Heather Parry is an Edinburgh-based writer and editor. She won the 2016 Bridge Award for an Emerging Writer, and has been published in several magazines, including The Stinging Fly. She performed her work at the 2016 Edinburgh International Book Festival and is currently working on her first novel.
Child of the Moon
His mother paints electric blue around his eyes and sweeps the brush upwards with a flourish. She knows the boy hates it; the cloying grease of the face paint, the performance to come, the inevitable pimples. Yet he sits still while his mother, with mascara shipped from Asia, colours his white eyelashes even whiter. With the same implement, she’ll colour his white eyebrows too. As they sit face to face, their bare knees rest together. Their vastly different skin tones, as always, make him think of yin and yang. She prefers to call him the cream to her coffee.
“Seriously, mum. I’m too old for this.”
“You’re never too old for tradition.”
A splash of darkest red on the lips finishes his face. He goes to scratch his mouth. His mother bats his hand away. She steps behind her seated son, taking all of his thin, colourless hair in one hand and sweeping it up from his shoulders. Two twists of the wrists and it sits in a neat bun atop his head, showing off his pale neck. A good length of spine. She glances out of the window. It is almost time.
“Mum, they don’t even watch anymore.”
“But they’ll notice if it doesn’t happen.”
The curtain twitchers of their small town know this routine like clockwork, and though they no longer spill out onto the street, they still await the boy’s emergence with every rise of the blood moon. She begins to wrap the many-coloured fabrics of their homeland around his body. She allows a proud tear to drop onto his pearly back.
He stands, lifts his arms, slowly spins on his heels. The fabric encases him. This is not how the men dress on their island. This is the ceremonial dress of the women, but she has never told him.
He is ready. Swaddled in the fabrics of his homeland, his white hair tied, his face painted. He looks magnificent. She hands him his bow and arrow. He tugs at the material around his waist and scratches where the paint itches his face. If only her heritage actually did look this beautiful.
The moon finally burns. The boy goes out into the street.
He walks to the middle of the road. Raises his arms. His fingertips touching above his head. His gaze raises to meet the sky; upon seeing the scarlet circle he reacts. His body falls. He catches himself in a wide-footed stance, knees bent, arms up in horror, face contorted. He points, the fingertip tracing a dragon’s path around its prey: the blood moon. He turns away, one arm across his eyes, one leg slightly bent, the other sweeping the pointed toe of its foot around him in a quiet circle. He spins, torn. Action or inaction. The fear of letting one thing consume another. The terror of potential failure.
A single bark of laughter. A chill passes through her. She looks from house to house. Each window is dark. Each door remains closed. He stands, adrift. Man dressed as boy. But for the whiteness of him, he looks exactly like his father.
With a breath so deep it animates him, he decides. He reaches for the bow and arrow tucked into the back of his fabric, his delicate fingers finding them easily. He lifts them into the air, settles the arrow to the bow, strokes arrowhead to feather, and grasps. He points the tip skyward, trained on the moon’s predator. His painted lips part. He takes in strength. He pulls back. Pauses. Lets go.
He stands in the silence. She aches, but cannot rescue him. He waits a few more seconds, allowing his arrow to pierce the creature’s heart, stop its danger, end its reign over the moon. His mother neither smiles nor claps. This, she thinks, is the last one. A child can slay dragons, but not a man.