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Nights of the Moon

By dandjurdjevic All Rights Reserved ©

Romance / Drama

Blurb

In a series of nightly letters written over the Muslim holy month of Ramadan (the 'Nights of the Moon'), Leila reflects on her time on Irwin Island: the long hours, the isolation and loneliness, and the arrival of the charismatic, if distant and troubled, Edin. As her account unfolds, it reveals the deeply complex web of relationships on the island - and the surprising role Edin plays in them. Against a background of storms, looming violence and growing mental instability, Leila's letters show how, despite her introversion and social awkwardness, she is drawn into the world of her co-workers in a way that will change their lives forever. Nights of the Moon is a drama and mystery, set in a tiny dystopian community that serves as a microcosm for modern Western society.

A letter from the other side

Hello Edin.

It’s been a while, hasn’t it? You’ll laugh as you read this letter – written in my rounded (you would irritatingly call it ‘girly’) longhand. It’s old-fashioned, I know. Who writes anything by hand these days? I’m like my Dad in that way: I’ve always enjoyed the feel of a fountain pen on paper – the tactile feedback, the light scrape as you draw a line, the change in thickness as you curve. You’re laughing at me, aren’t you?

You might be surprised to hear that I’ve tried calling the hospital. But of course you can never be reached. How utterly unsurprising. Naturally I wouldn’t dream of calling your house. So basically I rely on my only source of intel – Dr Max (and yes, I’m still seeing him – who else knows me as well?).

He tells me you’ve had some complications lately but I don’t get any specifics. I’m not ‘family’, obviously. Max is funny that way. I think doctors have this over‑developed sense of confidentiality. Nevertheless, the other day he did let slip the oddest bit of trivia: you smile in your sleep.

I know just the smile he means too. I can see it now. I guess this means you’re in a good place, despite everything. It’s probably why Max told me. I’m happy for you.

I wonder if I smile in my sleep. I’m guessing I do. Except in my case it’s because of something Max has prescribed for me: lunoxetine. Go ahead and say it: I’m a hypocrite. I’m supposed to be so ‘anti-drugs’ – clean living and all that. I swore I’d never take anti-depressants. Actually, I’m ashamed to admit it, but I’m also chasing each luna down with a glass or two of chardonnay (Max would have a fit if he knew). Don’t worry, it’s just a phase. I’ll get off it all soon enough. Everyone has their ups and downs. I’ll be back to my old self in no time.

For now, I’m enjoying the dreams the lunas bring on. Lucid ones. Really lucid. And they’re always the same: that we’re back on Irwin Island as if we never left and nothing ever changed. You know how most dreams are jumbled up and confused? Not these. Nuh-uh. They’re like real life. Seriously. I can feel the sand between my toes as I walk along Clifton Beach – that soft, powdery, limey stuff that squeaks as you walk, cakes up when you get wet and then sticks like glue so you can barely scrub it off when you get back to the bungalow. You remember.

Lately my nights follow the same routine: I sit in my easy chair, take a luna and nurse a glass of the old vino until I feel the hit. After that, I stagger to the bedroom before I’m totally smothered by darkness – like heavy black velvet curtains are being draped over me. The next thing I know, I’m in another world – our world. Irwin Island.

I was shielding my eyes when I first saw you. Or when I thought I saw you – I couldn’t believe it initially. As you will recall, the crew generally didn’t bother leaving the compound after work hours unless they absolutely had to. Anyway, you had to walk a meandering two kilometres through the jagged, blasted mining landscape to get to Clifton. I’d seen it on survey maps on the first day and knew it was the only beach on the island – the only suitably sheltered cove.

