Spring 2011: Three Fictions

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spring 2011

Arthur Carson

Will Pybern Was an Android Will Pybern was an android. Of this he was certain. Sure, he looked as perfectly human as any other little boy of about nine or ten years old. But he knew that he was an android nonetheless. Of course, nobody else seemed to know that Will was really an android. He was always careful not to behave in too superhuman a manner. When the teacher asked a question of his class, Will always made certain that he answered just a little ahead of anyone else and that he didn’t raise his hand for every question, just the interesting ones. He also made it a point not to regularly outperform his classmates in sports. In fact, sports often left him feeling weak-legged and out of breath, but Will just figured that this was a feature that his creator (whoever that had been) had programed into him in order to make him seem more realistic.

Will had a lot of features which seemed designed to add to his realism. Sometimes he would appear to come down with one of any number of human illnesses. Other times, he would suffer a very convincing approximation of an injury. The area just beneath his skin-like outer covering was filled with a red substance which was remarkably similar to actual blood (though Will felt that the exact color could have been a bit more accurate). The fact that Will so closely resembled a real human in so many ways let him know that he was a highly sophisticated android. The only people whom Will suspected of having knowledge of the fact that he

was an android were his parents. His parents always acted as though Will was their natural son, but this was certainly an act. It was possible that they knew the people who had created Will or had even played a part in his creation themselves. This last possibility Will highly doubted—Neither of his parents seemed interesting enough to have been involved in anything so exciting as the secret creation of a highly sophisticated android. Will’s mother worked as an editor for a furniture catalog and spent most of her time wishing that she made enough money to own the furniture that she sold. She had real taste, she said, just no way to show it.

Will couldn’t see what was wrong with the couch they had. His superior android mind had analyzed the couch and found it imminently satisfactory for sitting while playing video games. Will’s father, on the other hand, barely seemed to notice that they even owned a couch. He seemed to always have his eyes focused on the pages of a book (not exciting books about adventure, but books about excruciatingly boring topics like international law and the sub-prime mortgage scandal—whatever that was). Indeed, it was a wonder that Will’s father didn’t injure himself more often as he weaved through the living room without once lifting his eyes from the page. Will supposed that reading boring books must be the entire job description of his father’s career as an economist. No, Will doubted very much whether his parents had actually been involved in building their android son. More likely, the only secret they were keeping from him was that they had adopted him as what they thought was a human baby. Will spent a lot of time wondering about his origins. He desperately wanted to know who had created him and to what purpose. He would spend hours reading all he could about artificial intelligence— Books that featured androids in space battles were the best. But, for all the books he read and all the wild theories he formed (could he have been created by aliens and sent to Earth to gather intelligence on whether humans are ready to join an intergalactic federation or whether they should instead be destroyed?), Will was no closer to an answer. Truth be told, the main reason that he was so interested in discovering his creator had less to do with searching for his ultimate purpose and a great deal more to do with finding out if there were any

other androids his age who might like to be friends. Being the only artificial lifeform at your school is a lonely business. And, while the human children were all nice enough, Will always felt that he never quite belonged. The older Will grew, the more difficult he found it to keep his secret. On the playground, surrounded by ten year-olds, Will could have even shouted about his robot powers and everyone would have just taken it as a part of playing pretend. But as the years passed, the world of pretend grew smaller and the need for discretion grew greater. By the age of fourteen, Will found himself becoming less social with the other children. In addition to his need to keep his android nature a secret, Will felt that he had less in common with human children than ever. As the others endlessly politicked amongst the various cliques and desperately vied to be the coolest, Will couldn’t help but feel that such activities were beneath an android, that his sophisticated design was meant for something better. So he mostly kept to himself. He was never rude to anyone, but he kept his eyes focused on the pages of a book as often as possible. But there were times when books didn’t seem to be enough. Will met Melanie when he was almost sixteen. She was talkative, energetic and beautiful. And she seemed to like Will very much. Will would walk Melanie home from school whenever he could, listening the entire time to the sweet music of her voice as she talked. He listened as she complained of her algebra teacher’s unfairness. He listened as she told him of her plans to travel the world and see its wonders. He listened as she told him how much she missed her mother, dead of cancer. He listened and he said very little.

