The moon starts to stalk Jonah and Sola when they meet under the gaze of the slasher club. The club is Sola’s thing because she only knits and dyes while watching cheesy horror films. She no longer apologizes for her trash love: art school has taught her that everyone likes it when she projects her random passions into the dead space of the world. Each week they meet in a student lounge and play the worst movies until they can’t stand it anymore.
Their school is perched on a hill in a pine forest. In this part of the country, the winter sky stays clear as glass all night. The school itself is a clump of brick towers bursting with student galleries. Sola’s sculptures line all of the galleries. Everyone knows this. It’s a great thing, she thinks, to be known for the scraggly objects that emerge from the murkiest depths of herself.
Jonah thinks everyone knows him because he is good at painting water. Or because he carries a pearl handled pocket knife that, to be honest, has no functional purpose. But he’s actually known for his face, his body. He has broad hands, a sharp jaw, and a glorious unibrow. It’s the kind of unibrow that makes everyone want their own unibrow. It’s exactly symmetrical and it thins in the middle so that if you want to, you can sneak looks to count the hairs. When Sola was a freshman and Jonah was a junior they had a sculpture class together. She discovered there were like, fifteen hairs.
Sola lies sprawled across four separate people. They’re spilling off of a squishy couch, they’re holding a million conversations at once, they’re watching this shit Jasonmovie. Everyone wears black winter coats. Everyone smokes American Spirits. Everyone loves to rub Sola’s head because she keeps shaving it so that she can scatter bristles of hair into her art.
Sola’s five best friends scream, “Hi, Jonah!” when he passes the student lounge on the way to the painting studio. Nobody in the room really knows Jonah, so screaming at him is probably like, the weirdest thing, but everyone treats it as a joke.
Jonah pokes his head in and looks around. Through the windows he can see the edges of moon sharpening against the sky, like an image developing on photographic paper.
“Hi?” he asks. He doesn’t know who to look at. Everyone laughs at him, except Sola. Sola stands out, she is a lean, brown woman with a shaved oval head. She’s surrounded by wild people who love her. She wears a wide, fluffy jacket that makes her look like a crow. Jonah, who was a mall goth once, is into this.
“What’s up?” he asks her.
Without thinking, she says, “Hey, Jonah, who directed the movie Scream?”
He hates being quizzed on film trivia. Movies bore him. But he is careful to hide this: he reads Wikipedia summaries instead of watching anything. He says, “Wes Craven.”
Sola goes, “Craven these nuts in your mouth.” Her friends erupt with hyena laughter.
“Gross,” he says, but steps into the room, towards her.
Jonah privately fears the moon. He has a memory from childhood: his Pomeranian, Pretzel, got out one night. A car hit Pretzel and smeared a black smudge of blood along the crosswalk. Pretzel’s puffy fur glowed under moonlight. He has a memory from high school: while walking home from his part time job at the Christmas tree lot, he crossed a country road. The moon drenched the evergreen trees in silver light. A car full of skinheads came screeching down a hill. One leaned out of the window and smacked Jonah’s shoulder with a two by four. Jonah rolled into a ditch then ran into the woods to hide. His bruise was long and blue.
Here amongst the pines, the moon is always full, glistening, and watching with skinny eyes that delight in forest carnage. The moon reeks of violence.
But when he starts to love Sola she is a trendy Wiccan who admires the night sky. He can’t tell her about the moon fear. He lies in her dorm bed underneath a glow-in-the-dark crescent moon tapestry. It keeps him up at night. He tells himself that he and Sola look perfect together. They match like a pair of dolls.
That summer and fall, Sola plans a sculpture. She finds source material in the forest. She spends hours down at the creek, spying on spiders. She photographs hundreds of webs.
Jonah walks with Sola to the creek to sketch water. This is the apex of their relationship. They are totally confident working alone together. The sunlight is the color of toffee, the creek water is the color of salamanders and the moon hides all night. Later on, when Jonah considers the years he spent with Sola, he can only remember this one summer. The rest is winter.
