“I’ll text you if there’s no change,” he said, and there was no text all evening.
The alarm clock wakes us up at half past five with birdsong, a cuckoo and other distinctive voices I always tell myself I’ll look up but never do. It’s minus three outside, the night sky is a faded black sheet and the moon is eclipsing over our balcony.
I roll over to check my phone and see a message: Call me when you get this.
I can’t call now, especially not with the time difference.
The husband is watching me look at my phone from the foot of the bed as he pulls on his dressing gown. I scroll up and see messages from him to Dad, sent when I was asleep, a hushed private conversation. I hope everything goes without stress. And a reply: Thanks for looking after her.
“Are you okay?”
He puts his hand on mine.
I have to remind him to put some slippers on before he opens the balcony door, as though we’re still in a place and time where we can have these normal conversations. This is a grace period. A false vacuum. It’s not real.
The moon is already flushed dark red, dim but clear in the sky, and perfectly framed over the roofs of the flats opposite. We could watch it from here.
The cold night spills in through the balcony door, so I pad to the bedroom and read the messages on my phone again, pull on slippers of my own absently, marvel at this proof that the world continues to exist while I’m asleep. Things are somehow still allowed to happen even when I’m not watching.
I’ll phone at seven. I can’t phone now. There’s nothing I can do about it now. It’s happened already. There’s nothing I can do and the moon is eclipsing.
The husband is screwing pieces of the telescope together. It amazes me every time that he remembers how to do it. I remember listening very earnestly to the man we bought the telescope from, standing in his cluttered cellar in some village at the end of a train line, and immediately forgetting all of his advice and instructions. All of this jumble of things, screws, poles, lenses, cardboard boxes, forgotten advice, belong to the same stratum of time in which she was alive. I’m sitting on the cliff edge of that time now, cheating shamelessly, but when you’re a human being stuck in time’s amber all you can do is cheat. You have to cheat.
I don’t need to phone. I already know.
I go outside for the first time when the telescope is finished. There’s a skin of still frost over everything, stretched out over the open doorway, and when I cross the threshold I shatter it into stinging splinters. I pace the balcony and eye up the old pots and stacked fridge trays that we promise ourselves we’ll deal with but never do.
We take turns squinting into the telescope’s eyepiece. The dim, perfect moon becomes even clearer, each crater close enough to stick a curious fingertip into, coat it with coppery dust. Taste it. Every flaw and meteor scar laid bare. A reminder that far away things are as real as we are.
It’s so cold that it hurts, so I retreat back inside again, having seen all of the moon that I can see, and I carry with me a perfect mantle of winter air pressed between skin and dressing gown. Glance at my phone in the bedroom. The same words waiting. The clock reads 5:59. Can’t phone yet.
Back out to the balcony and the moon’s moving even as we watch, sinking and dimming. It’s going to dip behind the roofs just before it hits the full eclipse. There’s still a fingernail paring of silver cupping one edge.
Another look through the telescope and this time I watch it until it drifts out of the eyepiece altogether, touching the icy body of the telescope with my fingertips. The husband readjusts it and gets out the camera to catch it before it goes.
We could watch it from the sofa. We could sit curled up together, wrapped in a blanket and holding steaming mugs of tea, and get just as good a view of that copper coin in the sky, like a new two pence piece. The kind that as children we’d keep a beady eye out for and our grandparents, yielding to our magpie hearts, would point out for us to pick up.
Yes, I think, we could watch it from inside, but neither of us goes to move. Neither of us closes the door. The cold pours in and twines around us.
DANIELLE JORGENSON-MURRAY is a videogame translator based in Frankfurt, Germany, originally from the North East of England, and can often be found wandering around urban wildernesses.
Image via Pixabay