One day, as he walked Melanie up to her house, she turned and looked at Will in his eyes. Though he had always taken great pride in what a convincing and sophisticated artificial life-form he was, Will was sure then that Melanie would see right into his mechanical soul and he would be discovered. Instead she leaned forward and kissed him, slowly and deeply. In that moment, Will wanted to tell Melanie the truth about himself. In that moment, Will wanted to take her to bed. But when the kiss ended, Will simply wished her good night and turned to walk home. They didn’t speak much after that. When Will graduated high school, he was very near the top of his class, but not so near as to draw attention to himself. He had grown quite adept at blending in, a lone android in a crowd of human beings. At university, Will majored in engineering and robotics, desperate to understand the technology that had created him. He studied hard and took on independent research projects. But everything he studied seemed too rudimentary, so crude compared to the advanced construction required to create an android which so perfectly could emulate a human in almost every way. Though Will now spent far less time devising wild hypotheses regarding his origins, the feeble robotics technology he now encountered caused him to conclude that he had more likely been built by either a highly secret government agency with access to advanced technology or by aliens. Either way, he was unlikely to find out until such time as his progenitors either contacted him or until something in his own programing suddenly became active and let him know. All he could do was to continue blending in, to continue to live his illusory life.

Thus it was that upon graduation from college, Will took a job for a firm which helped to design manufacturing automata for car companies. The work was often dull and repetitive and it often occurred to Will that his android intellect might have allowed him to devise robots a hundred time more sophisticated than those his company built, most of which were little more than fancy ratchet drivers. But to excel was to stand out, and Will knew that he could never invite that sort of attention. Will lived alone. Though he was genial and somewhat social with his coworkers, he was extremely careful never to let anyone get too close. He read as much as ever, but while he used to read technical manuals and robo-centric science fiction, he now found himself increasingly interested in mysteries and classics—anything with human emotions and human interactions. His isolation was not easy and often he wished he was human. One day a coworker swore that he had seen Will’s exact double riding a crosstown train. For a moment Will’s mechanical heart leapt. He was certain that it had been another android from his same line, a compatriot with whom he could share the world. But, the moment passed quickly and Will dismissed the whole thing as a coincidence. Years passed. And while the robotics at Will’s firm were improving, they were still light-years removed from the exceptional engineering of Will himself. Will retired at the age of sixty and he still marveled at the extraordinary detail and accuracy with which he had been constructed. His skin had slowly grown wrinkled, just as if he was human, and his hair had grayed. But he wondered if the aches he felt were a part of his design or just the product of time. He felt as though his

interior structure was rusting and perhaps it was. But who knew how long an android might live? Retired life suited him. Will reveled in being crotchety to young people and in taking his time to do absolutely everything. He had decided that if he made such a great illusion of being an aging human, he might

the rest of the, thankfully very short, distance to his home. There he sat down in a recliner. Will could have called for an ambulance. He could have called for anybody, but who would know how to repair him? And even so, his secret would be discovered.

as well act like it. He even thought of trying to make some genuine human friends, but after all these years of carefully avoiding any human connection, he found that he wasn’t sure how. So it was that the crotchety old android took his time slowly crossing the street while out for a nice walk on a sunny day. And so it was that a blue car going far too fast around the curve in the street collided with him. Will blacked out for a moment as he fell to the pavement. When he was aware again, he could see the young lady behind the car’s steering wheel staring at him with an expression of wild-eyed panic plastered across her face. He raised a shaking hand toward her but, rather than come to his aide, she simply drove away, if anything, driving faster than she had been already. It occurred to Will that his computational circuits must have been pretty badly rattled as he was having a hard time focusing on anything, but he soon concluded that there was no one else around who might render assistance. After a moment’s agonizing consideration, he decided that this was probably for the best, as any human would have sent him to a hospital where his secret would have been at last exposed. With an extraordinary force of will, he managed to raise himself to his feet. It felt as though the metal endo-skeleton of his left leg might have broken, so he favored the other. And though he was clearly critically damaged, Will somehow hobbled

