JR took the single step down to the porch. He leaned against its railing and stared into the littered yard of tin cans and straw-like grass. He pulled a cigarette from behind his ear. The screen door behind him opened with the tear in the mesh flapping like a sail in irons. Dean stepped out. JR lit another cigarette off the tip of his and extended it.
“I’m sorry, you know,” JR said.
“Okay,” Dean said, taking the cigarette from JR, staring at the blur of the cherry-like brake lights out of focus. It flickered and sizzled when he inhaled, illuminated the small space around him.
JR looked into the sky. He moved his head up and down, going left to right slowly. He recrossed his legs at the ankles, wondering when he had uncrossed them.
“Have you noticed that? The other moon?” JR asked.
“Yeah,” Dean said, not completely taken aback by it and keeping his voice steady. He didn’t want to give JR the satisfaction.
The stars were pinpricks in the dark, the moons glowing orbs of contemporary art in a museum closed for the night. Not that there were any museums nearby save for the railroad landmark by the gas station. If that counted.
“What is it?” JR asked.
“What do you mean?”
“Is it actually another moon?”
“I guess so,” Dean said.
The cigarette was helping a little. Helping JR calm down, decompress. Helping Dean do the same.
JR felt guilty, but there was no stopping that. It’s the way anxiety sticks to his throat like mucus, electricity in his fingers, rage in the pit of his stomach. Then it all gets regurgitated, boils, and his limbs snap and clench. Grab at limbs, necks. Yellow and purple like an Easter egg. On Dean’s arms this time.
“It’s all over the news,” Dean said. But their small cabin didn’t have a television. It didn’t have a computer. Neither man owned a smartphone. Neither had a library card and they seldom traveled out of town.
“And how do you know that?” JR said.
“Just do. Saw it.”
“I bet you did.” JR growled. He growled the words with his mouth and eyebrows and with his hot scarlet ears.
Dean’s grin said he was not yet defeated. It said, Try me. He knew he had the upper hand after JR grabbed him like he did, stumbling back and apologizing, feeling like he always did after an episode like that. Dean didn’t need to threaten to leave, to expose him. The threat was always there. It was always understood.
“You know damn well where I saw it,” Dean said, his courage slowly returning, starting with an attitude, but falling short, landing abruptly into a sadness, and then contempt. “Are you really going to start again? I mean, not like you need to worry anymore.”
“I’m glad,” JR said. But he wasn’t, and Dean knew this. There was history with Red and JR, with Red and Dean, with the three of them together and respectively. That one drunken night, the three of them in one bed. Both of them were thinking it.
Dean thought back to when he saw the news segment. Yesterday. Maybe the day before. Early afternoon while JR was at work, smoothing concrete in his reflective vest and white hardhat.
“You should at least go see him before”—Dean searched for the words—“he passes.”
“Not a chance,” JR said, flicking his cigarette, his two fingers now drumming on the railing. “And I’m not letting you either, so don’t even think about it.”
“Who says I haven’t already?”
JR breathed deeply, brushed sweat from his forehead. He tried to calm his instinct to attack.
Time: it passed heavily.
JR scanned the sky again and forced himself to speak in a controlled tone. He said, “So, what are calling it?”
“Um, lung cancer? What do you mean what are they calling it?”
“No,” he said, jutting his head forward.
Dean looked away from where JR wanted him to look, knowing what was there. He’d seen it before, of course, but not in person. This was the yesterday, the day before. After Red’s coughing fit and his head-nod toward the TV, as JR had just nodded toward the moons. That’s what was on the TV. The news. The moons. On Red’s television, crisp and flat. Although, Red could fit that description as well—his belly sunken like a breakfast bowl. Dean remembered how he rubbed his concave skin and kissed his saliva-dried lips. How he sang Comfortably Numb when the top story segued into local news.
It could have been the extra moon that stopped JR from questioning the subject more—of Dean stepping out—or it very well could have been anything else.
“So,” JR said slowly, “What are they calling it?”
“I don’t know,” Dean said. But the anchor must have identified it, named it, he thought. “Moon Two maybe.”
The air was warm and cool at the same time. Thoughts seemed tangible in the air and dust settled on everything. Gray and brown. The ruralness of earth tones. He wondered if that was what they were really calling it. Moon Two. The newscasters in their shirts and ties, their white teeth and fresh breath. Scientists in lab coats, behind podiums.
JR licked his cottony lips. Still the taste of beer and tobacco in his patchy stubble. “Do you think we really landed on the moon?” he asked.
“What do you mean landed on it?”
“You know, landed on it.”
“You mean Moon Two?”
“One,” JR said.
“Probably. I guess so.” Several minutes passed amongst the hollow screams of cicadas. Dean’s fingers drew cursive letters on the railing. He continued: “But, that was fake, right? That’s what…,” and he paused for a moment. “It was in California or something.”
”I don’t know,” JR said, and after some time, “We probably landed on it at some point. Moon One, I mean.”
“Yeah,” Dean said. But there was something else. He had this conversation before. Should he hold it back? Not at this point, he thought, so he said, “Red thought it was fake.”
More cicadas, it seemed like. Crickets squealed. A brief breeze whistled past them. And then there was a silence. JR eventually turned without a word and stepped inside the cabin. Inside, he rustled through the mini-fridge with clicks and clanks, and then returned outside with a fresh beer.
