In the story of the lady in the moon, she begins on earth. In the story of the lady in the moon, there is a pill, an elixir, that keeps her breath from stopping. There is, depending on the story, her motive to spare the world of a man who should not live forever, or there is her naiveté, her childish impatience, or sometimes an accident. She flees or she is floating. In the story of the lady in the moon, there is only one ending: to live out her nights as a captive, over and over, as if some necessary penance, as if a sorrow to see a woman paper-thin against the lesser light.
The lady in the moon loved her husband, but one day she left him on the earth in order to fly into the midnight, the edges of her dress like a decaying moth’s arms. She wanted to live on the light of the moon. Or: The lady in the moon was banished from the heavens along with her husband. Alone with her sadness, she found the capsule glowing under a piece of red silk, and swallowed it, forgetting to save half for the man she loved. Or: The lady in the moon wanted to save the world from the reign of the man she had married, and so she stole the elixir of eternal life.
The lady in the moon wanted to listen to cicadas humming against the evening tide; she wanted to watch insects disappear into sunken parts. She said to herself, There are finer days than these. In the story of a woman who angles her face outward instead of down, the moon is an island where trees grow from rock and stones layer like waves. In the story of a woman who sleeps of wilderness and a different kind of emptiness—where might your weather be? she asks. She asks, for once, for more.
For after the earth began shaking and tree leaves sprinkled with dirt began to fall in a crinkly, untidy mess, and after cracks began to deepen, after shadows turned a violent shade of bone, the lady in the moon felt her gaze shift. And when she touched the red silk, the strangely lit square of fabric, stranger than anything she had touched before, she felt a quiver in her heartbeat. Her heart began to quiver, and she placed her hand on it, as if to say, here. Suddenly there were ladders to the heavens, giant wheels in the underworld, oceans to sail in the hollow of an emptied-out fruit. Suddenly the sky was a canopy.
The moon pulled on her body as it pulled on the water of the earth.
A deviation of celestial bodies: a variation. For there was no warning, no rearing, no years of implicit preparation. No one taught her to yearn for a space of her own. She swam across the midnight sea and alighted with a handful of shiny rocks. White quartz, black siltstone, fossilized ammonite. The loneliness of an emigrant is the soaking of light just before sunset.
For inside their earthly house, she’d mourned the empty jars, cried over the pile of buttons, grew melancholy from the unopened can of pickled lettuce. He had not known that in the empty shell of evening, the insects would trill Peng Chau, Cheung Chau, Tung Lung Chau… He had not known that instead of a visit, she would float as a moth, and then float on.
How to unsettle a compass? She asks, once more. Then she might know how to merge with the squid-ink sky and follow her body home. In dreams, the body slips in and out of secret places. To be captivated rather than captured. If the lady in the moon finds a banyan tree under which to rest, she will meet a hare and use his stone mortar and pestle to grind the pill into a fine powder with which to cover the earth, preparing it for sleep. For a woman is a builder; she builds two homes. One is an organ, the other she takes. If the lady in the moon were to ask questions of construction, if she were to ask for tools and then drown the blueprint, bleaching blue ink till it divulged blue tears. If she spent days with her feet steeped against a rock, cheek creased in the tidewater. If she gathered weeds, bramble, clay to mix with the pill’s ashes. If she wanted not to lose herself but to lose herself—
And the moon will come to her in dreams made of water, on shadowy afternoons, wrapped up in peculiar childhood memories. The moon is made of salt, quarried rock, the moisture of the monsoon season, blurry rainwater, an ever-changing coastline. Her husband will know her by the dirt under her fingernails, a telling sign. And the smell of the darkly cratered harbor, she will think to herself, knowing that gravity, magnetism, and the science of the universe cannot explain the unfastening of her bones.
For she was never the one intended to leave. It was her husband who was called to save the world from scorched lands and fiery fields, her husband who was given the pill, while every day the lady in the moon waited inside the walls of her house. After a while there was nothing left to mourn. And how was she to know the mangrove trees would be so damp, the rain so fragrant, the forests sunk in crepuscule fog and an inkling of another world? The exiled light was stewed inside her skin. For if it is not the man and his sinewy bow, if it is not the youthful sun gods, not the rabbit, then what it is, for the lady in the moon, is the smell of the blackened soil marred through her fingers and the papery leaves rough with salt. It is the bed against the glass, the sheets newly laundered, the knot of wrinkled chili hanging in the windowlight. It is the long walk home every night in unbridled darkness. For at night when she breathes in the last alabaster air, tinged with a hint of a thousand feral glaciers, and knows she is alone, it is the very fact of her lonely body traveling for days through bright celestial bodies, which were like moldy fish gleaming in the sky.