Short Story: A Hotel on the Moon

The boy has been in his apartment all day, the weather won’t permit otherwise. He has a building case of cabin fever; damn the weather. He checks his watch again; it is well past dark out and he hasn’t gotten up in small, meaningless eternities. As he stretches and puts on his clothes, he debates the quality of this idea.

He needs to get out or he will snap. It’s also dangerously cold and painful and any other adjective he can link to hurt outside in the blizzard. Maybe it’s appropriate. He flinches, and picks at crusted tears on his eyes.

He grabs his key, and, after much deliberation, decides In the Aeroplane over the Sea, by Neutral Milk Hotel will accompany him on his excursion. He looks at his coats and decides — against his better judgment — for the light jacket that doesn’t zip. He feels masochistic. He closes the door to the drowsy, suffocating, warmth that he has been subject to all day and locks the door with a click. He crosses the tungsten Charon of his apartment’s front hall, thick and cloying.

Alia iacta est.

He opens the door to see the city is gone; in its place, the Moon.

“When you were young you were the king of carrot flowers…” the corrugation of acoustic chords wash over him as he marvels at the Moon’s surface: off-white, caps of shifting crystalline grains being pulled by an angry wind into the pitch black of airless night. He looks up at the sky, noting the brightness of the stars this evening. An unusual lux on this dark night of the soul.

Still on safe ground, he takes cautious steps onto the surface. He has to at least pretend that gravity exists.

He looks at the sky, feeling frictionless shoes accumulate moon-dust as he looks at dunes of glittering white up to his head, intimately – and uncomfortably — close. He slips as his shoes imprint their mark on the bitter cold dust. Neil Armstrong laughs in his head.

He looks up as he turns, the violent wind visible in clouds of moon-dust that ascend angrily into the pitch black sky. Fluorescent lamps illuminate the gusts, blowing like a jilted lover’s scorn. Smells do not waft in such bitter cold, and the world is sterile. Signs of earth nonetheless mar the beauty of the moon’s surface.

The boy decides not to linger. The moon is nice in the abstract, where you can romantically wonder at its simple beauty, craters forming apophenomenal shapes and people. When you’re there, though, the reality of its cold merciless solitude hits. There won’t be anyone out tonight: makes sense. It’s colder than even he is used to. His footing grows more assured as Mangum and Trumpets move him to the King of Carrot flowers part 1 to parts 2 & 3

“I love you Jesus Christ” Mangum sings loudly to the void, against his eardrums.

The boy shivers. That line has always made him uncomfortable. He has nothing against Jesus — nor does he necessarily disbelieve in him. But Mangum’s passionate voice – for Jesus, of all people – singing of such true love, so shamelessly, makes the boy twitch violently. How do you get away with something so…genuine, without hurting? Without want, or desire. How do you love so easily, so effortlessly? Is it even possible to love anyone thing that intensely?

As he climbs yet another dune of white powder, making sure not to slip and hurt himself, he nods: Yes.

He’s never made reciprocity’s acquaintance; it seems overrated to his mind anyway — like the moon; once you get past the beauty and mystique, it’s just another dull reality. He turns down a straight path where the dunes break for a moment into flatness. He tries not to flinch as the crystals of dust carried into the air swirl around him like daggers. No, reciprocity is overrated; not that he needed today’s failure to make it any more obvious.

He had fucked up again. So consumed with possibility that he failed to look at reality. Desperate for some girl’s love, who he didn’t even want anyway, just to feel less alone. She wasn’t the one. She was a distraction. He was a fool; and it still hurt.

Drums build to Part 3, and chaos reigns in the swirling wind; he appreciates Mangum’s bald assertion, even if it doesn’t feel true to him, and perhaps never will. An image passes through his mind; one he had forgotten, but shouldn’t have.

She is smiling at him; unerringly beautiful, calm, with a smile that would cause minor flooding from the ensuing melt. The details are irrelevant in the presence of such feeling. The spark of a crush long ago extinguished; a pleasant nothing he had enjoyed; but, for whatever reason, has decided to come back, and come back in force. He looks into her eyes, and she, his. A tender gaze that, for once, doesn’t make him terribly uncomfortable, He returns the gaze, trying to share in that warmth, he almost feels it spreading through him

Suddenly, as if in sync with the music, a gust blasts him directly in the face. The snow doesn’t care; the stars are distant…judging. The song ends with that longing — that need. The resonant overtones of the title track begin. He starts singing along, he knows the words too well.