After some time, his arms against the railing again, JR asked, “Do you think he’s happy?”
“Who? Red?” Dean immediately became heavy chested. He turned pale under the moons’ illuminations. It was that name again. And it kept coming up, almost organically, as if there was nothing else to talk about. As if the second moon was an illusion.
JR opened his eyes wide and snapped them to a squint, as if he didn’t know the reaction he should have over such a simple question. Over that name. A nickname he coined. Red being in reference to the red shapes on the cigarette boxes, red now being the blood he coughed.
JR remembered their time together at Platt’s Concrete. Fifteen years on the job together, getting drinks, laughing. He remembered Red’s outspoken rhetoric, how he could offend just about anyone. And that’s why he liked him. But then all the stuff with Dean. How he confessed his love after his diagnosis. “After that time, the three of us, you know, Dean and I…”
Red said he needed to speak his peace. That he knew about JR and Dean. That he needed forgiveness. That he was a dying man. Said he couldn’t live the time left allotted to him without having Dean there, but he wanted to get JR’s blessing. “I’m just borrowing. Borrowing him. Borrowing time. Six months. That’s what I’m told.”
Then, the falling out. The questions. The confessions. The fight. But somewhere inside him, JR felt remorse. Red was a dying man. His best friend at one time. Before they knew each other like they knew each other now. But neither of them was the apologizing type, although JR held sorry somewhere inside him. Uncertainty covered it like fitted bedding.
JR rubbed his eyes with the heels of his palms and stared back into the sky.
“No. The moon,” JR said, zoning back into reality. “Do you think it’s—I don’t know—happy?”
Dean turned his head to the vacant and littered yard. “I still don’t know what the hell you’re talking about.”
“What if the moon liked being alone?” JR said. “What if it’s sadder now?”
Sadder, Dean thought, and went into a mental rerun of his last time with Red, how it could actually be the last time. How their goodbyes had to remain secret. Because the two men contained dry-lipped kisses and wet-faced tears.
Dean’s face became hot. “Are you serious?” he said. “Is this some parallel you’re trying to come up with for Red? Listen, JR. It’s just a goddamn moon. In the black nothing of space. It doesn’t mean anything. It’s a rock.”
“Rocks,” he said. “There’s two of them.”
Two orbs in the sky. Two vacant orbs sunken in Red’s face. Stars and moons. Clogged pores around glazed-over eyes.
JR was trying to bring this full circle, come up with something enlightening to have Dean contemplate. A catalyst for forgiveness. A promise to quit his outbursts, if that’s what he was going for. Was it really that? There’s no borrowing love, he thought. It was just bad timing was all.
The conversation could have stopped there, almost naturally, but the presence of the second moon brought with it a handful of questions with indecipherable answers. JR pressed the pause button on their uncertainty and went inside to grab another Lite. When he came back out, he was too curious not to press on: “So, you think this moon has been around since Moon One?”
Dean moaned, but seemed to think about it for a second more with some interest. “If not, gravity would be different. We’d all be drowning.”
“So, this is just the first time we’re seeing it?” JR asked.
Dean didn’t answer.
“How long do you think scientists have known?”
“Are you ignoring me now? You apparently know more about it than me. So why couldn’t we see it until now?”
“I don’t know, JR. Can you stop with these questions? It’s a moon for godsake. Just leave it be.”
“What the fuck is your issue?”
“My issue? My issue, JR? You think you can just grab me like I’m a piece of meat? And then ask me about the goddamn sky? With our best friend dying just down the road? Not right now,” Dean said.
The phone call could come any minute, and he’s concerned about space.
Dean turned around. The door creaked and the screen’s rip fluttered softly.
JR wanted to chase him inside but felt like he couldn’t move his legs anymore. He just stared at the moon, Moon Two, for a long time, trying to find shapes in its shadows of canyons and craters—a man on the moon—but he couldn’t see anything of the sort. He took his last cigarette out and threw the pack on the dead lawn. He quickly sucked half of it down, and there was a rush of energy around him. A lightheadedness. And then he thought he saw it, could have sworn there was just another man standing next to him, listening. Opposite the side Dean was standing. Just like there was another moon staring down at him. The man could have been Red. A late form of Red. It could have been himself. A JR from the future. But it could have been nothing, just wind and dust. Smoke and mirrors. Debris. Moons.
The bedroom light turned on and formed a glow on the front side of the property. JR squinted into the sky until the light shut off. Then he felt himself moving almost unconsciously. He stepped off the porch and settled down on the dead lawn. He lay like that for a long time until the sun welcomed the morning, hovering high. Until the sun muted the moons. Until they were both invisible.
Shortly past daybreak, he woke without remembering if or when he fell asleep. His breath was thick and heavy. It coated his teeth. JR struggled to get up as if gravity was heavier. He dragged himself inside. Their bedroom door was closed and he could hear Dean’s breathing behind it. JR chose the couch to rest, where it seemed gravity had pressed the cushions into solid blocks.
Adam Gianforcaro is the author of the poetry collection Morning Time in the Household, Looking Out and the children’s picture book Uma the Umbrella. His work can be found in Maudlin House, The Los Angeles Review, Potluck, The Suburban Review, Sundog Lit, and others.
Image: Flickr / Aloysious A Gruntpuddock