“I’m from the future,” she had told him, swiping at strawberry-blonde bangs. She grinned and her eyes darted downward. She wore a silver sweater that day; it went well with her handmade tinfoil helmet.
Selene Argyros seemed to come out of nowhere. One day no one knew her and then all of a sudden everyone did. No one was quite sure what brought her to the Odyssey Academy on the outskirts of Greece, New York.
“Now, excuse me,” were the first words she said at the school, “I was wondering where I might find my locker. The numbers are all weird. I guess I just thought numbers were numbers because they went chronologically. It seems a little silly to have numbers that aren’t in order.”
“Well, they’re separated by grade,” the girl replied. She was small and Asian and didn’t look particularly friendly. “Seniors are on the left side of the building and sixth graders are all the way to the right.” She pointed each way for emphasis, flashing her whiteout nail polish.
“Thank you very much,” Selene said, “and I like your fingernails.” She then twirled around, causing her soft linen dress to billow up a little, and slid down the hall to the left side of the building. Sandals on linoleum make excellent sliding devices, she found.
The first question Ethan Mills asked her was “How old are you?” It was an odd icebreaker, but he was nervous, and it was better than nothing.
“Just today I turned 18.6 years old,” Selene exclaimed. “Isn’t it funny how, on some days, you figure things out, and right when you do someone asks you about them? It’s like preparing for something you didn’t know you had to prepare for.”
“Sure,” Ethan replied, staring blankly at her light blue sweatshirt before continuing. “You’re new, right? I’m Ethan.”
“My name’s Selene, and I’m a senior,” she paused. Smiling. “Ethan Mills?”
He stared at her, patting his shirt to find a nametag of sorts.
“Well I have to know these things, now, don’t I?”
The moon shone brightly that night. Few people were awake to see the waxing gibbous make its descent through the sky. It crested confidently no matter who was watching. Once covered by the horizon, she smiled. Waves crashed coastward. Waves slid seaward.
“Whenever I drink Constant Comment tea,” Selene said after sipping from her travel mug, “I think of my mom.”
“That’s weird, isn’t it?” Ethan asked. They were eating lunch together in the cafeteria during fourth period.
“I don’t think so,” she replied. Briefly, she examined an apple and moved it around in her hand as if trying its curvature. “She always used to make it. I think it’s the smell. I think she smelled like Constant Comment tea, too.”
“I guess I think of my mom when I eat watermelons.”
“Just because,” Ethan shrugged before retreating into a bite of ham sandwich.
“She also loved Styx—the band, you know. That makes me think of her, too.”
The two burst out into song, banging plastic utensils against the blue tabletop.
“I look to the sea,
reflections in the waves spark my memories,
some happy, some sad,
I think of childhood friends and the dreams we had…”
At his locker one day, he noticed there was a neatly folded piece of paper that had fallen into one corner. He opened it up, found it soft to the touch from being crumpled numerous times.
The silver Sharpie chicken-scratch fleshed out a map of sorts. It started at school and ended at a point labeled “Here.” After a short car ride, he found it was a place called Rock Beach.
As his feet made contact with the shore, he saw her. There was a silver tiara in her hair, sparkling faintly in the dim sunlight. The way the light hit the crown charmed Ethan. He was Here.
“You found it,” she said, smiling.
“I did,” he said. “I like your crown.”
“Thanks, I like things on my head. They’re fun, and you can’t lose anything on your head, well, except your mind, but that’s a different story.”
Ethan laughed and put an arm on her waist. “Hey, what’s this all about?” he asked.
“I like adventures, and I thought you needed one,” she replied. “Seniors here don’t have nearly enough fun. I mean, in a year some of you will be in different parts of the world studying and working and being real people. Real people, I have found, do not have time for sudden map adventures.”
“Hmm, is that true? What else have you found?”
“I have found that my sandals make excellent sliding devices, that my mom smells like Constant Comment tea, and that you are a boy who likes adventures. I am especially glad to have figured out the last one.”
He kissed her.
They were infinite, rolling and swelling as if some hidden hand held a weak magnet above them. Then, in their calm, they grew steeper. They became sharp like knives, these waves, as they tried to escape their ocean boundaries. They jumped to disconnect, they jumped to escape, they jumped heaven-bound together. And then, in their passionate act of gracelessness, they collided and crashed in a doomed dance and broke helplessly against the shore.
Selene’s favorite thing in her room was her aluminum foil mobile. Hanging over her bed, it recreated the planets and their moons. Nighttime winds blew through her window and propel her personal solar system. She fell asleep beneath it, her last sight the Earth and its moon.
Inspired by the mobile and bored with homework, Selene grabbed aluminum foil from the kitchen and returned to her room. “I made that crown out of tinfoil,” she told the Beta fish that eyed her from its bowl. “It only makes sense that I make a helmet too.” It looked at her, blankly. “What? Beta, look at that,” she said quietly, pointing to the mobile’s moon. “She’s fragile, but she’s also powerful. Naturally, I must have a helmet to accompany my tiara. It’s perfect.”
