GIRL ON THE MOON
by Andy Bailey
College kid this time. Loud, heard him soon as they got out of the car, warbling like someone too comfortable with his own voice. Badly fucked up or bad at faking: had to be a college kid. Blue-collar guys handle their booze and don’t have to be loud to prove a point, and professional types bug out when they see our shithole. She even brought a black guy back once, the only one who introduced himself, cooked us eggs before he left.
Must’ve gone to the dives near the college, had her pick of beer-soaked frat boys blue-balled from staring at tight Mormon asses all day. Knew it was going to be one of those nights, fucking knew it, but I’d stopped taking Tylenol PM the month before, giving my liver a well-earned retirement, and had to spend each night wrestling my thoughts and gripping the mattress so I wouldn’t get up and do something stupid. Should’ve put more shit up in the room to distract me, lava lamp or aquarium or those squirmy little sea monkeys. Shit, probably should’ve moved rooms in the first place—hate and hurt seeped into the walls—moved rooms, moved houses, moved cities. But time gives a fuckall about your plans.
Her voice soft as they came inside, making his louder in response. She shushed him and made him take off his shoes, a ridiculous request given the state of our carpet, but it’s the one rule left over from her mother she still observes, we both do, paying some kind of sick tribute to that bitch. The kid blared on, trying to tell jokes, exclamation marks in his inflection. She didn’t laugh, she never laughed, but he couldn’t take a hint. I could almost make out words but used the pillow to cover my head, smother the world.
Some of those dives hadn’t caught up with the new regulations, still served near-beer. Would’ve taken her about thirty to get a buzz off three point two. But she was buzzed, more than buzzed; she was so quiet. The nights she came home sober, she’d crank music, bang around the kitchen. Only quiet when she was ripped. Inherited the drunk guilties from me, soaked it up all those nights I crept in late and she’d peer out of her bedroom door and I’d nod and she’d crawl into my lap and we’d fall asleep watching infomercials for get-rich-quick seminars. Must’ve inhaled something in my boozy breath, infected her cells with whatever shit used to drive me and now drove her.
But the college kid was still loud, and I was tired. I was always tired. I wasn’t going back to sleep so I played the game I always did when she brought them back; I thought about my own nights, the nights I must’ve kept her awake when she had tests or dances or other life-altering teenage shit the next day. Turned my alarm clock around every night so I wouldn’t check it, every hour I could associate with a different drink, a different drug, a different fight.
Booked for assault at 11:11, officer told me to make a wish
Midnight shots of Beam at Grainey’s for a buck twenty til the bottle was gone
Tootskis at two whenever Tino was in town
Give her the bottle at 4am, grab one for myself
The SCRRCHSSHHHH of a staticky radio ripped me back. She switched it off, reprimanded him, voice so quiet and stern it scared me how much it sounded like her mom. Despite everything, she didn’t want to wake me.
Actually, bullshit. She knew I’d still be awake, had to, I’d stormed out and kicked up shit for much less. For show then, this voice, this attempt at placation. She knew I’d hear it, maybe stall me a little. Kid ate it up, got more aggressive, wanted to know where a fucking drink was, where her fucking bedroom was, what’s that fucking smell.
Pivotal moment now, whether she took him to her room. Right next to mine, and the walls so fucking thin. I knew the score, known it since she was fourteen and I gave some skate punk a felonious black eye, but it never got easier. Hearing. Knowing. Got worse after the bitch left and it was almost every weekend. I’d stay out all night to avoid it. Wanted to yell at her what the fuck was she doing, but what right did I have? I’d wake up scrambled and wait until I’d hear the front door slam and we wouldn’t talk to each other for days. That’s when I knew she was grown, the first morning she didn’t avoid me, didn’t stay in the bathroom an hour, instead looked me in the eyes and asked about breakfast. Few years ago but could’ve been lifetimes. Time, fuckall, that thing again.
It flew like a brick through our plywood walls, jolting me up. Could’ve been a punchline to one of his self-aggrandizing jokes.
She broke pretense and opened full-bore, curses and screaming and the thwack only a curled fist makes and I was up and out.
Everything froze, like someone had pushed pause on one of those white-trash family dramas on the women’s channel. And he was a college kid, wearing the block ‘U’ t-shirt to prove it, but not like I pictured, not at all, not some water-polo frat rat, but someone more marginal and menacing. He wore glasses over a ratty face, and had a divot out the side of his hair like someone took a razor to him while sleeping, or an operation, or chemo, or some other stupid shit he deserved. He was punching the stereo, not her, already ripped through the speaker mesh and dented the cone. His look went from surprise to something like embarrassment. I wasn’t a bruiser anymore but I had scars and ink and a fat old-man’s gut that looked like it’d be hard to throw around.
