Under Blue Moon
A Short Story by Karina Sanchez
Written using the suggestion "Picnic"
Originally featured on 07-17-2007
As part of our series "Out of the Sandwich"

It was so late, the sky so bleakly void of light, that even the streetlamps were muted, as if in respect for the hour. There was not a cricket or owl to mare the damp silence. Kioshi pushed open his front door. He slipped through it tensely, feeling like a thief after the moon. He crept around to the side of his garage. The slow rasps of his breath were already sending ripples through the air. Mounting his rusted bicycle, he coasted whisper soft down his driveway and onto the blacktop river of street. The creaking of his bike chain mingled with the quickening gasps of his breath. He pedaled furiously for half a mile. His mouth open like a fish’s to gulp air. He slowed as he approached the grade school unsure if he wanted to go in or not. Feet dragged on pavement, acting as brakes. The toes of his maroon Converse were worn down from so many frustrated nights. He sat like that for a moment, with feet planted firmly on either side his bike. Large sweeps of hair clung to his sweaty, acne-scared forehead.

Kioshi could only leave his house at times like this, times when no one else was awake. He could go for weeks without encountering another person, even though he lived at home with his parents. He kept a nocturnal schedule to minimize the possibility of seeing them. His mother would leave a food tray in front of his door on her way to bed. That was typically the only meal he ate.

He could make out the vague shapes of the play structure and swing-set and decided that he would go take his shoes off and dig them into the sand of the playground. He loved the coast but hadn’t been able to travel in years. The sandbox was a close as he was going to get to the beach.

As Kioshi parked his bike—he didn’t bother to lock it up, no one else was out— the streetlamp flickered out. He stood for a moment to give his eyes time to adjust to the moonlight. He wasn’t worried, the streetlight would come back on or it wouldn’t. It didn’t really matter either way. He moved carefully toward the swing-set not wanting to trip over any holes in the grass. It wasn’t until he was almost to the structure that he noticed that one of the swings was moving. It took him a moment more to realize that there was a person on it. He could make out a vague shape in the pallid moonlight.

Normally he would hide from the unknown but he was so struck by the fact that there was someone else out at this hour that he moved forward before he knew what he was doing. There was a girl sitting on one of the two swings. Her hair hung in her face but Kioshi could tell that she was young. She was wearing a button-down sweater that looked three sizes too big for her and a pair of denim shorts with tights underneath. There was an unlit cigarette hanging from her mouth. Her body tensed at the sight of Kioshi but she tried to act cavalier and tossed the hair out of her face. Her expression was bland and her broad forehead and sumptuous mouth were incongruent her petite nose.

She watched Kioshi for a moment before muttering, “Gotalight?”

“I’m sorry?” Kioshi had trouble finding his voice. What was that?”

“Do-you-have-a-light?” Her voice was flat even though it dripped with sarcasm. It was as if she were completely detached form what she was saying. Like a ventriloquist’s dummy.

Kioshi fished around in his pants pocket and pulled out a battered book of matches. He lived primarily by candlelight; electric lights were too harsh for his eyes. “Here.” He stepped up to the girl and handed her the matches. She looked too young to be smoking, but just barely, maybe seventeen.

She gingerly took them from him, careful that they didn’t touch. She ripped a match out and struck the head in one fluid motion. Lighting her cigarette like a veteran smoker, she flipped the matchbook back at Kioshi.

Kioshi turned to leave but she stopped him with a question. “What are you doing out at this time of night?” Her voice was strained with the smoke in her lungs. He turned back to face her.

“I was just riding my bike. What are you doing out here at this time of night?”

“I was going to have a picnic.” She gestured with her cigarette towards the benches lining the sandbox. There was a cloth spread over one of them with a basket sitting on top.

“What do you mean ‘was’? Why aren’t you?”

“I couldn’t find my lighter. It’s such a windless night; it seemed like a waste to have a night picnic without any candles.”

Kioshi handed her the book of matches that was clinched in his fist. “Here, you can keep them.”

“Thanks.” She pushed herself off of the swing and ambled towards her picnic. “Are you hungry?”

“Yes, yes I am.” Kioshi was surprised to find himself starving. His appetite had been waning over the past few months.

“You can join me if you want.”

Kioshi hesitated. What if this girl was some sort of killer? What if she had devised the picnic as a means to poison unwary strangers? He moved a couple of steps towards the bench and realized that she had really only packed food enough for one. Taking this as a good sign he sat down next to her on the bench.

“Tsukiko. My name’s Tsukiko,” she said while lighting the two candles that she had sat out. She divided the rice and cod that were in the basket along with a few figs. “Sorry there isn’t more; I wasn’t expecting to share.”

“That’s okay.” Kioshi took his half and they ate in silence. The fish had a ginger based marinade that Kioshi found quite good.

They finished eating and sat for an awkward moment until Tsukiko laughed. “I’m sorry. I’m not very good at conversation. You’re the first person that I’ve talked to in four months.”

“Really? Why is that?”

Tsukiko ducked her head in embarrassment. “I don’t like dealing with people. My parents are well off so I have my own set of rooms. Bedroom, TV room, bathroom. I don’t have to leave them. I guess that I’ve been this way for almost a year now… ten months.”

Kioshi studied her face. “I talked to my mom maybe six weeks ago. I needed something from the store and, since I don’t leave the house, I needed her to get it for me.” He delighted in the way Tsukiko’s eyes widened in recognition.

“You… don’t leave your house?”

“Only late at night when no one else is out.”

“Oh, but I’m out. I’ve been coming out for almost three weeks now.”

“We were bound to run into each other at some point, then. Now if we see each other out we can say ‘hello’.”

Tsukiko searched his face. “You really don’t like dealing with people? Or leaving your house?”

“No, I really don’t, and I haven’t for over six years.”

She smiled but it made her look pained and vulnerable. Her voice was viscous with unshed tears, tears that didn’t even show in her eyes. “I’m not alone?”

“I don’t think that either of us is alone anymore, Tsukiko.”

She reached out to take his hand but pulled it back quickly before they actually connected.

Read More By Karina Sanchez

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Portland Fiction Project

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