moonlight  (althea)

by Tony Rauch 

It's very late. I'm walking home. The moon hangs on the hori­zon, illuminating everything in a ghostly, silvery haze. The washed-out landscape becomes wintry in this grainy light. Up ahead I notice some maidens gently twirling in the middle of the crossing of two cob­blestone roads. Their lacy gowns glow in the light of the bright moon. I can't believe my eyes, for I have stumbled upon a host of beautiful, heavenly maidens spinning in the moonlight, their gowns shining like lanterns.

I dash to the ditch at the side of the road. I hide behind the thick trunk of a tree. I watch in awe as they twirl and leap in the air, slowly making their way up the walk to a stone house. They dance in front of this little house. Their arms and backs undulate like liquid. They crawl in through an open window and moments later emerge again, this time passing a sleeping man through the window. The curtains blow in the night's breath as they support the man with their hands. The man appears to be sleeping, as if they've lulled him far away. They support him above their heads, gently carrying him into the front yard. The bright moonlight illuminates them with a silvery shine.

The women dance, presenting him to the night, turning and spinning through the yard, floating the man into the field at the edge of town. Little pixies appear at their feet, somersaulting and tumbling. Delicate little butterflies flutter out from under the maiden's gowns to be illuminated by the night's sun as they all disappear into the tall grass of the clearing.

I follow them, silently creeping low and quick, in and out of the moon's shadows, ducking behind large rocks, trees, and tall grass. But I soon lose them in the height of the alfalfa field. So I slink back to the ditch to await their return behind the first tree I hid behind when I first saw them. The next morning I wake up, curled in the long, coarse grass under the tree. I must've fallen asleep. The morning is bright and dry. I crawl up the side of the ditch, just in time to catch the man they had carried. He is leav­ing his house and making his way to work in the morning.

I follow him into the center of our village, through narrow alleys and over a small arching stone bridge. He enters a little store. He is a stocky man, portly, stout. Through the large store­front window, I watch as he takes off his hat and puts on an apron in a butcher shop. I go in and begin looking around, slowly start­ing up a conversation with an elderly woman at the counter. The stout man is there, tending to his stock. Meat products hang all around in the bright market. There are sharp silver knives of all kinds on pegs up on the yellow tile walls. There are animals lying stacked on a table in back. It looks as though the animals are sleeping.

I begin talking about last night and an unusual dream that I had. I didn't really have a strange dream, I just want to see if the stout man remembers what happened to him in the field the night before.

Then I turn to ask the old lady if she has strange, foggy dreams at times. She nods and shrugs quietly as if to say, 'Yeah, sometimes, I suppose.' Then I look over to the stout butcher and ask him, and he just shakes his head as he is concentrating on wrapping the older woman's meat. The butcher answers, "No. No. Not too much. I don't really dream much at all. Now that you mention it, I don't recall ever experiencing a dream in my entire life. I don't even think I'd know what one would be like."

Talk of this nature makes me anxious. I realize that I want all of my dreams, every last one of them. And I want the butcher to have his. He deserves them after all, as if each were an internal organ, as if each were a mini-adventure you could take. And now I'm getting nervous that someone might make off with one of my dreams and never return with it. And how would I ever know if someone ever did? Or what if there were other things like dreams that I've never experienced because someone is taking those away from me? What if there were all manner of things out there that I'm missing out on?

"Oh, my, you've never ever had a dream before?" the old lady looks up.

"Emm, no. Not really. Can't say that I have," the butcher shrugs. "Not a single one in all my life. It's more like I wake up some mornings and it feels like I'm missing something—just a little tingle of a feeling, a vague incompleteness—like someone has stolen a dream from me, like I have this fresh little empty space inside of me where a dream should've been, as if someone has run off with a dream of mine. But ran off to where? And what would someone do with a dream of mine? Where would you keep it?"

"I'd stretch it out to create a sail, and then use it to float off to who knows where," I advise.

"Would it be valuable? Could you sell it for a tidy profit?" the butcher shrugs.

"Could you paste it together with pieces of other dreams to create even greater, more elaborate dreams?" the old lady won­ders.

And soon others in the shop join in. "Could you keep it in your wallet to show others at parties and social gatherings?"

"Could you hang it on your wall as if showing off an expan­sive, panoramic vista?"

"Could you pass it around for your friends and neighbors to share?"

Gradually the ladies leave, and I can't help thinking they look a little like the fair maidens from the night before, but older ver­sions of them—as if they could change to their younger selves on full mooned nights.