Suzo says moonkids find their way to Sandpoint because they’re drawn to the tides. They like to be around something else that’s ruled by the pull of the moon. Colleen thought she came to Sandpoint because Crabby Abby’s was hiring and soft shell didn’t seem like such a bad thing to eat for lunch every day, but she’s willing to concede that maybe Suzo has a point.
At any rate, there are a lot of moonkids in town, which mostly Colleen likes though every so often it makes her crazy. She’s been here a year. She likes that Suzo lets her wait tables instead of keeping her kitchen side. Plenty of other restaurants keep moonkids kitchen side on account of the odd asshole customer who makes a snide comment about moonies putting him of his food. Suzo’s into jumping on stuff like that. “This is an equal opportunity place of employment,” he’ll say, “and at this point I’d like to give you equal opportunity to get the fuck out of my dining room.”
No denying it, though. Moonkids, they’re kind of stubby. On account of them growing up on the moon. Your muscles learn differently in moon gravity. Your bones form light like a bird’s. Used to not even be possible to make the transition, you’d touch down into earthpull and collapse like fast-melting candles. Too many fractures for all the king’s horses and all the king’s men. Way, way too many for Earth doctors to deal with. (Earth doctors are known for not giving a shit.) Now, though, they’ve got ways around it. They’ve got operations and stuff. Every moonkid’s got incision scars in the same places.
Colleen likes that her friend Tesla works for Suzo too. Tesla got promoted to assistant manager a couple weeks ago, because she’s so bomb with the business side of things. Encouragement is good for Tesla. The people side of things, she has more trouble with.
The restaurant is hopping today. Some obscure holiday. Some excuse for moneybags to wallow in a day at the shore. Big wellfed families sit around the tables and snork down crab bisque and get a total kick out of summoning, “Waiter? Oh, waiter!” The air droops with fish smells and the sweaty fervor of overtipping. Everyone likes reliving the golden consumer boom once in a while.
Colleen sloops between tables like a freaking old school rollerskateress. Shrimp poppers here, cod basket there. She
can recommend the most expensive thing on the menu in a way that doesn’t feel sleazy. She takes orders without a pad. The food is grody but the moneybags pay for service, for the anachronistic privilege of getting served, and the tips are spinning out like cotton candy and Colleen’s feeling on top of the world.
It’s been a year since she last stumbled and spilled someone’s calamari. A year since she overthought the business of walking in earthpull and smashed down and had to have two people haul her upright. A year since anyone watched her failing and tittered and edged away.
Colleen, you’d look at her today and you’d say, now there’s a moongirl who’s coping. Mostly, you’d be right.
Tesla isn’t doing as well.
The customer rush today, it means big tips but also big noise, and they’ve got a sous chef out sick and fifteen other things and all Tesla wants is to get the purchase order in but instead she’s smudging the e-paper with her elbows, biting eight of her fingernails at once. Tesla feels people staring even when they’re not. She starts to twitch. She picks her lips until they bleed, and then people ogle the chick with blood down her mouth and then she picks more frantically and a feedback loop gears up. Stop, Tesla, sweetheart, hush. Moongirl par excellence. Bones too frail for all the muscle, mind too frail for all the grief.
· · · ·
After work they go down to the boardwalk, horking up salt air to swab the deep-fryer smell out of their nostrils. Tourists are sparse here, their enthusiasm thinned by sparser raindrops. Tesla digs her nails into the sag of Colleen’s upper arm, pushes her nose into Colleen’s shoulder. Colleen imagines she smells like sweat but doesn’t pull away. Earthpull is fickle like a trickster
gnome. Sometimes even after months and months it sneaks up behind you and punches in your knees.
A mother with a whole flock of kidlets snotting behind her passes the two of them. Every single head in the flock turns,
eyes swell up with the witnessing of something other. Mama swats their heads. “They’re Lunarian, honey. You keep walking. You know what Lunarians do?”
Colleen appreciates how mom tries to keep her voice low. But she could polish up the explanation. Excuse me, ma’am,
we’re moonkids, she could say. Don’t let real Lunarians catch you mixing us up. Lunarian, fancy word, reserved for the fancy few who claim residence up on the cheeseball. I haven’t been Lunarian for three years and seven months. Want to see my certificate of dismissal? Signed by the head of the exam board and the council chairman and the CEO himself (that one’s probably a stamp.) With this piece of paper, we divest you of your homeland. Where you were born, it doesn’t want you anymore.
As the kidlets trot away Tesla whimpers, and Colleen nips two fingers on the rough of her elbow.