So there I was, getting my daily dose of alone time, not expecting anyone else to be on my beach. I called it ‘Clifton’ because of the sandstone cliffs you had to negotiate to get down to the shoreline (another reason I didn’t expect you, or anyone else, to be there). Also it reminded me a bit of Clifton Beach in Tassie (on the other side of Cremorne where my Mum and I lived after Dad left). Both face more or less southeast. This means you can stare out over the ocean as the sun sets to the right. As I recall, on that particular day you came in from the side, silhouetted, about a hundred metres off (more or less the full stretch of sand). At first I thought you might be part of an Aboriginal fishing group. I had to look away as the glare got too strong. When I turned back I saw (through flashes of afterglow) that you’d moved down to the shoreline. Only then did I recognise your slouch. You were that new guy.

I’d gotten so used to being there on my own at sunset – when the cool breeze comes in off the ocean and blows you dry as you stretch your arms out, your top billowing while you pretend to parasail. Somehow even the stagnant harbour smell – of marsh, rotten fish and salt mixed with the burnt tar and iron ore – gets blown away and all you’re left with is ozone – like fresh rain is about to fall. I loved the soft, foamy waves lapping at the shoreline, the odd slap as one hit the glass-like surface. I loved the way my feet would sink in after the waves retreated – like I was standing in wet cement – that welcome relief of not having to wear heavy, itchy work boots in stinking heat. I had this all to myself. Until you came along.

“Afternoon,” you shouted, still too far for a conversation. I just stood there, my hand shielding my squinting eyes, my brow furrowed, wondering if you’d be making a habit of this. “It’s a nice beach,” you added. “Didn’t even know we had one.” By now you were only a couple of metres from me and you slowed down. You were wearing your yellow hoodie and that baseball cap – the American one with the D (is that for Detroit?) – which you took off so you could run your fingers through your mop of hair. “Do you come here often?”

“Do you always speak in clichés?”

“Probably,” you answered. “That’s what we engineers do in lieu of social skills. Or so I’m told.” Then you laughed, throwing your head back to show your even white teeth. I could see the stubble on your chin – a kind of bronze which was oddly out of kilter with your dark hair. I said nothing but crossed my arms, hunched my shoulders and stared out over the ocean. The wind was picking up and the sea had rippled – little waves with white frothy crests. I was watching them when I heard you say: “Well, I’ll be off. Sorry for intruding.” By the time I looked back you were already striding away, obscured by sharp golden rays and a mist of sea spray, a line of fresh footprints in the wet sand.

I felt a pang of regret for my rudeness, so I shouted: “I’m Leila,” and I stuck out my hand towards your retreating back. You turned and gave me that curious smile of yours – the one that looks like you’re trying to suppress it by twisting the corners of your mouth down while your eyes wrinkle at the sides. Then you walked back slowly and took my skinny hand firmly in yours. I remember feeling rough callouses – a worker’s hands.

“Glad to meet you Leila. Edin.”

You seemed to be about to leave again so I added: “You’re new here,” at which you chuckled, a dimple creasing your right cheek.

“You noticed.”

I felt a burning in my face. “Sorry for snapping at you just then,” I blurted out.

Your smile faded and you shook your head: “Please don’t apologise. For anything.”

“No, I really should. It’s not like I own this…” I said, my voice trailing off as I turned to the ocean again, hugging my arms against the sudden wind-chill. After a while I added: “Everyone has a right to be here.”

“Except ‘everyone’ isn’t here. I doubt the others know it even exists.”

“They don’t care.”

“Yes. I’m sure that’s right. They’re too busy in the compound. Drinking.”

“And popping pills.”

“Yes, and that,” you added. “Not your scene obviously.”

“Well spotted Sherlock. This…” I uncrossed my arms just long enough to wave, “this here is my drug. I don’t need anything else.”

You simply nodded, put your hands in your hoodie pockets and slouched again. It struck me that you were one of those taller men who try to lower themselves physically so as to fit in more. Or be less intimidating. Or both. Eventually you sighed and said: “Well I’ve only been here two days and I’ve already had enough. Same old, same old. Work long hours. Then off to the ref. Eat. Get drunk. Off to bed. Repeat it all the next day. It’s not my scene either, is I guess what I’m saying. And I’ve had a long time to figure that out.”

