The morning after the moon explodes, Marla wonders if she imagined the whole thing. She rushes down the stairs, two at a time, hoping the chaotic images flooding her brain are memories leftover from some surreal nightmare. But no, her mother is pacing in front of the television, cigarette dangling from her lips. Phone cradled between ear and shoulder, shouting at Auntie Tia. The man on the news summarizes the event in a monotone voice, while a shaky recording of the blast plays on repeat.
Marla slips past her mother into the yard. Grabs her bicycle and pedals fast. She wants to retrace her route, to recall every second leading up to that unbelievable moment, when the loudest bang she ever heard made her leap out of her skin. Her tires glide over the pavement, she jumps a curb. This is where she saw the first fires, three of them in a row. They’d looked like bonfires in a campground, but then she realized flames were blooming out of holes where the road should have been. Where chunks of the moon landed, combusting like fireworks.
She weaves through the charred street, where emergency responders loiter around taped off craters. Here, in front of the convenience store, is where she and Austin were standing when it happened. Each holding a paper cone filled with pale-colored candy floss. Austin leaning against the wall, Marla standing on one leg while he timed how long she could do it. Then, kablam, the sky erupted into a dazzling light show. They didn’t realize what happened at first; people were running from doorways, straining their necks and pointing. The thing they were pointing at, the thing that should have been floating above the town glowing bright, was obliterated. Bits of it rained down over them, whizzing like speeding rockets descending to the earth.
Marla is convinced that if the moon hadn’t exploded, Austin would’ve kissed her. She’s not sure if she likes this idea or not. She’s only ever kissed one person: Jenny Fisher who she met up north at Auntie Tia’s cottage, but no one knows about that. Kids at school make fun of Austin’s accent, but Marla likes the slowness of his speech, the way his mouth takes time to form words. After they bit into their cotton candy, they stuck out their tongues, one dark red, the other an alien green. Marla thought about the time she caught her mom French-kissing a bald man on their sofa and wondered if she could bring herself to do that with Austin.
Groups of onlookers accumulate quickly as Marla rides up and down the street gathering information. Angry citizens proclaim that the government blew the moon up on purpose. Someone is explaining that scientists have a satellite replica they can launch up there to fix things. None of it makes sense to Marla, so she’s relieved when she hears skateboard wheels rolling up. Austin grinds the board to a halt and flips it with his foot, catching it under his arm with ease.
“Sorry I ran off last night,” she says.
“It’s understandable,” he answers, “under the circumstances.”
His parents, he says, are fighting. “You think they would take a breather and look out the goddamned window.” Marla nods. Her mother does nothing but smoke, talk on the phone, and make out with the occasional stranger. Usually after some guy spends the night, she tells Marla it won’t be long before they pack their things and move up north to live with Auntie Tia, because if Marla’s dad isn’t going to help out, then what the hell are they sticking around for? Adults, Marla and Austin agree, are exhausting.
When night falls, they roam under an eerie sky. They walk to the pier, sit on the edge of oblivion. Stars dot the blackness, but without the moon the constellations seem like a rabble of peasants with no Queen. They lick lollipops pilfered during the anarchy of the afternoon, and Marla tells him about her deadbeat dad, and moving up north. About how she worries nothing will ever be the same again. “Do you think people can survive without the moon?” she asks him. Austin crunches the last bite of his sucker and sighs. “I don't know,” he says, as he takes her hand in his own, and holds it softly under the aching absence of moonbeams.
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