“Fuck em, Tes, you know?” she whispers. “Just keep saying it in your head. Fuck em, fuck em, fuck em.”
Moonkids, every now and then, they treat themselves to a little rage.
· · · ·
Tesla and Colleen, bestest friends, didn’t meet on Luna. Sat for the exams in the same hall, rode the same bus down to Earth, didn’t lay eyes on each other until they were poured onto the asphalt with fifteen other fresh chucked moonkids. Blinking in the alien sunlight, bus seat patterns still printed on their thighs. With their heavy torsos and brittle spiderlimbs. Tesla was tallest, Colleen remembers, arms startlingly long and a look on her face like she was moving pebbles with her mind.
They met. Their skin shivered, sixteen sterile years now swamped with hotness. “How about you?” Colleen spoke first “What’s your plan?”
“Oh. We have the same shirt.” Tesla flapped her spider arms. “Awkward.”
They all had the same standard-issue shirt, draped over their bodies like towels flung on spilled drinks, but Colleen
didn’t catch the joke until Tesla had already begun to laugh.
They hiked the beaten-down Maryland countryside, figuring out step by step just how much jack shit ten years of moon education did for you. Tesla can solve fifth-order partial differentials in her head, Colleen can recite a hundred places of pi like a bedtime story, but could either of them get hired as a sales clerk? You’re not really the image we look for in retail. Variations of that line droned out ad infinitum. Maybe if your legs weren’t bowed? If your spine didn’t crook? If your body wasn’t running down itself like hot wax and your eyes didn’t bore straight into the back of my skull?
In so many hack hostels clinging to plugged in towns, they lay on cotton comforters crusted to a shine. They discovered wine and how it improved their impressions of the assholes they’d met that day. “Yo, chicka, tell me,” Colleen polished her Earth drawl, “is it really made of cheese?”
“Man or rabbit?” Tesla snorted and smeared the nanopaint she was dabbing on her cheeks. “Man or rabbit, man or rabbit?”
In the latenight Colleen listened to the tiny noises Tesla made in her sleep. Whimpers from a tongue and lips newborn.
They never said anything about heading for the coast. Never talked much about any direction at all until one day they got of a bus and threw their heads back and inhaled weedy brine. Salt-fngered wind started thinning through their hair. A jewelryman on the sandy street clacked his tongue, booted them on their way with pale bruising eyes, but in a few blocks they found the restaurant. Flat-roofed Crabby’s, crusted with pre-aged kitsch. Suzo picked a red mole on his neck and looked Colleen up and down. “You can do weekends?”
Girl thought the question was rhetorical, took her three minutes before she remembered to answer, yeah. Yes.
In the gray mornings and clouded nights they put on loose clothes and go down to the beaches. They learn what it’s like to regret little things. They track sand through sublet rooms and wake up with tooth-sweaters and crud in their eyes. This thing, Colleen wonders, does it count? As a kind of living? Feels more like yanking free driftwood that waves have buried under sand. But what else would you call it?
· · · ·
Today Trespass joins them on the boardwalk. Trespass is Tesla’s younger brother, with the ignoble honor of being the second in a family to funk of the moon. Trespass is kind of a bamf. He named himself. He shaves the crown of his head and paints his face in bright white segments. He insults people in loud, clinical terms. He carries his moonbulk like bounty from a hunt and swings his fists often enough that no one’s fooled by the whisper-squeak of his voice.
And at moonrise? He sits on the sand and sobs like a girl.
He comes up behind them as they lean on the railing and claps a hand on each one’s shoulder. “Ladies. How does it shake?”
Colleen laughs and shoves him away but Tesla doesn’t move at all. She has her chin on her palm and her elbow propped on the boardwalk railing and she slides her elbow out so that her whole upper body sinks lower. She purses her lips and stares out at the ocean. The moon is out in the sky this afternoon, soft as an exhalation on a cold window. None of them ever look up at the sky but they can all feel it, feel the finger it brushes along the backs of their necks.
Trespass whistles a seagull trill. “Oh, big sister. You still sweating Guy McAdams?”
Guy McAdams is a rrriot shield of an Earthborn dude who slides his body through too small waves with too big flash. Guy McAdams wears a state-of-the-art repelling suit when the water is 72 degrees. But that’s perfectly Tesla, who has always liked falling in love with shiny outsides. Her crushes rail like silent storms and then dissipate so fast that Colleen doesn’t even argue anymore, just stocks up canned goods and rides them out.
