He told people to call him “The Moon.” For hours at a time he would sit at The Seven Winds café beneath the “C” rating posted in the window by DHEC. The Moon would linger in this corner for so long it would gradually take on his smell – a mixture of bee’s wax, patchouli, and body odor. Like some intrusive guest in your home he would spread out his things as widely as possible, stretch out his legs and put his feet up on a chair. Although The Moon’s smell and mess repelled almost everyone from his section of the café, some customers would be attracted to the window seat beside him. As soon as people began to move in his direction, however, The Moon would stop breathing; his pen would stand erect on its page like a snake preparing to strike; he would look up slowly, as if he’d somehow noticed a presence.
If the intruder were new to The Seven Winds, The Moon would glare until the person headed for another different table. If it was a café regular approaching, he’d give an upwards nod as if to say, “I accept your admiration but please leave me alone. I’m working.” His eyes were always filled with a arrogance as he returned to his writing. Often his eyelids were painted blue.
Some days The Moon would come to The Seven Winds with his whole face covered with streaks of enamel paint. Colors would literally be splashed across his face, creating a sense of shock and confusion in those who saw him. Elderly women could be seen on the sidewalks gasping, clutching their purses to their chests, and trying to understand. A young girl once screamed and ran away when she saw The Moon doing yoga in a park; but on that occasion he had painted his whole body green and was wearing only some ripped jeans shorts. After that incident he tended to clothe himself fully and look and act like every other free-spirited bohemian teenager, except for his fashion signature, of course – the painted face.
This decision of his (to go about fully clothed at all times) was quite calculated. The Moon figured that if his appearance were less jarring then his public, as he thought of them, would be less set off and they would gradually come to admire him and admire his freedom from society’s rigid conventions. His public might then reform their own lives, and realize in retrospect that it was he, The Moon, who had first inspired them to break free from the shackles of conformity. Eventually people all across the nation might see him as an agent of liberation, a prophet, one who had shown us the light, and so on.
As you might guess, however, people generally saw The Moon as an oddball, not as any sort of liberator, and the main question they asked in connection with his style was whether it happened to him accidentally or if, unbelievably, he had painted his face himself, on purpose. They could not have imagined the truth.
In the morning The Moon would enter his bathroom at his parents’ house, stand in front of the mirror, turn off the lights, then light some candles; he would stare deeply into the mirror until his whole reflection disappeared, except for the dark reflecting pools of his eyes. When he had achieved a trance-like state he would take a paintbrush and dip it into one of three buckets of paint on the bathroom sink. Yellow, blue, and red were always his colors of choice. Without scraping the excess paint from his brush, The Moon would flick his wrist with a sharp, decisive motion and deliver a streak of paint to his face, sometimes hooting dramatically as he did so.
As more and more paint covered his face, The Moon would let his eyes come back into focus and see before him what he called “his true cosmic self.” In the mirror, through an acrid cloud of sage smoke, he could see the golden starfish on the shower curtains behind him, glowing like luminous heavenly bodies. Constellations of glow-in-the-dark star stickers twinkled on the walls around him. And there was The Moon: cynosure of his own bizarre galaxy. Because it seemed appropriate, he would respond to this vision by raising his arms at his side and sort of shivering and chanting until it seemed appropriate to stop.
When he completed his face painting in this way, The Moon would pull his long matted hair into a loose ponytail, throw on a ragged t-shirt with a logo from some defunct company, and head out for the “real world.” But before leaving his parents’ house he would almost invariably have to confront the menacing family dog. It was not a big dog – just a lazy white shih tzu with a bow in its hair and dripping eyes. It was the kind of dog that rich ladies will sometimes buy to go with a certain pair of shoes, the kind of dog that was never meant to serve any useful function, the kind of dog that gets used to having servants chew its food for it. It was the concrete manifestation of everything The Moon could not stand about his family – its phony sophistication, its obsession with symbols of status and wealth, its stupid arrogance. And this dog was mean. Every day, it would attack The Moon as he headed for the stairs. The Moon would kick it in the ribs sometimes, or drag the animal down the stairs as it clung to the hem of his pants. Short of killing the dog, The Moon could think of no way to avoid it satisfactorily, and since killing it would mean losing room-and-board at his parents’ house, that was out of the question.
