The night I was born, the June full moon brought a peculiar illumination to my little village. She emerged in the late-darkening sky, long after most folk had retired to bed, her orange-pink ripeness hanging high among the stars.
In his simple room at the back of the parish house, Reverend Coone awoke, startled from his slumber. A cry, he wondered. Without further thought, his bare feet landed on the wood floor and he walked softly over to the window.
Outside all was peaceful, the Rose Moon’s light showing no evidence of human life that might have uttered a cry. He listened carefully, opening the window and leaning out, allowing the cool evening air to briefly kiss his face. Hearing no further sound, he shrugged and turned away.
But, deep inside, the last straw broke.
How long had the Reverend been waiting for someone to need him? So long that he had forgotten there had ever been a time when a desperate yearning didn’t accompany all his waking hours. His gifts, such as they were, lay dusty and unwrapped deep within – forgotten even by himself. Forgotten until that night of the Rose Moon, when the possibility of being needed presented itself once more with such unholy force that it dragged him from his slumber.
He sank onto the edge of the bed and stared at his feet, white against the dark wood. Long toes with pronounced knuckles. Toes that had once been kissed by a mother, tickled by a father, now neglected by their owner.
‘No more,’ he muttered. And with determination rarely seen that close to midnight, he pulled the old suitcase from under the bed and began emptying the contents of both wardrobe and drawers into its mustiness. He would not spend another night in that God-forsaken corner of the world.
The Rose Moon, continuing on her journey through the sky, also woke young Ivan Trebilcock. Her delicate pastel hue now changed to a bright light that dazzled him from a dreamless sleep, its beams reaching his face through the gap in his curtains. Barely conscious, he slipped out of bed and padded across the landing to his parents’ room, pushing open the door. Seeing his father’s spot was empty, Ivan clambered in beside his mother, snuggling close for comfort, his little fist wriggling between the buttons on her pyjama top, finding their mark in her warm, damp cleavage.
For his mother, Ivan’s obsession with her breasts was no longer a laughing matter. By almost four years of age, Mrs. Trebilcock reckoned, most boys should have no further need of that level of intimacy with their mother’s body. And yet her son continued to reach for them, overtly and surreptitiously, drawn by a force beyond his understanding to fondle the maternal mammaries whenever he could. Soft, warm, and reminiscent of forgotten pleasure, whenever they appeared in front of him in low-cut blouses or thin nightdresses, Ivan couldn’t help himself. He just had to touch.
For his mother, dragged abruptly from her dreams by her son’s comfort-seeking, it was the final straw. Her growing impatience, at having to guard her body and censor her clothing, erupted. She sat bolt upright, flicking the light on.
‘Come with me,’ she commanded, lifting her drowsy son out of bed and marching him as far as the bakery kitchen, where his father was working his early morning shift.
“For pity’s sake, will you give this boy some dough to play with!”
Firmly but gently, she pushed her son in his father’s direction.
Her husband, recognising that a limit had been reached, unquestioningly tore a generous fistful from the loaf he was kneading and lifted his cherubic son onto a chair by his side, slapping the dough onto the floured counter in front of him with a gentle thud.
‘Here, little fella, see what you make of this.’
Young Ivan, curiosity rapidly bringing him to full wakefulness, obligingly sank his fingers into the dough’s yielding elasticity.
Silence descended on the softly-lit bakery as small hands tentatively pressed, then pinched, the ball of dough. It was a new, yet familiar sensation. With growing confidence, he experimented; squishing it in his fist, pushing the heel of his hand into it, watching as it slowly sprang back after he flattened it. He rolled it, squeezed it, lifted it to his face to feel its strange coolness against his cheek and lips. Smooth as skin, but cool; responsive, but not. And all his very own.
Relieved to have her body back, Mrs. Trebilcock leaned against the pale blue wall and looked around. It was a space so familiar she rarely paid attention to it anymore when she stepped inside. But now, with the stillness of concentration filling the space, she was noticing it afresh. The navy blinds were drawn against the night, the ovens not yet warmed for the morning’s bake. The labelled containers were stacked in an orderly manner on the low shelves; wooden boards scoured and placed carefully at the back of the worktops; oven doors shined to a high sheen; and the floor was clean except for a light dusting of flour where he had been working. Her husband’s natural neatness clearly reigned in this place that was more home to him than the rooms she herself considered to be their home.
Her eyes met her husband’s. Yes, it had worked. Why hadn’t they thought of it earlier? Mrs. Trebilcock had been caught up in her own internal fight, not wanting to push her young son away if he needed his mother’s comfort while, all the same, resenting the constant crossing of her intimate boundaries. Ivan’s father had removed himself from any involvement, reassured that it was a matter best resolved between mother and son. Neither had considered that there might be a solution at hand that would favour all concerned.
