by Sakura Nakashima
I woke up one morning so entrenched in ennui that I could do nothing but burn everything to the ground and start again.
The route I took to work, my perfume, my stance all changed. Switched from coffee to lemonade and in doing so began making small talk with the woman at convenience store B instead of my long-time college girl at convenience store A. Change came.
Not only did I retreat into myself – and unread texts piled up like the newspaper ads in my mailbox – but I picked up a weird habit. Playing the guitar. With frail-looking wrists and coordination to match, I started strumming the secondhand guitar that had been collecting dust in my living room.
When I wasn’t at work or sleeping or getting around on a rusty bicycle, the acoustic guitar was on my lap and my stubborn fingers were memorizing chords and rhythms. Just feeling for their own natural movement, really. I did something improvised and took a knife to my plastic notebook cover to carve a perfect guitar pick; then started drawing wild notations (never learned how to) of the songs I played on empty shochu bottles in the living room. My neighbors wanted to kill me as I worked my way through The Blue Hearts, Aerosmith and Takeuchi Mariya.
In contrast to this eclectic repertoire, I sang folk songs to myself while riding my bicycle around the neighborhood, which smelled of apricots in the fall and fire in the winter. The bicycle squeaked something awful in the humidity but dulled to a ‘pang’ in the cooler months when the gears shifted. Faithfully, I played the guitar accompaniment of whatever tune was stuck in my head when I got home.
You could say it was a creative period for me.
Before long it was the middle of fall and the moon was growing heavy and bright. Mochizuki season.
One night, I was out riding around aimlessly, and it was completely silent. No one around at all; not even the rattling of late summer cicadas or the ghost smells of suburban dinners.
So, I did what any moon spirit would do and I sang a song to the moon.
Soft vowels and syllables turned into loud declarations of loneliness. I parked my bike at the edge of a big field of weeds and stumbled to the center, still shouting at the sky. When the moon leaned in close enough, I found myself faced with a decision. I knew exactly what this meant. Should I stay here, or accept this rare invitation and go to the moon?
Looking around, and still seeing no one, I did it. I took a big leap—more like a hop—and landed squarely on the moon’s dusty surface.
Each step across the pale desert was like crossing an endless chalky swimming pool.
Unsurprisingly, when I called out, the sound stretched into a long vibration. I was in an echo chamber. I wanted to try something so I sat on the moon and, with my thumb, wrote the characters:
It took me a while because I suck at kanji.
I had heard as a child that there was a trick to this. Like, you had to say something, or do something esoteric. My great-grandmother let me in on this secret, but I wasn’t paying attention back then. Was it a rhyme?
As long as it rhymed, I figured it was good, so I improvised:
“Gods of the moon, time has froze,
On this spot, I plant a rose.”
Then I closed my eyes and wished for a rose to manifest. Before my eyelids lifted open, a towering rosebush had appeared on the spot. Full of red and peach flowers with velvet petals, green stems with sharp thorns. It was a real bed of roses. Each one smelled lush and dewy, just like the Earth roses, but something was a bit different.
When I reached out and touched a single rouge petal, my fingerprint lifted the hue from the flower. The moisture in my skin reacted with the pigment in the rose petal. But, unmistakably, the moon magic worked here.
Getting just a bit carried away once I figured out the spell, I planted a number of other things around the moon: gobo, sunflower, osmanthus, pineapple. Taking care not to mess with the ecology beyond repair, I cultivated these plants one at a time, replenishing the moon soil after each harvest. There was a spell, too, to heal the moon. Erase damage.
I also figured out how to dig for moon sap—a deep red variety like a ruby honey—with my bare hands. It was intimidating at first, but quickly I got used to having arms covered in what looks like blood. After I while I learned to make a few things with this moon sap.
I had such a good time on the moon by myself, I didn’t really want to return to the Earth. Ever.
Without technology or commerce or clocks or social etiquette, I was free of obligations and false constructs. Free of time, of a definitive self.
With no mirror for my Earthly self-doubt, finally, I was enough.
Using moon sap and moon soil, I created a beautiful red resin the glowed luminescent when it was dark. It took a while, but eventually, I molded enough resin together to make a redhouse for my moon crops and I. We lived there for many Earth revolutions.
When the sun was out, I tended my plants by singing human folk songs in a kaleidoscopic voice. I made a little resin guitar with strings woven from gobo fibers. The sound was very 1960s, otherworldly, and I wish now that I could’ve recorded those sounds back then. When it was dark, I sat outside the resin house and traced millions of constellations. From out here, I could see star formations and galaxies that were impossible to imagine from under the clouds of dust and pollution on Earth. I made my own stories for these stars and invited their spirits to visit me in my dreams.
Dreaming was interesting.
Often, I dreamed of my old life on Earth. The shape of a teacup in the kitchen of the apartment I lived in. The sound of human laughter. The velocity of a skateboard on a city sidewalk. Somehow, the sounds of the ocean and wind in the trees were buried especially deep in my subconscious. That sacred thing called ‘nature’ that humans had ruined beyond recognition often called to me. Sometimes I woke feeling sadness about the loss of these sounds.
In the end, they weren’t real, though. Not like my life on the moon.
I saw no people in my dreams. Until, one night, a strange man appeared.
Sitting on a pier, I was looking out onto a dark sea with still water like blown glass. The sun was bright but cool, and this man looked straight at me. Intuitively, I felt he did not look like me.
Unlike me, he had a calm aura and a quiet manner in the golden light of a summer afternoon. He stood on the shore, facing the glassy ocean. When he began to head down the pier, towards me, the surface of the ocean started to move unexpectedly. Waves formed. His motions commanded gravity.
When the tide was coming in and falling away, he took long steps that echoed down the wooden pier and reflexively reached for something in his pocket. A single folded paper.
Very quickly he reached the place where I was standing and wordlessly dropped the paper into my hands. Without making eye contact, I opened the paper. The ink outlines fell onto my palms; the paper itself evaporated. Three shapes formed a message:
I knew then who this man was. He was the General.
No sooner had I realized this than he disappeared from the pier. I saw only his lingering shadow for a moment, until the sun faded it away, too. I was standing alone with his message.
Waking from this dream, I quickly hunched over and scrawled these three syllables onto the moon. Nothing happened, as this was not an ordinary spell, but I wanted to remember this message because I sensed it was an important one.
An afternoon passed, and that night I returned to the pier. The waves made a gentle sound this time, like a flat palm leisurely smoothing a bedsheet. Back, and forth. Back, and forth.
Here, and there. Here, and there.
I continued to have these dreams of the same seascape. Yet, I never again saw the General. His image was already blurry in my mind because I saw him only once and so briefly that I could not even remember the color of his hair. The shape of his eyes. I thought hard and pulled at every residual detail I could. There was something about the curve of his lips that was so… Did we have something in common?
It seemed so clear in that first dream. The sight of him, the recognition of him. Like in every dream, what makes sense at the time is as real as conventional reality. Fear, hate, love, color, sound. Images of life and images of death. If we are awakened in the midst of a dream, that reality follows us into consciousness, just as oil clings to water. But I couldn’t figure it out.
Autumn was coming to an end, as the northern hemisphere of the Earth was becoming frosted. In the pursuit of answers, I too felt myself growing colder and more rigid. It occurred to me, finally, that the answer might not lie here. That I might need to return to Earth to solve this puzzle.
If I follow the General to the pier, where will I be?