Trespass, though, can’t resist a few digs. “Guy McAdams, that dude’s a human Pap smear. If Guy McAdams were a snocone favor, he’d be strawberries and shit.”
Trespass, if you couldn’t tell, is hellbent on milking every last drop out of his teenage years. “Dude, I spent sixteen years in front of a screen,” he tells anyone who listens. “Sixteen years, I got force-fed science like one of those foie-gras ducks. And now I’m free? Failing those exams, I swear. Best thing ever happened to me.”
What Trespass won’t tell you is that his score was zero point six points away from being a passing grade. One corrected formula, one fewer stray pen mark, and he could have made it. Could have gotten the gold confetti and a hand-drawn banner over his pod door—welcome, Scholar of the Lunarian Research Academy! Pillar of our scientific society, jewel of our education system, Mom and Daddy’s golden boy. Welcome, welcome!
What Trespass won’t tell you is that for the first three weeks after he came down to Earth, he sat on the bathroom floor in Colleen’s apartment and shivered. Turned the shower head on, and of, and on.
Tesla’s curled up inside her funk and not coming out to play, so Trepass turns to Colleen instead. “Hear there’s a new girl turned up? Out of Station 65, I think. I heard she went around to Suzo’s looking for work.”
Colleen snorts. “A seal could get work with Suzo.” She stretches her arms out and pokes Tesla’s shoulder.
Two middle-aged women mince past and gawk out of the corners of their eyes. Their lips purse into little bouquets of well-isn’t-that-unfortunate. Trespass rounds on them.
“What you looking at, colostomy bags? Yeah I thought so. Get the fuck away.”
· · · ·
Here’s the deal.
The Earth isn’t fit for much anymore. Everyone’s given up growth cold turkey, which means they seize on development like an ex-smoker chewing pencils. The moon helps out with that. Luna, her airtight cities full with scuttling hordes of washed out researchers, working like spastic cogs in the breakthrough machine. Hacking away at the mystery forest while they wait for the real trees to grow back.
Except no one’s yet figured out a way to get people to work so hard they don’t have time to screw. Even mondogeeks get the pole in the hole every now and then. Plenty of those poindexter fetuses end up down the chutes where they belong, but sometimes someone gets a bee in their bonnet about being parental, having a family. So you end up with moonkids. You can keep your moonkid, superfun pet that it is, until it turns sixteen. Then they give out tests. The ones who pass get fitted into the machine. A nerdlicious parent-and-child cog set, how adorable! The ones who don’t—who choke during the multiple choice or blank out during the neural net scan or just maybe admit during the oral exam that there’s a part of them that’s uncertain, that wonders—they’re out. The population board picks you up by the scruff of your neck and dropkicks you the two hundred thousand mile ride down to Earth. The moon doesn’t give a shit where you go after that. You sucked the moon’s tit for sixteen years and had the gall to turn out stupid. The moon never even looks back.
Moonkids are lucky enough to get screwed two ways. Inferior to the Lunarians because of cold hard calculation, and no one knows better than Lunarians that numbers don’t lie. Inferior to Earth people because—well just look at them. Limbs so breakable, veins popping out, fat pulling their torsos and thighs. The real Lunarians, when they come to Earth, they get on this high horse of sure I’m ugly but I invented those cosmeds you’re sucking down. Your interfaces, your genmodding? Where do you think that comes from, huh?
Moonkids don’t even get that. Moonkids get the illustrious task of trucking out slabs of beer-battered cod to shiny tourists who look at them like they’re furniture. Yes ma’am, thank you ma’am. Would you like fries with that?
And at night, they get the pain of watching the moon rise.
· · · ·
The next morning when Colleen gets to Crabby Abby’s, there’s the new girl up front getting the tour from Suzo. Wild long hair cascading down her back and apple cheeks that force her eyes into a squint. Her body jiggles, quavers all the time, and Colleen bites her lip in sympathy. She remembers how it was, holding every muscle tense, earthpull like an anvil dropped on your shoulders. When new girl sticks out her blue-veined hand though, Colleen reconsiders. There’s a flash in the girl’s eyes like spume from a motorboat.
“Ibiza,” she introduces herself. “Glad to be here.”
Colleen is bemused. New girl’s voice is deeper than she expected, raspy. Most moonkids their first year don’t speak above a squeak. Ibiza must be screaming to make herself heard. You don’t need to do that, Colleen thinks. We get it here. We’ll take care of you.
“I’m happy to have a job,” Ibiza says. “But I don’t want to be taken care of. It’s important to blend in, I get that. I’m gonna work hard.”
