|I was a quiet child, but I had the seed of anarchy embedded within me. For what I didn’t utter through my lips, I made up for with the clash of cymbals, the thunder of falling pots and pans, and any other manner of hubbub and din I could conjure up. I loved fire and destruction, but I could not stomach death. That rowdiness could not be quickly stopped by a beating, or another form of medieval punishment, as my parents quickly learned, but that did not stop them from taking satisfaction in the procedure regardless. In fact, it seems the only time I ever stopped my crusade of disaster was when I was alone. We lived in a small town, with such a minuscule population that it was possible to walk for days back and forth between the church on the south end and the palace of Julio Anguiano just two miles north and not see a single soul. There were, in fact, fewer people within ten miles than there were houses. And so, after the beating that usually followed my incursions of Armageddon upon the household, I would walk along the main street through the city, back and forth for hours. Sometimes, I would trot up the pathway to the coffee farms, which were long since abandoned except for the few, like me, who found the endless rows of plants and mounds therapeutic. From there I would gaze up at the water volcano, which stood in its majestic beauty, an unmoving monument to nature’s accomplishments. Thus alone, I would sit against the apple tree and gaze up at the mountain. Other than the wind, the world was in infinite stillness. I could, at last, be at peace.
It was there, in the coffee fields staring up at the mountain shrouded in the evening mist, that I first met her. Her far off greeting broke me from my meditation and I slowly stood up and looked around stupidly until I saw her. She was walking toward me between the rows of coffee plants, being extra careful that her skirts did not catch on any of them.
"Hello," she said again, no quieter than before, despite having nearly closed the distance between us. I didn't answer.
"I'm Julia," she said, cocking her head cutely and scrutinizing me with a childlike focus.
"Eduardo," I said.
"What are you doing here?" She asked.
"Looking at the mountain." The conversation made me uncomfortable, as every conversation did, but I endured it. Something about the girl made it bearable.
"I like to look at the mountain. I always watch it from the second floor of my house at night, where it's so dark you can see all the stars in the sky, and a huge blackness where the mountain is. Someday I'd like to climb it all the way to the top." She sat down against the tree, and I had no choice but to sit down next to her, for it would feel strange to stand over her.
"Upstairs where I look at the stars the boards creak and I always like to step on them with rhythm so that they make music. But one time I stepped on the broken board and my leg went through the hole and stuck. My papa had to pull me out. I didn't cry though." She smiled in spite of herself. "Do you have an upstairs?"
I shook my head.
"Well, I do. It's not really an upstairs, just the roof. It's my favorite place in the whole world." She paused. "This is a good place, too."
I glanced at her. She was looking down at her hands, bending a stick until it broke. I rather liked her.
“Well, I think I’ve got to go now,” I said.
“Okay,” she said, breaking another stick. “Maybe we’ll meet again sometime!”
I nodded, got up and began to walk back down the dirt trail and toward the road. I looked back and saw her waving at me, so I waved back, nearly tripped over a stone, and continued down the path with just the slightest embarrassment.
The walk back to my house felt shorter than usual. I tried to notice my favorite trees by the side of the road and listen to the birds tweeting their lethargic evening songs, but my mind was elsewhere. I had never had a friend before. Indeed, there were precious few options, as most of the kids my age had been sent to the city to work in the garbage dump, where they would spend their whole lives, and send what little they made back to their family in the mountains. I wasn’t sent away because my parents own their own farm. Most others in the village work for Julio Anguiano, who lives up the road with his grandmother.
I didn't know whether Julia was my friend. I'd only just met her, but somehow it felt I'd known her for a hundred years, so natural was her attitude toward me, without a hint of awkwardness from her end.
As I reached my house, I stood there for several moments before I worked up the resignation necessary to enter. I opened the door.
There was a loud crash, then a scream with an awful, ear-splitting mix of anger and terror. I walked over to my mother, who had just been flung into the cupboard, and offered my hand to help her up. She said nothing but batted it away. I walked on into the kitchen, and I could hear a magnificent slapping sound followed by another yell behind me. I fixed myself a dinner of cereal and bacon with bread and butter on the side.
