The air had taken to a syrupy kind of sweetness, the sky speckled with stars and already sunken quite deeply into night. A pitter-patter of tiny footfalls against the creaky old porch approached the old man like the drizzle that preceded rain. The little boy who quietly came beside him, waited to be acknowledged though he did nothing to beg the attention of his great uncle who rocked himself gently to the orchestra of crickets serenading him.
“My Blue Moon Boy,” Julien’s rasp of a voice was feathery, warm and not at all surprised at the company. “Do you ever wonder if anyone in all these years paid a condolence to our moon?”
The child turned the question over in his mind as he climbed into Julien’s lap, careful of the man’s fragile porcelain bones.
“What is poetry, if not an apology?” He answered. A responding rattle came deep from within Julien’s chest, and the Blue Moon Boy did not need to look to know his great uncle’s face was wrinkled with deep lines of amusement.
“I expect you came out here for a story, you little leech.” Julien teased. “Well out with it then, you sure know how to pick em’.” The tiny child sat up at once and his big eyes thoughtfully looked over the willowy, barely-there figure of his great uncle. Julien’s body was a composition of a million stories of a life well lived and better told. From the one lock of dark hair that refused to grey even as the rest of his head gave way to frigid white, to the distorted ink of one of his many old tattoos, to the scar thin as a white lie on his arm.
Each mark, blemish and peculiarity a riveting chapter in themselves.
The little Blue Moon Boy settled on the left side of Julien’s face, and his head tilted in a contemplative expression he reached out with his stubby, too-small hand and grazed Julien’s upper cheekbone where a burn scar with the uncanny resemblance of a lipstick stain marred his face, with surprising tenderness for someone his age. But then again, everything the Blue Moon Boy did was surprising for someone his age.
“The Kiss tonight, huh? Best settle in, this one is rather peculiar.” All of Julien’s stories were peculiar.
“Now it must have been 50 years to a forever ago…”
–1972, North Nevada; The Great Basin–
I was something young and flighty back then, and among all the jobs I’d come to occupy, being a trucker might have been one of my favorites to be honest. Yes,it was a taxing job with long hours and little thanks, and them white collared folks wouldn’t have been tipping their hats to me any time soon, but the strangest of occurrences i had ever had the great pleasure of encountering happened on that job, and because of that, being a trucker holds a special place in my old heart.
So there I was, some juvenile kid, hurtling down an empty stretch of dry, dry road. The cool desert landscape tumbling past my weathered windows, swells of geography and plummeting decrescendos, sandy dunes and rocky gravel earth. Cacti stood stock straight like shocked soldiers guarding the desert and her secrets. Scraggly bushes grew wild and feral as anything does when it can escape domestication.
I had been driving for what felt like hours to days, and was toeing the line of frustration with the tediousness of it all, with the soulless, empty desert and the uncaring asphalt road I had been eating away at for hours without a wink or subtle nod of any such progress.
Exhaustion had whittled me down to my bones, and just when I was just about to throw in the towel and sleep or crash on the side of the road, it seemed as though God or the universe had heard me and I had been lucky enough to catch them in a generous mood. The sun had just slunk below the horizon. And there.
There it was.
My godsend. Reprieve in its bright neon light brilliance. A sign for a diner. In the middle of the desert like some kind of mirage in the twilight, I pulled up, and approached with warranted apprehension, it stood out like a shock of white amongst ebony, but perhaps it was the exceptional exhaustion or the fluorescent, beacon-like light that made me so accepting of its oddity. I entered through the revolving doors with embarrassingly few questions.
Recalling the interior of the diner feels more like trying to recall a dream each time I tell this story. The details I can remember vary and come in threes. All that comes to mind now is that the inside was very dated. Like a diner straight out of the 50’s, though that had only been twenty years ago then. It smelled of apples and cigarettes; a strange and confusing combination. And all the booths were a bright tacky yellow.
Chainsmoking by the register, a waitress silhouetted by a haze of smoke that, when it cleared from her eyes, had already trained eye contact with me like she had known– like she had been expecting me. I made for a polite grin that I’m sure looked as awkward as it felt as I made my way past sliding into one of the dark green booths. She followed from behind the counter, and looking at her, I realized just how young she was. Gawky bones that hunched like it was trying to fold in or collapse on itself, quick unsteady footfalls that questioned every step, her eyes rimmed with smudged mascara and brows pinched ever so slightly like the whole world was a puzzling question. She looked lost. She looked like I did.