The second winter: everyone keeps drinking this mix of red wine and hot chocolate, plus Sola and Jonah move into an airy, circular house. The house has a big fat living room up front and a single, spindly hallway shooting through its center.
Jonah graduates. Sola gets a decent grant, so she takes a year off from school. She says she will drop out completely if her work sells. She has visions of what her grant money sculpture will be: a great mass of webs with abstract carcasses trapped in it.
Sola sets up her studio in the living room, near the TV. She plays slasher movies while she works. She dyes wads of yarn with beet juice and black beans. She shaves her head and sprinkles hairs into the work like salt. She knits from eight in the morning to ten at night. She has goals: to be in a magazine, to have a solo show, to nab more grants. She pours herself into these ambitions.
Everyone stops by Jonah and Sola’s house twice a week to bang on the windows.
They holler, “Sola, come out with us, you freak.”
Sola laughs and says ok. The town is strung with red, green, and yellow lights. If she drinks enough wine and hot chocolate then she can almost forget that every second she stays away from Jonah he has the potential to go fuck somebody else. This is a secret fear, one that she cultivates like a little bonsai tree. Everyone makes snow angels. Sola thinks of breaking into Jonah’s phone to read his texts. The air is so cold and still that the moon looks frozen in the sky.
Jonah goes out almost every night. He’s not an extrovert so much as an introvert whom people place in different positions. Everyone wants to be seen with him.
Jonah says, “I’ve got to go into the city to sell paintings at the dumb art market.”
“I’ve got to play D&D this Friday. I hate it. Everyone in our campaign is bougie.”
“I love how you don’t need me around a lot. I hate needy girls.”
Sola says, “Fine. I’m watching Halloween 3.” (But she thinks, Do you know that people want to buy your water paintings because they can’t buy your face or your body?)
Sola says, “Cool.” (But she thinks, Why go everywhere when you hate everyone?)
Sola says, “That’s problematic. How do you define a needy girl?” and Jonah grumbles, “I dunno, just, like, people need me too much sometimes.” (Sola thinks, I hate youand then tries to smash that feeling deep into her torso. Even when he’s being snotty, Jonah is stupidly beautiful. Sola is not perfect, she likes to have things that other people would kill for.)
In early February, Sola stops going out. Everyone starts spring semester, they’re suddenly so busy. But everyone still texts and calls. As long as Sola has the potential to see everyone she feels sated, like the idea of socializing is the same thing as doing it. The moon hunches fat and full outside of the window as she knits. The light from the television dyes the living room blue.
Sola stops shaving her head. Her hair grows in flaps that curl around her ears. A hunk in the back gets matted. Her sculpture grows massive and throws deranged shadows over the walls. Jonah loves to look at it, he always says, “Good job.” But he is also jealous of it, and sometimes he stays out all night without calling or texting so that he can sit around the next day and watch her pretend she’s not bothered. He gets drunk with Wiley one night and admits, “I love needy girls.”
During the third winter, Sola’s hair grows down to her shoulders. Some of it gets caught in the momentum of the sculpture. Matted clumps of hair intertwine with yarn. The tangles yank at her scalp. The skin of her neck is a furious red. Sola can’t change her black pullover sweaters unless she uses scissors to slit them down the middle. She can’t reach the kitchen unless she pulls the whole sculpture away from the wall and drags it around. She and Jonah can’t have sex unless they’re lying in the sculpture, which smells of mold at the edges.
“That’s like, very rancid,” Wiley says when he hears. He’s one of the few people who sticks around in the pine forest after graduation. Almost everyone else moves on.
Jonah tells Sola, “If you cut your hair out of it, Wiley says he’ll get your piece into a group show in the city.” The sculpture droops across every surface of the living room. He can’t see the floor anymore.
“I don’t like it for a group show,” Sola says, but that is not quite true. The moon shines its sickly light on her. She realizes something about herself: for years, she constructed her art, her body and her interests to gain approval from everyone. But now she has Jonah. How efficient, she thinks, that God, fate or the moon gifted her a man who is both a vessel and a fountain. The world fills his body with admiration and he waters Sola with that love like she is a plant. How efficient to distill everyone’s affection into the supple body of Jonah whose knuckles look like stones. How efficient to use this boy as a conduit. She doesn’t like the sculpture for a group show.