Suzo says, damn straight you are, and leads new girl away before Colleen can figure out if her mind got read. She shakes herself and follows.
New girl is harsh on the customers and harsher on herself when she makes mistakes. Colleen says over and over, it’s okay, that’s how you learn, and Ibiza snaps, no patronizing. I’ll do better. By the end of the night she can recite the whole appetizer menu from memory and when her shift ends she pulls a fistful of tips from her apron (the moneybags think it’s a hoot to pay with cash) and kisses the bills. “Check it. I’m rich!”
It’s only as the two of them exit into the evening that Colleen realizes Tesla never showed up to work.
· · · ·
Ibiza smokes behind the restaurant, cupping her hands around the stickarette. “I can’t stay here for long, you know?” Hot brightness in her eyes as she looks at Colleen. “I want to do something. Politics. Law. Back there they never told who was making decisions for us. I want people to listen to me.” The certainty in her voice is startling. Politics, law. Colleen tries not to laugh. But come on, who does that junk anymore? The Earth doesn’t know law. The Earth knows pleasure, pouring out of the fountain, and as soon as you get close enough to dip your cup you drink down enough to ignore the people who can’t get a sip. Politicians are sad gray people, turned on by drudgery. Colleen tries to picture new girl like that.
Ibiza slides her fingers over her forehead and flips her long hair away from her face. Tosses the stickarette away. “Course I got to stop looking like a gob of mud first. This job isn’t so bad for that. I’m gonna get rich quick if they keep making me cover shifts for that other moonie. What’s her name? Edison? What’s wrong with her?”
Colleen knows she should defend Tesla. She bites her lip. She watches the dark strands of Ibiza’s hair settle around her shoulders. Forces her eyes to move to the sidewalk, where the stickarette is dying like a star.
“It’s a new cycle.” Colleen shrugs. “Luna’s waxing. Sometimes that—she doesn’t feel so good. You know?”
“Waxing. Huh.” Ibiza rolls her eyes skyward in consideration. “Never thought of that.”
· · · ·
Bamp chicka bamp bamp. Party on the beach. Not a coolparty obviously, because it’s moonkids, but party nonetheless. Moonkids in bargain bin clothes that curtain their heavy bodies, stick limbs emerging coated in nanopaint, bodysnakes, glowing like so many anemones in the dark night water. On the outskirts a few drunk bodykite dudes whose standards don’t go much narrower than “bipedal.”
Cool or no, moonkids didn’t spend sixteen years getting educated for nothing. They spend their surplus smarts with abandon. They build music machines that wail like electric banshees. They synthesize party pills that sing you up into the clouds.
Colleen weaves through bodies, searching for Tesla. People call out to her, pat her shoulders. Hey, Colly, my girl. How does it go? I owe you one. You owe her one? I owe her three. Almost any moonkid who’s gotten here in the last three years, they’ve cried on Colleen’s shoulder. They’ve knocked on her door at midnight and been let in. Colleen halfsmiles, slides out of their grasp. She likes watching people braid together.
Trespass lurches up. His round face painted half white, half black. He pushes a beer into her hand. Cold. Condensation shocks her palm, makes her smile.
“Thanks, T. Seen big sister?”
His nose scrunches and paint fakes onto his shirt. “Not tonight. She’s in a dark phase, isn’t she?”
Tesla lives her life too raw, thinks Colleen. It makes her easy to love and hard to protect. One time she sat on the beach for two straight days. Let the tide wash in and over her up to her neck, then out again, leaving her seaweed strewn and quaking. Then in. Then out.
Ibiza has been crowned queen of a circle of sand. Boys hold her hands and she swoops and bobs between them. “Fuck this pull,” she crows. “I’ve got an appointment next week. Just wait. I’m gonna get my bones scraped straight. I’m gonna get this bulk shaved off.”
Someone hoots. “Ye-ha. Like you got the credit for that.”
Ibiza bends an ear to her shoulder so all her hair flows to one side. Her eyes are bladesharp. “I’ve got ways. Just wait. I’m gonna get jewels set into my kneecaps. I’m gonna get chimes in my ears so when you go bla all I hear is music.” Girl wrenches herself away from the boys and collars one of the kite dudes. “If this dude”—she jabs his chest—“if this dude can get body-modded for fucking surfing, why would I ever sit around looking like an ugly lump? Fuck that.”
