a story by
The only thing the boy knew about the parade was that it didn’t come very often. The last time it came through, the last time the moon was as low and heavy as it was tonight, his parents had forbade him from leaving the house and he had been too small to do anything but obey. That night he heard the sound of the parade marching down the road. It was loud and lovely, filled with competing noises. Too much noise to be able to say what any of it was except beautiful.
Not this time, not these short years later. This year, he’d stowed a lawn chair under a bush and waited for his parents to go to bed. By the time he got outside, the heat of the late Summer had passed and even the mosquitoes had gone to sleep. He sat there on his lawn for a while, slowly draining a water bottle full of lemonade and ice cubes and staring into the empty road in front of his house, waiting for the yellow lines to come to life. As the while grew longer he tried to listen for things, for marching feet in lock-step with drums, for laughter, for blowing horns and yelling people. None of it came. All he heard were the Summer sounds of crickets on his quiet street and the foghorn blaring far out in the harbor. So he sat there in the near-silence, contemplating the huge swollen moon hanging above him like pale fruit. It seemed to follow his eyes hypnotically, swinging back and forth wherever he looked.
The boy woke jumpily, nearly spilling the lemonade into his lap. The drink was still cold and the ice was still clinking around within it. He couldn’t have been asleep for long. But now the parade was here marching past him, though more somberly than he expected.
Some of the people had already passed the bend in his road. In front of him were marchers, not moving in matching steps but all in strong, brisk strides. The faces felt like people he should recognize, like things he ought to have seen, but the moonlight cast such white shadows on them it was as if they were all wearing masks. They weren’t silent, but they were hushed. The noise felt like it was miles off, like it was coming to him from somewhere far out to sea. Behind those marchers came drummers dressed in black and white uniforms, beating huge white bass drums with huge white mallets. He could feel their vibration through the ground, and through the bottle in his hand, but that sound was distant too. He let the water bottle roll from his fingers and he got up to get closer.
After the drummers came a float, a giant wooden whale he’d seen trotted out in the daytime for the Fourth of the July parade. Now, in the moonlight, it seemed to writhe and splash against the wooden waves and frothy-looking trim. He felt the quiet rumble of the float moving past him, still sounding too far to hear, and he drew closer.
More people passed him, more instruments, more miming of laughter. He could see it all dance before him in blue moonlight: a sea of strangers he thought he should know that felt far off and muted to him. More floats passed him: wolves that seemed to be howling, ships who sails seemed to be billowing, smiling mouths that in the day time advertised the dentists but tonight seemed like slivers cut out of some white sun. Each time he felt it rumble he drew closer, until he stood with his toes at the edge of the sidewalk and his nose sticking into the road. He was so close he was at risk of falling in like one can fall into a river, but even this close it felt so far away.
Then the moon float came and the parade rolled to a stop in front of him. The model moon was huge, twice the size of the wooden platform beneath it. It’s size almost matched the real moon still hovering above it all, like they were twins, and it throbbed with a matching whiteness that hurt his eyes. The boy found himself staring at it, and so did all of those in the parade. They all looked at it expectantly, like they were waiting for something spectacular that was not arriving quite yet. The boy was so caught up in the display he didn’t notice the girl in front of him until she was waving for his attention.
Hers was a face he hadn’t seen before but couldn’t help but want to know. She looked brightly colorless, as everything else did that night and he found himself staring at her like he had been staring at the model moon.
“Allons-y,” she said, with an outstretched hand. He kept staring at her, bewildered. “Allons, Allons…” she said with increased annoyance. He reached out his hand—in confusion, more than anything—and she grabbed it and pulled him into the march he did not understand.
The noise came all at once when he stepped off the sidewalk and onto the road. Laughter and clapping and the sound of moving feet and bodies bumping together. Then it was more than the noise: it was the smell of home cooking and beaches and the kind of sweat one earns by being alive and a little embarrassed. The girl’s hair was either red or brown or blonde or a hundred different colors all at once that didn’t matter. She led him towards the moon as the crowd started marching again. The boy was lead down the road, away from his house, as the faces around him grew brighter and more familiar. As the woods gave way to the harborfront, the nameless strangers surrendered themselves to something close and unnameable. The girl stayed beside him, moving just fast enough that he had to catch up, though he never quite matched her step.
She lead him further on, closer to the moon float, which looked larger and higher and brighter than it had from his yard. The people of the parade—now also larger and higher and brighter—each touched it in turn. There were so many people. The boy didn’t know how they could all be touching it at once. They were a tide of multitudes pulling and pushing against the moon. The girl lead him through, bumping them past a crowd that was both too small and too big all at once. When they got there she put her hand on the gigantic moon and guided his hand up to do the same. It felt warm, far warmer than the boy had expected. Like sand in the sun.
