Edition 22: Eve of the White Moon by Deborah Walker
We’ve agreed that today is Bituun, the Dark Moon, White Moon’s Eve on our new planet. There was debate in the house: Should we honour Earth’s calendar? Should we rely on the lunar cycle of the home we’d left light-years away? My husband, Gantungla, argued that we should adapt our traditions to this new planet. And his voice was heard. But there will be no white moon tomorrow, only a pale sliver of green, faint in the sky.
“Amar baina uu? Amar baina uu?” The girls laugh as they practice White Moon’s greeting.
“Hush,” I tell them. “It is tomorrow you must say it.”
“And will Baldanlham visit the house tonight?” they ask.
“If you leave ice on the balcony for her mare.”
They’re excited. They’ve adjusted well to this new world but they miss the ways of the old. “Amar baina uu, ’eh?”
“Yes, I am. Now go and change. Get ready for temple.”
I am not well rested. This is strange considering that I’ve spent the last twelve decades in dehydration sleep. I feel like an ancient scroll, carefully preserved, and yet still brittle. In my unrolling, I fear I will tear.
Our module is clean, as befits Bituun. All debts have been paid. Bituun is a time to close the old year and look forward. I’ve prepared the food, all by hand, ignoring the fabricator. But I did it, not with love, but with rote. There’s rice with curds, five hundred meat dumplings, a mountain of cookies. Abundance is an important part of the festivities. A side of mutton and a side of horsemeat marinate in antique terracotta bowls that we transported halfway across the galaxy.
I stare out of the window watching the herd of timid, six-legged horses. Except, they’re not horses. They’re white skinned creatures with moist, porous gills for gaseous exchange. Close up, their eyes are facetted and insectoid. The true horses lie in our cloning beds. And as the colony’s biologist, it’s my job to birth them. I think that it will be better when true horses ride the plains.
The children dance into the room, charming in their traditional dresses.
“You look wonderful,” I say.
“‘Eh, you must change, too,” says little Oyunbileg, looking in disgust my trousers and tunic.
Sarantsatsr nods her head solemnly in agreement. “You can’t go to temple wearing modern clothes, ’eh.”
Yes. I must change.
The temple is lit with hundreds of flickering candles, symbolizing enlightenment of the Samsara people and all sentient beings. The temple is the largest structure on the planet. It’s prefabricated, just like every other building here.
I remember the old temple on Earth: the walls mellowed with patina of centuries of candle smoke, the stone floor worn smooth by generations of worshippers. This new place seems as transient as the mandalas the monks draw in the green sand. I watch the prayer wheels spin. I think that I’m unwinding.
Gantungla watches me anxiously, but he says nothing.
We return home to eat a quiet family meal by candlelight, feasting on mutton wrapped in pastry and layered ul boov cake.
“It’s good,” says Gantungla.
“Eat as much as you can,” he tells the children. Tradition says that if you are hungry after Bituun, you’ll be hungry for the rest the whole coming year.
After the meal, we play multi-colored turtle and tell the old stories. I’m pleased with my performance.
Tomorrow, we’ll visit the pre-fab modules of the eldest members of our family. I will smile as I grip their elbows in zolgokh, the traditional greeting that shows respect. I’ve fabricated half a dozen silk khadags to offer them. These are the traditions that define us. White Moon is a joyous time of family.
At bedtime, the girls are so tired that they don’t make their usual fuss. As we climb the stairs, Oyunbileg says in dismay, “Oh no. We’ve forgot to put the ice for Baldanlham’s mare.”
“She won’t come without the ice,” says Sarantsatsr
The ice! I’d forgotten. Foolish tears flood my eyes.
“Don’t worry,” says Gantungla. “I did it.”
Later, as I fret, he says, “The ice will melt and the children will dream of old gods. Everything will be fine. Everything will be fine.”
Gantungla is sleeping peacefully. I try not to resent his equanimity. It’s not his fault that I’m so restless.
I stand at the living room balcony staring at the night. The sands are shimmering with bioluminescent light, exotic and beautiful in their own way. I must try harder. I must be cheerful. I must be grateful.
Out of the darkness emerges the white shape of a native horse. Her horny feet ring upon the sands like the beat of a skin-drum. She steals through the night, walking towards me until she stands with her face overhanging the balcony. She is unafraid.
She observes me for a long moment. Her facetted eyes glimmer in the faint light of the sands. She licks the melting ice. Then she lifts her head, and issues her strange cry. I’m the first human to hear her voice. My heart beats with joy. Why shouldn’t Bahardnram’s mare be six-legged, white skinned, alien, a blessing of the old world from the new.
And I am with my family, and tomorrow night we’ll see a strange moon, but without doubt it will be a new one.
I will close down the old year. And I will give thanks for the new one, for our new life.
Deborah Walker grew up in the most English town in the country, but she soon high-tailed it down to London, where she now lives with her partner, Chris, and her two young children. Find Deborah on her blog: http://deborahwalkersbibliography.blogspot.com/, on Twitter as @deboree or in the British Museum trawling the past for future inspiration, Her stories have appeared in Daily Science Fiction, Nature’s Futures, Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet and The Year’s Best SF 18 and have been translated into over a dozen languages.