Nana and I stepped out under a late night sky. It was just a walk, but I was thrilled beyond belief! I wasn’t ever allowed outside after dark, but Nana was the boss of Mama, and so when she invited me to walk with her a solid hour past my bedtime, I was simply bubbling over inside with triumph almost impossible to contain! It wasn’t long before my thrill was replaced by awkward silence.
I was six. I really didn’t know Nana. She and Daddy mutually loathed each other, and so I’d heard nothing but bad things about her. Quite factually, I’d pictured her a lot like the witch in The Wizard of Oz, with green skin and a cackling laugh and everything, and so I was still trying to sort out whether a witch might be hiding underneath her rather ordinary appearance.
Straight away, Nana fumbled around in her purse, producing a single cigarette, which she lit, instructing me that I mustn’t tell. As quickly as it had arrived, my awkward silence was replaced by a new sense of importance as Nana’s confidant. I watched in engrossed curiosity as the tobacco flared. I’d never seen anyone smoke before and I was fascinated by the breathing of fire and the clouds of fog she exhaled into the night sky, more dragon than witch, I was sure.
“You probably don’t know this,” she said, “but I used to walk you in your stroller when you were a baby. Did you know that?”
I shook my head emphatically.
“Well I did.” She was looking up now, talking to the sky instead of me, but I didn’t say anything. When a fire-breathing dragon-witch has entrusted you with a secret, she may look wherever she pleases when she talks. “Do you know the first word you ever said?”
She couldn’t see me when I shook my head emphatically again, but it didn’t seem to matter.
“It was a full moon, just like this one, and you practically climbed out of your stroller pointing at it, and you said, ‘moon’.” She said it like: moooooon.
I looked up at the moon. It was surrounded by a hazy glow, and in the seductive presence of Nana’s cigarette smoke, I couldn’t help but make an odd connection, one that made sense to my six-year-old mind in a way I don’t have words to explain today.
“Your mother refused to believe me. She said you hadn’t said anything yet, and she refused to believe ‘moon’ would be your first word out of your mouth; said it was probably ‘ma’ and I heard you wrong.” Nana’s smile was nearly sinister. “She was just angry because I was the one who heard you say your first word.”
I didn’t understand their battle of jealousy yet, especially the one over me. I understood witches and dragons, and fire and smoke.
“Why do you suppose that was the first word you ever said?” Nana asked.
She stopped walking and crushed her cigarette out half-smoked on the pavement. She found a tissue and wrapped the other half, tucking it back into the bottom of her purse, where only cigarette smokers think the awful smell won’t give them away. Then she put her arm around me so we could both stare up at the silver orb in the sky.
I couldn’t formulate an answer for her that made any sense. “I don’t know,” was the best I could do.
“You were such a funny baby,” she said. “You used to rock in your sleep with your arms tucked at your side, flexing your shoulders all the while you dreamed. It was as if you thought you had wings.”
I couldn’t possibly remember such a thing.
Nana suddenly laughed. “I’m so sorry, honey, you couldn’t possibly remember any of that! I just wished there was some way you could tell me what you were thinking.”
“What did you wish I would say, Nana?”
We both stared in silence at the moon and I sensed we had reached the end of our walk, as my invitation had more obviously to do with talking than with walking.
“What do you think of when you look at the moon now?” she asked.
I shrugged. “It’s full, I guess, but sometimes it’s empty.”
Any other adult might not have asked Nana’s next question. Any other adult might not have gone home and written this all down afterward. Years later, Nana would explain to me her belief that it’s adults who should be the ones asking children questions…
“What’s the moon full of?”
“I don’t know. Melted stuff. She pours it all out.”
“Pours it all out?”
The clouds of cigarette smoke and the clouds in the sky might have affected me more than I remember at the time. I don’t know. “The fire melts everything so she pours it out,” I said.
Now, I admit Daddy smoked a pipe sometimes. I don’t remember it, but everyone says he did. That’s the explanation everyone in my family gives now for my next answer; everyone except Nana, that is.
Nana, God bless her, trusted everything on this planet, its galaxy and universe, before she trusted my Daddy had any significance. “Who’s daddy?” she asked.
“Selene’s,” I answered without thinking. “She’s the princess. Her daddy melts all the silver for her and she pours it out so she can make stuff.”
Nana was silent for a very long time. “Selene was one of the Titans,” she finally said. She was the daughter of Hyperion, but he didn’t really have anything to do with fire.”
“He wasn’t her daddy,” I said with some minor indignance. “Fester was her daddy.”
Nana thought about this. “Hephaestus?”
I shrugged again. It was getting cold because we weren’t walking.
Nana smiled. I had revealed some great mystery for her that Life has still never revealed for me. She turned us around, took my hand, and began walking us back. Nana was much taller than Mama. As I imagine the image of us walking together, me stretching up high to reach a hand she had to stoop to offer, I smile because it’s comical. But she lovingly held my hand all the way home, and though I wouldn’t remember any of the things we said that night if she hadn’t written them, I remember that very well.
The full moon actually has a very bad effect on me these days. I get kind of crazy, as in full on werewolf-crazy sometimes, which I probably don’t need to explain in detail. But I’ve read Nana’s notes, and I know it’s only because Hephaestus has heated up his furnace again, and his daughter Selene has silver she needs to pour out so she can make stuff.
© 2014 Anne Schilde