by Yu Young Lee
Once, it was like nectar. Or so he’s told.
Lying in the hospital bed, between sputtered groans and a bleeding bitten lip, Sunny made Lucas promise to tell her the story of their daughter’s birth. He better remember everything. He better find and write the right words like he always does, better than he always has, better than anything he’s ever written. She would be waiting when it was all over.
So he tells her how when the epidural disappeared into her spine, the peculiar memory of monarch butterflies and their long straw-like mouths surfaced in his mind. When the needle plunged ever further, he could see the anesthesia work, like nectar was coursing through the white stem of her spine. He tells her about the way her face flowered, softening back into how he had always remembered it, and the way it must have felt just as sweet.
“It didn’t feel like nectar, it was nectar, idiot. I thought I could know what it felt like before, with years of my patients claiming they’ve seen heaven. I could see stars — that’s how liberating the numbness was.”
This was twenty four years ago. A week after their Stella is born, they are lying down on their old mattress on the floor with no bed frame. Facing each other, the baby asleep between them, her eyes soft on the baby, his gaze on her. He is only beginning to tell her the whole story, and she is already rolling her eyes, shaking her head. But as always, he can see her slow smile telling him to go on.
This is where they always found themselves back then. Murmuring to each other in the witching hour, with the lights still out and their legs intertwined. They would both wake from the baby’s crying, or sometimes because she wasn’t crying. They could not fall asleep until Stella did, so Sunny and Lucas would share things. Sometime in between one story and the next, her fingers would still in his hair, and still whatever memory they were both remembering. The next night, they would remember again. She used to insist on remembering everything.
That was twenty four years ago. Now, whatever thoughts course through her head are unknown to him. He thinks she is still remembering everything. He wants to tell her to stop, but he does not.
It was like nectar, the numbness.
“At least for a short while,” she told him.
Now Lucas knows that Sunny is taking the hospital’s graveyard shift for the rest of summer, so he has already half given in to slumber before he jolts when she comes in late at dawn. He keeps his eyes closed, straining to see with his ears. After some rustles of her nightgown and the unmistakable opening of their window, he feels the breeze tickle his face and the bed sink. It takes her longer every day, the drainage that comes with the night. Sometimes he’ll hear her bones grate as she moves. When he thinks she’s asleep, he stops holding his breath. He turns away from her for now, but he is dying to know what colors stain her fingers tonight. Tonight there may be patches of mauve, some more indecisive hues. When he knows for sure that she isn’t pretending to be asleep, he looks.
Once, during the winter, when their daughter was old enough to sleep in the crib next door, they cocooned together. Swaddled in the white sheets, they told each other the story of their names again.
“Your name is Lucas Moon.”
“Yours is Sunny Moon. But it wasn’t always Sunny Moon.”
“Once, it was So Sun Hee. Yours was always — ”
“ — Lucas Moon. My mother refused to give me — ”
“ — a Korean name. She gave you a good Catholic name, because names are — ”
“ — anchors. And she didn’t want us to stay there. She was also Catholic as hell.”
Sunny giggled at the grimace on his face. She remembered the first time she met her mother-in-law, when she came unexpectedly to her art class’s spring showcase, with a bouquet of lilies in her hand, with glistening eyes watching over her and her creations.
“Your mother also couldn’t believe that a nurse would want to paint.”
“That’s how she knew you were right for me. Because you painted moons, of all things. Beautiful moons that were blue, and orbiting stars that were purple. And after, you know what she said to me? When a sunflower chooses to only see the lightest thing in the dark, you let her grow next to you.” He glanced at that painting, now hung on their bedroom wall. That first one. It’s for you, Sunny had whispered in his ear. Later, he had snuck the money into her back pocket because she wouldn’t take it.
His closed eyes opened to meet hers. The hour was light enough to see her cheeks redden.
“I was also right for you because she thought Sun Hee wasn’t too heavy of an anchor for a name.”