“Tell me about something you lost,” Selene prompted Ethan at lunch. “You don’t have to have found it again, but it has to be important.”
He thought for a moment, looking up at the institutional lighting.
“I don’t know, I lost my wallet once when I was with my parents in Europe. It had 70 pounds in it. What about you?” Ethan’s gaze was lost in the orange he held in his hands.
“My mom, I think. I haven’t found her, yet.” Her face was blank. Ethan couldn’t tell if she was kidding.
“I still remember sitting near the hospital bed when she was… well, you know. She was staring out the window with only little stars to keep her company. How unfair that it was a new moon. How unfair to be lost in the dark like that. I made a mobile a few days after and hung it above my bed. So I could fall asleep underneath the moon. You’ll see it one day.”
“Hey Selene,” he said. “I’m sorry.”
“It’s okay. Thanks. Most things end up leaving eventually.”
“All things, I’d say,” he replied.
“Is today Wednesday? I love Wednesdays, and today’s a good day, so I think it’s Wednesday.”
“No, it’s Tuesday.”
“Oh, that makes sense. I’ve been thinking about this,” she told him. “The days of the week are based on the solar calendar, and I think there are a lot of people in this world who connect with the sun. Mentally. They’re in tune with the sun. But I think I connect more with the moon—I feel for it more.”
“So what does that mean?”
“Well, the lunar month is 29.5 days whereas the solar month is normally 30 or 31 days. So it makes sense that I’m off a day every so often, right?”
“I don’t know if it works like that, Selene,” he laughed.
In May she asked him, “Will you still love me when you’re old?”
“Of course,” he said, too involved in his homework to voice an original answer.
“Think of it, Ethan!” she said, face bright. “People grow old and one day you’ll have strands of silver hairs and be wizened and wonderful. Oh, age.”
“I don’t want to get older.”
Selene smiled wider, revealing the tops of her canines. “You don’t have to. It’s all mental, you know.”
At times the moon is farther from the Earth than at others. Sometimes she is closer to the North Pole, others closer to the South Pole. It is cyclic, though; the moon always comes back. She wiggles in her orbit to explore a new thing in an infinite pattern of variation. It’s perpetual change that, over time, doesn’t really change at all. Barring a galactic disaster, the Earth will always be paired with its moon. Always.
“Have you made up your mind about what you want to do next year, Selene?” Ethan asked her near the end of the year. “A gap year or something? Fill out college applications?”
“Well, I’m going to spend a part of the summer with you, and then in a blue moon I’ll go on my own adventure. Where I started, I guess. This is just temporary, you know.”
“Us?” he asked, suddenly hurt and weak. His eyes shifted from his book on Achilles.
“No, silly!” she said, giggling. “I mean here. Greece. I want to travel.”
“Oh, you never told me.” He paused, calculating. “Sometimes I feel like you’re too mysterious. I should know you really well. Do I?”
“Sure you do. My name’s Selene, and I like you. I have an aluminum foil mobile, and I have trouble discerning if it’s Wednesday or Tuesday only every so often. Now tell me—do you know those facts about everyone?”
“Well, I guess… I don’t know.”
“And I’m here because I’m supposed to be because it’s always nice to have variation even if you always do go back to the same place.”
“So you’ll come back?”
“Yes, but you’ll be in college and then who knows where. If anyone’s going anywhere, it’s you, bud.” She pulled her hair out of its ponytail. “Shoot for the stars!” she read off the inspirational sign on the wall.
It was a quiet day in June when he found a note shoved under the door of his house. Ballpoint pen chicken-scratch told him to go back to Rock Beach. He could smell her.
Ethan waved once he arrived at the shore.
“Glad you got my note,” Selene said.
He hugged her. “Remember when we were here last? You had a tiara then. But now I see you have a… helmet?”
She laughed. “I lost that tiara. Somewhere in my room. Or maybe I turned it into a different thing. Which would be funny because then I wouldn’t have lost at all.”
“Exactly. Why are you wearing a tinfoil helmet?”
“Why not? Preemptive meteor protection? You never know. Anyone who can wear a tiara can wear a helmet, you know.”
“I guess,” he said, blankly staring at her silver sweater. It didn’t constrict her, but it wasn’t free flowing, either. It made Ethan uncomfortable.
There was something remarkably dangerous about the ocean that night as Selene’s parents walked down the beach near their vacation spot at Fortuna, California. Stella and her husband lingered near the rolling waves, lured not by the invisible moon but by the dark, dark night.
“Do you know,” she told him, “that there are more stars in the entire universe than every grain of sand on this Earth?”
He shook his head.
“Selene told me.”
“Isn’t she something else?”
“She is,” Stella whispered. The breeze carried her words across the ocean before fading somewhere between the mist and clouds.
