The moon is hanging from a string.
It is really very simple, you see. I woke up this morning and looked out my window, caked with the dust of the city. I let in the dank air, and my small bedroom immediately smelled of asphalt and car fumes. I could hear a siren in the distance, and Mrs. Cabbage's dog, Trudy, was barking up a storm next door, as usual. The world around me kept on going, kept on running, but I halted in my tracks.
A short distance away from my apartment complex, there is a construction site, though no construction has taken place there for more than a year. It is an abandoned project. The lot is vacant with the exception of a large concrete foundation and a crane of some sort.
The crane is tall and thin, and a horizontal bar is attached to it. Attached to the bar is a string, and attached to the string is a hook, probably used to lift heavy pieces of metal or wood.
Today, though, the crane is holding the moon.
It is early morning, and the moon remains visible, its nightly glow fading gradually as the sun peeks over the darkness. It hangs suspended from the hook of the crane, taking the last few moments of the night in. The moon looks relaxed, maybe a bit sad, even, as it looks out over the empty, incomplete construction site.
I am puzzled. Why would someone be keeping the moon on a string? Who would do such a selfish thing?
I then think of the only person who could possibly do this. He is the only one I know of who goes to the construction site. The boy.
He has dirty, ripped jeans and a white t-shirt, a dirty sweatshirt almost always tied around his waist. On particularly cold nights, he wraps the thing around his shoulders for warmth, but even from my window I can see that the material is thin, and he shivers through the night. Sometimes, I see the boy picking through Mrs. Cabbage's trash barrels seated at the end of her narrow drive. He rarely ever gets anything, though, because Trudy barks loudly enough for all of New York City to hear.
One morning, just as I was getting ready for school, the boy came and picked at our trash bins. I hurried down the stairs and sneaked another apple into the brown paper bag that held my lunch. Walking outside, I handed it to him. I could see the hunger in his eyes and the way they lit up a bit at the sight of fresh food.
“I know you've been looking through the trash,” I say, “but that's not very good food. Take this.”
Wordlessly, the boy flashed his piercing hazel eyes into mine, then left with the apple clutched tightly in his bony hands.
Besides the times when I see him picking through dumpsters, I usually spot the boy in the abandoned construction site. He sits up against the crane, eating whatever he's scavenged that day. I also noticed that when a siren sounds close to our neighborhood, the boy hides behind the foundation, as if not wanting to be seen. I'm sure he knows that if the police were to find him, they'd take him to an orphanage or arrange for a foster home. Apparently, he'd rather live hungry.
I do not view the boy as selfish. But, he is keeping the moon in his territory, all to himself, tied up and prisoner to him. This somewhat angers me, somewhat fascinates me. I decide then and there to confront him about it.
I slip into my navy blue school jumper and tie a red ribbon in my tangled brown hair. I squeeze my feet into the worn black shoes that crunch my toes, then grab my backpack and lunch off the kitchen counter. I give Mom a kiss goodbye, and when she asks why I'm leaving early, I tell her I'm going to Mrs. Cabbage's for a bit.
I enter the construction yard, seeing no sign of the boy. The little belongings he has must be held at his side, because I see nothing to indicate even his existence. Maybe he's already out looking for food.
“Who's there?” I hear from the shadow of the foundation, making me jump. I wasn't expecting to hear anyone.
“Um, it's me, I mean Lilly, from across the street. I um, uh, well, I just have a question.” I was stuttering now. Just get to the point. Just say what you need to say.
The boy then emerged from the foundation, looking relieved that it was only a second grade girl with a hair ribbon and lunch bag rather than a muscular cop with handcuffs and a pistol.
“I was just wondering, why are you keeping the moon on a string?”
The boy looked immediately puzzled, amused even.
“What in the world are you talking about, little girl?” he responded. I guessed he was about fifteen, and it annoyed me that he called me “little girl.” I crossed my arms defiantly over my chest and narrowed my eyes.
“That string up there, on the crane. The moon is hanging from it. Why are you keeping it there?” I asked, pointing to the obvious.
And then, the boy started to laugh.
His face lit up, breaking into the biggest grin I had ever seen. He had deep, round dimples imprinted into his sunken cheeks, and his chapped lips were curved upward, little breath escaping them because he was laughing so hard. It made me even angrier.
“What are you laughing about?” I ask him furiously. He wipes a tear from his eye and calms down, then comes over to me and grips my shoulders, bending down to my level. I scowl.
“I'm laughing. No one has ever, ever made me laugh. Ever! You like to laugh, don't you?”
I do like to laugh. I nod.
“Well, so do I. And you just made me laugh. That was the best thing anyone has ever said to me.”
“It was?” I ask, unsure. It wasn't even meant to be funny!
He chuckles a bit more. “Yes, it sure was. And you know what? You're right. I am being selfish. Would you like to help me set the moon free?”
“Yes, yes, I would!” I respond excitedly.
He slaps his palms on his knees, down from my shoulders and stands upright.
“Alright, then. Let's go,” he says.
He helps me climb the ladder alongside the crane. I am afraid at first, because it is very tall, but the boy helps me. When we reach the top, there the moon sits, attached to the rope far out on the beam. It is way, way out of reach. My heart sinks, knowing we will not be able to remove it.
“But, how will we do it? We can't reach that,” I ask the boy.
“Oh, that's the easy part. It was much harder to get it up there. All you have to do is take one deep breath and blow the string as hard as you can. Wait until tonight, and the moon will have released itself and moved a bit because of your breath.”
I look at him quizzically. “Are you sure?” I ask.
“Positive,” says the boy.
So I do. I gulp a big breath of stinky city air and blow the moon as hard as I possibly can. And nothing happens, just as the boy said.
“You just wait until tonight, little girl, and the moon will have moved. And then tomorrow night, it will have moved some more. And each night, it will move again.”
I thank the boy and leave him, going to school. That night, I look out my dusty window once again and am shocked to see that the boy was right. The moon did move. The moon was free. And it was all because of my breath.
I smile, looking at its partially round, lit face. I blow it a little kiss, and wave, letting it know that I am happy it is free. I then see a movement near the foundation. It is the boy, waving back. I giggle and wave to him.
Each night, the moon moves a bit more. It is slow, but steady, and I notice that once or twice a month the boy captures it on the string, just for a night or two. But, that is okay, I think. The moon is his friend. I am also his friend because every night when I wave to the moon, I wave to the boy, too.