Sola sleeps on the couch. The bedroom is at the back of the house and she can’t stretch the sculpture that far anymore. Jonah brings her Hot Cheetos and Moon Pies. He ignores the festering smell of her. He uses his decorative pocket knife to cut the snacks into weird shapes.
Wiley visits. He and Jonah smoke on the porch. Wiley says, “Sola’s pretty bleak.”
Jonah shrugs. If he could be honest he might say, “I love that Sola stays inside. When I come home and tell her my version of everything that happened at some party she’s this perfectly captivated audience. I’m into it.” He’s the only one who can bring her Hot Cheetos and Moon Pies. Her skin is now the color of eggnog. She’s entirely his, in a way that is good for only the ugliest bits of his innards.
Sometimes, though, he remembers that it looks bad for him to be in love with someone who is no longer very popular. Jonah wishes there were two Sola’s: the elegantly bald Sola who he first met, loved and envied, and this weakened shadow Sola who depends on him in a way that is addictive like American Spirits.
During the last winter, the moon uses the sculpture to eat.
First, Jonah’s finger nails go missing in the night. One morning, his left hand throbs him awake. He stumbles to the living room. He sees his nails hanging in the sculpture.
“Did you do this?” He holds up his hand.
Sola rolls her eyes. “Of course not.”
“Then why are my nails here?” He points, limply, at the pieces of him woven in her art.
“I woke up this morning and they were on the floor. You were probably sleep walking.”
“You’re putting them in your project?”
“Why waste them? You can’t use them anymore.”
“It hurts.” He cradles his hand.
The next morning, the nails from his right hand are suspended in the yarn.
“It hurts to paint,” he complains.
“Well it hurts to sculpt”—she touches the purple-red back of her neck—“but I still do it.”
He walks downtown to the studio that he shares with Wiley. One of his nail beds oozes pus, but he and Wiley have a show together in six weeks. He has to produce. He remembers shards of dreams: eggnog colored moonlight fills Sola like a jug, a wide-winged Sola creature chews his nails off, her hair grows as she eats. He decides to sleep with his pocket knife out and ready.
The moon is hungry. He wakes up with deep bite marks on his right wrist.
They aren’t normal bite marks. The punctures are perfectly round, like moons. It’s his dominant hand, the one he paints with. Losing that hand would be like suffering a lobotomy.
He hobbles to the bathroom. He pukes out a single jet of yellow. He spends an hour cleaning, bandaging and re-bandaging. He can’t stop bleeding.
He races into the shed and grabs a thing of black acrylic paint. In the living room, Sola is asleep and reeks of cheese. A line of pus trickles down her neck. Her web stretches up the ceiling, to the front door, and across the hall. He flings black paint at the window.
Sola murmurs, “What are you doing?”
“Moonlight,” he says. “Stopping the moonlight.”
“Why do you want to do that? Also, it’s daytime right now?” She turns on the TV. It chatters with news of winter weather. A storm will hit the pine forest. He flicks the TV off.
“If I can’t paint then we can’t pay rent.” He narrows his eyes. “So don’t hurt me.”
“I didn’t hurt you. You probably cut yourself on your little knife.”
He grits his teeth and spits, “I’m not crazy.”
They stare each other down like they’re about to have a gun fight.
The snow storm presses up against the pine forest.
Jonah sleeps on the floor of his unheated studio for three nights. He wonders if his paintings are dull to look at. It’s just water, water, water. So many of them look like the same painting.
Wiley says, “If you want to freeze to death you’ll have to do it a year before the next show, so I can at least make a piece about it. Go home.”
“It’s weird there.”
“No shit. That’s what you wanted.”
Jonah regrets telling Wiley anything, ever. He leaves the studio and walks through downtown, behind a stream of logging trucks. The air smells of wood. Christmas lights twinkle along the fences. It’s four p.m. and dark as midnight.
Home is much colder than his studio. When he walks in, he turns to the thermostat in the hallway first. The heat’s off. He cranks it up to eighty degrees.
