The Oldest Story There Is
By A.R. Robins
When you see your face in the mirror with its deep craters and dark circles, you are reminded of the story of the moon and all her struggle and all her strength and all her vanity.
She was a strong moon, the strongest of all the moons in the universe. She made work on her Earth seem easy, though she was the only being in the universe who could do such work. With her large, dark arms she pulled the waves of her Earth’s water forward and back, doing much more than the work of sixty-seven. For her, it was like pulling a sheet from a bed and letting it dance in front of her.
She could also hold the heavy bowl of light and dreams above her and let it pour slowly into her Earth’s mouth. This was her most important work, and only she could do it. If her sisters attempted to hold her bowl, it would have been poured unevenly, which would have led to only some parts of the world knowing the pain of dreams and light. This would not do because pain is the unifying force of life. Her strong arms made this task easy, and without her, there would be no life.
This is why there are trees outside your window, and this is why there are apricots in your oatmeal, and this is why the grass makes your eyes itch, and this is why all your ideas come to you before you sleep, and this is why love burns in your throat when you close your eyes in the dark.
The moon was not satisfied with herself. She could hold her bowl longer and pour it more slowly than the other moons, yet she became ambitious. It was not enough that she gave her Earth life because when her bowl grew empty, she would have to leave to fill it again with the yellow and blue gases of the universe. Her Earth would forget her. Life ended for all. When she returned, she would have to start over again from the beginning.
She did not know that this was beautiful and perfect. She did not know that without ambition, life on her Earth would have remained beautiful and perfect forever. If only she had been wise enough to know the beauty of watching the one she loves fall in love with her all over again. She did not know that she had invented love. She knew only that she was forgotten, and for all her strength, she could not endure it.
This is why there are deserts and forests, and this why you insist on keeping strangers in your life, and this is why dog faces make you cry, and this is why there is only so much matter in the universe that can be burned up and turned to dust.
“My bowl is too small,” she said to the stars, who were her only friends, “If it were larger, it would not empty so quickly. I am strong enough to hold a larger bowl.”
The stars said to her, “Yes, you are stronger than all the moons put together. Create for yourself a bowl so large that you will never stop pouring, and your Earth can never forget you.” They did not know what they were saying because a star’s natural state is that of the sycophant. Their voices were already dead echoes by the time they hit her ears, and she could not recognize their empty voices as reflections of herself.
She weaved a new bowl from bits of the sky. She carved out pieces of herself, packing them around the edges, leaving holes in her face and chest. She filled the bowl with all the gases around her—blue, yellow, red—taking what the universe was willing to give her and more. Her bowl was so large that the other moons pulled their Earths around her; it was magnificent to see her work.
This is why you drink whiskey in the morning as your mothers did before you, and this is why there are some creatures with many legs and some creatures with two, and this is why there is always hunger and sickness even when food is thrown in the trash, and this is why you are always too tired to sleep.
When she was done, all the moons lined up with their Earths in no order of importance, and they all danced around her and told her she was the grandest moon of them all. She held up her creation with both of her strong arms and began pouring her light into all their hungry mouths, which grew hungrier with every new millennium. She was proud as long as she could be proud, and they admired her for millions of years.
This is why the cactus suffers more than the mushroom, and this is why we seek the approval of strangers, and this is why there is pain in childbirth, and this is why man created both bifocals and the nuclear bomb, and this is why poetry is read out loud, and this is why our very atoms keep us from touching each other.
It was not long, just a giga-annum, before her Earth betrayed her and gave her creation a name. She never intended to name it. She could not see that what she had done was more important than her strength and talent. She could not see that it had become be a symbol to all, though it was never a symbol to her. Worst of all, her Earth had forgotten those early days when she had first poured dreams into his throat, and he said that it was the Sun who gave him life. His earliest memories of them together seemed devoid of life entirely, which hurt her so much that she could not bear to hold her creation any longer.
She dropped her bowl, the most indecent crime a moon can commit, hoping it would be swallowed by the forever-gaping mouth of the universe, but it was so large, and so beautiful, and so full of light, and pain, and love that the other Earths could not bear to part with it, so they pulled their arms together and cradled it in place.
This is why your back aches in the morning, and this is why your fingers scream with pain, and this is why your children no longer call you, and this is why you have forgotten their names.
Despite her magnificence, the moon now spends the rest of her days shrinking smaller and smaller, hiding her face in the dark sheets of the sky. Someday she will gather the courage to suffocate herself in the billows of the night, and the life that she so carefully poured into her Earth will suffer without her.
This is why you will blame yourself after it is all done, when you swallow your last gift of night air and push out a sigh, letting the darkness swallow you in its old comforting way. Your story is the first story and all the stories told after it, and all the stories told after that. Your story is the oldest story there is.
A. R. Robins is a Missouri public school teacher who is acquiring a master's in English studies. Currently, she is working on a short story collection. Robins' fiction has also been featured in the literary podcast Second Hand Stories.