“You know she wasn’t serious, right?” Lucas lifted his head up from her shoulder to look at her properly. “Even when she was moaning about dying before living out her fantasy of becoming one family of Moons. She was joking, she knows how it works.”
“Mmm. But I still made my last name yours.”
“You did. I couldn’t believe it. Just like that, So Sun Hee became Sunny Moon.” There is a pause before they both snicker like children.
“Do you think we’ll stop laughing about it when we’re older, when we’re tired and boring?”
“Highly unlikely. If it’s funny now, it can be funny again.”
Lucas wakes alone again, to the rain boxing against the scratched window panes, only to strain to hear her voice through another clinical note left behind. It diagnoses only the state of the house. He decides not to write anything. As the sky pours, he brews tea, the steam from the kettle fluttering and pulsing. It is because it is today of all days that he finds himself rummaging for the knot of keys in the kitchen drawer. One opens a closet door, another, the garden shed. The patchy, rusted silver key locks Stella’s room. He unlocks it.
Like most bedrooms of the house, it contains few things — a bed, a desk, a lamp. But it is still her bedroom. Her bedroom with the crib still in the corner because they couldn’t fit it into the attic when it was time to, because one of them couldn’t bear to break it and the other couldn’t bear to sell it. When he lifts the white baby blanket, he looks for Sunny’s painting long since removed from the frame in the bedroom. She had placed it in the crib after. It is that first one, the one with bruise colored celestial bodies on flesh colored paper, the one that he saw knowing that he understood her before he even knew her. He sees the bodies dance, ghosts rising from the paper with its folds and edges all fuzzy, soft like the tufts of hair of a newborn.
Sitting on the greyed rug with steam rising from his mug, he leaves the seeing world and enters the sleeping one. It is only when Luke stops hearing the rain’s lullaby outside, and is greeted by the dark, that he wakes slowly. The tea next to him has dried in the hollows of the mug, turned into streaks. He shuffles to the kitchen, where he freezes. There is another mug in the sink, with drowned yellow camomile flowers. There is no paper in Stella’s room, when he steals back to check, and despite it all, he still peers at the shoe rack near the front door where her shoes rest quietly.
His hands are still shaking after he locks their daughter’s room, after he drops the keys into the drawer again. When he opens their bedroom door, everything is moonlight. Like yesterday, the window is wide open. Like yesterday, Sunny sleeps on her stomach. Like yesterday, her nightgown has slightly ridden up, her calves as smooth and worn as thin bars of soap, glowing in gloom. The moon is incandescent tonight, so much so that he thinks she will wake up mistaking it for the sun. Tonight, her fingers are red, and her arms are covered with the universe, dark and beautiful, Mars and more circling her wrists, lining her veins. Lucas sees everything in the moonlight tonight. He sees their painting, like a small, fallen petal, folded neatly on the bedside table. He stops shaking.
In her face, he sees the moon, serene and still. Inching closer, Lucas carefully pulls their covers up around her shoulders, so her sleep turns sweeter, as morning blooms.
Yu Young Lee, is a collaborating curator and podcaster with The Creative Process. The arts is how humans communicate things that are ineffable in and out of our lives. It is the best way we record history; it is how we feel a little less alone. When I am creating, and I’d like to believe that this is the case with everyone, I feel a surge of not only power, but happiness. Through The Creative Process, I hope to see how people curate their own stories and experience novel forms of creativity. I want to experience the what’s, the how‘s, the why‘s and the who‘s.
I am a writer and deputy editor for The Guide, the arts and culture sections of The Hoya, Georgetown University’s oldest and largest newspaper. I am currently taking a class in Georgetown’s Maker Hub, a makerspace that fosters creative thinking, and innovation through practical means, using 3D printers, laser cutters, textile machinery, etc. I am also taking a creative writing class, where I am fostering my writing skills and finding and expressing my voice. I hope to write in the future—I hope to continue to create.