Shattered glass litters the floor like light on a dance floor; weeds burst through the concrete of my skin to soak up the light from the gaping holes in my walls. The metal beams of the ceiling are bent and crooked and paint from hundreds of different cans and artists coat every inch of the place, laid on in thick layers overlapping in different pigments and shades and designs.
I have stood in this lot for a long time. Watched as humanity flowed by like salmon swimming upstream in their little dirty jungle of a city, the slums like a mudslide from the top of the mountain; I can see the nicer neighborhoods from my spot on the end of the block, but they are out of reach for me and everyone who resides in this part of town. I watch people walk by wearing rags, taking shelter in my concrete castle, shivering as the wind blows through the holes in my foundation. Thousands have made fire pits out of weeds and scraps of cardboard; the tin of my ceiling is stained ebony from soot and ash. My memory is seared with cold nights and colder hearts.
Mostly, the faces that linger in my shelter are blank, doomed to fade from my memory. They are dirtied and hopeless in the way everyone around here is, with mouths that incline downwards and ribs that poke out, pressing against their thin clothes like fingers pressing outward. But there is one.
She sticks in my memory because she comes back every day; she is young, younger than most that pass through here unaccompanied, and on her small body is a backpack that once was light color but is now muddled the same color of her dark skin littered with dirt. Her hair is clumped and tangled but it looks like a crown of thorns upon her smeared face.
She paints meteors on my walls, taking herself out of this slum and into the stars, dragging me along with her. To the black void of space, left of Saturn. She soon consumes my walls with her dripping paint and when there is no concrete left she paints the dandelions, filling the cracks with blue and black and orange; fiery stars and disconnected constellations. I cannot help but to learn things outside of my knowledge as I stare over her knobby shoulder into a textbook with no cover, words smeared and discolored telling us about a being beyond this rock we lie on; and for once I think I might understand the scope of the human agony, why sometimes people will sacrifice their fragile bodies to the cold to look into the night sky at the few glittering stars, the ones that would not be snuffed out by light pollution.
I watch her grow into her thin frame, standing taller and stronger like the buildings littered with the scaffolding of in the distance; in no time at all—for I am old and time is measured not in the fall of the sun but the people that flow through my shelter— her pants grow short and her shoes pinch at her feet but she keeps coming back.
I decide to name the girl—something I had never done before. Humans are so impermanent and ever more fragile, but this human has a foundation built on glass shards floating in the void of space, hard and cold and strong.
I decide on Moon.
Moon never stays longer than it takes for the sun to split the sky in a poppy fire, yellow and orange. She always brings her supplies with her, and when the walls are drenched in universes vast and unceasing, she punches words with her nozzles instead. Letters my old eyes need to relearn, but when I am fluent again I read them over and over again. I find myself wishing Moon would speak to me, tell me what the slums are offering her—even though I know it is nothing good. I want to hear the honesty in her voice, the same honesty that drips in the triumph in her poetry.
The first time I hear that voice, it is littered with anger and curled up in defense; some other humans interrupted her painting, looking for a place to stay. She does not back down, snarling and spitting fire like a meteorite.
The humans kick her, ripping up her paint-splatter pants. They tear at her beautiful, knotted crown of hair, fingers easily catching on the coils. They punch and rips and hit, until she is crumpled over the black dandelions, coughing and spitting.
The first time I hear that voice is also the first time I see her blood. It reminds me of her humanity, stark against the painted sky; a neon red like the glow of shattered headlights rolling down the block.
It is not the last time, either.
My windows shatter and my concrete heaves with battles one-sided, and I watch as my Moon is thrown, tossed easily to the side. I grieve, feeling every bruise and every bite, but all I can do is shield her from the sun when it is over, give her a place to wipe her blood and stand again. Despite how it hurts, I wish she would just leave me, leave these painted walls to the wills of the rest of humanity, desperate to crumble the rest of the world.
But Moon never does. She scratches and screams, and when she’s not groaning and pressing sharp fingers against violet bruises she’s smearing white and yellow and red with her hands, poems flowing out of her in a steady pulse like blood. I gasp in the words as much as I can, and wish I would see them the way she does, with her little brown eyes so wide with the world's wonders; so bright, brighter than the cardinal that pecks at the thin worms in the grass outside, brighter than the sun gleaming off shards of my shattered windows.
Moon stays until I am as much her as she is me. We are two halves of one body, and she always returns.
One night, a group of humans smelling of liquor and booze stumble into my body. I watch with muted horror as they laugh at the smears of color on the walls. Watch as they dump whatever scrap they can salvage and throw it in the heart of my being. I watch as they shatter any windows that are unbroken and bring a gas can. It glows red, a corpse among a forest of infrastructure, bleeding a copper liquid over the scrap.
And I watch as they light me aflame.
By morning, when Moon returns, there is nothing but ashes left. I watch as she kneels over in my soot and sobs, the cries and screams ripping apart her body until she lies limp on the ground, whimpering; she has lost half of her body. All that’s left are the bones, marrow of steel misshapen and distorted; concrete painting a permanent black. It is worse watching her grieve on the remains, so much worse than watching the physical decay of her body as punches land and kicks fly.
This is the only time she stays dark, not moving an inch as she lies there.
When she leaves, I do not see her again for a long time. My Moon has left my orbit, stripping me of half of our remains. I no longer look at the dirt-strew faces of humans seeking shelter. All I do is stare into the sky, the half-moon curved and sharp like a fist curled in on itself.
When Moon returns, she is taller; her clothes are no longer rumpled but flat and perfect, and her hair is tied up and pristine. She carries a crowd behind her, along with loud metal machines that gleam orange in the afternoon sun.
Moon speaks to this crowd, and despite not understanding her words I know her tone; nostalgic. She speaks and her words flow over me the same way her paint clung to my old body. It calms me, settles me even as the big machines close in, ripping apart what’s left of me and carrying it off.
When I am nothing but dirt, Moon walks over. She carries a seedling in her tight-fisted grasp, knuckles scarred from altercations— from defending us. She crouches and digs into the thin soil with her hands; they smear with dirt once more as she works a home for the seedling into my corpse. When she finishes I soak up into the roots and take note of the city smog brushing against my leaves for the first time. We both flutter in the wind, fly-aways of her dark hair melding with the shy green of my new limbs.
A new body is built for me; one that is open, with the bones bared and concrete exposed. Metal frameworks litter the open space along with benches and more foliage. When it’s all said and done, a sign pops up, and I feel full again when I read it; Star Park.
New children come and go, dancing and laughing, climbing on my new body with a type of joy I’ve never seen from humans before.
But, the only way I ever named was Moon.
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This is the first story that I’ve read that was metaphorical and I liked. It was riveting!
I'm so glad you enjoyed it!