Mary in the Moonlight – Part One
Thomas had always been a sickly child. His parents hovered over him, fussing about, calling in new surgeons to inspect him. They all marveled over the fact that he still lived.
When he turned sixteen he’d had just about enough prodding and questioning. He was through with the clinging hugs and watery eyes. As soon as his mother and father saw him to his bedroom at night, he shut the door behind them and sighed. Only then was he free. He’d snatch a blanket from his bed, the half empty bottle of port he’d stolen from his father’s collection. Thomas had nicked it when his parents had been debating treatment options with the doctors. He’d overheard their hushed discussion about plombage and cringed. He had no desire to have that trembling surgeon drill into his lung and fill it with God knows what.
He did have a desire, however, to see Mary. Their nightly rendezvous were his sole motivation for enduring the unbearable doctors and even more insufferable, his parents.
Thomas unlatched the window and carefully climbed out onto the roof shingles. Mary was waiting for him on her own roof that sloped down to meet his.
“Mary,” Thomas said, positioning himself across from her gingerly so as not to be overcome by a coughing fit. “You look lovely, as always.”
She blushed a shade and smiled at him. Her long blonde hair caught the breeze coming off the river to their west. The moonlight washed her in an incandescent glow. Her night dress billowed at her ankles.
The first time Thomas had climbed through the window of his bedroom to find her there, he averted his eyes so the lady might duck inside her own home and don something more covering. But Mary didn’t seem to mind. She’d met him that way every night for the past year. They would sit on their respective roofs, gaze out over London and talk to one another. She was his best and only friend
“It’s a beautiful night,” Mary remarked.
Thomas looked out on the city covered with soot and moonlight. He’d only been into town a few times himself. His mother often informed him that his health didn’t allow him to partake in the activities normal children. But here, he could see the far off ships on the Thames and people scuttling back home after late night shifts. He and Mary looked to each other.
“How was your day?”
Thomas sighed, trying not to shudder.
“My parents want the surgeon to cut into my lung and fill the cavity with gauze and wax.”
It sounded ridiculous when he said it aloud. To be stuffed like a child’s toy. Mary did not seem to share his disgust. Her face remained calm, simply listening. Thomas had very little communication with the general populous. Perhaps the procedure was well known and reputable.
“Will you do it?” she asked quietly, looking at her toes. They were splayed out on the crevice that joined their roofs.
“I’ve never had much choice in these matters,” he said with a wry smile. He’d told Mary countless stories of his parents and their obsession with keeping him alive.
“And if you did?” Mary asked “What would you choose?”
Thomas pondered for a moment. He couldn’t even conceive of such freedom. What would life be like if his body were his own responsibility, if choices were his own to make. His mind couldn’t seem to invoke a world where that was the case.
“I don’t know. I suppose if it gave me a few years I should say yes.”
Mary gave him a slight and sad smile. She was always smiling that way. Thomas knew it wasn’t pity. He almost felt as if he’d given the wrong answer, disappointed her in some way. He quickly averted that particular conversation.
“Look what I brought.” He reached for the bottle of port and Mary laughed.
“You’re a thief, Thomas.”
He took a swig off the bottle. The liquid was warm and bitter. He masterfully held back a cough.
“I must rebel in some small way. Regardless, I don’t steal things that won’t be missed. My father will never notice this bottle has vanished from his droves of wine and liquor. Just as my mother will never notice the ribbon I gave you last month.”
“And my heart?” Mary smiled. “Do you think I haven’t noticed you’ve taken that as well?”
Thomas beamed and reached across the roof to hand Mary the bottle. She was careful not to cross the boundary, as always. She grabbed the bottle by the neck and cradled the brown glass to her chest. Thomas watched her blow on the rim. A low, haunting tone sounded. She always did that. Thomas enjoyed the way her bottom lip brushed against the glass. She took a small sip and handed it back to him, careful that their hands would never touch.
The first sip Thomas took after Mary drank was one that he always relished. It was probably a manifestation of his under utilized imagination, but each time he drank after her, he felt slightly rejuvenated. The alcohol was sweeter going down; his lungs burned a bit less. He was generally overcome by a feeling of lightness as if his bones had lost all mass. For those fleeting moments he felt as though he could simply float off the roof with Mary at his side.
The night passed normally. They spoke and laughed until the moon was in the center of the inky sky. Before he snuck back into his room, he asked her for the hundredth time.
“Mary, come away with me.”
She gave him that somber smile and offered the usual answer.
“Not tonight, my love.”
Thomas chuckled at their ritual and carefully climbed back in through the window.
The following weeks passed in the same cadence. His days were still spent sitting and listening to his parents discuss his health. He endured visits doctors and even a gypsy woman who muttered in a strange tongue and forced him to drink foul smelling tea.
At night, he went up to the roof to see Mary, to share a drink, to make her laugh. To feel lighter, healthier if only for a few precious hours. He’d end each night with the same request.
“Come away with me, Mary.”
And always she answered, “Not tonight, my love.”
When he finally underwent the dreadful operation, he emerged from the sticky ether haze in his bed. His mother and father were hovering over him with concern in their weary eyes. Thomas felt as though someone had poured hot lead along his ribs. His head was unendurably heavy. All he wanted was to close his eyes and shut out the pain, to be on the roof with Mary in the crisp night air.
When his parents began their hurried line of questions, he quietly asked them to leave. Night had fallen. He could see the moonlight slipping through the curtains his parents had drawn across the windows. He tried to push himself up from his prone position. He had to meet Mary, to tell her of his nightmares when the ether took him under, to tell her of the surgeon’s trembling hands, of how frightened he was. His arms were useless and his chest protested violently against the slightest movement. The foolish attempt precipitated a coughing spasm. It caught like fire in his lungs. He fell back into bed, tears slipping down his cheeks. He was so tired. He looked to the slats of moonlight falling across the carpet.
“Mary,” he whispered. “Come away with me.”
He swore before he fell back into his nightmares that he heard her voice like a faint echo. It said sweeter than ever before, “Not tonight, my love.”
all chapters: Mary In The Moonlight
more by NOELLE CURRIE
photograph by unsplash.com