“And one day we will die  and our ashes will fly  from the Aeroplane over the sea,  but for now we are young,  let us lay in the sun  and count every beautiful thing we can see…”

The boy looks around him, despite the vicious cutting wind, despite the apocalyptic dunes and overwhelming darkness that seems ready to consume the light at any moment. He feels a beauty sitting underneath the savagery. He breaks into a well-kept, flat, causeway from a wider swath snow. The song is cheerful, promises of a sunny day so diametric from where he currently stands that if he could, he would laugh.

“How strange it is, to be anything at all…”

Amen. The boy laments his choice of clothing. His neck is exposed, swollen red; his hands numb when they stay out of his pockets for too long. The numbness in his neck though, gains uncomfortably sharp clarity, blotting out his hands. He occasionally looks down to see his hands, angry red and swollen from cold.

He hasn’t dealt with this kind of cold in a longtime. Lacerating his face. A capricious, but consistent, gust picks up around him, blowing dust into him with a siren’s fury. He’s too far from his apartment to turn back just yet; he sighs as he realizes it would be smarter just to finish the album on the walk than try to rush back to his apartment. The wind slows him down. Fuck it.

He disregards the structures, houses, apartments, convenience stores, all closed and asleep around him. They’re shelter, warm, holding people in unintentional stasis. He wonders briefly if he is crazier than they are. Probably.

He is going to be sick tomorrow, he feels it. He again sighs at the lack of weightlessness on the moon. He thought it would feel….airy, but no, gravity is retained.

“Two Headed Boy” starts and he can’t help it, he’ll have to give it his all. He can never help singing with this track.

“…put on Sunday shoes,  and dance round the room to accordion keys,  with the needle that sings in your heart”

It’s at this moment the boy lets loose in silent double tracked mourning. He looks at those distant stars and sings loudly; he notes people on the moon, as he turns towards a busy street…odd. But then again, this is a night for oddity.

He wonders pointedly if the reason he always feels so strongly about this song is because he is the two headed boy. He has always felt like he was sitting a jar, watching the world move. The events of the last few days have done nothing to mollify him. If anything they have made it worse. He presses a finger to his nose, because he cannot feel it.

And the girl in the song, who is she? He opens his arms and strikes an apostatic pose as a particularly strong wind blows his coat open. The climax of the song beating against him bodily and the chaotic airless weight of the wind assaulting him, trying to destroy him.

He passes a pharmacy and takes a brief respite as the western waltz “The Fool” plays to his heart. It sounds like a dirge, as if the two headed boy has left the world against his will and is being marched into now. He glances over the hopeless job search in his mind, unsure what to do. Maybe he is a failure. Maybe not. Again that girl flashes into his mind. A Beatrice who he would rather be a Gemma Donati, or better, Nora Barnacle. Her memory is unrealistically vivid.

Horns drift to silence, and “Holland, 1945” marks a turning point and the boy realizes he must go back home.

He walks completely against the wind. Power chords, and drum fuzz blind the world to a painful metal clarity as his neck is torn by the gusts. Torn past redness and sore sorrow.

“The only girl I ever loved,  was born with roses in her eyes,
but then they buried her alive…”

Perhaps this snow would bury the world around him. One day he would wake up and he would be permanently imprisoned in a tomb of white; were there any other preferable ways to go out?

His old/new Beatrice dances with him in a slow, sensual — but not graphic — tango on the actual moon. They respond to the rhythms and frequencies of each other perfectly, harmonically. Indulging in weightless flights of fancy.

She wears a crown of flowers and leads the dance; weightless, their reactions graceful and infinite. He looks and sees rose petals in her irises. Or maybe he is just hoping that was the case. They bleed white as the song ended.

The wind wants his blood. Sacrificing his hands comfort, he holds his neck and presses his palm gently to it. He shudders at how cold it is, and how supple and tender against the calloused numb hands.

He slips into a trance as he walks back up the hill, on the return journey, and falls into the lilting drone of “Communist Daughter”.

