me. Jesus! “Sunshine!” Every morning he called me “Sunshine.” Helios, the sun! He’d used sun in the Greek and Roman and Egyptian personifications. Among all the other nationalities flowing in my veins, those were the ones we had talked about most! And that “green Phoeban fire”…bright green fire? I had green eyes. And I would singe his touch, shrivel his kiss, turn his passion to ash!
Oh, my Lord! Mike loved me! Loved me in a different way! I always missed the hell out of him when the Laniers went to their cabin on the lake each summer, but his yearning went beyond what I’d understood. Eros! He mentioned Eros. That was the god of Love. And Apollo, he wasn’t only the Sun god, he was handsome and desirable. Mike always told me how handsome I was, but he did it in such a way that I never suspected. “Gee, Mitch, you look like a million bucks today” was one of his favorites.
“Thus is Venus fated to orbit second in his precious vortex.” Venus, the second planet from the sun. He knew that someday I’d get married, and he’d be second forever in my life. Venus? Wasn’t the she also the goddess of something? Love. He cast himself in the female role. Did I really know Mike Lanier so little? Was he a total stranger to me? No! I knew him better than anyone in the world, his family included. We shared secrets they’d never know.
How could I have been so dense? I picked up the notebook and sat back in my chair. How would I have reacted? Right at the moment, I’d give him anything he wanted! Come back, Mike, and I’ll surrender it all. Give you everything! That was easy to say, even easy to mean. He was in the grave. Back then I’d probably have exploded and told him to grow up.
Moving in a trance, I collected my notes and his book and left. Halfway down the library steps, I almost dropped everything. I hadn’t considered the second part of the poem! Luna…the Moon. Had there really been a male Luna in his life?
I plopped my butt down in the grass beneath a tree and opened to the poem again. “This sibling of Eros accepts my touch, my kiss, my timid caress.…” Yes, there was a Moon in his sky. And they got together. They... they made love. “Enriching my aura with a molten, milk-white nimbus.” Shit! The guy came with him! I fought with my stomach, amazed that it was a fierce jealousy gripping me, not revulsion.
“Oh, Mike! Why didn’t you let me know?” The answer was crystal clear and unerringly on the mark. Because he knew me too well. He knew me better than I knew him. Sadly, I went back to the poem. “Selene’s time is tender, but fleeting. Then again Hyperion’s son ascends…” Hyperion was a Titan and the father of Helios and Selene and Eros. “... obscuring my silver-footed king whose taste is oh so sweet, except… he is not my Roman Sol.”
Overcome by unidentifiable emotions, I closed my eyes and wept silent tears, uncaring who observed them. I almost sobbed aloud recalling the time back in high school when we masturbated together after a double date. I wish I’d known he wanted something more; it would have been easy to accept his touch at that moment. Maybe that would have banked the fire.
For the rest of the school term, I examined every male on campus through new eyes to identify the Moon to Mike’s Venus. So help me, I couldn’t find a fit. Finally, I questioned Mr. and Mrs. Lanier about the cabin, wondering if maybe Luna was from there. After all, “Selene’s time is tender but fleeting.” Still broken up over the loss of their son, they weren’t ready to return to the place where he’d spent his last decent summer, but they generously offered me the use of the place.
After thinking it over for a week, I accepted. So instead of working as planned after my freshman year, I headed to a mountain lake or “tarn,” as my poetic friend would have termed it, on a sojourn for the truth.
Coming had been a mistake; Mike was everywhere in the cabin. There were pictures of us in his room. His twenty-two rifle hung over the fireplace, his fishing rod and reel, his floppy hat, his very spirit inhabited the place. I masturbated that first night with a photo of a laughing, handsome Michael Lanier before me. What would it have been like with him in person? Then I tossed until I finally slept, waking once in the night to the eerie feeling of a presence in the room. Unafraid, I grinned lazily into the inky darkness and went back to sleep.
I used the Lanier’s canoe to visit everyone on the incredibly beautiful mountain lake. It was a smooth, blue-gray mirror about a mile wide set in a small valley crammed with towering mixed conifers. I found a few handsome people, but none I could picture as the “silver-footed king.”
Gradually, I wormed my way into the heartbeat of the small summer community to pursue my quest. I met a girl whose folks probably saved me from starvation since I’m not much of a cook. Julie was fun and knew all the summer folks. On the second Monday of my stay, I gnawed barbecue ribs while perched beside her in their lawn swing.
“You’ve met everyone.” She was doubtless exasperated I seemed more interested in others than in her. “Except Sam, of course.”
“Sam?” My ears pricked up.
“Sam Pritchard. He lives here year-round and takes care of the cabins over the winter. He always goes to visit his dad for a week or so after most of the summer folks arrive. He’s everybody’s handyman. Most of us can’t even turn on our own water pumps, much less repair them. So when everyone’s settled in, he takes off.”
“Doesn’t sound like my guy.” I relaxed muscles I hadn’t realized had gone taut.
“Your guy? You’re looking for someone in particular?”
“Just someone who was friends with Mike.”
“Mike was friends with everyone. He was a good guy.” I smiled and changed the subject. It was easy; we just talked about Julie.
Meeting this errant caretaker proved no problem at all. The next morning, as I was trying to fry my third egg over easy without turning the yolk into something like dried plaster, a knock drew me to the front of the cabin. Who in the hell could that be?
I opened the door and stood face to face with Mike's Artemis....