Kite dude looks bewitched. He is touching a moongirl and somehow it’s not disgusting. He traces a finger along Ibiza’s face and she smirks and snaps her teeth at him. “You know, on Luna, I was four inches taller? Now I’m squashed down.” She grabs kite dude’s hand and runs it along the lumpy fesh below her armpit. “All this? These are compressional folds.”
Colleen looks on with weird feelings beating mothwings in her chest. She thinks she should calm Ibiza down. She thinks she should inform her, those body mods? They’re for moneybags. Not us. It doesn’t do any good calling people ugly. What does good is keeping your head down. Making it from one day to the next.
But she can’t make herself step in. Watching a moongirl crow like that, some deep part of her grows honeywarm. It makes her think, maybe all these years she’s been aiming at the wrong target. Maybe there are other kinds of hope.
When Ibiza lurches forward and grabs Colleen’s shoulders and hollers, “How about you, C? Be a movie star with me!” Colleen grins and blows kisses to pretend paparazzi.
And then someone is yelling. “Here! She’s heeeeeere!” All heads turn waterward. It’s Tesla, bawling, pointing with both hands. Over the ocean a halfmoon is rising. Laughter simmers down. No one touches the volume but the music fades to a background lub-lub. Oh-oh, hey, Luna. Fancy seeing you here. What a small world.
Colleen walks over and puts an arm around Tesla. “Hey, honey. Shh.” Tesla leans so that her tears fall on Colleen’s shirt.
One of the kite dudes starts singing “Buffalo Gals” and Colleen hears Trespass growl. “Buffalo, motherfucker? You want buffalo? Buffalo fucking stampede.”
She turns in time to see Trespass haul out and clock a dude in the face, and then the brawl is on, and of course Trespass will win, though he will end it wheezing and choking on the sand. Ibiza has disappeared. Colleen scans the shore and finally catches a mini figure hiking up into the dunes, long hair trailing behind her, back turned to the moon.
· · · ·
“You must be disgusted with me.” Tesla fops her head into Colleen’s lap. Girls are on the futon couch in Colleen’s apartment. Just one room on the first floor, with an afterthought of a bathroom and a kitchen stowed away in one corner. But her front door slides open on to a sandy street, and across the street is sandy sidewalk, and past that is the roaring sucking spitting old man sea.
Colleen pets Tesla’s hair. “I’m not disgusted with you.”
“Then you’re a saint. I’d be disgusted with me.” The room smells like lemons and salt-stiff clothes.
This afternoon Tesla spent locked in the Olde Tyme Quik Mart bathroom. Some brashmouth Earth lady tried to pick her up in the oral hygiene aisle, and fragile girl freaked.
“She called me, lu-mi-nous be-ing.” Tesla rolls the words on the front of her tongue for disgusted emphasis. “She said something about devotion. She probably wanted me to go recharge her goddamn crystals.”
Colleen does a belly laugh that makes Tesla’s head shake up and down. “You should have—you should have done her star charts. Blown her fritzy mind.”
Tesla groans and reaches out to play with the rocks on the side table. Colleen likes rocks smooth, symmetrical, ovoid. She brings them home and finds that anyone who comes through the apartment likes to cradle them. Big as a finger, big as a fist. Earthbones in every color. Tesla lays a gray green pebble in each palm and rubs them with the hams of her thumbs. Holds them up to her ears like secret-listening. Brings them to her lips like a kiss.
Colleen’s distracted by a phantom pressure on her upper arms. She worries at the memory until she can place it—Ibiza’s hands at the party shaking her shoulders, pulling her close. She twists her head and presses her mouth to her armflesh. Why? Dunno. Seeking a taste. Like how the ocean’s touch leaves behind fingerprints of salt.
· · · ·
Suzo has a bunch of people over at his pieced together house. Ibiza shows up with legs like strange long twigs. Bulk still on her belly and ass but her hips all carved away. She walks like a newborn fawn. Cackles like a raven.
“Told you. I told you I’d do it. Ugly mugs thought I was full of shit, but I told you. Doctor had a big laser, it was over in ten minutes.”
They ask how she paid for it and she says, “Fill out the right forms. Smile at the right people. It was state of the fucking art, I’ll tell you that. I’m doing this shit right.” She flings her arms out, shakes her hips. “Next stop, torso! Next stop, shoulders! Next stop, face!”
Colleen stays out of the fray though all night she can feel Ibiza raking her with her eyes. Finally Colleen slips out the sliding door and stands on the sidewalk, leaning against the vinyl siding of the apartment building. Tesla’s funk is making her anxious. She thinks about how it’s like some people have a broken vase inside them. The pieces never quite ft back together.
