Fiction · 07/04/2018

Why the Moon Wanes

On her thirteenth birthday, Susannah pledged herself to the moon. She grew up taller than a sunflower, spoke fluent cacti, trained snakes, and won every spitting contest on the continent. The collection of grandmothers she lived with warned her to never forget that men are only men and to always hold her breath while passing a grave. Susannah respected spiderwebs, the weather, and the Grand Canyon. She lassoed all her catfish instead of bothering with hooks or reels, and she never went anywhere without her signature leather fringe skirt with slits that climbed higher than ivy.

Most men avoided her for fear of their revolvers spontaneously firing in their holsters, but Pecos Bill wasn’t any regular cowboy. It was high-time he met her, this woman who’d become almost as famous as himself — and for what? A few fish? He’d lassoed up every twister in Texas. He’d once even lassoed a gnat.

He tracked her to the Rio Grande, and it was as she roped her biggest catfish to date—laughing, leaping into the river after it, wrapping her legs around its barrel-wide body and spurring it onward down the river like a stallion — that he galloped up over a hill and saw her.

The reins dropped from his hands. The sight of her. Blond curls whirling like bees, sunburn striping her nose, dark eyebrows knit into a single thick line across her face as if every piece of her longed to touch some other piece. And that fringe. Her wet legs shined against the fish’s thrashing muscle, her body fighting for purchase as the creature bucked beneath her, her elated cry, her chest flushing pink — Her, Bill thought dumbly. Her.

Bill took off his hat and steered his horse Widow-maker to the riverbank. The horse was as white as lightning, white as bone, white as flashing teeth.

Quite a trophy, he called to her, nodding to the fish.

Her eyes rubbed him up and down till he was dizzy. She’d heard of him, too. The man who ate dynamite for breakfast. The man who trained snakes, just like her. Quite a trophy indeed, she called back.

Bill bought her a wedding dress that very day: wide, fashionable hoops and a special sash of white leather fringe just for her, each strand hung with a bell so that her every step shimmered and sang.

Susannah could remember only one time when she’d felt lovelier. A night she hadn’t thought of in ages — a sprawling field washed in cherishing, numinous light; her arms lifted in a vow.

She looked down at herself, at the man she was riding away with. The man who was really only a man.

She stared hard into Widow-maker’s coat. White as moonlight, she whispered, and started to cry. She didn’t know how many times a woman could fall in love. She didn’t know how many more heavenly bodies might one day come cresting over a hill to find her. She didn’t know if she wanted to be found at all. Understand: she was multitudinous, not inconstant.

Susannah? Bill turned in the saddle to hold her, but it was too late.

She had already cut off her wedding fringe and knotted the strands into rope. She had already loosed her lasso away to the moon, the moon, her first love, her betrothed, and begun hauling herself up through the dark.

Wait! she called to it. I still love you!

But the moon couldn’t help its heartbreak, crying itself thinner and thinner until there was nothing left. Until Susannah’s loop dropped empty and she plummeted.

Eyes heavenward, bells trailing all around her, Susannah fell back from the sky with not even a tornado to cushion the blow.

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K.C. Mead-Brewer lives in Baltimore, Maryland. Her fiction appears in Carve Magazine, Strange Horizons, Hobart, and elsewhere. She’s a proud participant in this year’s Clarion Workshop. For more information, visit kcmeadbrewer.com and follow her @meadwriter.