Butter Moon by Lydia Gwyn

Photo of carnival at night
Photo by Marcus Lewis on Unsplash


The full moon is bright yellow tonight. She watches it rise above the tree line as she drives, rising above the high school building, the water tower. She knows all the months’ moons have names but can’t remember the name for December. It’s not strawberry or harvest or salmon. She thinks it may be ice. An ice moon, but it looks more like a butter moon. A solid, creamy pat in the sky.

When she gets to Shadrack’s Land of Lights, she can still see the moon, though lights are everywhere as promised. There are blinking lights and synchronized lights and lights that spell out Merry Christmas like handwriting in action. But most of the lights are further on. She won’t be able to fully view them until she pays. She’s surprised the lights don’t drown out the entire sky or camouflage it at least. It’s like being in Times Square.

Shadrack’s is not the kind of place people come to on their own. It’s a family kind of place or maybe a car-full-of-drunk-friends kind of place. Not a single-woman-in-her-sad-Civic-and-dirty-windshield kind of place. But she’d just moved to the town and hadn’t made friends yet.

It’s also Christmas and she doesn’t want to be alone. The drive back home is twelve hours, and even though the college where she works gave her a week off, she’d only just left her town the month before and didn’t want to drive all the way back. She also didn’t want to risk running into Brian, the main reason she left to begin with.

She would have to look into what kind of clubs this town had. Maybe a running club or a knitting circle or a meditation group. Aside from work, she wasn’t sure exactly how adults were supposed to make friends.

She didn’t have too many friends back home either. They’d all fallen away after Brian came into her life. She found herself putting him before everyone, choosing a night on the couch with him over a dinner with her friends. Canceling bowling, movies, ballets, plays. When she backed out of the yearly beach trip, her friends stopped calling her.

Brian didn’t mingle well with her friends. It was easier to keep them separated. And he complained when she spent time with them.

Before long she felt she was losing herself in him, something her girlfriends, her mother, all women everywhere had warned about throughout the ages. She’d become a cliche, a little woman engulfed in a man, but he’d exerted some kind of spell over her, some kind of magic that gave him absolute control. And although he never physically hurt her, she felt abused by him. She felt shamed and degraded and yet she stayed with him.

It took her a long time to end things, an embarrassing amount of time. She should have ended the relationship the first time he criticized her clothing, asking her to change out of a dress that made her feel beautiful and into a pair relaxed jeans and a t-shirt. She should have left, when he told her he preferred women to look natural and that the mascara she used made her eyelashes too spiky. Her lipstick to was too bright, he’d said; she should wear Chapstick or nothing at all. She should have left the night she wore a cashmere sweater that she knew he thought was too tight. That night he called her a slut and left her at the restaurant, car-less and with the bill. She should have left him the first time he forgot her birthday and then yelled at her for being upset over it.

A couple of years into the relationship, her mother had foot surgery and she went to stay with her a few days to help around the house. He began calling her first night there, telling her that his ex-girlfriend was in town and maybe he’d go see the girlfriend if she didn’t leave her mother’s house and come back to his apartment. She stayed, and he called and called. She turned off her phone and was thankful he didn’t know where her mother lived and that her mother’s home was two hours away. Not being allowed to see her own mother? That was the last straw. She ended it when got back to town, over the phone from the breakroom of the public library where she worked. She was surprised by how quickly his mood changed from furious to helpless. He started crying, asking when he could see her, telling her he loved her and that they needed to talk things over in person. But she felt a disconnection as though whatever ties held her to him had been cut. She just wanted out, so she hung up and turned off her phone.

That’s when he’d started following her in his car. Sitting outside her apartment at night. Calling her work number and her cell number repeatedly. Sobbing on her voicemail. Telling her the stress of their breakup made him so sick he’d had to go to the emergency room. Telling her he’d been thinking of ending his life.

A woman she works with named Rose told her about the drive-through lights and how she takes her kids every year.

It’s better than the lights at the speedway, Rose had said. You may not get to drive on the racetrack, but the route is longer, and it’s cheaper. There are more lights, she said. You get your money’s worth.

She could imagine being friends with Rose. Rose is much older, but she’s easy to talk to and they’ll be seeing a lot of each other anyway since they work in the same department of the library.

She likes that Shadrack’s Land of Lights is a thing she can do without leaving her car. The cost is $12 per car to enter, and she supposes it would have been a better deal with a car full of people. She puts it on her credit card and follows the directions given to her by the man who took her payment. No driving over twenty mph. No passing. There’s a radio station you can tune into to enhance the experience. She finds the numbers on her car’s stereo. 87.5 and hears the beginning of “Marshmallow World.”

It looks to her like the theme this year is fairy tales. There’s a Snow White light display with the seven dwarfs, a Cinderella display. There are elves making shoes and Rapunzel lowering her hair down a blue tower. There are tunnels of lights to drive through. And a fake sky, full of fake stars. And an ocean of bubble lights, with chomping clam shells, scuttling crabs, and Ariel’s magnificent tail.

She can’t help but think of Brian and a time early on when they’d hiked up to the top of Roan Mountain at night, to the balds, where the grass bent like a thick bed of straw and you could see out into Tennessee on one side and North Carolina on the other. She’d never been there at night, but it was magical. They lay down in the grass and looked into the sky. There were more stars than she’d ever seen in her life and a silvery moon right in the middle of them. The view below almost mirrored the view above with house lights and street lights of each state shining gold and blue and white. Brian’s face had a strange and beautiful glow in all that cosmic light and when she saw him glowing like that, she believed she’d love him forever.

Rose had told her it would take a good half hour to drive though all the lights at Shadrack’s. So far she’s seen more fairy tales than she knows including some obscure ones she can’t figure out. There’s a gold donkey and a group of swans that turn into boys. A weeping girl whose hands disappear and then grow back. She watches from her car as the girl’s hands fade away and the come back, brighter, longer, better than the hands before. Then there are more classics. Red Riding Hood and the wolf dance around a Christmas tree. Jack climbs up a beanstalk. In Hansel and Gretel, a green witch tastes Hansel’s finger, lowering her face to the cage she keeps him in. Bowing her head over and over.


Photo of man in spotlight
Photo by Luis Morera on Unsplash

Lydia Gwyn
Lydia Gwyn is the author of the flash collections: You’ll Never Find Another (2021, Matter Press) and Tiny Doors (2018, Another New Calligraphy). Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in F(r)iction, Midway Journal, Anti-Heroin Chic, The Florida Review, New World Writing Quarterly, and others. A selection of her stories and poems is slated to appear in Ravenna Press’s Triples Series in late 2023. She lives with her family in East Tennessee, where she works as an academic librarian.

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