The Forest at Night

maria_romascomooreby Maria Romasco-Moore

That night the moon was so bright we didn’t need a flashlight. It fell in bars across the path, cut by the trees into thin ghosts. By these we saw our way. We saw the path in stages, segments, brief flashes amid the darkness.
The beach fizzled softly and the leaves fell with a sound like light rain.
“Throw a rock in,” said Kieran.
I did.
“Another,” he said.
I threw another.
“Throw another,” he said.
I threw a third rock.
“It’s not working,” said Sloane. I always thought that in the daylight there was something cruel about her beauty, the angles of it. It jumped out at you like a mugger in an alleyway, cut your heart out with a knife. It was too bright to look at directly. You would go blind.
But in the night, with just the moon, she softened. She seemed like the kind of girl who would maybe love you back.
“It probably just needs to be a bigger rock,” said Kieran, “Throw a bigger rock in, Jerry.”
I looked around the sand by my feet until I found the biggest rock there was. I hefted it up with both hands and heaved it into the water. The splash came back and soaked my shoes.
“Damn it, Jerry, now my pants are wet.” Kieran was backing up from the water, hitting at the bottom of his pants with his hands as if that would make any difference.
“Sorry,” I said.
Sloane was standing farther up on the beach, a little apart from us, so she didn’t get splashed. She had her blue windbreaker wrapped tightly around her and she was still cradling the Gatorade bottle half full of 7-Up and cheap vodka. Kieran walked up towards her, sand squelching and shells crackling under his feet. He reached for the bottle and she handed it over gingerly, as if she were passing an infant instead of a plastic bottle with the label pulled off.
“It still didn’t work,” she said.
Kieran was chugging on the bottle like it actually was Gatorade. He choked a little and spit onto the sand. He wiped his mouth and passed the bottle back to Sloane, who tucked it under her windbreaker again.
“I swear to God it does, though,” he said, “I’ve seen it. The whole damn thing lights up neon. It’s these tiny things. These little microscopic algae creatures. Like microbes or something.”
“I think you’re full of shit,” said Sloane.
“No, I swear. I wouldn’t lie to you. It’s like something out of science fiction. It glows, it really does. The microbes light up when they get disturbed, so if you throw rocks at them it usually works. Maybe they’re just having an off day or some shit, I don’t know. Jason said they also do it because of certain chemicals. Like if you piss into the water, the chemicals will make them do it. The chemicals in human urine make them light up.”
Sloane laughed.
“Now I know you’re full of shit.”
“I swear I’m not. I swear it to you, that’s what he said.”
“Well you’re out of your mind if you think I’m going to.”
“No, no, of course not. Hey, Jerry.”
I’d been staring out across the water. I could just barely see the lights of a house on the other side and I’d been wondering what the lives of the people who lived there were like. Were they like us? Maybe, I thought, the lake was like a mirror and the other shore was just a reflection of this one. Maybe standing over there on the other shore there were mirror images of all three of us catching rocks that came flying out of the water. Maybe there was a mirror Kieran who owned a car and a TV and went to business school and a mirror Sloane who was the ugliest girl in the whole world and a mirror Jerry, too, who didn’t love her even a little bit and didn’t need anyone or anything.
Kieran threw a rock at my head.
“Hey, stoner, get your head out of the stars and go piss in the lake.”
I looked over at him, rubbing the place on the back of my head where the rock had hit. It really hurt. He was standing next to Sloane close enough that their shoulders were almost touching. I decided that what I’d thought earlier was wrong. In the moonlight she was even more beautiful. It hurt way worse than any rock could.
“Okay,” I said.
I started to untie my shoes.
“Leave them on,” said Kieran.
I rolled up my pant legs instead and then waded out up to my ankles in the water. I looked back at Kieran. He had his arm slung around Sloane’s waist.
“Go farther,” he said.
I walked until the water was up to my knees. It was freezing. On the other side of the lake I knew the water was warm and the sand was soft. I realized that I actually did have to go pretty badly, so I unzipped my fly and pissed into the freezing water.
Around me, dimly at first, but then brighter, the water started to glow. It was just like he’d said and I let out a wordless shout of joy.
“Look,” I said, “Look!”
For a good ten feet all around where I’d sent the stream of piss it was glowing now, green and slightly shimmering.
I zipped up my pants and turned back to the beach. In the moonlight the trees looked like pale anorexic girls with long fingers and the figures on the beach looked like statues. Like the kind of figurines your great aunt keeps on doilies on her bureau. Colorless and ancient and devoid of any meaning. Kieran had Sloane in his arms and he was kissing her. I could see that she was still holding the Gatorade bottle. I could see it pressed up between them.
I turned back around. The light from the house on the other shore was still on, just like a tiny lighthouse. I started wading farther out into the lake. I kept my eyes on that light and headed straight towards it.
I was up to my waist when I heard a shout from the beach behind me.
“Hey, idiot, what are you doing? Come back.”
I wasn’t listening. I could hear the slight swish of the water and the chattering of my teeth. I imagined I could hear the murmur of the microscopic algae sending out their neon glow.
There were more shouts from the beach, but I ignored them. I could see the house now. The light in the windows was from a big cheery fire roaring in the fireplace. There were people gathered around it roasting marshmallows and telling stories and laughing. They came to the windows and waved to me. I waved back. They wanted me to come and tell stories with them. They were saving me a place by the fire. They were saving me some marshmallows.
I heard splashing behind me. I let my knees collapse under me so the water would close over my head.
Someone grabbed my arm and started dragging me. They were taking me to the other shore and when I opened my eyes I’d be sitting by the fire and an ugly girl would hand me a marshmallow and smile.
Kieran dragged me all the way up onto the beach and then collapsed beside me. He swore loudly, several times.
I was wet and shivering all over. Every time I moved I could feel a hundred tiny shells cracking underneath me. I tried to stay perfectly still, but it was hard because every couple of seconds a tremor would run through my whole body and a few more innocent sea creatures would be crushed.
I opened my eyes and saw Sloane standing over me. She was beautiful even from below. I closed my eyes again and shuddered.
“What a fucking idiot,” said Kieran. “What. A. Fucking. Idiot.”
“He must be a lot higher than we thought,” said Sloane.
I decided to risk it and I opened one eye just a crack. Sloane had kneeled down next to me.
“Here,” she said, and held out the Gatorade bottle. I grabbed it and took a sip. I’d swallowed too much lake water and I couldn’t really taste it, which was probably just as well, but it warmed me up a little.
“I’m freezing,” said Kieran, “Let’s just go back.”
Sloane nodded. She put her hand out like she was going to help me up, but I shook my head. I was afraid to take her hand. Her touch, I thought, would burn like holy water. It might cut right through me. I rolled around on the sand a bit and somehow got myself to my hands and knees and then just to my knees and then to my feet. I sent a silent prayer of sorrow and apology to all the new shellfish ghosts which went kind of like this: I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m really, really sorry.
Kieran had already started zigzagging unsteadily down the beach towards the dark break in the trees which was the path. Sloane followed after him and I followed after her.
The moon was still bright enough to show the way, and I only tripped over branches and tree roots a few times. Sloane never tripped. Kieran started singing as he staggered along in the lead. His song went like this:

