I pick a moon slice from the ground, hover it near my mouth, put it between my teeth like a spongy translucent bone. It tastes like crab cakes, but nobody else would know that. Each slice is a different texture, a different taste.
It’s nighttime, and around me backs arch in labor, scooping the illuminating slivers out of pasture grass and sliding them into stained gray buckets. Our silence is not heavy like our buckets, but lacking gravity instead, dismissed of all depth, only wondering when the next sunrise can be and how the sun can possibly rise with a shattered moon that fell to earth and stayed there. We remain hunched, trying to find the pieces and mend them, even as some of the more damaged ones crumble into gritty powder between our fingers.
While sucking on my fourth slice of moon, my neighbor, without straightening his body from its infinite bowed nature, says, You can’t do that.
I can do what I want, I tell him, mouth mumbled by the moon jutting out of the corner of my lips like a cigarette. This one tastes like a sour candy.
The moon belongs to the government, the man says.
Around him, people begin whispering, even as their noses nearly brush soil and their hands keep laboriously digging. Some repeat, Moon belongs to the government, others shout, Moon belongs to man. All the while I keep sucking, hearing nothing besides pebbly gray buzzing. In the end this is what true silence means: when voices around you thrum so loud you no longer hear the pulse of the universe.
The sliver of moon, it eventually dissolves in my mouth, melting into my tongue before the argument between moonpickers ever resolves. It fills me with a swishing sensation, like I’ve swallowed an acidic ocean — one glowing splinter that I have effectively absorbed, proof that we will never find all the pieces, that our sky will stay darkened like the gap of a missing tooth.
But as my stomach churns and crawls, as I queasily continue picking, I have a thought: if we ever did mend the moon and launch it once more into the sky, we’d remain too stooped to witness. We would, out of habit, continue harvesting shards of other things — shells, fallen stars, our own bones. Yes, we would harvest with hoes and shovels and buckets, not realizing that the patched moon was resurrected above us, not realizing that the fragments we foraged were not from the sky, but from us.
Perhaps this is the case now, and the moon is actually beaming down on my domed back. I try to look up, I really do, but my neck muscles are too stiff to crane. I remain staring at the ground, my lips inches from a penny-sized shining piece of something in the weeds and rocks.
My neighbor says, Hey, get back to work. I reach down, grab the penny-sized moon, and pop it into my mouth like a pill.
Then, in that eternal cavity of night, I keep digging, and we all keep digging, like the sun waiting for permission to rise, or like the world pausing for its stars to find light.
MARIAH MONTOYA’s work is published or forthcoming in The Bookends Review, Typehouse Literary Magazine, and The Molotov Cocktail. She lives in Idaho.