Will merely sat there, imagining the pistons crumpled inside of him, the pneumatic fluids leaking into his interior cavity. His cognitive processes felt disconnected and distant. He wasn’t sure how much time was passing. His internal chronometer must have been damaged as well. Silently, alone in his dark living room, Will Pybern went off line. r+m Arthur Carson likes to makes up stories, and sometimes he even writes them down. He currently lives in Islington, England.

Sadie Lawson

“We live in two different worlds, dear. That’s why we’re so far apart.” -Hank Williams

Separation “Dear Lord, we thank you for this day, and for this meal before us. Thank you also, Lord, for granting me safe passage on my travels today, that I might come to be with my beloved daughter Laura in her time of need. Bless this food to our use, and us to your service. Through Christ our Lord we pray. Amen.” Roger McCallum opened his eyes and looked across the table at his daughter. She smiled back at him, her pretty face catching the light of the candle flickering between them. “That was very nice, Dad. Thank you.” She took a sip of her wine as her father unrolled the silverware from his napkin. He was a thick, older man, with thinning silver hair and bifocals. The two of them were seated in the cozy depths of an Italian restaurant in Manhattan’s Theatre District. The room around them hummed with the

sounds of knives, forks, and the murmur of couples dressed for a night on Broadway. “This is very good,” he said, tucking in to his chicken scarpariello. “Expensive. But they at least seem to know what they’re doing back there.” “Oh, I’m glad you like it. I wanted to treat you to something nice, your first night in town. Nothing too exotic, like you said, but they’ve got a great menu, and a good wine list. Stew and I used to come here, before —” Her father scowled as he leaned in over

his beer. Laura looked embarrassed, the corners of her mouth drawn tight. “Well, I guess it’s time I told you the whole story, huh?” Her father looked at her seriously, indicating that she continue. She took another sip of her wine. “Well, we’re not... thinking about a divorce just yet. I know, I know... I said we were, but we’re going to try just a separation right now.” “A separation? What do you mean, separation? I thought he’d already moved out.”

“Well, yes, he has. A separation is... a legal thing. We’ll still be married, of course, but a separation spells out some of the... financial details.” She frowned and took a bite of her food. “I suppose this was Stewart’s idea.” “You know him. He thinks of everything in legal terms. He’s so bright, he just wants everything to be... accurate. I don’t know, I—” Her eyes were threatening to tear up. Roger took a large bite of his chicken and looked down at his plate. Neither of them said anything for a few seconds. “Laura,” Roger said, breaking the silence, “It’ll be okay. I don’t know what he’s trying to prove with this legal nonsense, but you have your daddy here now while the two of you get all this sorted out.” “I know, Dad.” She reached across the table and took his hand. “Thank you so much for coming.” He squeezed her hand briefly, scraping her knuckles with the tips of his rough, beefy fingers. Then he let go, abruptly, and reached for his glass of Budweiser. “Five-fifty for a beer,” he sighed, changing the subject. He took a healthy swallow, and looked at Laura, who was dabbing discreetly at her eyes with her napkin. He smiled in a grumpy sort of way. She smiled back at her father. “That’s New York for you.”

