The Man on the Moon (Excerpt)
The Dragon and the Stars, which was published in 2010 by Penguin’s DAW Books and includes my short story “The Man on the Moon”, won the Prix Aurora Award in the Category of Best English Related Work in 2011.
In 2013, the “The Man on the Moon” was reprinted in the third issue of International Speculative Fiction.
The Man on the Moon (Excerpt)
copyright © 2010 by Crystal Koo
From the balcony of his suite, the Man on the Moon watched the vague figure of a young woman on the street below lean over to kiss the young man standing next to her under the lamp.
The Man on the Moon lit a stick from a cigarette pack that the general manager had given him to help him relax.
The young man picked her up in his arms, their laughter rising up as briefly as the smoke from his cigarette. It was too far to see if they had cords around their ankles that led to one another, but the Man on the Moon noticed that they held each other in a tight, too-fierce embrace, which meant that they were aware something was wrong. Perhaps it was too little time or too much space in between. Perhaps there was another person. Anything was possible. Precarious lovers were all alike in their desperation, and the Man on the Moon assumed that there was something written in the Book of Matches which would eventually cause a breaking of hearts and more sad songs and poetry.
The couple on the street walked away arm in arm and the street lamp seemed to dim in their absence. The Man on the Moon took a puff, coughed violently, and decided he didn’t like the taste of it.
For each contestant who preened and wriggled before him, the Man on the Moon would look at her feet and consult the Book of Matches to check whether he had already predestined her to someone else. Then he would study her face to see if it was something that deserved to survive for eternity. No one knew which one it was that prompted him to tell her to stand on the back of the stage or to step down.
This angered many of those who had bought tickets to the contest to gather information on their own destinies. Some of the audience heckled him. Others tried to grab his Book. Most of them dissected the lack of excitement on the Man on the Moon’s face, which was shown in closed-circuit television screens in the hotel building.
Groups of people stood outside the hotel everyday. Those waving bullhorns shouted that the Man on the Moon should be responsible for saving everyone when the world ends. Those waving bulky cardboard props of his Book shouted that he should not be given the freedom to choose his lover if everyone else doesn’t. A small group was cheering on the most significant beauty pageant in history, but because they weren’t waving anything, they were largely ignored.
Many of the contestants offered to aid him in making up his mind. They behaved so spiritedly in his bed that when he refused afterwards to promise them victory, they could not help but turn against him with insults about his performance.
Some of them said nothing at all, choosing only to slap his face. Surprised at their reactions, he held the door open for them and repeated that a week was really not too long a time to wait for results.
Just pick one. Toss a coin, if you want. Toss a thousand coins. You do it so easily for us, don’t you? Why can’t you do it for yourself?
Annoyed with his impatience, the Man on the Moon did not answer the general manager. The suite where he stayed was papered with photographs of women. They smirked, they simpered, they leered, depending on the light. They watched him tally their attributes against each other and spend many hours trying to tell their glaring smiles apart. At the end of the day, he always felt that if he chose one, he would be choosing all of them.
The Man on the Moon learned to smoke and kept the curtains open to air the room. His Book of Matches lay forgotten on top of the bureau. From the street that his balcony overlooked, he was often seen knotting his red cords together in irritation until they looked like a tangle of hair that clung on the shower drain.