“Hey.” She greeted me like we knew each other. I liked that. Grinning, I fiddled with my hands and glanced around; she hadn’t given me a menu or anything to look at and it didn’t seem like she intended to.
“So, uh, what d’you recommend here?”
“Um…” She seemed to be very far away. “The apple pie is good.”
I scrunched my nose. “Ah, well. What else do y’all have here might I ask?”
“Well, uh we have… apple pie.” She finished lamely, apologetic. I almost laughed.
“Then i guess I’ll have the apple pie then.” She nodded and walked her self conscious walk to the kitchen in the back.
All alone I sat in that diner, alone at my orange little booth, quickly becoming aware of how quiet it was. The diner was an empty ghost town which made sense as I had not seen another soul out there while I had been driving. There was no music in the diner, which was odd but excusable.
And then I began to notice as I sat there alone, how absolutely devoid of sound it was and why; There was not a howl of a beast, a skitter of an crawling animal, nor a growl of an engine, not even a whisper gust of wind outside. Nothing. No background noise, which brought out the silence of the kitchens even more. Clanging pans, murmur of voices, sizzling, anything at all– absent. Like it had been cut from the very fabric of my reality.
The smell of cigarettes and apples began to make the space between my eyes ache. Something twisted in my gut unpleasantly. The silence seemed to roar like a mute ocean tide in my ears.
It was unsettling, as an understatement. And just as my distubed mind began to spiral the blessed swish of the revolving doors taking a turn drew me from the depths of my mind. I turned at the sound of heels clacking smartly over the checker tiled floors.
And there she was.
A woman of such beauty that she could only have been spun from pure dreams and fantasy. Even the most ignorant and unlyrical knew she did not walk, but glided, almost like she was dancing into a room. All poise and elegance, she slid into the cherry red booth just behind me.
And then like it was stage directed, the waitress emerged from the kitchen’s pie in hand. But something was different about her when she did. And it was only when she was at my table did i realize;
She was older.
Not that she looked older, she was older. The adolescent limb-y girl I had been greeted by just moments ago was gone. In her place was a woman trudging through the pits of her life and eyes that knew just exactly what her place was and was deeply unsatisfied with it. She carried her life in the profoundly deep violets under her eyes. She didn’t say anything, just smiled sadly and walked away.
But before she did, the waitress glanced at the woman behind me and departed once again for the kitchens. And I knew she was getting her a slice of apple pie.
From behind me, the woman sighed. A forgettable occurrence had it come from anyone else, anywhere else. But in an empty, soundless diner, from a beautiful stranger that seemed like she danced when she walked– it broke my heart.
I tried to ignore it, after all, late at night in the middle of nowhere, I doubt what that lady wanted was some strange trucker guy talking to her if she was having a rough night. I tried to shake the feeling, starting in on my pie– which was good, not bad or great with any memorable significant taste. But I couldn’t seem to kick the pity. It only seemed to grow even more in my chest. And before I knew what I was doing, I was up, walking towards the doors the waitress disappeared behind, like a man possessed. I hesitated unsurely standing outside of the swinging steel doors. Was I supposed to knock? But before I could come to a conclusion, the doors swung open with the waitress behind it. Even older now. Her hair was cumulus clouds gray as tobacco ash. She looked happier then. Sadder too though.
“Do you, um, have a piece of paper I could borrow?” She gave me a knowing look with the tilt of her head and reaching into her pocket. She withdrew a notepad theoretically for taking down orders though I had yet to see her use it.
“Thanks.” I ducked down to write on the counter when I finally froze, like a spell of motion broken. What was I even to write? I didn’t know her, she had only sighed. Why was I even writing to her?
But then I recalled the sorrowful exhaustion in the fall of her shoulders as she exhaled misery.
After a moment of thought, I quickly scrawled out a message on the paper and held it out to the waitress.
“Could you perhaps give this to that woman over there when you bring her pie?”
I asked in a discreet whisper. “Thanks.”
“Sure thing, honey.” She said with a rare smile that crinkled the crows feet at the corners of her eyes. And with that she disappeared back into the kitchens
I spritely slid back into my lime green booth feeling a touch jittery, and soon enough the waitress came back out. And she came out a crone. So old, too old to be working as a waitress. She hobbled carefully, and ever so slowly towards the woman with her pie and my note. There was no particular sadness or happiness about her now. Just a solemn peace with her existence. The waitress left the woman with her pie and retreated once again to the kitchens.