Ivan, aware once more of his parents, lifted his eyes, and smiled blissfully at them. His mother, keen to anchor the new development, placed a hand on her husband’s shoulder.
‘Let him make something for you,’ she said.
His father moved in close behind Ivan – strong stomach pressing against small back – and stretched his arms around his son, placing large hands over little ones.
‘I’ll show you,’ he said, his warm breath tickling Ivan’s ear as he leaned in. ‘Then you can try by yourself.’
With firm hands, he guided Ivan, rolling the dough ball back and forth until a long sausage shape wiggled out either side of their palms, flailing on the counter like a hooked fish and stirring a sudden giggle from the little boy.
‘Now, watch,’ his father said, smiling. He took the dough sausage and gently coiled it round on itself. ‘This dough snail is the shape we use for a Cinnamon Swirl – only now we have to dip it over here before it’s ready for the oven. Come on.’
Jumping off the stool, Ivan trailed his father to the low shelf where he popped open a lid of a glass jar.
‘See these?’ Mr. Trebilcock indicated the labels to his son. ‘These tell you what’s in the containers. When you’re able to read, you’ll know the difference between them. For now, you’ll have to ask – or learn to recognise them by smell. Here, stick your nose in.’ He offered the open container.
Ivan did as he was told, deeply inhaling the aromatic spice that was one of his favourite smells in the bakery. Then, accurately gauging his parents’ forbearance, he stuck a finger in and licked it clean of the sweet brown-speckled crystals. The blissful smile returned.
And so began a life-long love affair for Ivan, as well as for many others in the village.
As the Rose Moon quietly slipped down to the horizon, her fading glow stretched across the sea, throwing into shadowy relief a small fishing boat bobbing not far beyond the cliffs. On board, three men were rapidly pulling in nets, setting a new course, hoping what they could see – a dark figure sprawled awkwardly on rocks – was not what it seemingly appeared.
By the time Garym Bawden reached the shore – the first of the three to make the long walk from the harbour and to clamber down the cliff path – the moon’s illumination had gone, leaving in its wake the cold light of a new dawn and the shattered body of Sarah Martin’s fifth husband.
‘God help us,’ was the best Garym could manage as his fellow fishermen came to a silent stand by his side. A strong urge washed over him to run away home – to forget what they had discovered and to avoid being the one who would, no doubt, have to carry the news back to Sarah.
The three walked around the large rock on which Mr. Martin had landed, unsure how to tackle the situation. There was no doubt that he had fallen from above, given the force with which his right arm was wedged in a large crevice that fissured the rock into two sections. And the blood, almost dry, was further evidence of a significant fall and of a reasonable time lapse between fall and discovery.
There was a stunned look on the dead man’s face that Garym was keen to avoid and he tentatively stroked his fingertips over the eyelids to close the eyes, realising as he did so that it was too late. They remained obstinately open.
He turned his attention instead to removing the red rose that the dead man was holding, thinking it might suit the occasion better were it to be by his side rather than in his hand. But it was gripped with the fixity of death.
There appeared to be little they could do to make the situation more comfortable, either for themselves or for the deceased. They straightened his clothes, adjusted his shirt over his gaping stomach, and neatened his hair – all of which were done with a care seldom afforded the living. A particularly unceremonious frond of bladderwrack, that had stuck itself with blood against the man’s forehead, was delicately picked off and discarded, and the wedged arm prised free to be folded in a more peaceful pose over his chest.
‘We can’t leave ‘im ‘ere,’ Simon senior said, eyeing the rising tide. ‘We’re going to ‘ave to move ‘im to the cliff top before we fetch Sarah.’
Quickly he staked his claim at Mr. Martin’s feet, leaving Garym, by virtue of his position, with the unenviable responsibility of lifting the man’s head and shoulders. The startled face gazed up at him from between his arms. It was a sight Garym would remember for the remainder of his life, and one that would inevitably taint any pity he might otherwise have felt for the man’s widow – a woman whose legacy he would become more closely intertwined with than he might have liked.
As for me, the moon having ushered me into the world, she left me sleeping soundly as she set, nestled in our sheepskin-lined family crib by my parents’ bed. My knowledge of that night and of the story I am about to share came much later – the result of an inner journey that only a fool or a romantic would embrace. Which I am, I’m still not sure but I have little doubt now, as I look back over the years, that the Rose Moon cast more than light over our little village that June night.
(Full manuscript length: 83,000 words. Completed 2018)