After dinner, Laura drove her tired, airport-weary father straight home. She turned on to 7th Avenue, thinking she’d show off the city a little, but all her father could say, when confronted with the blinding, chaotic flashbulb of Times Square, was, “Madness. Just madness.” He looked out the window listlessly for a while, not saying much. But as they drove down Centre Street, he craned his

neck up at the ghostly scaffolding covering the Surrogate’s Courthouse. “How’s that new World Trade Center building coming along?” “Slowly. Seems like they’ve been building on it for a while now, but they haven’t made much progress. Last I saw, they’re still just working on the base.” She slowed the car a little. “But we’re not that far away, actually... do you wanna drive by? It’s just a few minutes from here.” “Naw, that’s okay. I’m tired. Rather see it in the daylight anyway.” “Okay.” They drove on in silence for a while, over the Brooklyn Bridge. Roger looked out across the water, his face illuminated by slow, dragging panels of city light. His face looked angrier with each flash. “Those bastards.” “Dad?” “Those God damn terrorist bastards. I’ll never forget, as long as I live... not knowing if you were okay or not.” Laura looked over and gave her father a sad, knowing smile. “Yeah... what a terrible day that was. Shit, a terrible year. No one knowing when or if the next attack was going to come. And Stewart, you know, losing his friend in the north tower like that...” She gripped the steering wheel tighter. “Well, at least Bush had the guts to go after them. I’ll never forget, watching him in the rubble with that bullhorn of his, calling them cowards out. Shame he ain’t in office no more.” Laura frowned, but not in a way that her father could see. “Now, if you ask me, Obama could be doing a lot more than he is—” “Daddy, please.” “I know, I know.” He sighed, and looked out the window. “Listen,” he said, in a much softer tone, “all I’m trying to

say is, if you... if things don’t work out...” Laura stared straight ahead, her eyes hard. “Well, you could always leave this place. You could come back home.” Laura glanced over at her father, a curious look on her face. “For a while, you know. Or... for more, if you wanted. It would have made your momma happy to know that you were back home again.” They pulled up to a red light. Laura didn’t say anything until the light had turned green. “That’s... well, we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it, I guess.” Her voice was quieter than usual. “But thanks, Dad.”

Laura lived in Boerum Hill, in a handsome brick townhouse on Dean Street. She parked the car on the street and helped her father carry his suitcases up the steps. She unlocked the door and flipped on the light, revealing a modern, tastefully furnished parlor. She took off her coat and hung it by the door. “So, what do you think? Nicer than the last place, isn’t it?” Roger set his suitcase down and considered the space. “Well, that wouldn’t take much doing,” he grumbled. “But this is nice. Comfortable. How much you paying?” “New York prices. But Stew and I make good money. Together, we... well, it’s enough.” “How about the neighborhood? Safe?” “It’s nice. Way better than before. There are some housing projects a few blocks from here, but it’s never been a problem.” “Hmmph.” Roger pulled the curtain aside and looked out at the street. “Well, at least now there aren’t bars on your windows. Never liked the idea of you living in a cage.”

Laura forced a smile. “Yeah, me neither. Would you like to sit down, maybe watch some TV? Or shall I show you up to your room?” “Just the room for now. I’m pretty tired.” She led her father upstairs and took him down a narrow hallway. “Bathroom’s through there, and that’s... my bedroom. We’re using this one as a study,” she said, indicating another bedroom, “and you’ll be sleeping here.” The guest bedroom was small, but nicely done. The bed was covered in a posh gray comforter and several handwoven throws. On the far wall, a desk faced up against a large window, which looked down upon a tree-lined courtyard and the backs of other houses. The walls were decorated with framed maps of the city, one showing a satellite image, the other showing subway lines. Roger set his suitcase down and looked around the room. Laura, standing just behind him, asked, “Is this okay Dad? You can have my room if this one is too—” Roger turned around. “I don’t need much. This will be just fine.” Relieved, Laura hugged her father and kissed him on the check. “Thanks for coming. Thank you so much. I’ll... I’ll let you settle in. Let me know if you need anything.” “I’ll be okay. Thank you.” Roger yawned and turned toward the bed. “It’s probably time I bedded down. See you in the mornin’.” “Okay. Sleep well, Dad.” “You too.” Laura left the room and gently closed the door behind her. She wouldn’t be sleepy for a few hours still; she had always had a hard time falling asleep, and it was even worse with her husband gone, staying in a hotel somewhere in Queens. She