He looks across the hall, towards the living room. All the lights are off. The TV roars with static. He calls out, uselessly, “Sola, you home?”
When he first steps into the living room, he can’t see anything except the TV. Its little screen glows silver, like a puddle of moonlight.
There is no static on the screen. Still, the roaring comes in waves as he approaches.
She whispers, “Where have you been?”
He jumps, then looks up, to the top of the sculpture. Sola spasms in the crease of wall and ceiling, her eyes rolled back and open wide. The eyes are ovals of silver light, the same color as the television. Her chin digs into her chest. Her hair crackles up in a halo.
She says, “My sculpture is done. Almost done.”
“Oh.” His voice quivers. “What else does it need?”
She creeps down the slope of the sculpture. As she moves, her hair pulls the yarn away from the wall. Her mouth opens very wide. Her teeth are lit up all silver, too. She lunges at his right hand with her whole mouth and clamps onto his arm at the elbow.
“Are you crazy?” he growls as he tries to skitter backwards. “Are you actually crazy?”
Around his arm she slurps, “That’s it. Every girl who’s better than you must be crazy.”
He whips out his useless pocket knife, slashes the air, misses Solah, rips the web. Sola screeches, through a mouthful of his skin. Yarn falls around them in sheets. Sola growls and chews. He gathers as much of the yarn as he can and drags it into the hall. Clumps of her hair coil around him. He staggers to the front door, throws it open and tries to toss the sculpture into the snow. Except that the sculpture is everywhere. He grabs, he throws, he chokes on yarn, he swings his knife.
Solah’s voice wraps around him from somewhere, it sing-songs, “Jonah is a needy girl.”
His knife hits something sharp. It feels like metal, bone or solidified evil. Sola’s jaw pops open. She and her yarn tumble into the snow. Jonah leaps back, shuts the door, locks it, shoves six chairs against it. His dripping knife leaves a trail of black blood for the moon to swoon over.
In the morning, he undoes the barricade. He peeks outside.
The sculpture sits dry and pristine atop a foot of glittering snow. The yarn is free of mold and Sola. Jonah shouts her name. The sculpture looks better than ever. After a few moments, he calls “Sola!” once more. He calls Wiley to ask for help moving the sculpture to the studio.
Everyone who still lives in the pine forest comes to Jonah’s show in the city. Everyone whines amongst themselves as they guzzle Franzia Cabernet from hard plastic cups. Everyone remembers Sola’s work from the student galleries; when they see the big yarn web they roll their eyes and talk shit about Jonah. But that doesn’t matter. Everyone is a dwindling group. Nobody else at the show cares about the slasher club or some girl who won a grant like three years ago. They stroke Jonah. They ask him to give a lecture at the art school. They tell him jokes.
Wiley gets wasted, pokes Jonah’s bandaged right arm, and slurs, “Good artists borrow, great artists steal.”
Jonah has always hated that quote. He smiles brittly and says, “Sola and I made the sculpture together, when you think about it.”
Wiley grins with all of his teeth. “Sure you did.”
When you are everything you do not act as a vessel for moonlight, evil, or art. You are themoonlight, the evil, the art. In the spring, Sola sees Jonah scrape black paint off the windows. He sells her old work from the student galleries. He buys black blinds for full moon nights. Summer passes, hot and oily. Jonah brings a girl home. She’s a student. She has a heart shaped face. Her thing is collage. Jonah ran out of knitting to sell. He pretends to work on something new.
Sola sees that being everything is the truest, purest form of art. She sees the girl and Jonah sitting on the couch in the living room, watching Scream.
Sola, as everything, knits light wisps of yarn into the girl’s skin. Sola sees the girl, the collages and the stretch of future winter. She sees the logging trucks rumbling through downtown, the families weaving Christmas lights through fences and the skinheads performing devilish acts under the full moon. She sees everyone.
Diana Valenzuela is an Oakland-born, New Orleans-based author. She cares about red eye shadow, Lifetime Original movies, and Britney Spears. Her work has appeared in The Millions and PULP Magazine.