“We’re walking to the midnight service?” my daughter asked. “With all the hooligans out there.”
It was Christmas Eve. I looked out the window onto the streets of our Eastern Shore town. A mostly full moon moved in and out of backlit clouds. The Chinese were landing a rocket on its dark side and I kept singing a line in my head from Mulan—“mysterious as the dark side of the moon.”
“Parksley doesn’t have hooligans,” I replied, smiling at her faux foreboding. “Come on.” We added layers of coats and hats and headed out into the empty streets. Within a block we were laughing raucously and surely creating a disturbance for the neighbors.
“Maybe we are the hooligans,” Rachel said. In the light of that moon, lunatics perhaps.
A month later I was in a Richmond hotel watching the full moon once again as it hovered before dawn over an office park. A super blood wolf moon, the headlines had dubbed it, ludicrously. Although it had been astounding the night before as it rose like a banshee over Broad Street.
How strange to have that looming presence over us! So giant. So close. So far. A world of its own always within sight. Mostly inaccessible. Onto which we can project whatever mood or import we want. Bloody or brooding. Gentle or chilly. Ghostly or romantic.
How often has it splashed its reflected light over nocturnal moments in my life rendering them more indelible. The night the moonlight poured over a backroad hillside and I pulled my dad’s tan Maverick to a stop so that I could sit on its steaming hood and feel wildly adolescent and alive. The way it seeped between the streetlights of a darkened city street as I watched a troubled youth I was trying to help walk away. Always away. The house turned haunted. The girl turned luminous and irresistible. The ocean become God Herself.
The day of the Great Eclipse in 2017 I was staying in The Spur Hotel in Archer City, Texas trying to get a book written. Midday, anxious for distraction, I wandered down to the office of the hotel manager, who was a frustrated writer herself. “We’re doing the eclipse, right?”
“Yeah. Sure. Let’s go up on the roof of the old Texaco to watch it.”
At the appointed time we climbed the fire escape from the alley to the second floor, slipped through the iron railing and over onto the roof of the abandoned gas station that once featured in The Last Picture Show. The light had already skewed weird, like some great hand had put smoky glass between us and our star. We weren’t due to get the full display that they were getting in Nebraska, but it was noticeable.
We held a pin-pricked paper plate above an unblemished one and watched the shape of the unfolding drama in the sky. That moon, so mercurial in its effects, was pushing itself across the disk of the sun, stranging the earth below again. Daring us to believe that there was any such a thing as an ordinary day…any kind of light that didn’t suggest a greater light.
We marveled at the unfolding scene on the plate and on the courthouse square beyond. Then we recognized that it was still August in Texas and too hot to stay on a midday roof, even if it was partially celestially-shielded. We climbed back down the fire escape and back to our respective empty pages.
Besides, only hooligans and lunatics hang out on roofs beneath the moon, right?
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