Fiction: Faith Gardner’s “Moonburn”

I’d never heard of moonburn either before I got one. My skin’s pale as dinnerware. I’ve been mistaken for a ghost on foggy nights, sent passersby sprinting and screaming in opposing directions. My paleness is serious. Hair and brows, too. Even my eyes are water-blue, which means hardly blue at all. The suggestion of blue.

The night I got moonburned, the full moon was a hole in the black. There were ashes in the air escaping his chimney and snowing on me. One landed on my tongue and I tasted the grit and spit into the flowers. The pansy bed I sat in—his pansy bed, in his backyard—looked up into his picture window like a reallife plasma screen. He was watching his TV. For a breath, I imagined what I would say if he caught me peeping. Too bad I didn’t have a bucket of King’s Yellow. It fluttered, the feeling, the fear. Move, go! I couldn’t. This fear was nothing but a possibility, one I toyed with, I liked. And as I watched him watch the flickering somethings, the moon outside beamed down on me, burned down, scalded my arms and face silently. Later, I would answer blisters with petroleum jelly. I didn’t know at the time that the moon could be cruel as our star. He was there inside on his marshmallow sofa, jaw chewing something he had pulled from a box, fingers to box to mouth to box without thought, TV flickering in his glasses. Alone. But not.

 

I killed Trevor Potter thousands of times. Built guillotines, squirted gasoline and threw matches, boiled him in several little pots at once. Bludgeoned, gutted, combusted. My mother always told me it’s okay to think horrors as long as you don’t act on them. I don’t. Anyhow, I’m an indoorsy type, sun’s an enemy. I like my cats and my footbath and my mysteries. Bourbon. I do my shopping after dark to elude the sun. It was earlier that moonburned night but before the moonburn, in a drugstore, magazine aisle, that I spotted Trevor beneath the humming fluorescents with a racecar glossy in hand. He was using it to slap the rack in emphasis. He spit into his phone about his mother and taking care of business, kept shouting the word client. His voice was an alarm in me, dingdingding. I knew. He was him. He turned and I saw half his face, the few hairs of gray on his temples, the rimmed glasses perched on his nose. His hairy hands. Sasquatch in a button-up shirt. I scooted around the corner and abandoned my cat treats and toilet paper in the toy aisle. Outside. Parking lot. My old car smelled like new car thanks to spray. I inhaled the fumes and put the canister back in the glove compartment. He came out of the grocery store with a bag, beeped his car open and got inside it. If there was such a thing as perfectly normal, he would be it. Even the way he put on his seatbelt, precise, exact. Two hands on the wheel, check the rearview. Like a dad, like a husband, like a grown-up man who had “clients.” I could hardly imagine him ever being in high school. He didn’t look like someone who could push a girl in the bushes and dump sick mustard-colored paint on her head in front of his laughing friends, saying she needed the color. He didn’t look like someone who would scram if a girl screamed and vomited King’s Yellow because the paint got in her mouth and eyes, someone who wouldn’t stick around to see the EMTs zip the yolky sobbing mess of her in a body bag because she was so slathered, see her yellow and gagging and plastic wrapped in the wah-wahing ambulance and swathed in emergency room turpentine at the hospital. He looked different now. When he drove out of the parking lot, I followed him with my lights dimmed, smacking my lips. I tasted the thick plastic goo of paint, exhaled it, swallowed a gag.

 

After the night was done, though, back home safe, rubbing petroleum jelly on the blistering surprises along my skin, I stared in the mirror at the blush of color on my cheeks from the too-bright moon. All I could think now was how, after he had finished eating whatever was in the box, he turned off the TV and sobbed like an animal; mashed his knees with his fists; howled mother to the air over and over again, asked the air why. I didn’t recognize his age or gender or species suddenly. It scared me so much I drove home. Good thing, too, otherwise the moonburn on my face might have blistered like my arms. But my cheeks, my cheeks appear to blush and it’s pretty. Look at my face now, the color, the contrast, like the shine of an apple. So pretty.

***

Faith Gardner lives in Oakland, California. Her first novel Perdita was published by Merit Press in 2015. She has stories in places like ZYZZYVA, PANK, and Word Riot. Find her at faithgardner.com.

Photo credit: shutterstock image

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