padded lightly down the stairs to the kitchen, made some sleepytime tea, and settled herself down with a book in the parlor. The house was quiet, save for the murmur of traffic outside. After about half an hour, she got up to go to the bathroom. She took the stairs quietly, not wanting to wake her father, but when she reached the top, she was surprised to see a strip of light under his door. What is he still doing awake? she wondered. She decided not to bother him; he’d let her know if he needed anything. She went to the bathroom and returned downstairs. By the time she came back up, several chapters later, the lights were off in her father’s room. She brushed her teeth as quietly as possible and went across the hall, into the dark bedroom she had, until a few weeks ago, shared with her husband. She drowsily changed into her nightgown and went over to the window, which looked down on Dean Street. She stared out the glass for a long time. Laura took in the view, pausing on lit windows across the way, whose blinds and curtains hid other, no doubt, happier, situations. She watched cars drift up and down the street. A taxi stopped a few houses down, and a man and a woman emerged from the back seat. The man put his arm around the woman, who stumbled as they walked up the steps to their door. Tears welling up in her eyes, Laura turned towards her bed, letting her head fall where her feet, and her husband’s feet, should have been. She’d been sleeping the wrong way ever since he left.

Over the next several days, Laura did everything she could think of to endear New York to her father. On Saturday, they visited the World Trade Center site and took a guided tour around the perimeter,

led by a man who was in the north tower when the first plane hit. Roger listened attentively, his face set like stone. A sharp breeze blowing across the work site carried the grit of construction toward them, while the surviving towers of Lower Manhattan crowded out the sky above. On Sunday, they attended a service at a Methodist church in Brooklyn; Laura hadn’t been to church in years. Roger, who was keenly aware of this fact, made a point of introducing Laura and himself to the minister after the service, complementing him on a wonderful sermon and mentioning that Laura lived nearby. Laura wilted under her father’s arm and politely shook the nice man’s hand. Grateful though she was for her father’s presence, he wasn’t the easiest man to spend a day with. He refused to take public transportation, griped constantly about how expensive the city was, and was visibly uncomfortable when he and Laura ran into a gay couple that Laura was friends with from the neighborhood. Nor had they talked much about her troubled marriage, which Laura was anxious to do. Nevertheless, she cleared her work schedule for the coming week, determined to spend as much time with her father as possible. They were walking back to her place on Tuesday, after a nice lunch at Building on Bond, a neighborhood cafe and bar. She had hoped for a heart-to-heart conversation over her portobello sandwich and his mac and cheese, but he had been in a touchy mood that morning, even for him, and she was hesitant to upset him further by bringing up Stewart. He’d enjoyed his lunch though, and he seemed in better spirits now that he had some food in his belly. Laura decided to go for it. “Dad,” she said, as they walked down the sidewalk, “I wanted to tell you... I’m meeting with Stew this Friday.”

He looked back at her, cocking his eyebrow. “Oh? What’s that about?” “Well—” “More lawyer stuff, is it?” “No, no, it’s not like that. We’re just going to talk. It’s been a while since we’ve done that, just him and me.” Roger frowned and looked up the street, avoiding her eyes, apparently lost in thought. “Dad?” “Laura, listen to me.” He was speaking more softly than he usually did, and his face was tense. “I know we haven’t really talked about the two of you these last few days. And I know that that’s part of why I’m here.” He took a deep breath, in and out. “Laura, I... I don’t really care much for Stewart. I never have.” This wasn’t exactly news to her. Her atheist, lawyer husband, who had grown up in Queens, who read the New York Times every morning, and who supported the Yankees, for God’s sake, had never been her father’s first choice for a son-inlaw. But it was odd, and uncomfortable, to hear him say it so plainly. She wanted to protest, to defend Stewart against her father, but her mind had suddenly gone cold and blank. She bit her lip, hard, and waited for him to continue. “I’ll say this much about him, though, and that’s that he’s been an all right husband to you. Treated you right, far as I could tell. But here you are now, in the middle of this... city, which is so big, and dangerous, and... he’s talking like he wants to leave you? Well that bothers me! It just ain’t right!” “Dad—” “Hold on now, let me finish! What I’m trying to say is... no marriage is easy. It’s work. And there are gonna be hard times. But damn it, he has a responsibility to you, as a husband!”

