A LOUD CRACK from the corner of the room jarred his sleep. Then scrabbling, like small claws against bare wood. Preston opened his eyes to pitch darkness and directed them toward the sounds. Did they come from over there or inside his head? He waited for the voices. Silence. Whatever was there had gone—if it had been present at all.
Often at night he had unexplainable experiences. It had always been that way. He’d approach the hazy interlude between sleep and waking and, in the next moment, detect barely audible whispering or muttering a few feet away—as if someone were in the room with him, trying to grab his attention. Flipping on the light, he’d find nothing.
Sometimes he’d smell burning tobacco or resin; the scent never stayed long. Preston knew it wasn’t in his room—or not in a way that he could easily explain to others. He didn’t smoke tobacco and rarely burned incense.
When he was a boy, he chalked it up to dreams or to Smoky coming to visit him in the night. His mother said Smoky was imaginary. Yet he didn’t seem made up. But even now, at twenty-one, Preston wasn’t sure what was real and what wasn’t; the boundaries often blurred. He’d been considering the big questions lately: What was truth? Reality? If only he had an answer, Preston thought, life would be a cinch, or at least easier to navigate.
He knew one thing: What truth wasn’t. Drowsy thoughts of his mother entered on cue. Resentment prickled his skin. He pushed her out of his mind even though she was unwilling to go. Sybilla. Doing what duty called for, the same as the Southern grandmother she was named after. Preston wished the little notice he’d won from her was more than cursory.
He started sinking back into sleep when an image moved lazily across the movie screen of his mind. Mama Luna. Mother Moon. A brown-skinned woman with a black braid down her back smiled broadly at him. He’d loved how her eyes twinkled when she laughed, as though accenting a secret just the two of them held. She had been around so long ago, coming after Mama Flora. Memories of his mother’s earliest helper were even more obscure. Mama Luna wasn’t her real name. She made up the special name for herself, just as she made up one for him, only to be used between the two of them. He vaguely remembered his mother calling her Maria.
So many times Mama Luna had gathered him to her and chirped, Ah niño, you are the sun of my life and I am the moon. I reflect your light! Solocito!
He heard her lyrical voice in his head and loved the silly nickname. How many times had she told him that he was favored? Countless times.
The spirits like you, Solocito! They show themselves to you. Pay attention and they will tell you important things!
In his mind’s eye he saw the familiar gesture—a raised finger to her lips indicating it was their secret. The memory transmitted satisfying warmth through his body. Then the image faded to be followed by dreams.
When he came to again, a rosy light played against his lids. He didn’t have to open his eyes to know it was morning. Preston heard purring close by and reached out a hand, burrowing his fingers into a waiting belly. The raspy lick signaled encouragement. Still he didn’t open his eyes. Instead, Preston gave himself permission to be just as languid as his cat, Gato, lying next to him on the pillow.
He remembered the events in the night. Once again, he saw Mama Luna from that earlier time. From a spot deep inside him—an empty, hungry place—longing emerged. For what he was uncertain. For Mama Luna? Maybe it was something she represented. He did know that he had an underlying, un-nameable ache, and it wasn’t getting any better with time.
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Genre – Fiction / Coming of Age / Historical
Rating – PG