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Moon River

By Janice Eidus

In the moonlight, moonshine, moondog, mooning light... Actually, it's daytime, sun round and hot, but the air feels moony. Like wax, hot, moon all around me. A hot moon might scald me; a hot moon might melt me. I'm on my back, on a park bench. I remember a moon song: Audrey Hepburn singing "Moon River... Wider Than A Mile..." I wish I were Audrey: gaunt, huge-eyed, strumming gently on an incongruous guitar, demanding my bacon and eggs among diamonds. I do hear her singing. No, not her, but there is someone. Across the park, even with my eyes fully closed and my ears semi-closed, a guitar and a lone woman's voice come drifting. Vaguely, if I strain, I can make out the words. Is it worth it? Yes, it must be; I'm looking for clues. In the sixties, a male voice would have been raucous, loud, bemoaning the Bomb and segregation, and I'd have taken my clues from there... But it's not the sixties; nor is it the seventies, when punks ruled and violence was cool and he would have wailed,
Baby I will smash you

In the face!

Baby I will cremate you

And your race!

Those messages are old, tired. I've heard them before, they won't change my life. I was naive in the sixties, apathetic during the seventies... now new messages abound, and what I hear drifting along with Audrey and her river wider than a mile is a female voice crooning,

Come to my home

So my porpoise

Can make it with your tortoise

Because we can't do it ourselves

We've got to stay safe, yeah!

Well, I'm listening and learning. Even though officials in high places and my mother and father would not approve one iota of my lying down, hands beneath my head, on a wooden bench in a public city park. Old winos do it, urine-stained, and even crazy bag ladies, varicose-veined, do it, but not young women so seemingly vulnerable as I. This is dangerous. I'm so vulnerable out here. Surely any moment a big ugly man, saliva, switchblade, and semen, will surround me, will hover, will shout,

baby you ASKED FOR IT,

but so far, at least, nobody even seems to notice me. And I am free to lie here, free to remember, to sort through my life once and for all; this is a desperate act for me, certainly. But I need to figure some things out. Let me think back, all the way back to the womb, in fact, which was wet, wide, utterly weird. No, what a lie, what fabrication. Self-deception simply won't pay: I can't remember that far back, and I challenge anyone who says she can! My first memory is much later. I'm four or five, in a pool, swimming with a vague grown-up person, not clearly male, not clearly female, someone named Geri or Jerry. Who is Geri-Jerry? Where is this aquamarine, lifeguard-studded pool? I can't recall: I can see myself, though, that undoubtedly is me, little pouting nipples and wet panties, splashing and kicking, screaming delightedly, "Oh stop it stop stop stop!"

Before I go on with this sorting of memories, I sense real children nearby. Right beside my bench. My memories are abruptly cut short. Danger! Fi Fo Fum, I snort, I smell the blood of children.

"Lady," says a raggedy little urchin. "Lady, my friend and me want to sit on this bench, too."

A threat to my freedom, my one moony moment on the park bench, my one last chance to make sense of a life gone silly and sad. "Sorry, sonny," I reply. "I'm standing my ground."

"A sickie," says the child's voice. "We could push you off, lady."

In response, for I am wild now, I open my eyes, roll my eyeballs way up inside my head, and show them only whites. Let them think I'm a sickie. That's okay. I'm determined to do what I have to do. I have no room for them today. Maybe tomorrow. But not today.

The children run away. "Sickie!" one yells in a trembling voice as he departs. And that is the end of them.

There should be no more threats. I've proved my mettle: this territory is mine, marked, staked-out, for I was willing to turn myself hideous, monstrous, the most difficult thing of all for a woman to do... and now this turf is taken!

Must return to sorting: my life demands arrangement, computation...

So there was this Jerry-Geri person and a pool. Then there was nursery school, Miss Bead, and next was kindergarten, Miss Snead, followed by first grade, Miss Read, then second grade and Miss Bead again... But after the second Miss Bead came Mrs. Norton, Mrs. Python, Mrs. Weinstock... so the pattern existed quite early, no wonder I'd almost forgotten it... E and A and D! These are my letters, my three special letters...

E. The note of E! I am a musical person, suppressed though my talent must be; time to take up an instrument, saxophone, of course, jazz lover that I am! I've always known I had talent... And E for Early! After all, despite recent late hours, I'm a morning person, birds and sunshine... time to quit this dead-end, late-night waitressing, and to find a morning job, a job that places me at work during my very own special time of day.

And E for Energy! Swallow large doses of vitamins, stir wheat germ into homemade yogurt! Learn tennis, take up running. E for Ebullient! I've always been. Eager? My middle name. Okay, onward to...

A! Vitamin A, of course: good vision. Look clearly, look both ways, look up and down... I'll purchase soft contact lenses. Why stick with the hard kind, they've caused me countless tears on windy days... A! Apple, America, Anarchy, Anorexia... the messages are loud and clear. I must become patriotic and political, yet never unquestioning: to be a true American is to possess an inner dash of anarchy at all times... And always, I must eat, three full meals a day, never to allow anorexia to strike, never to become one of those middle-class creatures refusing to grow fleshy and womanly...

But D. D, the killer. D is tricky. I find D mysterious, unsettling. Another clue re: Democracy? Obviously so. But there must be more. Dastardly... no, that word doesn't speak to me. Dashing... nor that. Daring? Dreadful? Dime? Dallas? Diddeybop? None of these work. D is the problem letter... The moonlight feels hot again, too hot, I'm sweating, scared... D? Drive! Of course. I am to buy a new car, a flashy red one... Yes, yes! The soft contact lenses will allow me to see better, a new car will allow me to move faster, better, farther... D does not have to stand for Death, after all. I'll hit the thruway, the highway, the freeway. I'll never wait for a bus again, never squint again, never waitress again...

And so, finally, this exhausting experience has been worth it all! Worth the fear, worth the publicity of a bench in a wino-filled park. Miss Bead, Miss Snead, Miss Read, thank you... and thank you, Geri-Jerry... But most of all, perhaps, it is time to thank Audrey Hepburn, out there on her window sill, eyes like a Keane portrait, arms skinny like a famine victim, a certain kind of man's ideal woman. The letter A is for Audrey, too, naturally; pieces are fitting together at last in the puzzle; A is the most special of the special three. Oh, Audrey, I'll learn to sing and play an instrument like you, and I'll drive and read road signs accurately with my tinted green eyes... always following my own Moon River...

So now I stand up, like the runner I'm destined to become, and I flex and stretch and I don't care who sees me. I'm off, bounding and leaping, ready to start looking for a job with an early morning shift, ready to buy Consumer Reports to investigate the best deals on saxophones and contact lenses and cars...

And my new vantage point, a place where things look pretty damned good, allows me to be unselfish (I'll let the children sit with me tomorrow), altruistic (A again), American (I'll buy an American car), and to offer sound advice (A!) to other searching, afflicted (A!) young women. And here's my advice: choose a bench or a beach or even your own bedroom, if you'd like, and lie down, and then think of a movie star like Audrey Hepburn and a song like "Moon River" and an inexplicable, nearly-forgotten memory like Jerry-Geri and the swimming pool and go through the names of your elementary schoolteachers slowly and carefully (the pattern may be subtle) and don't be intimidated by whining, nasty children and don't let fear of perverted men with knives and lust paralyze you and be willing to make funny faces if you have to and listen closely to the songs of the local bards of your decade... seek the clues, stay alert... and your world will open right up. You will grow. You will succeed. This formula simply can't fail! You'll see more clearly, new knowledge shall be yours! Trust me. I know. I've been there, and now I'm wider than a mile.

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