“Water’s cold,” he told her.
“Funny, I was just about to say we should swim.”
His laughter flew up over the sounds of waves crashing against the shore and people crashing against the waves.
“I have a present for you,” Selene said quietly after some time had passed. “Call it a graduation present.” She reached into her circular purse and withdrew a book. It was worn. “It was my mom’s, but I’ve read it too many times. To think of all of things I could have done if I hadn’t been reading it,” she laughed. “And just think—memorizing this will get you prepared for your English classes next year, right?”
He extended his hand and took the book. It was soft like the note she had slipped into his locker so many months ago.
“It’s Homer. A collection. You’ll like it.”
“Okay,” he said, smiling. “Thanks.”
Her foot kicked at the shoreline, scattering little rocks and pebbles that cascaded into a mound. She stared at her creation, breathless for a moment, as the water came softly towards her, rounding it, and then pulling it away. It was her offering.
“You know what tomorrow is?” she asked him.
“Our nine month anniversary.”
“It’s also a blue moon.”
“Oh, cool,” he replied, in a different world.
She said something along the lines of “Do you remember what I had said to you about that?” but he was too engrossed in flipping through the pages of the book she had given him. Three faintly circled lines called out to him as the pages fell over each other like the waves before him.
“Her great orbit is full
and as she waxes a most brilliant light appears
in the sky. Thus to mortals she is a sign and a token.”
“Stella!” he screamed. His voice reached unearthly frequencies. It was desperation. “Stella!”
Waves crashed. It was murky. He squinted to see, bobbing desperately for air. They were good swimmers, he couldn’t help thinking, but why was the water so strong, so mean?
The undertow grabbed him by the feet and dragged him down, until he shot himself up seeking air. But the depths desired him. The depths demanded a sacrifice.
It is maddening to drown. It is worse to helplessly watch another person drown. To throw your hands out to get up and go to her, yet all your arms do is sink.
He saw glimpses of her, only glowing in the illumination of the stars. He saw her go under and tumble around and hit that sea dagger of a rock that jutted out into the sky. He saw her body buckle and fade beneath the surface. He saw her wash up onto the coarse altar of sand on the shore, pale and bloodied, but strangely beautiful like a goddess.
Then, like Hermes, he flew, becoming the waves themselves. He danced with them. He moved with the magnetic pull that pinched and crumpled the ocean over and over and over.
On the beach, he felt as if he were swimming still. The sand meant nothing to him. He ran over to Stella, putting a waterlogged ear to her mouth. She was breathing. She was breathing. She was still breathing.
He wasn’t good with words. That’s why he had Stella.
“She’s doing better,” Selene was told by her father, “and she wants to see you.”
Somewhere, in some land, doing better was a synonym for dying, wasn’t it?
“So I’m going,” she said. “I told you I would. It’s not like I lied to you, Ethan, really. And you’re going, soon, too.”
“I know, Selene,” he said, embracing her. Sinking, sinking.
“Change doesn’t matter much if you never have anything ordinary in your life.”
“You have me,” Ethan tried. Selene suddenly looked ridiculous in her hat. It was off-centered and lined up awkwardly with her bangs. Stray flaps of aluminum distracted him.
“I know, exactly. For example, when I see people smile, I’ll remember how I made the connection that smiles are remarkably crescent. A lot of important things have curves or circles or something like that. I mean, what is important that’s square?”
He softened. His features smoothed. “Selene,” he paused for the gulls, “tell me a secret.”
“I’m from the future,” she told him, swiping at strawberry-blonde bangs. She grinned and her eyes darted downward. Her silver sweater looked excellent with her handmade tinfoil helmet.
The blue moon was beautiful the next night. But, in comparison to the next eighteen he would see, it was nothing remarkable. It was full and wide and curved, bitter and secretive. It pulled him out of his desk chair to stare wide-eyed.
Somehow, forty years had passed and he was fifty-seven. He had seen nineteen blue moons in his adulthood, and under each he had consciously withdrawn a copy of a very beaten book. Ethan dragged his fingers over the annotated pages, like Braille, reading the feeling of pen against paper rather than of the words themselves.
The moonlight of his nineteenth blue moon was particularly illuminating. It made his eyes shimmer, brightened his wedding band, turned his salt-and-pepper hair radiant silver.
Entranced by the particular beauty of this moon, he walked outside to his balcony. There, he heard wave upon wave pile and crash and roll into the shore. They were miraculous, those devils. Perpetually energetic, perpetually moving. They never ended. They were forever young.
What struck him in his trance was a shadow that dotted his view of the coastline. It walked along the shore, closer to his home, and he began to make out its features. It was a girl, young—that was for certain—who couldn’t have been older than eighteen. The moonlight made her hair seem a tint of blonde, but it could have been the streetlights near the beach. Her youth was incredible and particularly stunning, and he thought that her tinfoil hat made her look surprisingly beautiful.