“Daddy, please, it’s okay. Don’t... don’t be angry. He’s not trying to... he’s not trying to... evade responsibility or anything.” They had reached the steps leading up to her front door, and she was fumbling distractedly in her purse for her keys. “He’s just at a time in his life, and his work, where... well, he’s just not very happy, you know? And he hasn’t been for... for such a long time, and...” She started to cry. “I t-tried and I tried, to make him happy... I just w-wanted everything to be okay, but nothing I did, he just k-kept... coming home with this... this d-dead look on his face!” She gave up on finding the keys and threw herself into her father’s arms. “I-it’s not his fault! He’s j-just so unhappy...” Roger held his daughter, completely at a loss for words. Not wanting anyone on the street to see her crying, he fished the keys out of her purse and unlocked the door.

The next few days dragged by, neither of them mentioning Stewart again. Having exhausted the short list of day trips that might appeal to Roger, the two of them spent more and more of their time together watching TV. They sat on the couch in the parlor, eating pizza they had delivered. She didn’t think she’d ever seen so much Fox News. She didn’t complain though. Her upcoming meeting with her husband dominated her thoughts, and not even Glen Beck’s televised hysterics were enough to drag her back to the present moment. Every night, after Roger had gone to bed, Laura wandered the house like a ghost. She’d pick up books and put them down minutes later. Twice she turned on water for tea, only to forget that it was boiling. She stared blankly at the late night infomercials for hours, her face overcast in blue

flickering light. And on Thursday night, she saw light under her father’s door again, almost an hour after he’d gone upstairs for bed. Friday arrived. She and Stewart were meeting at a nice restaurant in Manhattan, and she spent the better part of two hours getting ready. When she finally came down the stairs, her father was waiting in the parlor. “Well, Dad, how do I look?” There was a note of panic in her voice. Roger looked her over, and, for what seemed like the first time in days, cracked a small smile. “You look real nice, sweetheart. That boy won’t know what hit him.” Laura screwed up her face, trying to keep her tears at bay and out of her mascara. She ran over to him and gave him a hug. “I don’t know when I’ll be back, but if you need anything, just call me and—” “Hey, I wouldn’t wanna interrupt. This is an important night for you. I’ll be fine. You do what you need to do now, okay?” “Okay. Thanks, Dad.” She sniffed a little bit and slung her purse over her shoulder, pausing for a moment on the threshold to look back at her father, in shirt sleeves and jeans, looking every bit the old West Texas gentleman that he was. “Wish me luck.” “Good luck.” She smiled and closed the door behind her. Roger moved over to the window and watched her as she walked steadily down the sidewalk to her car. A slight frown broke across his hard face, his eyes full of concern.

Laura didn’t come back until after two that night. She took the steps up to the second floor two at a time, hoping against the

odds that her father’s light was still on. To her surprise, it was. “Dad? You awake?” She knocked a few times, but he didn’t reply. She opened the door. He was lying on the bed, facing the wrong way, still dressed and snoring his raspy, old man’s snore. Laura walked over to him and noticed a book, bound in leather, lying open by his head. “Dad?” she whispered. The tone of her voice was light, even excited; her lipstick was smeared. She picked up the book and started to flip through its pages, wondering what her father had been reading. And then it hit her. Molly my love... so many years have passed, and yet... I hope this letter finds you well... Dearest Molly, I miss you so much... the sky was blue and beautiful today, just like that time we drove down to... wherever in Heaven you may be... your loving husband, Roger. Shocked, she looked down at her sleeping father. He was still holding the pen in his hand. Adrenaline flooded her body; she was terrified that he would wake up and find her there, holding the book. She knew she shouldn’t trespass any further upon his privacy, but she found herself unable to put the book down. She scanned its pages again, trying not to absorb too much detail. Its entries went back for months, on both sides of the page, in small deliberate handwriting; the book was nearly full. She looked back at her father, who showed no sign of waking any time soon. Her heart beat fast, and her conscience raged inside her, prickling, demanding restraint. But with a deep, guilty breath, she turned to the last entry, the one her father had been writing when he fell asleep Molly, my love, Tonight was the night. I watched Laura