The struggle soon stopped in the other room. I finished my food as quickly as I could, stuffing it into my mouth and down my throat, hardly tasting it. And then, I had a whim. This terrified me, but only for a moment. Normally, when a whim would consume me, it would drive me to madness, to chaos. Those were the times when the pots and pans became war drums and the plates became Greek discuses, and the world became a cacophony of distractions and opportunities for mischief and mayhem. But this was no such instinct. I left the house through the back door, made my way through the yard, which was an invisible obstacle course in the dark, and retrieved the ladder from the shed. I set it against the back wall of the house and climbed up onto the roof, lay down, and stared at the sky.
I lay there for many minutes. It seemed like forever, but not in a bad way. I could feel the cold metal of the roof on my back. It was refreshing, after the heat inside the house. Amongst the stars I could see Eletra the Moon Crab, the most sacred of the constellations. When I was a little boy, my father would always tell me the stories of the constellations, and the story of the Moon Crab was always my favorite. It went something like this:
Eletra the Moon Crab was scuttling through the rain forest. It was morning, and the blackbirds were beginning to be drowned out by the roosters of a nearby town. The sun had hardly peeked over the horizon and was creeping so slowly upward that it seemed as if it desperately wanted to sleep for two more hours. Alas, it had to get up for work in the morning. The forest was immense back then, endless fields of Yaaxché trees and Ceiba trees and chittering monkeys and chirping birds and the endless glory of sunset sifting through the canopy and lighting up the ground, thick with leaves, below.
The night approached, the stars emerged. Eletra only saw glimpses of them through the canopy, as if through cracks in a mirror pitch black with the darkness of death. She wanted to see them as they truly were. She wanted to see the entire sky as one, that huge integrated patchwork of millions and billions of stars spread out upon a canvas of blackness. She scuttled to the nearest tree and began to climb. As she climbed, she could see more and more stars through the cracks. And there was the moon too, just a sliver.
"I wonder where the moon goes when so little of it is here," she wondered. It looked to her as if some great monster had taken one enormous bite out of the moon, and that was all that was left of it.
When she reached the top of the canopy, she could see all the sky in its glory. But it wasn't as she thought it would be. Instead of a vast canvas, she saw endless emptiness. Not even a mirage or a hallucination, just pure, simple blackness. And the stars were no integrated patchwork. They were but a billion uncaring light bulbs, kept alight not by an electrical grid, but by each one's own inner furnace, which ground on and on until it destroyed itself. To get from one star to the next was not as simple as walking down the street to the next solar system. It would take a hundred years of traveling for those constellations, which seemed so together, to change.
It was devastating.
And then the moon called to Eletra. "Come to me, my daughter," it said in a gentle voice that nevertheless echoed thunderously among the mountains and shook the world.
Eletra looked at the moon. She looked at the stars, and she looked at that strange foggy belt that split the sky in two.
"You're my father?" She asked, gazing up at the moon once more.
The moon offered no response. Eletra jumped into the air, reaching with her powerful pinchers up toward that shimmering crescent. Up she rose, up and up until, when she looked back down at the Earth far below, she could see the glittering light of day peeking over the horizon. But then, she hit the moon, and she broke into eleven pieces, which slowly drifted apart until the shape of Eletra the Moon Crab encompassed her father in the cold, dark hug of death.
My father was a student of philosophy at a college in Mexico. I knew he made the whole story up. He liked to share his philosophy with anyone he could; he thought, rather arrogantly, that it was his duty to do so. His nihilism grew out of dissatisfaction, and though he tried to pretend he was resigned about the dull insignificance of living, he wasn't. It ground against his brain as a gear knocked out of place. It preyed on him, causing great rifts in his mind as an epic battle raged between his narcissism and his insignificance, his compassion and his nihilism. Despite all his thinking, he would never be anything, and he couldn't handle that.
Once in a while, when the celestial world lines up just right, the constellation of Eletra the Moon Crab surrounds the moon once more, and it is a day of celebration, where my parents can finally be happy together.