I discovered the critique group online and decided to go because I wanted to share my stories with people who understood things like writing and moonlight. I’d been looking forward to it all week, although the prospect of reading my story aloud was intimidating. The group met at the coffee shop located between the small downtown district and the local college. It was the one surviving place that hadn’t sold out to a big chain, and the coffee was phenomenal. Even if the evening went south, at least there’d be fantastic decaf.
I felt a little out of place, though, after I ordered my coffee and edged over to the cluster of people with laptops and antique briefcases. My practical jeans and boots were out of place among the somber black, the skinny jeans, and the t-shirts with references to clever things like Schrodinger’s cat. I slid into a vacant seat next to a woman sipping a complicated drink topped with a mountain of whipped cream.
Before I could say hello myself, the moderator began his introductions, and the readings commenced. I hid behind my decaf as they began to read their work: gritty and raw with the immediacy of physical passion, or the desperation of oppression, or the angst of abandonment. My piece wasn’t like any of theirs, and I fidgeted. When the ascetic moderator finally motioned for me to read, the evening was winding down. They turned towards me with polite disinterest.
My voice steadied after a few sentences, and I read though my story, beginning to end. “… The silver moonbeams danced upon the waters, and with a surge of happiness, she joined them.”
For the longest minute in recorded time, they sat in silence, staring at me.
The ascetic man pinched the bridge of his nose before he said, “Your portrayal of suicide as a joyful choice is interesting. However, any originality is offset by the conventional usage of the water as an unknown.”
“The juxtaposition of death and happiness is thwarted by trite language,” added the woman with black framed glasses. “You need to evaluate—”
“What?” I interrupted. “No! She didn’t drown herself! She, she just danced on the water.”
After a moment, the man said, in a tone of disbelief, “Fantasy?”
The woman sitting next to me swallowed the dregs of her whipped cream and nodded solemnly. “A happy ending. That’s nice.”
My cheeks burning with embarrassment, though over what exactly I couldn’t tell, I finished the decaf and refrained from running to my truck afterwards.
It wasn’t that unclear, was it?
The question gnawed at me most of the way home. I kept to the back roads as I mulled over the evening, and the moonlight which angled through the maples began to soothe my frustration at being misunderstood. Pulling into my driveway, I leaned back with a sigh of relief.
I’d still go back for the coffee, but I didn’t need that particular writing group. Until I found my own tribe of writers, and I knew I would, eventually, I could sit outside and read to the Moon.
I stepped down from my rusted pickup and stretched before tucking my keys into my pocket, leaving my story on the front seat. After I climbed over the log fence around the pond, I perched on the stump at the edge. The faint breath of wind made tiny ripples which lapped on the gravel and dirt.
“Well,” I said to the Moon, who shone silvery white, “they didn’t like it.”
The Moon said nothing.
“It’s okay, though, because I’m happy with it. You liked it, too.” I sighed. “This is one of those ‘center yourself’ things, isn’t it?”
The sounds of the night cleared away the rest of the evening’s awkwardness. Sitting under the stars, watching the Moon’s reflection on the rippling pond, contentment flooded me. Peace shimmered like moonlight, and I basked in it.
The breeze picked up, making the leaves shush each other. A barred owl called, and the sound made me smile. The stars twinkled, yes, a trite verb, but variations in the atmosphere created a winking effect nonetheless.
“You were right,” I said with a chuckle. “This is lovely. This is what I need.”
They stepped out from behind the trees, the sound even fainter than the breeze. I kept my eyes politely trained on the Moon’s reflection as his children joined me at the pond’s edge. The moonbeams converged at my side, and we waited together.
He seemed to come from nowhere, although I’d always suspected that moonlight itself carried him down. If it weren’t for the warmth of his smile, he would be intimidating: all silver and white, with hair like the dark above, and the light in his eyes shining like the stars.
“Some people” he said with a smile, “just don’t like nonfiction.”
I laughed. We strolled arm in arm across the pond as the moonbeams danced beside us on the water.
Cathy McCrumb, who wears black framed glasses, writes wherever she happens to be, which is currently Ohio, USA. Most of her imaginary friends are nice people.