John Mulberry graduated from NYU in 2008, and graduated into the world in 2009 by beginning an affair with his YMCA coordinator.
She lived in Queens, a few blocks from his volunteer center, in a brownstone walk-up catty-corner from a pizza place with Formica counters and a phosphorescent sign. She had English teeth, a 5-year old son named Geoff, and a marriage to a former classmate the event of Geoff had forced her to like.
Under the pretense of John’s being a close cousin, Geoff and John became fast friends. The three often went out together to the activities Geoff’s father would have met with chagrin. The Puppet Theatre. Ellis Island. Sheep’s Meadow, Central Park.
Geoff was doing a class project about the solar system and the past Monday John walked Geoff to school in the orange outfit they’d picked out together—a fluorescent track-suit from Old Navy—because Geoff had been voted Head Astronaut. Before school, the pair visited Grand Central, where John bought Geoff a strawberry Yoplait whose magenta fruit-trunks he pretended were asteroids.
“That's Sagitarius,” Geoff proceeds to explain, breath smelling artificial, like strawberry yogurt.
“That one’s Capricorn.”
John looks up Capricorn on his iPhone, recalling some connection to the sign. With parameters of December 22-January 19, John remembers why he would have remembered the sign. It's his.
Geoff sets down his yogurt spoon. It is white and translucent on the bulb like the curve of a shell.
“You gonna finish that?” says John.
“I realized something,” says Geoff, eyes fixed on the ceiling.
“There might be people in there.”
“In the Yoplait?”
“Aliens. On the asteroids,” says Geoff.
“Can you eat it for me?” says John, projecting the questioning which would greet him at brownstone: did he eat? he's never eating. Strawberry Yoplait? The whole thing?
“But the aliens.”
“Astronauts needs their protein.”
“I don't want to.”
“But don't you want to conquer Mars?” The great strength of the Capricorn-born are their willingness to work hard.
Geoff starts into the yogurt. “I'm going to discover a You-mountain there.” His little mouth makes a slurping sound against the spoon. “Mt. John.”
On Friday, Geoff’s father took him to see Spider-Man for his birthday. At the brownstone, John and Ally shared cashew chicken and searching mouths.
Ally receives a message whose apple green bubble contained Geoff, mid-IMAX chair—small teeth, Yankees t-shirt, hand clenched around a bag of Swedish Fish like a child’s in a Dutch Master painting might clutch a dog. Because she is a poet, she recognizes the sheen of popcorn butter on her child’s chin. Because her own chin was caught at a riotous angle beneath that of a 22-year-old NYU graduate and YMCA supervisor—a glorified Eagle Scout, a boy—she checks the intensity of lighting in the theatre.
Spider-Man is over. So is her rendezvous.
“You mind checking the window?” she nuzzles John, folding his ear into an inverted leaf.
“Play lookout,” says John.
“Don't be mean.” Ally climbs to the other side of the couch.
The window onto the street is in Geoff’s room. It is space themed, with a solar system carpet and galaxy sheets. Geoff crosses the room. Three stories below, pigeons scuttle at fallen peanuts; a Hispanic busboy drinks an orange Fanta, the dying day carving onyx from his slicked, dark hair.
Affixed to the wall is a gray paste-colored orb. It is the size of a hubcap and affixed beneath a baseball collection; from its corrugated surface extends the black licorice tail of an electric cord.
“John?” calls Ally from the other room.
But he doesn't hear. He's moved closer to the anonymous orb, moving interchangeably from its side to face, assessing with what hardware it's been affixed. Running his hand along the cord he discovers the nob of a switch, and flips it.
Before him the orb illuminates, and for the first time in his five-minute’s exploration he succeeds in fitting a name to its alien surface.
“Moon in my Room” John says, incredulous, because he recognizes it as a figment of his own boyhood transplanted 14-years. “Go figure.”
Ally stands in the door, leaning against the sill. “See anyone?”
“It's a Moon in my Room,” John repeats.
“The light. Geoff’s. It's a moon. A Moon in my Room.”
“I had one of those.”
“How funny.” But her face shows no sign of amusement. Her eyes are fixed on the window, before which, in the dark room, John’s frame presents an obstacle.
“They're not here,” says John. And he takes her in his arms, because she looks disturbed, and he feels strange, too. He kisses her hard, and it is like the swim tests he administers at the YMCA. This is how you continue. This is how you push through pressure.
There is a wall between them and yet he proceeds, taking the barrier for water pressure, which can be overcome with facility. Equanimity. Grace.
There is no grace here. The glow of the Moon in My Room distracts him from the swimming of his mouth, removes him from himself.
He is Geoff, looking across him at the table. He is the class astronaut with the exorbitant eyelashes, the little teeth, the misplaced respect for, comfort with the cousin who isn't his cousin.
He is himself fourteen years prior, pressing himself against an adult woman. Capricorn are cautious, responsible and always play fair.
He steps away. Flicks off the Moon in my Room, and with it the nightmare it provided him.
A week later, John hadn’t seen Ally since the night of Spider-Man. It is a brick school building, a largely plywood auditorium. John found his way there via Google Map results for the search “PS-161” a school to which he had no tangible connection, and to which he'd never been.
He watches the class production. It is a documentary of their space project played on a grainy projector screen. Parents bring flowers and Snicker’s, hushed revelations of out-to-dinner plans, as they are wont to do at the slightest provocation of their child’s movement, like bomb tags set to rig at almost imperceptible blips of action.
The room is full with the sound of undue praise and flipped playbills, tin-foil balloons and crinkled cellophane.
Though Google Maps sets him at a definite location, John has a strange feeling of weightlessness, of zero gravity chamber detachment on all fronts. Though his Moleskine planner has information penned in for this event, he knows he has no connection to these people, their children, the documentary coming into view on the screen.
When Geoff’s face comes large and beautiful on the screen—the top of the Old Navy track-suit, a background composed of cardboard space-ship—John sees it as a signpost against further danger, a reminder on what faulty footing he stands.
The lavender eyes aren't his eyes. The chin shape much different from his own.
“I'm going to build you a You-Mountain,” John remembers remembering the night of Spider-Man, after he'd walked himself home, and then to a dinner nearby. How he'd drowned his thick slice of Italian bread like his feelings. Submerged it below that Mars-colored tomato soup, and pressed it with his spoon’s end, down, down, down.
“Cousin John’s going back to Boston,” Ally tells Geoff after the show.
John presses a pack of glow-in-the-dark ceiling stars in Geoff’s child hand, feeling it cup around the bottom of the package as he releases it. Hesitant. Grateful though unsure.
John thinks how he wants to tell Geoff he can look at the plastic stars and remember the galaxies they ate, the Milky Ways they discovered in the drugstore’s galactic depths, the mountains they'd proposed naming after themselves.
He'd already made the error of introducing on others’ emotions, the error of jeapordizing people who hadn't, like himself, signed on for that jeopardy, however lovely, and it's consequential risks.
He'd already gone down the black hole; by graduating into the world, he’d graduated away from himself. Endangered a boy who, save his exceptional eyelashes, his funny penny loafers, he might have been. Capricorn are masters of self-control who conduct their lives with moral manners.
“They're also 22-year-olds,” John had told himself the evening of Spider-Man, when he'd drowned Mt. John, which was an ordinary piece of bread.