“Do you work a lot up here?”

“In the far north you mean?” You smiled but your eyes focused distantly for a moment. Then you said: “Well I’ve specialised in tidal energy. Where else am I going to work? Up here we’ve got some of the biggest tides in the world. This Irwin project is going to keep me in business for a long time. You?”

“Environmental rehab. I’m all over the State – wherever the mines are. I’m here now that iron ore mining has officially ended. My job is to try to patch things up a bit – ecologically speaking.”

“Sounds a bit like putting a Band-Aid on a chopped-off leg.”

“Not a bad analogy. Especially when you look at this place. Mined almost to the water level. About the only high point is this cliff here,” I wiped away the strands of hair that had blown into my face and gestured to the sandstone outcrop. We both looked up. I could see the sky was darkening.

You must have read my mind when you said: “About time we headed back, don’t you think? You might know the way but I’ll get lost and wander about hopelessly. Probably fall in a hole or end up in the mangroves.”

I laughed and, as is my habit, covered my mouth as I did so. I don’t know why I do that. It’s not like I’m particularly shy. I think it comes from school days when I used to get teased about the gap between my front teeth (something I’ve long gotten used to, as you well know). You must have noticed my nervous habit because you seemed to be studying me intently. I felt my cheeks start to burn again. “Follow me then,” I said hurriedly, “I know a shortcut. Don’t want the new guy getting lost on his second day.” I walked up to the top of the sandbank where I’d left my boots, flopped down and dusted my feet off as best I could. You were standing there, half in the dark, still studying me. I was using my sock to scrub (pointlessly) between my toes when you turned to have a last look at the sea. I heard you sniff and sigh as I was doing up the last lace. “Right then,” I said standing up, dusting my jeans. “This way.” I pointed to a path I’d pretty much cut on my own, angling up the bank. “I don’t know how you got here but it looks like you took the long way.”

You lingered, still staring out at the sea. “Would you mind sharing it with me?” you said without turning around.

“Sharing what?” I asked stupidly, combing more hair out of my face. You just smiled.

“The beach. I don’t want to intrude though. I understand if you want time to be alone.”

“No. Not at all. Don’t be silly. It’s a free country. I can’t stop you.”

“That’s not the point. I get it – the need to be by yourself. That’s why I went out walking today. The compound… it isn’t enough is it? There’s got to be more to life than that. I guess what I’m saying is that I’m happy to leave you alone. Just say the word – it’s okay, really.”

“Well… you’re not exactly like the rest of them… So sure. Anytime. The beach is big enough for both of us after all,” I said, affecting a laugh. Inwardly, I must confess I felt a knot forming in my stomach. I wasn’t ready to share my special place with anyone. I couldn’t help wondering how often you were going to be out there, ruining my solitude. You know I’m no good at small talk. I positively loathe it. I’m ashamed to say that at this early point I was wondering whether all my precious time would be spent chit-chatting with you about the weather or something equally pointless. Or arguing – politics or whatever. Or fending off your passes. Or trying to flirt with you… If there’s anything I do worse than small talk, it’s flirting. You’re laughing at me again – I can just tell. Because you know it’s all true.

Anyway, all these thoughts kept running through my mind as we probed our way back through the twilight in awkward silence, me leading the way of course. I kept thinking that I’d had the chance to keep the place to myself. You had practically insisted. Instead I gave it away – without a fight. Without so much as a whimper. All because I felt embarrassed by my initial sullenness.

Looking back, I’m not altogether sure my subconscious wasn’t speaking for me. It seems to know what I need even when I don’t. Be that as it may, what I felt that night was an irrational sense of foreboding, of loss. I felt this even as you stopped at your bungalow, took my hand briefly and said: “Goodnight Leila. It was a pleasure meeting you.” I felt it even as you gave me that smile of yours and I saw the light from your porch reflected in your eye.

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