I listened as the clinking of cutlery paused behind me at the sound of paper being picked up and unfolded. She was reading my note. I suppressed my anxiety and forced myself to eat. I heard the woman twist in her seat and fix a scrutinized look at me. My mouth went dry and I felt a little breathless looking at her face to face. She had eyes made for crying, but hands meant for holding.
“You sent this didn’t you? What is this?” Her voice was tight with suspicion. “Are you trying to hit on me, kid?”
“Oh! Oh no, ma’am truly I’m not.”
“Then what is this?” She repeated, flashing the note in which I had asked her if she was ok, in hasty writing.
“All due respect ma’am, you just seemed a little… sad.” She scoffed, but after a moment the tension around her mouth loosened ever so slightly.
“Aren’t we all. What’s it to you?”
“Not much admittedly. But,” I turned to face her better and grinned. “How much of life is spent wishing someone would ask you if you are alright?” She frowned and turned back away from me. I shrugged and turned away as well, but then;
It was unexpected. But so was most of life, and it was rarely ever so pleasing. My plate and I slid into the seat across from her in the little maroon booth. And as soon as i had settled across from her, a question sort of fell from her mouth, like an accident;
“Have you ever been in love?” I smiled fondly thinking of all the women and men I had embarrassed myself over.
“… Occasionally. I think. I’ve been with him for so long, I should, how can I not?”
“Well,” It was a sad and silly question. One I had spent several nights tripping over, myself. “love does expire sadly. And time doesn’t mean love just as love does not promise time.”
“It would be easier if it did. Or-or maybe harder, I don’t know.” We fell into thoughtful silence, turning the idea of such a world over in our minds.
“He break your heart?”
“Well he cheats like a bastard, if that answers anything.” I let out a sympathetic hiss between my teeth in response. “That’s what I get for tying the knot with a loose man. I can’t even imagine why it bothers me anymore, he does it so much, you’d think I’d be used to it now. I guess-I guess I really am just a jealous woman.” My heart plummeted for her the way a heart does when watching a tragedy from the audience. I barely knew this woman but I wanted to take her hand like I could fix it for her. But I didn’t. Because I couldn’t. And I wasn’t going to pretend that I could.
“Come on, none of that. From what I’ve heard you are well warranted to be jealous.” She was struggling not to cry, tears spilled, hot and resentful as she vehemently shook her head.
“I’ve done terrible things. Terrible. I am not the victim. That would be your worst mistake to think me the victim. I’ve done too much.”
“So? We’ve all done things. I bet I’ll do my share of unforgivable things before this life is over if I do it right.”
“But what does that even matter? I am not you, and you don’t know the things I have done. And I hardly think you’ll be so unforgivable.”
“Don’t go underestimating me now, that’ll be your worst mistake.” I said with a smile that spoke for itself. “And ‘what does it matter?’ Are you kidding? Look at you. What are you doing?” She blinked, a look of confusion passing over her features. I plucked a couple of the cheap napkins from the dispenser on the table and offered them to her.
“Crying over it. You’re crying over it. Now i know that doesn’t make anything better or forgivable but hey. It doesn’t mean nothin’” She hesitantly accepted the napkins. Hesitant as ever and always.
We kept talking. Talking until we had both finished our pies. Talking until we had been through seconds. Talking until the diner really ought to have reached a closing time. Talking until the sun should have dawned by then. And longer.
We swapped stories, and thoughts, and dreams. She told me about lovely things. I traded my terrible secrets. We laughed, we wept, speaking in hushed tones and our most theatrical voices. She smiled.
And then she stood.
Reculantly rising to her feet with a bittersweetness about her. Solemness settled between us.
“I believe it’s about time.” Something akin to sadness blossomed within me for reasons I didn’t know.
“Yes.” I stood as well, pulling on my coat. And there was the waitress, like a vision. She was young again, but different. Like a version of herself that had never been hurt. A version of herself that did things right. She looked more like a memory than a girl.
“Thank you for dining with us.” Her words felt scripted but her smile was more peaceful than I had ever seen it. “Come back soon…”
I smiled at her, and though it was an invitation, she said it like a grave farewell.
“I never asked your name.” The woman chimed from behind me.
“Are you asking?” I said, turning. She thought for a moment.
“Yes. I believe I am.”
“Well then I’ll tell you mine if you tell me yours.” I offered my hand to her. “Hello, my name is Julien.” She laughed and took it in hers. And I was right. Her hand felt like it was made to be held.
“Hello Julien.” She then pulled me close, pressed her lips to the shell of my ear and whispered;
“My name is Hera.”
She pressed a kiss to my cheek, just below my eye.