“Semen stains the mountaintops”

An odd sensation of relaxation rolls through him, as he feels his vocal cords vibrate. He sings against his palm; a tactile beauty to the feeling of sound being produced. The wind will not have it. It drums apocalyptic. He crests another dune. Holding himself closely as the wind attacks him, tries to defeat him. Crush his obstinate refusal to stop.

The moon is angry. As he finally turns a corner to return home, just as “Oh Comely” begins. And a moment he has since resisted finally breaks. He stops. Far from home, but not far enough.

Life hits him: he is a failure, in every sense of the word. He falls into the sadness of the behemoth of a track and slows his pace as the wind begins to abate. He walks with the jagged pace of a drunk. The snow silently crunching; the moon-dust judging him. Why did he take this walk in the first place?

He turns back to familiar avenues but notes an alley he never paid any close attention to before. The cold has dropped further. He’s so numb, so beyond feeling, that he feels everything. His jacket is crusted with frost, and hard besides; Every skin cell screams for him to stop.

He walks, slumping slightly as the song dips into his despair, and stokes it.

Then he looks up.

That bright star is there, but its character had changed. It seems… happy, to see him.

“I know they buried, her body with others,  her sister and mother and 500 families,  and will she remember me, 50 years later, 
I wished I could save her in some sort of time machine”

He wants to cry for this sublime instant; at the beauty of it all. The world has become bright and crisp. He looks down. A bright light cast his shadow in terrifying clarity.

He looks at his shadow carefully, in high definition. It looks more real than he does, so crisp and precisely defined. He stares. Then he pushes on, he is almost back.

“Ghost” drifts by and he takes a wrong turn. The mountains close in on him and he turns back on to the main road. His heart pounds in his chest. He feels a flowing reverse tide, shifting his heart’s blood to warmth.

Beatrice is out there, she is happy and smiling. She probably isn’t aware he exists, but that doesn’t matter. He feels this…deep, warm, and utterly compelling love. It’s stupid, when he analyzes too closely. Someone who doesn’t give a shit, but he feels it anyway. He knows she might never become his Nora, she might forever remain Beatrice but it doesn’t matter. For once. She’s a memory, but She’s real. He forces himself to go back home.

“And now she knows, and now she knows she’ll never be AFRAID  to watch the morning paper blow, 
into a hole where no one can escape”

His apartment looms closer. He is stiff from the cold, and so is his jacket. The world of “Untitled” fills his mind with accordions and surreal singing bows. The hill to his apartment is a blur of speed. His movements matching the crescendo of the song.

He stops right outside his apartment as the sound cuts to a hum of finality. He opens the door and quickly rushes to his apartment as he falls into the dark of his unlit single. Closing his eyes, the hum picking up into a wail he stands dead center of his room, the warmth he had fought all day rolling into his body. If he was the two headed boy, then this girl is there somewhere. He begins to sing.

“Lady please hear this song that I sing,  in your heart there’s a spark that just sings  for a lover to bring, 
a child to your chest that could lay as you sleep, 
and love all you have left like your boy used to be, long ago wrapped in sheet warm and wet”

He stands straight, opening the aperture of his heart, his arms assuming a crucifix. He doesn’t need this pose, but it feels right. The crux of the song washes over him as does a beautiful inner light.

“And in my dreams you’re alive and your crying,  as your mouth moves in mine soft and sweet, 

rings of flowers round your eyes and I’LL LOVE YOU…”

he holds the note, feeling the truth of that statement at its deepest. He is in love, it will not be returned. The light and warmth fill him, almost to bursting as he lets loose on the final verse. He loves something, truly, passionately. Fuck it if she’s just a memory.

“And when we break, we’ll wait for our miracle,  god is a place where some holy spectacle lies, 
when we break, we’ll wait for our miracle, 
god is a place where you’ll wait for the rest of your life” 

He holds the note, then something tells him to be quiet.

He had returned from the moon, he had survived the pain and hurt and sad – failure —  and somewhere out there, he felt love for a girl who didn’t care, and probably didn’t want to, and he was OK.

For the first time he was ok. He listened to the final verse in the darkness, with a smile. It was all one big love song in the end. A horribly funny cliché.

“Two headed boy
She is all you could need
She will feed you tomato and
Radio wire
And retire to sheets safe and clean
But don’t hate her
When she gets up
To leave”

She would leave one day, but that was ok, for all he had was now anyway.

END

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