By: Brian Michael Barbeito
The China Cottage was not a cottage. It was a restaurant on the one lane highway nobody really patronized save for the odd travelling soul. Moon was not the moon as in the one that sits in the sky but rather the woman that worked there. The place was not cursed, and though by no means modern or sexy, could not be accused of being dirty, unkempt, or overpriced. Maybe it was just somehow forgotten for some reason that will never really be known, left to its own devices and destiny both.
Moon was twenty five then, and her brothers and sisters had long gone off into the world on adventures, for education, and to bring their own progeny into the cycle of time. She was the youngest, and she tended the restaurant for her parents. I had known Moon most of her life, and always stopped in to say hello and at least by a coffee. That day I was headed back from the North, was gladdened to take a break from the monotony of traffic and long painted yellow demarcation lines.
“Hayden,” called Moon as I walked through the door, “long time Excellency.” Moon sometimes called me by my right name, which was Hayden, but most of the time referred to me as Excellency. I had no idea when it started, and could only surmise that it was a moniker she read in one of her books. Moon was an autodidact and always good for a talk about her books. I don’t know where she got them, and though there was of course some prosaic answer, I preferred to think they arrived by ways and means that were infused with mystery and magic. As for the ‘Excellency’ designation, it made me uncomfortable, my mind reeling with ideas about hegemony and patriarchy and all manner of problems. But I sidestepped that. The hearts were in the right place. I just went along with it.
“Hi Moon. I not around for a while, ya, and the ponds and lakes around here are green. Why ‘come Moon. What say you?”
“Big problem Excellency. They say that since there was no rain in too long, the water became too hot and stagnant. Problems with the air also. Too many positive ions. Rain need to come to clean the air. I pray to Divine Mother for rain and rain gonna come soon. Many earth changes about.”
“Moon, I always love to see you. Gimmie a coffee please. Medium double double.”
Moon went around the counter to get the coffee. She had been mopping and though the place smelled like chemicals, there was something reassuring about the starched unnatural air. I wouldn’t admit it, but the place became safer, calmer, better, with all those chemicals. They probably killed many things besides the bad things, but they killed the bad things dead gone good kaput.
“Moon sit and have a coffee with your Excellency? I don’t have many visitors on lonely highway.”
“Of course Moon. I wouldn’t have it any other way”
That is where, in place and time, we had our talks. Just like that, and we tried to fit in what we could- world politics, the weather, films new and old- basically anything that we wanted. There was something that other people, the few that knew her, did not know about Moon. I knew her secret though. Or part of it. The second part I didn’t ever ask about and probably would never know. Moon spoke with a bit of an accent, as if English was her second language. But it was not, and Moon did not have an accent. Yet there she went along with it. I knew that she had lost a brother, and I knew that in a separate incident, she had almost died in a fire. She had burns on her neck that the surgeons could never properly repair. I was no psychologist or head shrinker, but I wondered if somehow, in some way, the accent started after one or both of those events as a sort of protection. Most people tried to integrate into the world, but moon shied away from it. I too.
That we always held and had in common.
Maybe, I often thought, that is what Moon liked about me. The fact that I didn’t ask her too many questions. Not personal ones anyhow. Other people, she had said, when they came around, got nosey. “The world full up of gossip Excellency,” she was fond of saying. Maybe that was a way of warning, “Don’t ask about my burns.” Whatever the case, we got along. Sometimes I thought I would come by one day in the future and ask Moon to marry me. Moon and I were not in love, and probably never could be. But maybe we could eke out a decent existence- based on reason, on mutual respect, and even on the life of the mind. Moon and I could form a resistance movement of two, based simply on our non-participation in the ambitious ways of the world. We would live forever away from others, and be, if not happy, as in books and films, then at the least content. Moon was pretty to be sure, with dark eyes, eyes that were interesting and that you could find something in. There was much to Moon, unlike many other people.
See, Moon wasn’t kitsch. The world was, but Moon wasn’t. Moon was more and had more soul.
She sipped from a tea and looked out the window at the summer. The world out that window was basically the small parking lot, the one lane highway, and the seemingly infinite forests beyond. The trees started about twenty feet from the soft shoulder and continued right through to the next county line. Then she looked back at me.
“Whatcha reading Excellency?”
“I am not reading anything lately.”
“You lie Excellency. I know you lie just now. Moon maybe psychic. What you reading Excellency?”
“Charlie Brown,” I told her, at which she gave a quizzical look.
“You serious or joking? You reading Charlie Brown as in Charlie Brown and Snoopy? You reading Snoopy Excellency. The beagle? I know the beagle. Moon know much more than you think.”
“Yes Moon, I am serious, and I know you know more, don’t worry about that…Now you gotta tell what you are reading.”
“Moon read too many books to mention. Right now Moon reading The Tin Drum and the dictionary, plus maps of Florida.”
“You going to Florida Moon?”
“Ya. One day maybe Moon run away to Florida and never is seen again. Just read books all day and eat. Moon get very fat but be very happy. Just have to find a quiet place first. Moon tired of cold winters. Winters for kids. Moon not a kid any more. Moon a woman. Grown woman you know, and Moon gotta go from this place someday…”
Then we both stopped talking and just looked at one another. I don’t know what the look meant but something was exchanged. Moon got up and started arranging the counter and asked if I wanted something to eat. I told her no, and that I had to go soon, had to get travelling again.
“Moon say don’t wait so long next time Excellency. Maybe you wait so long again you find nobody at China Cottage and the Moon gone south to sunshine state and then you are sorry…” I smiled, and Moon smiled also. I looked at trucks whiz past outside, tires turning millions of turns, but each one seemed to go slowly, like some dharma wheel. The dusk was into mid stream and the trucks now had orange and yellow lights on them. Some had a series of green or blue lights also and these big rigs travelled like small bits of Christmas in the Northern roads- Christmas at night in the middle of summer by the China Cottage.
[Brian Michael Barbeito is a novelist, short story writer, and poet. A resident of Ontario Canada, he is a Pushcart Nominee for the story The Motel by the Stereo Sea (Mungbeing Magazine, 2012), and for the story The One Single Note, (Lunatics Folly Magazine, 2011). Some venues where his work appear include NFTU Notes from the Underground, Whisperings Magazine from Mountain Tales Press, and Kurungabaa: A Journal of Literature, History, and Ideas from the Sea. His most recent work, Chalk Lines, a book of short fiction and poems, is published by Fowlpox Press in 2013. He has writing forthcoming at Birkensnake Magazine and is at work on the novel Pockets Full of Memory. ]