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When the Moon was Ours
Author:Anna-Marie McLemore

This version would also strip away the part about Sam trying to take Miel home like she was a stray cat. His mother’s calm conviction as she diced potatoes that they would find a place for this girl. And she was right. In less time than it took the saag aloo to finish cooking, Aracely, the woman who had seemed to Sam as much like an aunt as a neighbor, appeared at their door saying she might have space in her rented house for this girl made of water.

It would not mention how Miel’s hair had barely dried when the first green leaf of a rose stem broke through her small wrist. That was a different story, strange and bloody and glinting with the silver of scissor blades. A story for older children, ones who did not fear their own nightmares.

And this version of the story would scramble the order of events. No one but Sam had heard what Miel was screaming into her hands. I lost the moon, she had said, sobbing against her fingers. I lost the moon.

He never asked her what she meant. Even then, he knew better. Her feeling that the moon had slipped from her grasp seemed locked in a place so far inside her that to reach it would be to break her open. But this was why Sam painted shadows and lunar seas on paper and metal and glass, copying the shadows of mare imbrium and oceanus procellarum—to give her back the moon. He had painted dark skies and bright moons on flat paper since he was old enough to hold a brush, old enough to look through the library’s astronomy atlases. But it wasn’t until this girl spilled out of the water tower, sobbing over her lost moon, that Sam began painting so many copies of the brightest light in the night sky.

He would never let it seem lost to her again.

Moon had become his name to this town because of her. Because of her, this town had christened him. Without her, he had been nameless. He had not been Samir or Sam. He had been no one. They knew his name no more than they knew who this girl had been before she was water.

lake of autumn

They’d touched each other every day since they were small. She’d put her palm to his forehead when she thought he had a fever. He’d set tiny gold star stickers on her skin on summer days, and at night had peeled them off, leaving pale constellations on her sun-darkened body.

She’d seen the brown of her hand against the brown of his when they were children, and holding hands meant nothing more than that she liked how warm his palm was in the night air, or that he wanted to pull her to see something she had missed. A meteor shower or a vine of double-flower morning glories, so blue they looked dyed.

All these things reminded her of his moons, and his moons reminded her of all these things. He’d hung a string of them between her house and his, some as small as her cupped palms, others big enough to fill her arms. They brightened the earth and wild grass. They were tucked into trees, each giving off a ring of light just wide enough to meet the next, so she never walked in the dark. One held a trace of the same gold as those foil star stickers. Another echoed the blue of those morning glories Sam could find even in the dark. Another was the pure, soft white of the frost flowers he showed her on winter mornings, curls of ice that looked like tulips and peonies.

The one she passed under now was the color of a rose that had grown from her wrist when she and Sam were in ninth grade. She remembered it because, in the hall at school, her sleeve had slipped back, and the rose accidentally brushed the elbow of a girl who recoiled, yelling, “Watch where you’re going.”

That same afternoon, when the girl’s boyfriend broke up with her, she’d blamed Miel and that brush of petals. She cornered Miel in the girls’ bathroom, and looked like she was about to backhand her when Sam came up behind her and said, “Oh, I wouldn’t do that if I were you.” His voice had been so level, more full of advice than a threat, that the girl had actually turned around. “You know the last girl who did that turned into a potted plant, right?” he said, and he sold it with such caution and certainty that the girl believed it. She sank into all the rumors about Miel and Aracely, and she backed away.

If Miel hadn’t known Sam was her friend before, she knew after that. That was the first and last time he ever went into the girls’ room by choice.

Miel could chart their history by these moons, lighting the path between the violet house where she lived with Aracely and the bright-tiled roof of Sam’s house.

The closer she got to him, the more she felt it in her roses, like a moon pulling on a sea. Since she was small, the roses had grown from her skin, each bursting through the opening on her wrist that never healed. One grew, and she destroyed it, and another grew, and she destroyed it. But now she hesitated before cutting them, or pushing them underwater so the river’s current carried them away. Because for the past few months, they’d responded to Sam. The more time she spent around him, the more her wrist felt heavy and sore. He caught her holding her forearm during school, and stole bags of crunchy, fluffy ice from the chemistry lab for her to put against her sleeve.