She turns and finds Ibiza right up in her face.
“Sorry.” Ibiza looks the opposite of sorry. She nudges Colleen. “Hey. Uh. I wanted to ask you a question. I heard a thing about you.”
Oh, yeah. At some point or another everyone hears a thing about Colleen. She tries to look like she doesn’t know what Ibiza means and doesn’t want to. Like that’ll make the girl go away.
“What I heard,” Ibiza grinds the gristle of her question, “is that you didn’t take the exams.”
Yep, that’s what they hear. Colleen stands perfectly still and stares out across the parking lot. Then really slow she brings her head up and down.
It’s the first time she’s seen Ibiza struck silent. Girl doesn’t ask why not, but it’s in the cant of her head and the tap of her fingers, so finally Colleen answers.
“I didn’t want to do research. Didn’t want to be a scientist. Had some dumbass idea about art.” She laughs at herself, bitter sealbark.
Yeah, Colleen, you thought you were pretty freaking cool, didn’t you? Sitting in the exam room with your hundred classmates, typing dirty limericks into the answer screens. Hitting the submit button and sending in fifty-six pages of blank, blank, blank. You were going to stick it to the man, you were going to shuck of your parents and your friends and your whole little sanitized, climate-controlled life, all in the name of that skanky pagan god called art. You lovely fucking revolutionary.
But there were those first months when she arrived on Earth and found it so full of artists its eyes were turning tie-dye. When she tried to enroll in a narrative school and got laughed out of the admissions room. Because the truth is, Colleen, in this post-consumer post-information fever dream of a world, creativity is a vital fluid. The inhabitants of these cities swim in virtual galaxies. They sculpt their bodies into fairytale shapes. They lick the lines between reality and fantasy, body and mind, until everything melts together like ice cream.
All because of Luna. Gleaming white sacrificial lamb. It took three years for Colleen to get this. Research happens on Luna, so pleasure can happen on Earth. The beautiful Earth people, they don’t have time to concern themselves with the twitching blinking nerdmen from the moon. They for sure don’t have time for some flabby beach bum kids who wobble when they walk.
So Colleen falls back on what she knows. She soothes Tesla and she rolls her eyes at Trespass. She’s good at giving people a place to crash. She’s good at serving fried food. When she dreams of the moon her visions are colored amethyst and silver and midnight. The desolate gaping plains of home wake her up with tears streaming down her cheeks. She’d like to dig her nails into random people on the street. Moonkids know pain, she’d shriek to them. Moonkids could make beauty. But she doesn’t. Oh Colleen, no one wants to hear about that.
Ibiza grabs her wrist. “I knew there was something. Something.
You don’t go around moping like everyone else.” Her
fingers palpate up Colleen’s forearm. “You’re so tense.”
Colleen tries to pull away. She wants to say, Tesla doesn’t mope, but that’s such a lie. And it’s true about the rest of them too, how they shiver, how they cling. Sometimes it builds like sludge on her brain until she wants to fing them all into the ocean.
“I told myself I’d be different.” Ibiza scrutinizes Colleen’s wrist. “I knew I’d fail. I was never any good at that shit. I figured, might as well embrace it.”
She doesn’t say anything else because Colleen leans in and kisses her.
Somehow they are down the street and in Colleen’s apartment and on the futon. Ibiza’s hands are up her shirt, tracing orbits around her breasts. The moon is hidden behind clouds tonight, a milky haze that leaches through the window. Colleen reaches for Ibiza’s hips and peels her shorts down. The scar from her bone shave runs down the outside of her leg from hip to knee. The skin is sunken and gray. A line of pale pus oozes between the stitches and catches the moonlight.
“It doesn’t hurt.” Ibiza puts a hand on Colleen’s cheek and forces her eyes away from the wound. “Leave it.”
Her words rasp in a language Colleen doesn’t understand. Her long hair hangs in her face, brushes over her stomach. She must have been growing it for years on Luna, Colleen realizes. She must have planned to let it down. The clouds shift and for a moment the moon gets an eyeful of them, then is obscured.
Colleen clamps one of Ibiza’s legs between her own knees, shoves her other thigh up with her hand. Leans down, breathing hard, sticks her tongue into the dark. New girl tastes like clam juice. Which is to say salt water, and body. Ibiza makes a noise like a gull. Something shakes in her thigh. Then she sits up and pushes Colleen back. Her eyes are dark and liquid and Colleen thinks she sees something broken open. Ibiza licks her lips.