I felt myself burning like a star, like an apocalypse. Like every birthday wish and pipe dream and pleasure. And when I came to, there was a sky above me. The paling blue and fading stars of a dawning morning. I lay on the ground the entire sky unrolled before me. Sand in my hair. And a kiss burning on my cheek.50 years later, on a porch at midnight-
“You’ve got questions, I can tell.” Julien poked at the crinkle of the Blue Moon Boy’s brow, who giggled and tried to bat his hand away.
“Only a couple.”
“If a couple were the number of stars in the sky,” The old man rattled a laugh. “We have until the sunrise, my boy. Try to go one at a time, now. I’m not as quick as I used to be.” The Blue Moon Boy frowned at the sky. So little time, so little time. But he banished his dread of the escaping hour and sat up in Julien’s lap with a grin.
“The woman- Hera- She was a goddess wasn’t she? The goddess. The queen of Olympus, Queen of the Gods!”
Julien shrugged. “Perhaps, perhaps. We weren’t there as positions or titles. I wasn’t at that diner as Julien the Young Man, and she wasn’t there as Hera the Goddess, Hera the Queen. She was just a woman. A person. A runaway for one night only, trying to get away just like the rest of us mayflies.”
“But there’s no real escaping from yourself. You must have known, is that why you were so insistent upon talking to her?” Julien laughed at that, a deep rusty sound full of mirth, but bore no condescension in it.
“She did have a regal way about her. But no. I knew no such thing, and it wouldn’t have changed anything if I had. My dear Blue Moon Boy, I am a strange and silly old man. And I’ve spent my fair share of time sad and sighing. I’ve been lonely at an empty table before. And god, if I don’t know what it’s like to be a runaway. All you really want in moments like those is someone to talk to you. You just want someone to see you.”
The boy nodded, but then his brow furrowed once again.
“Then what about the Waitress?” a sad look dawned in Julien’s eyes, he shook his head and sighed.
“Ah, the Waitress…” .
“She really needed someone. More than anyone else even. She just slipped away and neither of you noticed? How could neither of you have noticed?” Julien was quieter this time, his expression sobered at the thought of the girl, the woman, and the crone who had served them that night.
“Nights like those are made of metaphors. That diner was all smoke, mirrors and poetry. And not all metaphors come with answers, not all riddles come undone. I’ll never be able to tell you what that diner in that desert was; why they only served apple pie or why the booths were pink. But I’ve thought about that waitress for years. And I think I know now. I think I know.
“She was just one of those people, you know? Here and gone in a flash. One second you knew them young and the next, they’ve gotten old and made a million mistakes. Though you’d never know it, they’re just so quiet and they stand in the backgrounds of stories and they serve and serve and serve. And then they’re gone, and the last image you have of them is so blurry, all the details, the shades and shadows of here erased in the favor of a kinder picture. She was a tree that fell in a forest, with no one around to see.”
“And no one to remember. Not correctly anyway.” The Blue Moon Boy finished quietly. His small face was pinched in an expression too old for his age. Too grievous for someone so young. “Who will remember me, Julien? When there is no one to spend the night with me again, who will remember? What will there be to remember, with a life like this- this is no life at all! I will never be able to have stories like you do, I will never live a life like you do-”
“You are right.” Julien cut him gently. A delicate smile on his lips. “Of course you will never live a life like mine, you can only exist during Blue Moons. Your world is lived on rare nights. You will never live stories like mine my boy, because you were not made for them. You were made for something far more divine.
“You want to be like the man when you were made to be the diner. A strange, fantastical, god sent thing made of poetry and metaphors with no answers or meaning. You cannot be the storyteller when you were made to be the story.” Julien took his hands in his, and the boy could see the glimmer of the young man who he had been listening to the adventures of ever since the night Julien found him, grinning, peculiar and full of stories.
“My Blue Moon Boy.” He declared like it was some grand thing. “You are going to live the greatest life. The stories people like me will tell of you.”
Hot, childish tears spilled from the boy’s eyes.
“I’m never going to see you again Julien, am I?” The old man’s face twisted, sour with melancholy. He was old. So undeniably old.
“Not under these stars, I’m afraid.”
“And not under the sun either.” The Blue Moon Boy wiped his eyes. Sniffling. He was young. So undeniably young. “What do people say at the end of an era?”
The sky was paling, like a terrified face before a long jump into the unknown. All the stars had disappeared like dreams, only the Blue Moon remained, trying to hold onto a sky it was not made for.
“I believe the phrase is,” Julien whispered. “Good morning.”