He thought a second, eyed the glass mug on the table, eyed me. This wasn’t the first time he’d been tangled up in a shitpile of this sort, and I looked for something within reach that could be weaponized.
She watched, hair back in a ponytail, that athletic look, but the weathered face and boozy loll that aged her a decade. As if she needed more shit, there was adult-onset acne, went to a doctor a few times but what’s the fucking point, she’d asked when we talked about getting her cream or something. What’s the fucking point, there’ll always be something.
College kid was looking at her, thinking the same thing. He shook his head. It wasn’t worth it. She wasn’t worth it. He stood up, made a joke about incest, and backed to the door. It’d be a story he’d tell his buddies, met some slut at the bar and went back to her place, almost got into a brawl with her crazy fucking dad. Fucked up their speakers though.
“Skank.” Tossed over his shoulder as he walked out.
I went after him, I don’t know, to push him in the back or something, suckerpunch his ass to next week. Show her she was worth it, fuck that guy, she’s my daughter and she’s worth the effort and the acne cream and every goddamn drop of blood that’d be spilled from his ratty snout.
But she pulled me back. His lowered pickup peeled out, then stalled halfway down the street. I slammed the door as his engine gasped back to life.
Silent as she looked at me, a look that on a more put-together woman would’ve been called “knowing,” and if she’d had a cigarette she would’ve lit up. I made her promise not to keep any in the house, no smokes or booze or pills, nothing, like we’re fucking Mormons ourselves. We were through with the drama, the dish-throwing, the curses and blames and shitty, sorry muck we dragged each other through for years. Sometimes she woke me up, sometimes she didn’t, and we both dealt with the consequences like the adults we pretended to be.
She helped me toss the speaker into the trash outside. It was cold, and I still wasn’t wearing a shirt, but the night was as clear as I’d ever seen it, like somebody had pulled back a scummy shower curtain that’d been blurring the sky. I’d spent most of my adult life awake during the night, ignoring the sky, trying to blot it out, and yet here it was the whole time, waiting for me.
She stood next to me, followed my gaze up to the crescent moon giving us a half-cocked grin. “That’s where you found me. Remember? I was the girl on the moon.”
I wanted to tell her I knew what she was talking about, but we’d both know I’d be lying.
“When I was little you told me you found me on the moon, playing with the stars. But I was lonely, so you took me home so we could play together.”
More than anything, I wanted to say something here, something witty and important. Something a real dad would say.
But she knew me those years, remembered me during that time better than I did, so she knew not to expect anything. Even gave me an awkward sideways hug before she went inside.
No use trying, so I stayed up, watching informercials, swear to god they’re the same ones we’d watched all those years ago.
I went into her room later. Trespassed, I know, but she’d woken me up, and it was my fucking house. Passed out, teeth clenched into a skeleton grin, so motionless that I held my hand over her flat chest to make sure it still rose.
A full bottle on her nightstand caught light seeping from the hallway. I wasn’t surprised she’d snuck beer in. I was surprised by how cold it was—wasn’t from the fridge, and she’d been out for hours. But it was perfect mass-produced domestic beer temperature, bottle sweating like in the commercials, announcer telling me how it’s the perfect thirst-quenching blend of taste and body. Years building the rickety structure inside but it’d only take one sip to knock it down. I didn’t want to care anymore.
She rustled and sighed and I set the bottle down, catching the label. Hadn’t seen High Life in years—should’ve recognized the tapered bottle. Favorite beer, not just because it was cheap. I loved the label.
Fucking idiot. Of course. A pretty girl sitting on a crescent moon in a field of stars. The fairy tale I told her, the only thing my hole-punched mind could concoct on all those nights I couldn’t remember, all those nights I’d lost, and she’d held onto it like folklore.
Felt like I should do something more there. Wake her up, apologize, find her stash and pour every drop down the drain, a sudsy swirl that would carry us with it, out the drain and through the pipes and into the ocean, where we could float away to an island and start again.
But I’d done enough for one night. I set the beer next to her and stepped out of the room, leaving the door open a crack in case she woke up and wanted to come join me.
Originally from Boise, Idaho, Andy Bailey teaches English in Los Angeles, where he lives with his wife and dog. He’s a Pushcart Prize nominee, and his work has been published in Juked, Tupelo Quarterly, Buffalo Almanack, Stymie, B-Boyish, and Underground Voices, among others. His attempt at a website can be found at www.memyselfandrew.com.
Image credit: The Graphics Fairy