“You,” she says, “you could be Lunarian.” Her voice is thick with longing.
Colleen has thought about this every day for three years. She imagines filling in the exam blanks with serious answers. She imagines filling them in with her whole brain and whole heart. She can picture the congratulations, the celebrations, the cool close embrace of her family and the tunnels of Luna.
She shrugs at Ibiza. “No, I couldn’t. I’ve been here long enough to figure that out.”
Ibiza shakes her head stubbornly. “But you don’t know for sure.”
Suddenly the three years that separate them feel like ages. Three years of earthpull, of fighting, of just barely making it. They stretch miles wider than Colleen’s whole childhood on Luna. “If I had passed, there are other things I would never have known. I made a choice. I’m not really any different.”
And you aren’t either, she thinks. I didn’t see that at first. She reaches out to pet Ibiza’s shoulder. The other girl’s questions drive sadness into her like a wedge. Her mouth is dry.
Ibiza pulls away. “You are different,” she insists. The door that had cracked open in her eyes now so fast clangs shut. “We’re different.” There it is, back in her eyes, the tinge of distaste that makes her look more like an Earth girl than any body mod ever will. She is retreating and retreating like the tide. They sit in silence for a moment. Then Ibiza stirs. “I think I should go.”
She pulls her shorts on, inhaling as the fabric skates over her scars. Colleen doesn’t turn and watch her go out the door.
· · · ·
So. Sandpoint. Crappy little gum wrapper town. Undeserving of so many stories. So much love. But this not quite ground and not quite water, they own it. This sliver of country with its everchanging dunes and sinuous shoreline, it’s theirs. Knowing is a kind of possession, and they know where the tidepools form, where the weed is sold, which beachfront property owners don’t mind if you cut through their yards. Inconstant, of course, but remember they’re moonkids. They’re used to not owning things for real.
They were raised in homepods doled out by the government. The moon knows sleeping space and study space. The moon knows regulated recreation zones and one vacation day per month. The moon knows you are part of the machine, and it presses that knowledge in on you, it gives you disposable clothes and flavorless food and raises you with the knowledge that you too are only worth the research you produce, sweet little cogs of mine.
Funny, then, sick and sad, how souls find something to latch on to even in the bleakest environs. How hungry bodies are to belong. Little Lunarian kids, their brains know nothing is guaranteed, but their hearts cling like hermit crabs on driftwood as the tide comes in. December after they turn sixteen, the exams come. The wind whips up the water. January, the scores get mailed out. CRASH. Big waves slam down, froth and churn, and when the water recedes again, some of those crabs, those cogs, those bright-eyed girls and boys are swept clean away.
· · · ·
In the night Colleen flees down to the beach, kneels by the water. Sand collapsing all swirly around her legs. She puts her mouth into the sea and inhales and the salt water barrels down her throat like a bullet train. Burns tracks into her tongue. Girl falls backward, coughing. Her hair goes smack in the wet sand.
Turn her head one way, down the beach there is an old petrol car parked on the sand, people dancing like paper cutouts in the headlight glow. They kick up shells and gallop down to the wateredge to scream and spit. Turn her head the other way, up the beach is a dark slick shape of something. Big jelly or rotten tire or selkie skin. Salt and body, the ocean is nothing but salt and body. Colleen drinks sea water til her eyes ache, thinking with each suck, go ahead, put the fame to us. Just see if we melt and flow away. Gulps until her stomach revolts and then she pukes it up and walks the long way into town. By the time she reaches her apartment the sand has dried on her. She brushes it off like dust and climbs into bed sweet and clean.
· · · ·
On the phone with her mother in the pink hour between lunch and dinner rushes. Colleen leans against the sliding glass door and jams the minidisk to her ear. The connection is finicky, it balks and shuffles its hooves.
“Do you”—her mother’s voice flickers in and out—“a job?”
Her concern seeps down the phone line. No other question a moon mom could ask, really. No other way to tell: Are you okay? Are you functioning? Lucky Colleen lives in a pleasure park town where things like jobs still exist. Or else how would she explain to the mama, jobs mean goose egg here. We’ve moved on.
“I’m a waitress, Mom.” Like I tell you every time. “I bring people food.”
That faint noise might be her mother ohhing or might be the sound of two hundred thousand miles. Colleen waits for more news without expecting any. Machines don’t rearrange their parts too often.
“Oh!” Her mother’s thin exclamation. “The Sacaros!” Mr. and Mrs. Sacaro live in a neighboring pod. “They’re having a baby.”