And then they were moving away, back through the crowd, but the boy kept his eyes on the moon. He saw all the hands pull away at once as lines begin to split down the moon from the top and bottom. Then—slowly at first, but then faster—the moon cracked open like a pomegranate. At first the boy worried that he’d broken something somehow, the float, a spell, a heart, something. But as the moon broke and broke again, falling into pieces on the platform that held it up, the boy saw smaller moons inside it, all the size of baseballs.
The tiny moons peeled apart from each other, and began to lift up towards the air like balloons. The crowd followed after them, cheering and clapping. The girl followed the crowd and the boy followed her, cheering and clapping along with them all, losing himself in a way he had wanted to for a long time.
He had expected the parade to stop when they came to the beach. Then, when the parade kept marching, he expected them to stop at the water. Then, when the parade kept marching, he expected them to stop somewhere in the water. But when he came to the end of the beach the crowd before him kept going. The floats were floating. There were schools of small fish moving around people’s legs like flocks of birds. The boy hesitated before putting his feet into the water, but the girl stepped ahead and gave his arm a yank and he was moving again.
The tiny moons drifted ahead of the crowd and the crowd marched after them, walking deeper and deeper into the harbor. Walking out much farther than they should be able to. The boy felt the warm Summer water climb up his legs inch by inch and stop at his calves. It did not seem to go any deeper—for him or for anyone else—no matter how far out they went. He passed a tall sign that said DANGER: STRONG CURRENT, DEEP WATER in a bright red diamond, and yet the water wasn’t even high enough to wet the bottom of his shorts. Everyone marched on, down the very middle of harbor, as if they were heading straight out to sea. Ahead of them the moon, the real one, the one in the sky, seemed larger than ever. The boy could feel the light of it on his skin, and it only felt like it was getting closer.
That same white moonlight, shining off the faces of the crowd, made each of them look like they were carrying a torch. The girl saw him looking, and pointed in the sky above the boy. One of the tiny moons hovered above him, moving up and out to sea, just ahead of his own steps. There was another above the girl. And everyone else. Everyone there, with their bright faces, just composed a stream of white lights in the water, following after a stream of white lights in the sky.
Then, at the edge of the harbor, it all ground to a stop. The boy bumped into the girl. He was confused. His eyes moved from once face to another, but none were looking at him or at anyone else. The laughter and noise had all wound to a stop. The girl touched his shoulder and pointed up.
The moon—the proper one—was no longer ahead of them, but above them. On top of them, almost. The crowd had formed a circle right below the moon, as if they were planning to catch it, but the moon did not move. Instead, all of the tiny moons ascended to it and fell inside with a ripple and a splash, like they were being dropped in a bathtub.
The boy had expected more laughter when the last small moon floated into the big one. Instead, one by one, everyone fell beneath the water. The boy began to worry again. He didn’t know if they were sinking or submerging themselves. Were they drowning? Would he? What would…. The girl grabbed his nose between her thumb and her forefinger, and with her other hand grabbed her own. She looked down at the ocean at their legs, and then began to descend. The boy followed after her. Then they were underwater.
In that moment, no one in the parade was a reflection of something smaller. They were not tiny moons. They made up something larger and more beautiful. Each of them was a moon, but each of them was the moon. Together they were a reflection of something bright and huge and beautiful. They were one of a pair of twins on either side of an ocean. Two things that that could never be the same nor could be quite different. Two things that were not together or apart, because they were the same hot light.
The boy felt the water run over his warmed skin and thought This is the sea, and then he felt it move over everyone’s skin and he thought I am the sea. He looked up and thought I see the moon, and then he thought I am the moon. In that way he got to be everyone there, and everyone who wasn’t there. In that way the girl beside him had become a part of him. In that way they were all a part of everyone. In that way, in the light of a moon he’d never truly seen before, he saw himself. The girl let go of his nose. He could still feel the laughter rippling down the tide and found that he was laughing too. Everyone was laughing, and it was beautiful and he could hear it. He looked at the girl, laughing rough bubbles out into the ocean, and felt thankful. She had led him here and let him listen to the sound of the whole world at once.
It was still night time when the boy woke up, drooling onto his lawn chair, but it wouldn’t be for much longer. The bottle of lemonade was beside him, the ice melted and the drink spilled out onto the lawn. The mosquitoes had beaten him to wakefulness and hovered around his head as he stood. He could hear cicadas beginning to growl from the trees. There was no sign of a parade. He was not wet with ocean water. And yet, when he slapped his arm to kill a bug, he nearly yowled with pain. He had a bad burn on his arms and—he checked—yes, on his legs to. He touched his face and found it the same.
But his skin was not red and itchy and warm, as if he had spent too long on the beach. The burn was so bright and pale it was almost luminous. It glowed with a brilliant white color, like the moon the boy now saw sinking below the horizon.