A letter from the Moon
Maybe you won't remember me. It's been many years since I last saw you.But you might like to know how things are on the moon, since you left.
The weather is much the same. The air is cold and tastes like burnt toast. We don't see a lot of visitors.Sometimes you hear a rocket pass by, with a kind of slow, tearing sound, and everyone looks up, as if they're scared someone's ripped the sky from edge to edge. But the rockets never land. The sky heals over again, black as the pupil of an eye. My friend Dorcas says they all go to Venus to see the hoochy coochy girls.
It's quiet on the moon. The shops are rarely open.You can see signs in the window, but no lights are on and the doors are always locked. My friend Maria says you can find useful things in doorways sometimes. Once she found a paper cup with her name on it, and a box of safety pins. But though I keep looking I have never found anything in those doorways at all.
Do you remember when we first arrived on this planet? You couldn't get used to there being no colour. You kept looking at the remnants of colour we'd brought with us from earth; sour juicy greens, sugary pinks, buttery yellows. You cried because you missed them so much. But I've grown used to living in monochrome. Grey can have a million different shades.
Are there colours where you are?
I try to keep busy on the moon. Every day, after I've taken Bernard to school, I walk a mile or so to visit my neighbour Ernestine. The walk can be difficult. The moondust lies thick and compacts like snow beneath your feet. It smells very faintly of gunpowder. Ernestine fixes us a glass of Alka Seltzer and shares a teaspoon of salt with me. We have no food left now; only mineral substances that haven't rotted away. We sit and talk of things we know nothing about.
We don't speak in English. Haven't done for years. The atmosphere is so thin you can't hear the sounds. Like everyone else on the moon, we speak in binary code, which is uttered through clicks and gasps. It is a limited language, and makes it difficult to say all the things that are in your head. But it's all we have.
We often talk about plants we would like to see on the moon. I would love to see a cactus.Ernestine would be excited by a Christmas tree, though we can't remember exactly what Christmas is. She is convinced it involved something called snow, which is like moondust, only colder and without the smoky smell.
Soon it's time to pick Bernard up from school. It isn't the same as it was when you were here. We no longer bother to try and teach the children anything. We don't want to get their hopes up too much, and besides, all the pens and pencils are long gone. To pass the time, they get measured to see how fast they are growing. Wooden rulers are laid along their tongues and long silken tapes along their arms and the backs of their thighs. Once a day they stand against the wall with a book on top of their heads so that a mark can be made. Each child has been given two &a half billion seconds, which is the average life expectancy,and at school they tap out the seconds with their fingertips on a piece of moon rock, counting out the life they have left. When they come home they tell us how many seconds they used up that day. They get pretty excited. Can't wait to go to their rooms and keep on tapping the seconds away. Last week Bernard reduced his time on the moon to two billion seconds and we had a party to celebrate.
Most evenings we have entertainment. Ernestine has a record player and a single record, Herb Alpert and his Tijuana Brass playing A Walk in the Black Forest. It plays badly, with disconnects and feedback and lots of crackle, and mostly all you can hear is the percussion. But we dance to it all the same. A different dance, every night.
Then we sit in a row whilst Dorcas unfolds the big white screen. It takes up nearly the whole of the sky. Everyone comes out of their houses to watch, even though the films we own have all disintegrated. The screen is blank but we imagine whatever we can. Sometimes the other women cry a little, and black mascara trickles into stars on their cheeks. I don't know what they are seeing. They seem to be crying for everything they left behind, even though they can hardly now recall what it was like.
I cry for you. But I think you know that.
There are no men left at all, now. After you went they followed and never came back. We could have gone too; but we made our choice. We preferred the things we knew,the things we were used to. We thought you were stupid, to risk everything for the chance of a new start on another planet. We thought we had done the right thing.
Maria says it's a lot more peaceful now the men have gone. We can sit all day if we want, and look out of the window and listen to the children tapping their lives away. Dorcas says she doesn't miss men at all. They were so frequently angry and silent and had tar underneath their fingernails.
But each night before we go to bed we wipe black stars from underneath our eyes.
Since you've been gone we've kept the old traditions. Once a year we honour the founding fathers. We have a few dim photographs of them, looking puffy, like big white marshmallows, joyfully bouncing through the massive black silence. Ernestine built a fence around the footprints they left behind. Over in the distance behind Maria's house, the American flag still hangs sideways, paused in mid air. It feels crinkly now and sad to the touch.
So many things were left behind by the astronauts.You told me they had to abandon all that they did not need, otherwise they'd weigh themselves down so much their rockets wouldn't launch.
We find new things all the time. Some of the stuff they left behind is huge; big silver spiders, hulks of brittle steel. Other things are so small you might easily miss them. A pair of boots, a golf ball, a photograph of a man and his children. We have never touched those things. Everyone says it would be bad luck.
One day at the bottom of a dried up sea I discovered that the astronauts had left behind a typewriter. At first I only knew enough to hit two keys: zero and number one, using the same fingers I use to point. But after a while I started to experiment with the other letters on the keyboard, to make new shapes. I remembered some of the words we used to share, and I felt them form in my mouth, sharp and knotted, more complicated than the gasps and clicks I had grown used to.
I began to write you a letter, even though I knew you would never receive it. It took me a week to finish the letter. It was so difficult to work out which shapes to use and to remember what order they came in. But gradually I got more confident. The words came back to me. Soon I was writing you a letter every single day. I didn't know what to do with all these letters.
I was worried the children would read them, even though they have never been taught to read.
I wanted to hope you might see them, somehow. In the end I scattered them at the bottom of craters, out of sight. Nights when I couldn't sleep I would lie awake listening for the turn of a page, a noise like a hiss. If I heard that sound I would know you had returned.
The rest of my days passed as before. I danced, every night a new one. I looked in shop doorways. I listened to the children tapping. I visited Ernestine, who had found a new subject to discuss; pets we might once have had. She favoured dogs. I preferred goldfish.
One day I arrived at Ernestine's house to find that Dorcas and Maria were there already, drinking from fizzing glasses. They turned eyes on me that were pale and unloving.I heard the bubbles crackle. I saw my letters scattered on the ground.
“Were you after something?” Dorcas asked.
I bent down to pick up my letters; but Maria placed her foot on top of them.
“We heard you tapping,” she said. “Do you realise how many seconds you have left? A handful. If you keep on like this you'll die.”
I turned to Ernestine. She was always kinder than the others. But she couldn't look me in the eye. “You shouldn't have touched the typewriter,” she whispered.
“When you are watching the screen,” I asked her, “what do you see?”
Her face turned soft and secretive and she would not answer.
At night on the moon a fine soot falls through the air. That's how you know it's time to go to bed. It takes only a little resistance to rise into the darkness. I skip along the dead end streets, two inches above the ground, weightless.
Tomorrow I will type with all my fingers.