The Moon. By J.B. Pick.
I can hear people moving, if they are people, and sometimes in the blue light a nurse starches past towards something I can never see. A call of mine would bring only figures from that dream of the cave of alligators, through the entrance to the cave sunlight streaming on a beach I can't get to; or the house with too many doors where animals which aren't cats swarm through every room.
The pain lives its own life, stronger than me, and will go on living when I'm dead, flying to another body where it will batten and grow fat. I can feel it brooding like an alligator which wakes up hungry. It's too late now to be afraid. Yet I'm afraid. In my dreams when I was a little girl if a monster came I would fling myself down on my face and the monster would go by and never see me. But now the monster sees me. It hangs over me and holds me in its claws. I can't see it. The monster is too big to have a face. When it digs too deep I'm sick. I retch and retch and only bile comes up. I can feel my stomach begging, "Stop! Don't be sick! It doesn't help me! Don't be sick!" but I can't stop, and the muscles heave and ache. I can't control them any more. I don't control anything that happens any more. The monster claws and digs and I am sick. There should be a light in my mind by which I see but it has gone.
A nurse is beside me, strange in blue light, a figure from the cave. When she speaks something glimmers and fades deep in the cave but through the arched tunnel I can see the sharp blaze of sunshine. Too hot? Oh no, warm and golden, where you sleep while the sea winks a flickering mesh of light. Too hot was somewhere else. A sticky heat that crushes hope.To move about in that place is to carry mountains and to bathe in sweat.
The nurse's voice is like a breeze that blows from memory. An intonation that means - what? I think it means home. It means the place where I was born. It's right that this is the place where I should die. It doesn't matter that I shan't leave here again. Where is there to go? Somewhere far off is a face, receding, a face I loved. Too much. I don't love now because the light has gone out. The mind begins to eat itself; they call that worry. If the light were burning I should know whether there is such a kingdom as love and whether there is such a person as me to live in such a place.
Once I could feel through walls and over infinite waves of air the warmth of love - it poured into me and welled round me as I moved, a sort of room of light, soft and round and melting, with blurry edges. In that terrible place of sticky heat the blight grew over me. Pain bit too deep for the mind alone and it took the body and I grew ill. Is that why I grew ill? No. The doctors tell me no. They tell me how but they cannot tell me why. They explain, but what they tell me doesn't explain. Did the monster just play with me before it struck, that burst of happiness a trick? I've no strength to think of that. Faces come and go. The madwoman shouting in the street. The grinning man who pushed me on the bridge. The thin face slicing me with questions. The children one by one. I will not think of them.
What does the nurse say now? She says I cannot have the drugs to ease this pain. She says I know I cannot have them. I cannot have the drugs. I cannot. She will not give them to me. Cannot! Will not! How do they know I called? I didn't call. They want to kill me. Why do they want to kill me? I didn't cry out. Did I cry out? I hope I didn't call. Since there is no one who can help I did not call. I think I'm weeping, but won't let them see. Only the monster can come near. Nearer than I am. Nearer than myself.
The monster knows my heart's not mine. The monster knows I cannot hear it beat. The monster stands between me and myself. I seem to fade and fall. Only the pain's alive.
The doctor's long face grieves me with grey eyes. Why do those eyes grieve me? I once knew something about eyes but I've forgotten. Something strange as if they changed the world. One minute the world was what it was, the next it flowered in explosions of fresh light. It burned too bright and I was eaten like a paper torch. The doctor's eyes weigh me on some scale he holds within his mind. My own eyes see a room that shines and I shine in it like a flower. I feel myself shining and the light spreads everywhere. I really was that light. But it is gone.
The doctor is saying something and his mask is stern. He's saying that now I've had the second operation I won't need these drugs. That's what he's saying. I've been taking them too long, he says. They gave me them to kill the pain. Now I must learn to do without them so that I can come back into the world. The pain will grow less, he says. They comfort me with words and know that words can't comfort anyone. I don't say anything, and try to smile. Perhaps the doctor is not sad. A long face is what he wears because it's his.
They begin to move a bag of bones. It isn't me. To move is to be moved. Better to weep than to cry out and remember. Now they torture me. Drugs didn't tame the monster. It was me they tamed. They tamed me while the pain grew strong. Far off in the sticky heat in that hospital where cockroaches crawled from cracks in the tray on which they bring your food I lived on drugs. Everyone there was groaning or shouting and the nurses shouted back. The other patients didn't have a tray because they were black. Because I was white I had a tray and cockroaches crawled out of the cracks and I could not eat. Now I'm here where I was born. It's not distance that parts me from myself. They opened me up and cut out intestines like strings of sausages and I lie here. seeing nothing, and would laugh if I could. It's night. When is it day and when is it night? At night there's a blue light. Sometimes darkness stares in suddenly. Night hurts the mind. What is light to someone who cannot live? Nothing ever said can stop the pain and faith is a candle that goes out. Perhaps it will come to me, the meaning of love.
I cannot have the drugs. I am alone without them. Messages don't fly through walls to me because I refuse them now.I have renounced my right to receive such messages. The ill are lost on the sea. Only time can pull us out or let us sink into darkness so deep it's indivisible. If I vanish how can that give anyone pain?
This evening Tom came with the children. All I said, I said to comfort them. The children looked so small and wanting to be somewhere where their mother isn't ill. How useless I've become. Tom's face has another face behind it, his face, seeking help. I try to show him I am here. I tell him that by looking, and I hope he knows. No other heart can help me now. Well, it is so. If I die tonight, tomorrow or tomorrow night, I was not anywhere but in the cave and he would have carried me through the entrance onto that golden beach if he could.
If I open my eyes there is blue light and a globe. Why is the globe so golden? Golden like a beach. I look at it with eyes that slowly become mine. So that is it! There's a window in the room. I can see the window. I can see through the window. Through the window is a globe. Golden. A face alight with silence. It's called the moon. The moon is a dead world. It does not take away the pain, and I weep. Instead of drugs they send the moon. If I cry out the nurse will come and in that soft voice tell me I cannot have the drugs. I can feel myself weeping but must not cry out. No, they did not send the moon. It comes. All the beauty that I lived in when my body was a soul: that weeps. I feel it weep. I do not weep because of pain.I do not weep for what is lost. I weep because of the moon. Its light is not its own and nor was mine. My light was not my own. I gave it, and it's gone.
The moon does not stare at me and yet I see its face as if it stared at me - a body that's a face, a face that's an eye, an eye that's a soul. The moon shines. Its light is not its own. Its shining is like a spirit message. No one sent the moon. Its message is its distance. Yet how close it is! It lives in a great sky-space, yet it's here. Too deep for any mind to go.
Into my memory comes a picture I saw once, a painting of Turner's, I think, a little painting no one seemed to notice. It shows the moon shining on the river and as you look there is a star beside the moon, just where a star often is, and the longer you look the more stars grow in the sky, like real stars in a real sky, tiny sharp specks, too small for paint. too sharp for imagination, a vision of space, so cold and comforting, a cold which isn't empty, and looking at the stars I see those waves on far rocks, hills with clear streams, and bubbles bursting on brown pools, a mouse washing its face before it darts, that sunny beach, green water, feet running on the sand, a sound like laughter. Is it mine?
As the pain grows I feel some movement out of the corner of my eye as though a word has been spoken that takes form and is gone. Is that what weeping means? I think if I fall asleep it may be too deep for dreams, like a well with moonlight shining on the water and if you draw it up the drips are light.
©1973 J.B. Pick. Please do not reproduce it without consent.
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