By the Light of the Moon

-By Nikki Sherman

A cloak of serenity fell across the long plateau as an azure night slowly diffused the lingering remnants of sunlight over the distant horizon. A hesitant aurora began to flicker far above the waves of grass, fighting to defeat the blazing sunbeams that had kept its gleaming song hidden for what seemed like an eternity. Just as this premier star flashed its full brilliance to the universe, an abrupt explosion of jewels pierced through the hazy pillow in the sky, glittering with the giddy knowledge that they beheld thousands of secrets; treasures that not a soul would ever discover.

The sea of carefully trimmed grass suddenly trembled without warning as the wind began to blow. A swirl of leaves and uprooted cattails flew across the yard in wild circles, rolling past shrubbery and spinning hastily around tree trunks. Finally the breeze slid to a halt as it reached an ornate archway that served as the entrance to a large building and dissipated into the abruptly serene air.

The placid tranquility concluded upon passing through the archway. Sonorous clanging as glass clattered against marble tables, loud shouts exploded from the windpipes of rowdy bartenders, and raucous shrieks from the instruments of a string quartet intertwined together to create a deafening roar within the restaurant.

A drunken man staggered across the room, swaying and zig-zagging helplessly in a thunderbolt pattern. When he finally reached his destination, he struggled momentarily to fully grasp the doorknob in his hand, then pulled the wooden plank back as if its weight was twice that of his own. Eventually he stumbled outside into the starry night. Subsequently a small form slipped past the drunkard into the restaurant, bypassing the maitre’d to limp slowly toward the bar.

On the far side of the room, a tall man clad in a white button-down shirt and black slacks glanced at himself in the mirror hanging from the wall. He narrowed his eyes before adjusting the small bow tie strapped around his neck, while simultaneously pouring varying amounts of liquor into a glass. He turned on his heel to slide the glass across the marble counter, unaware of the liquid sloshing precariously close to creating a mess. “There ‘ya go. One Rusty Nail.”

The man opposite him grabbed the drink eagerly, pressing it to his lips with a gasp and swigging it down in two gulps. He let out a sigh of anguish, then slapped the counter harshly with a fist. “Thanks s’much. I needed that,” he said brokenly, shoving the glass toward the bartender.

“You want another?”

He shook his head, dropping his head down to stare at his lap. “But a Jack Daniels would be mighty fine.”

A moment later a new glass clinked against the marble in front of him. “You wanna talk about it?”

Raising his eyes to gaze upon the bartender’s friendly face, he sighed. “Woman troubles. You know how it goes…”

“Very understandable. Hold up a minute; let me grab a stool and we’ll talk.”

Just as the bartender rejoined the distressed man, a parched voice spoke. “Do either of you young men mind if I take a seat here?” Both men turned toward the voice and were surprised at the spectacle before then. A tall woman–well, she would have been tall had her stance not been bent at the mid-point of her spin–stood before them, precariously close to losing her balance. She was clothed in a long, cotton dress that covered her entire body to the floor. Snow-white hair was swooped back into a soft bun at the nape of her neck, revealing tanned skin that was weathered with wrinkles. An arm was held high in the air, with one finger pointed toward a stool.

The bartender exchanged a glance with his acquaintance, then shrugged. “If you don’t mind listening to this man’s troubles, then feel free.”

The woman nodded and cautiously positioned herself onto the stool, then gazed straight into the face of the man behind the counter. He returned a blank stare, causing her eyes to roll. “In this position, I believe it would be most polite to request my order.”

He started at her flippant statement, then chuckled nervously. “Excuse me. It’s just that you don’t–”

Placing her lower arm flat onto the counter surface, she lifted her shoulders passively. “You know, some things just aren’t always the way they seem.” An enchanting song trickled from her lips when the bartender remained stunned. She leaned over the counter. “I’ll have a Sloe Ginn Fizz.” He immediately spun around to fulfill her request, all the while shaking his head.

She turned to face the man beside her. “Now, how about you share your troubles? Perhaps insecurity with imparting this information will prove inequitable; there may be a chance this old woman would enlighten you with a solution.”

“I don’t know…” He sighed softly, letting his breath whistle across his glass, which caused circular ripples to tremble across the liquid.

The bartender placed a drink in front of the woman and sat down on his stool. “Why don’t you give Ms.–?”

She shook her head and waved a hand lightly through the air. “Never mind that.”

“All right, why don’t you give ma’am a chance?” He motioned around the half-empty room. “Besides, the midnight crowd won’t arrive for another hour or so.”

With an intake of breath, the man tilted his head downward to stare at the frosty glass. He ran his thumb along the side, watching as it left behind a clear trail. At the moment he was terribly lost in a storm of confusion and distress; however, maybe the elderly woman was correct. Perhaps by some extraordinary miracle, she could pave a path out of the foggy disaster.

“Okay… You see, it’s my wife. Her father passed away two years ago and she is still stricken with grief–to the point where she thinks of nothing else. We constantly argue, usually about the most inane affairs. Tonight she threw me out, and I fear that this time there it might be the end of it all.” He shook his head slowly, then bent down to let his gaze rest on the coal-black counter.

“That’s all?”

His head whipped toward the old woman at her sharp statement. “All–ALL?! What–”

She lifted a finger softly to her lips, immediately quieting the raging cyclone that was beginning to whirl within the man’s body. She leaned back with a tilt of her head to observe the decrepit skeleton that was left before her. It was a carcass of a human, a man who had hurled all of his hope into hell, and did not have even a sacred vow left to live for.

“Shhh. I would like to recount a story for you.”

As she crossed her legs, the man scowled in disgust. “A story? How the hell is that supposed to help me gain back the trust of my wife?” He rubbed his hands against his temples. “What the hell am I doing? I’m arguing with an old woman wh–”

“I used to live here.”

Both men stared at the woman in bewilderment. “Are you daft?” the bartender asked slowly.

“What the hell does that have to do with my life?”

“This restaurant here,” the woman waved her arms through the air, motioning around the room at the red and white rood, “this barn, this entire farm–it used to be my home.” A laugh slipped from her lips at the gasps that escaped their throats. “Now that I have captured your attention, would you care to hear my story? Perhaps you may learn something from it, with my being such a wise woman.”

“How is it possible that you lived at Normandy Farm? It was to my belief that all the old inhabitants were–pardon me–dead,” the bartender said with widened eyes.

She shrugged nonchalantly. “Now, are you interested in hearing of the events that led to it becoming the largest farm in Pennsylvania?”

The men turned to face one another submissively. “Sure, why not.”

A mysterious haze abruptly swirled around the woman as she adjusted her position so that she could gaze out a large window near the bar. The diamond crescent moon soaring in the night sky was just barely visible over the silhouette of the tallest branches of a tree. Suddenly her lips lifted toward the stars in a brilliant flash of joy, and her cracked eyelids rose, revealing a pair of sparkling green orbs crystallized with remarkable, vivacious youth. Then, with a dazzlingly clear voice, she began to tell her story…

Copyright © 2021 Nikki Sherman