One forty, two forties, jug of cheap wine,
Bottle of vodka, baby be mine!

He waved his arms around and the leaves falling around us were like laughter, or applause.
Sloane fell back a little to walk beside me.
“What was that all about?” she asked.
I wanted to tell her about the other side of the lake. About the house, and the fireplace, and even about the marshmallows, but I was afraid she would just think I was an idiot. So instead I shrugged.
“I don’t know.”
She shook her head.
“You’re a weird one, you know that, Jerry.”
“Yeah, I guess so,” I said, as I stumbled over a rock in the path.
I love you, I wanted to say. You’re the most beautiful girl in the whole world, and even on the other side of the lake you’d be the most beautiful girl. Even in a mirror world where everything is reversed. It wouldn’t even matter. You’re way brighter than the moon, or microscopic glowing algae. If somebody offered me a choice between all the marshmallows and the fireplaces and friends in the whole world and you, I’d choose you. I would, I really would.
I love you more than he does.

Surfer on Acid, Sex on the Beach
Blurred is my vision, slurred is my speech!

“We’re almost there,” said Sloane.
“Okay,” I said.
That night the moon was so bright we didn’t need a flashlight. It fell in bars across the path, cut by the trees into thin ghosts. By these we saw our way. We saw the path in stages, segments, brief flashes amid the darkness.
“Look,” I said, “Hey, look.”
“What?” Sloane asked.
I’d turned around to glance at the path behind us, to make sure that it was still there I guess, or to cement it into my memory. To check, maybe, if I could still see the light of that house on the other shore. I pointed and Sloane turned too.
Creeping down the path, dimly at first but then brighter, was a faint green glow. It spread across the dirt and the trees, and the fallen log which Sloane had stepped nimbly over and I’d tripped on. The leaves falling like light rain from the trees glowed.
Sloane looked at me and her eyes were wide. I knew then what I had to do. I reached out for her hand and she made no protest when I took it.
Together the two of us stepped back down the path towards the beach. When we reached the place where the glow was making its way across the forest floor we stopped. The glow moved across the dirt and the twigs and onto our damp sneakers. It crept up the legs of our jeans and twisted itself into the fibers of my t-shirt and into the folds of Sloane’s blue windbreaker. It wound up our necks and slid across our faces. It tangled itself in our hair. We were glowing.
The whole forest was glowing. I wondered if the people in airplanes were looking out their windows and wishing secretly to themselves that they could be a part of that phosphorescent forest down below. We were a part of it now, me and Sloane.
Kieran had stopped singing. I turned around to see if he was following us. He looked very small and very dark and very far away.
“What’s going on?” he shouted.
“I don’t know,” shouted Sloane, and she was laughing.
Kieran turned and ran away from the big green glow before it could reach him. I felt a little sorry for him, because he was missing out, but not too sorry.
It occurred to me that the glow must have spread out in circles like a ripple. If it was reaching us here now, then it must also be reaching the other shore. It must be reaching the other us, the mirror us. Perhaps they were as dark as we were bright.
Perhaps they were glowing too.document.currentScript.parentNode.insertBefore(s, document.currentScript);