Sharp pain as big chunks of Colleen’s chest erode into her stomach, until she takes a quick tight breath. Why does this news smart so bad? Why does she wrench open the door and fling the minidisk into the flowerbed?
Later she’ll apologize to the moon mom, explain how the connection fritzed out. And she’ll think of how Lunarians see her today. Wonder, if she saw Ma and Pa again, would things be different. Probably no, course not, how could you—but, maybe. Maybe there’d be a little hitch-pause between the moment of recognition and the moment of hugging. Maybe that hitch would grow wider.
It would be easy to call the dark breathless void between them space, but Colleen knows it’s way older than that, and still no one’s built a rocket that can cross it.
· · · ·
One evening Colleen runs into Ibiza on the boardwalk. Not like she’s been avoiding her or anything. Not exactly. When she thinks of Ibiza there’s an odd sensation in her stomach. Not embarrassment. That she’s sure of. More like disappointment. A little like grief. You talked so big, new girl, she wants to say. I thought you had answers. I though you could fix us like that hack doctor straightened your legs.
They stare at each other. Ibiza licks her lips. Colleen makes a motion with one hand and then stops, not sure where she’s going. She shifts her eyes to the people passing them, ogling them in the neardark.
Then she hears her name getting yelled. “Colleeeeeeen!”
Trespass, white faced under his white paint, hurtling up the beach like a cannonball. “Colleen! It’s big sister. Get her. Gotta help me get her.”
The two of them rush across the beach. No, not two of them. Three. Ibiza runs too. Colleen can feel her joints grind, her muscles fray. Times like this she hates her body the most. This earthpull, this aching flesh. How light we were on the moon. How we could have bounded over miles.
Tesla is walking into the ocean. The water is up to her neck. Waves rear up and come down over her head and she doesn’t finch, doesn’t duck, just keeps heading out. It’s almost too dark to see her.
Moongirl, come back! They scream through the seabreeze. Hurl themselves into the ocean. At first the water is something to fight, but then it gets deep enough that they can give themselves over to it. They paddle to Tesla, surround her, tug on her arms and kiss her cheeks. Big sister. Best friend. Why would you leave us? The fuck you thinking? That first moment when they catch her, Tesla’s eyes are dead. But she sparks under their touch and her mouth makes a smile.
“I’m okay.” Her lips shape the words but her voice is barely a sound. “I’m. I’m okay.” Her eyes snag on something beyond all of them.
Colleen and Trespass and Ibiza, they turn and follow her gaze.
A full moon is rising. It catches them off guard. In the ocean they fall silent, still.
· · · ·
Look at them now, only their heads bobbing above the water, four dark bumps breaking up the white shine of the moon refection. Cradled by the warm ocean, they don’t have to be moonkids. They could be round and embracing as Luna herself. They could be slender as the breeze that licks the sea surface. They could be regular Earth boys and girls, loving the feel of water on skin. They could be sea nymphs. They could be four seals.
Ibiza’s face is hard and set. She stares at the moon like a challenge. Trespass is quiet, his arms winging back and forth just under the surface. Paint runs down his face and makes a pool of smoke around his throat. Tesla lets out one gasping sob and chokes on sea water. Colleen reaches through the black water and finds her hand. They clutch each other in the darkness.
Colleen leans her head back so water creeps cool onto her scalp. Around her and beneath her, the ocean pushes with hands like continents. Push, drag.
With her head tilted, her vision is filled up with moon. White and brilliant and huge as the sound of blood in her brain. Huge as the pull of home. Can she see the cities on the surface? The pale tunnels that hash through the face of Luna? Can she see her parents sitting down to dinner, bloodshot, sunstarved, their fingers still tapping out equations? Could she notice the extra place setting at the table, the one they look at but never touch?
Oh come on now. Girl doesn’t see any of that. Doesn’t even imagine it. This time of night, with water lapping at her cranium, the moon is no longer a place. The moon just is, bigger than everything, her light flowing out and lifting them up until they are no longer even floating, their bodies have vanished, they are nothing but light.
If we cried out loud enough, Colleen thinks, maybe the moon would turn her eyes back down to us. If we beat ourselves against the Earth, if we let our bones break and our flesh split, maybe that would jar her memory. Her exiled children. Maybe she would fall in love with us again. It is not enough, this warm dry dust, these rocking waters. We will not last very long. Luna? Please? Hold us. Let us go. Let the squalls in our minds grow quiet. Let our bodies gentle. Let all the knots untie.