I used to think that you only met surprising people in grand theaters, comic book stores, and cathedrals, but now I know that you could meet the most different of all on top of an ordinary rock. August was drawing to a close, and the blue moon was due to appear. We were at the cottage, a cramped building sandwiched so tightly between road and lake that the noise reduced sleep to a potential four hours a night. My parents strongly believed that we should continue going there every summer, as a kind of tribute to my late grandparents who had spent all their money on the place when they had first immigrated to Canada. When I was three and four, it hadn’t been all that bad, maybe even fun. By ten I looked forward to the trip until the first night, when I suddenly dreaded the hours ahead. Now, at fourteen, I dreaded the whole thing for the whole year. It was not a place that a teenager wanted to spend her summers.
My brother, Joey, only eight, still had that eagerness about the cottage that died merely when faced with the prospect of sleeping. He dragged our father outside all day and the two of them frolicked in the woods while our mum went into the lake for a three-hour marathon swim. I honestly had no idea what possessed any of them. I was happy for the quiet, though, and spent several hours with my astronomy charts laid out on the dining room table. I examined the positioning of the planets in relation to ours and then decided it wasn’t really worth it and looked in my almanac for the next time two full moons were set to show during one month. It wasn’t until July, 2015. Much as I regretted being at the cottage, I couldn’t deny the fact that it provided a remarkable opportunity to see the moon without light pollution.
I knew that blue moons were nothing especially amazing, of course, just a coincidence between our calendar and the lunar cycle. Still, the concept had intrigued me since I became interested in astronomy, and I was looking forward to going out that night and staring up at the stars. I was still poring over my charts when Joey bounded in and looked over my shoulder. I didn’t have time to swat him away before he asked with irritating cheerfulness, “Is the moon really going to be blue tonight, Clara?”
“Of course not. They just call it that because all of the other moons have names, and this one happens to be relatively rare so they refer to it as the blue moon. They could just as well have called it the green cheese moon.”
He laughed at this thought. “Do you think I could see it with you, anyway?”
There was no chance I was going to let Joey intrude on my stargazing. Sure, it would look like any other moon, but astronomy was a passion that I used to remove myself from the confusion of everyday life. I was about to tell him so when Mum came back in from her swim.
“Oh, that would be wonderful. After dark, Clara, you and Joey can go out and look at the moon and Dad and I will set up some board games. When you’re done you two can come in and we’ll have a family games night. What do you say, Andrew?”
Dad nodded, of course. Well, that was it. My blue moon was ruined, and there wouldn’t be an opportunity for a better one for nearly three more years. I went out on the dock and stared into the distance in anger for the rest of the afternoon. Dad made a special dinner that night. He called it the “green cheese” dinner, much to Joey’s delight, but I could tell by the way he glanced over at me that it was really the “make Clara happy before she spits” dinner. Perhaps the evening wouldn’t turn out too terribly. After we finished up the dishes, Mum made us both change into our pajamas before unleashing us into the night. She outfitted us with flashlights, two apiece, and walkie-talkies before deeming our safety up to her standards. Standing in the door as she watched us go down to the shoreline, her shadow looked like an elongated monster’s. I wouldn’t let Dad’s fancy recipe make up for the fact that I had to deal with a pesky younger brother tonight, of all nights.
We reached the waves and Joey reached his hand up to mine. We switched off our flashlights. “It’s so dark,” he whispered into the blackness. Millions of specks glittered above us, completely different from what you see in the city. I wanted to go back five steps and lie in the grass to watch them, but Joey’s wonder was quickly replaced by that irksome bubbliness of his.
“Look, Clara,” he said as his eyes adjusted to the night. “That rock isn’t very far from shore. I bet we could get to it and Mum wouldn’t mind too much.”
His eagerness trounced my reluctance and we set off in the ankle-deep water. Our fingers were still interlocked as we climbed onto the rock a bit further down the shore. I was surprised that I had never seen it before; after so many dreary cottage summers I had spent hours staring at the lake. I was even more surprised to find that it had a plushness to it, as softly tousled grass had somehow grown upon the rock. We stood with our arms outstretched up at the moon and were giggling madly at the moon when a figure I hadn’t noticed turned around. I jumped back in shock, nearly falling back on the grass.
“Hello.” He looked no older than me, but somehow more faded. His hair was a rich brown and his eyes, a glimmering green, glistened along with the stars. In sharp contrast to my planet pj’s, he was wearing a long tweed suit jacket that covered half of his orange suit pants. He extended a hand with bitten fingernails. “It’s a pleasure to make your acquaintance. Mark Davis.”
“Uh, yeah.” I ignored the hand. “Listen, if you wouldn’t mind, how old are you?”
He seemed puzzled. “Fourteen. I go to Island Lakes Community School, if you’re wondering. But you haven’t told me your name.”
Well, that eliminated time travel. “Right. Patricia. This is my brother, um, Jacob.”
Joey wrinkled his nose. “She’s Clara, I’m Joey. Hey Mark, are you looking at the moon tonight too?”
He grinned. “Yeah, I am. Do you know why they call it a blue moon?”
“Clara told me. I would’ve liked it better if they called it a green cheese moon.”
“You know, sometimes the moon actually looks blue, even if it isn’t really a blue moon. It’s from volcanoes.”
Joey considered this for a moment. “I like it just fine white,” he announced.
The two of them continued dithering in conversation as I watched the night sky. He could lose the mismatched suit and stop biting his nails, but if you ignored that Mark almost seemed like a normal person. Plus which, he was keeping Joey occupied. I eliminated zombie, vampire, and ghost.
“May I ask you something?” I interrupted.
They both stared. “Sure,” Mark answered.
“What’s with the suit?”
He toyed with a smile for a half a second. “The jacket was my uncle’s, and the pants are from a school play last year. Uncle Sean died last year, but we used to watch the stars together. I like wearing his jacket to remind me of him when I look at the sky. It smells of his tobacco. It didn’t feel right wearing it with just some plain old pants, so I dug these up.”
I had no idea what to say. He was faded, maybe, and anxious (fingernails), and his speech was more than a little antiquated, but he wasn’t anything else but a normal boy. “I’m sorry.”
Mark shrugged. “It wasn’t his fault. Of course I’d prefer it if he had still been alive, but at least it wasn’t something I knew could have been prevented.”
I didn’t dig any deeper. I lay down, flipped onto my back, and looked upwards.
It was well past midnight when Joey and I walked into the cottage, and Mum was beside herself with worry. “Where have you two been?” The house smelled of dish soap, and the way she had a spatula raised in her hand made me duck away from fear of being hit. She waved it madly around and stopped suddenly when she caught sight of a silhouette in the yard. “OK, you two get inside. There’s a man on our property and we need to bolt all doors.”
Joey shook his head. “No, Mama, that’s Clara’s and my new friend, Mark.”
I whirled around to face him. There was no way I wanted to be drawn into this.
“We found him on top of a rock. He told me about the volcanoes and when the moon really does turn blue. Do you think we could have him over for supper tomorrow night?”
Mum didn’t look pleased at this thought. “No, we could not. I’m going to tell him to leave the premises and never return. I thought I could trust the two of you more than this—Clara, I thought I told you not to talk to strangers.”
“He’s not strange,” said Joey in protest.
Oh yes, I thought. Oh yes he is.