walk out to her car, off to her dinner with Stewart. You should have seen her darling, she looked so beautiful. If that boy doesn’t come to his senses soon he’s an idiot. I still don’t understand what’s wrong between them (if only you were here, I know you could explain it to me better), but there’s no doubt that she loves him. She looked so worried before she left. I wanted to wait up, to be waiting for her in the living room when she got back, but I’m having a lot of trouble staying awake now. It must be almost one in the morning here. I don’t know what it means, her being gone so long. I can only hope things are going well. But I’ll let you know tomorrow how it went. She’s such a good girl, you know. She deserves The letter ended there. Laura looked down at her father again, her eyes wet and blurry. She didn’t dare read any more. She set the book down exactly as she’d found it and padded softly out of the room, making sure to leave the light on as she closed the door behind her.

She slept deeply, for the first time in weeks. Waking up late on Saturday morning, her head aching slightly, she got up and put her robe on. She smelled bacon cooking downstairs. Roger was in the kitchen, again dressed in shirt sleeves and jeans, setting the table. He’d just poured two glasses of orange juice, and the plates were piled high with scrambled eggs, bacon and toast. Coffee was brewing on the counter. “Morning, Dad. That smells wonderful.” “Thought that might wake you.” He looked at her sharply over the top of his bifocals, but there was kindness in his face. He gave no indication that he knew about Laura seeing his letters the night

before. “Mornin’, sweetheart. How’d it go last night?” She considered him for a moment: her rough, conservative father, standing in a New York City kitchen, making breakfast for her. She flew across the kitchen and gave him a giant hug. “Oh, Daddy... it went great. Really great! I have so much to tell you.” He seemed taken aback for a moment. But then, as relief settled into his body, he put his arms around her. He looked up, up past the ceiling, and smiled.

r+m Sadie Lawson lives and writes in Queens, New York.

Byron Landry

The Last Months of Moonlight It was a long time ago, when I was still in college, that I found out about the moon. My friend Terry ran into me on my way to class. I remember he talked so fast that I couldn’t understand him. He told me they were canceling the moon. I couldn’t believe it. He found out about it from the Internet. Reliable sources confirmed that, despite its general popularity, the moon was on the way out. The trend back then was to slash the budgets of cultural institutions, no matter how respectable. The moon had to go. Not all at once, but slowly, so no one noticed, until it was too late. Terry pointed out that this was typical, really. They had gone too far, I said. People had a right to know. Terry agreed. I knew I could count on Terry. He was on the debate team, and did not let things like this fly. In those days, I prided myself on my

activism. I decided to do something about this moon issue, and not to give up until my voice was heard. After class, Terry and I met on a metal bench in front of the Perry-Castañeda Library. Natalie met us there, with carrots and hummus from the apartment. We were still dating at the time. Our business was to decide what to do about this moon fiasco. We knew we had to act fast. Natalie agreed that discontinuing the moon was an act of oppression. It was clearly a plan by the elites to squeeze public services, and that kind of thing always hurt

poor people and women the most. What’s worse, she said, it was bad for the arts. Terry said that, although he rarely took time to enjoy the moon himself, he liked knowing it was there. I took notes. I was a member of a very active environmental organization, and I decided to bring up the moon problem at the next meeting. There were forty or so people at the meeting. I won’t lie - I was a bit intimidated. But I had my friends, and the determination to be heard. I told the committee that the very survival of the moon was in

