She Does Not Have to Burn by Alison Wisdom

The sun is not the jealous type. He doesn’t feel the need to be, and why would he? He warms us and gives us light; he makes things grow. Look at the power there. And because he is not jealous, because there are no threats to him, his character is easy, steady. It’s a common misconception that he would be angry, all that fire burning. But he isn’t, he’s happy and vain. This is lucky for us. Think of the damage he could do with fury. Think of that fire now.

But the moon. She is different, a sensitive creature, prone to fantasy, to melancholy. Perhaps it’s because when she is awake, there is so much less to watch, much less to distract her. We are all asleep, mostly, and then there is so much time to think, and that is what she is left with. She does not have to burn. She does not have to make things grow. She is beautiful. We all say so.

But one night as we sleep and as she watches and thinks and dreams and worries, she feels something breaking inside her, a feeling sharper than sadness, and on her outside, something craters. Those of us who pay attention might wonder if she is different. Even more beautiful than last night, we murmur. Those valleys and peaks of her face. Something there we haven’t seen before. Why tonight, why now? Perhaps it’s loneliness or boredom that makes her see, or sadness. Or a sudden light coming on, like the candles, the lamps she’s watched us use for years, an artificial glow in our houses as soon as she appears each night.

It doesn’t matter because now she sees our home, truly sees it, and she must have seen it a million nights before, but tonight it is new somehow, the light of her making it glow. All this time, it’s been here, winking and glistening and rising and falling, all of it breathing and living, right in front of her for ages. How had she missed it? The beauty there! Silver hills and plains, the shine of pools and valleys. Magic and majesty in its borders and waters—but is it more beautiful than she? What will it mean for her if it is? Will she lose our love? She pulls herself closer.

And the tides rise. The night lightens. The face of our home is lovely, more so than her, and she hates that, to know she is less than this, but she wants to be closer still.

The next night, she moves again, closer, closer. Now, werewolves creep in the light; men, too, and women, into bedrooms they shouldn’t visit. This is crazy, they say. What’s come over us? The waters are higher, reaching further, a million stretching hands. We wake in the night, the new brightness of it.

And the next night she is closer, hovering outside our windows, over our houses, where the waters now lick. We hear the wolves stalking and singing, a calling of snarls. She’s so close we could touch her, we want to reach up, take a bite of her beauty, to make it into clothes for us to wear. Every night her sadness brings her even closer. She wants to touch the beauty too.

But it’s a sadness we don’t understand. She isn’t the sun, doesn’t have his strength. But she is beautiful, and we’ve always told her so. Isn’t that enough?

Alison Wisdom’s fiction has appeared in Ploughshares, Indiana Review, Columbia Journal, Cheap Pop, and elsewhere. She holds an MFA in fiction from Vermont College of Fine Arts.



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