After enduring this trial with the dog day after day, The Moon was always greatly relieved to return to The Seven Winds Café, his home away from home, where at least some people saw the world as he did, and where his artistry and originality were both understood and greatly admired.
The handsome young cynic who pumped coffee at The Seven Winds smiled when he saw The Moon come in. “What’s up, Moon? You get in mama’s paints again?” The other employee behind the counter, a tattooed girl, laughed and chewed her gum.
The Moon did not deign to respond to these fools at first. He looked off to the side and slightly pursed his lips. It just so happened that a mirror was nearby and The Moon took a moment to study himself and dishevel his hair. The look he had achieved on this particular day was quite savage really. The paint was light and faded rather than coarse and dry, which created a subtle, delicate effect. The paint looked almost mask-like – angular, bold, colorful. The Moon liked the way he looked. He was happy that a person such as himself existed in such a corrupted place and time.
When The Moon responded to his coffee presser, therefore, he responded with absurd, quixotic confidence. “The Moon has many phases and many sorts of emotion,” he began. “The Moon has hidden esoteric phases. Not just your blue moon, your yellow harvest moon which suggests happiness, not just your high white moon which is playful and frolics like a child. Give me some black coffee.” The Moon shot the coffee pumper an odd, clipped smile, then looked away.
The cynical clerk stood there, his mouth open and an incipient smile playing on his lips. He pressed some coffee out of a big silver thermos, then pushed it across the counter as though it were a toy for some immensely entertaining animal. The Moon took his coffee, nodded lugubriously, and walked away. At this point, the tattooed girl joined the cynic at the register, sucked her cheeks in and showed herself in profile like The Moon. Stifled laughter could be heard as they went out back for a smoke.
The Moon was dissatisfied with his coffee and angry with the cynical cad who had called him “Moon” instead of “The Moon.” “A parasite living off the capitalist system!” The Moon thought. “Will he ever learn – is he even capable of learning – that my name is not ‘Moon’ but ‘The Moon’? He thinks he’s so funny, but he has no wit, no playfulness. He’s not free, not playful and childlike. ‘Moon’ is just a nickname, obviously, whereas ‘The Moon’ could encompass and dominate all. It is all possibilities.”
The indignity, the outrage, as it seemed, of being mocked made The Moon feel more misunderstood than ever. The world, these fools, would not understand him, because they could not understand him. Nor did he want to be understood – the more he really thought about it. With pride and righteousness rising up within him, The Moon recommitted himself to his own idiosyncratic writing style, which he called “dancing at the edge of meaninglessness and inanity.” Today, he would push language farther than it had ever been pushed before, and twist language harder than it had ever been twisted; and if these stupid coffee slingers in the café didn’t understand him and if they laughed, then his ultimate success with the critics would be all the sweeter. His heart was pounding now and his breathing quick. His eyebrows twitched with anticipation.
With his tepid coffee in front of him, his notebook open and his pen laid out, he paused to gain his composure. He looked around the room dramatically: at the row of empty beer bottles with different labels, at the three dim lamps, just like home, at the sickening demonstrative couple on the couch in the other corner, at the French poster from the twenties, at the entrance to the pool hall in the back where a couple of the black guys from the kitchen were hanging out looking at him. He picked up his pen and hunched over the beautiful blank page of his notebook and wrote these words:
“etc., etc., etc.”
Then he slapped his notebook shut and waited for the poetry reading that was scheduled to begin in four hours, more or less.
Greg Davis spent a year as a news reporter in Northeastern Vermont, and now teaches high school journalism in Charleston, South Carolina. His fiction has previously been published in Breadcrumb Sins (look for #2).