question. I said that moon cutbacks could be disastrous for wildlife, and that the kind of moon they grew up with might not be around for their children to enjoy, if they decided to raise children. The crowd was miffed. I proposed to form an organization to save the moon. The reaction was very positive. Terry took down email addresses, and Natalie and I talked up the crowd. Although Natalie opposed traditional political theater, I hoped my charisma and verve would impress her. I could imagine our sex life coming out of hibernation. Hope bloomed. We named the group the Moon Ongoing Operations Network (MOON). Our first goal was an event to raise awareness of the moon and its importance to society. We couldn’t get a seminar room on such short notice, so we used the student union cafeteria. We encountered some resistance from the administration, who were no doubt supporters of the moon cutbacks, on the basis that we failed to fill out the proper paperwork and that the moon was not really a matter of serious interest. Sensing our resolve, they capitulated. We invited professors to address the meeting. The cafeteria was packed. Our guest speakers were enthusiastic. Professor Massey, a cosmologist, explained that the moon was almost as old as the earth, and it would be a shame to lose such a marvelous piece of planetary history. Jane Katz, a writer in residence, submitted that without the moon, Shakespeare’s sonnets would have been basically impossible. Dr. Don Garcia, the chair of the entomology department, speculated that, because moths navigate by moonlight, its absence would prove quite confusing, at least for moths. Afterwards, I took the podium. I saw that the crowd was anxious to act. The next event, I announced, would be a protest at

the state capitol. We would make known our demands for good governance and institutional integrity. The moon must stay. I don’t exaggerate when I say that my voice was drowned out by cheers. It was then that Natalie stood up and interrupted my speech. She argued (with feeling) that the organization had lost sight of its original ideals, and had become a moonist militia that would only play into the hands of the powers. She declared the formation of a splinter group, which would use performance art to tear down the wall of apathy surrounding the moon question. Her betrayal took me completely off guard. But I determined not to back down; after all, there was the moon to think about. The show, I felt, must go on. The turnout for the protest was huge. The weather was perfect, and Terry had sent out over 50,000 emails. We even did an interview on public radio. Thousands of people filled the capitol lawn. Some protesters even brought their dogs. Terry himself couldn’t make it, claiming classwork. I surveyed the gathering crowd. Natalie’s splinter group had staked out an area on the lawn. One of the group was nude, her body covered with silver-white paint and glitter, and the others, wearing black leotards, lifted her into the night sky. This was it, my chance to change history. But as I picked up the wireless microphone and began my speech, I realized in horror that my public address system was silent. A fringe anti-moon counter-protest had emerged, and had pulled the plug on my podium. Clashes broke out between my supporters and the reactionaries. The crowd swarmed in all directions. Someone pushed me from behind, and I stumbled down the capitol stairs onto the heads of the crowd. The crowd carried me out to the center of the lawn, then dropped me on my back in what felt like a pile of fresh

dog waste. Above me, I saw the moon. It was so big and round that it seemed fake; its glow hit me like a spotlight. Then, in an instant, the moon went black. First, the chaos around me halted, while thousands of eyes searched the sky for the missing moon. Then, slowly, the crowd grew furious, and boiled over with unfocused rage. My arms and legs were trampled, the sound of shouts and sirens was deafening. In a desperate act of selfpreservation, I rolled over onto my elbows and knees, covered my head with my hands, and scurried away through the riot. When I finally found my bearings, I was standing on Congress Avenue, out of breath, smeared up and down with grass stains and dog shit. Somehow I still gripped my wireless microphone with both hands. I tried to walk home, but the street was too dark to see, and all around me, filling the air, flying into my eyes, black and ivory and gold, clogging the gutters and slamming into office windows and battering the city like torrents of iridescent rain, were millions and billions of moths. r+m B. N. Landry lives in Austin, Texas.

credits Layout and Design by Josiah Spence (BowlerHatCreative.com). Mice courtesy of VintagePrintable.com Edited by Matthew Payne, Josiah Spence, Michael Young, and Suncerae Smith. All content Š 2011 Rust and Moth- ISSN 1942-5848. All contributors retain individual rights to their works upon publication. Thank you to all of our readers and incredible contributors. rustandmoth.com


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