Shepherd Moon

It’s difficult to pinpoint, and I often try, the moment I started loving my daughter. I like to pretend it was when she fluttered inside me for the first time. Or when I cradled her tiny body in my arms seconds after birth. The truth is, my love for her started much later in her life, when the reality of her conception faded enough for me to see only her, when I realized she, like me, was a survivor.

Probably, though, there was no one moment. Likely, an aggregation of collected moments, many of them, coming at the expense of her vulnerability: when she suffered through her first bout with colic, or her fussiness over cutting three teeth simultaneously—moments when a maternal stew of emotions and hormones hummed through me, signaling that it was normal for me to love her and reminding me over and over again that having her was well worth the cost.

I watch her now, playing down by the water, and remember why I questioned my love. Her long hair catches in the breeze, whipping sandy strands across her golden face, her unafraid avocado eyes watching, waiting for the next wave. These features—his features—were all I remember about him. And yet, what I didn’t know I see in her, like a window into a stranger’s soul. Her drawings always resemble, a bit too perfectly, her intended goal. A dog. A tree. A house. Talent you’re born with not taught. And I often wonder if she didn’t eat fish because he didn’t or if she loved to swim because he did. One thing is for sure: she was all him and none of me. And that single thought terrified me.

What comforts and sustains the worry and fear is the bond we share, a kinship deeper than most can imagine, one shared between two people who have suffered together. To me, that idea trumps all boundaries of DNA.

“Mom!” Alana yells, yanking me from my thoughts. “How long was I under that time?”

I glance at my watch and close my empty notebook, its blank, line-filled pages hungry for words. “Twenty-two seconds.”

She twists her full lips into a wry smile and churns her arms to control the strong current of Howard Cove jostling her around. “I can do better.”

At ten, she possessed the quiet air of someone far beyond her years. She was already stronger, more determined, driven, than I was when I had her at eighteen, like she was living her life at a faster clip than everyone else.

“One more time then we have to go.”

“Aww…Mom. Can’t we stay just a little while longer?”

We’d had a great day. Just after sunrise, Alana leaped into my bed, sending a billowing wave of sheets sailing into the air. She settled against me, her right elbow propped against my thigh, left hand moving steadily, drawing something, probably another clock. I wrote two lines of a poem that morning, my fingers entwined in her unbrushed hair, my mind churning for a third line. We clung to each other like that, transfixed in the rhythm of our everyday life, beset in silence, until Alana’s stomach, or maybe it was mine, growled, a deep bellowed roar. We looked at each other and laughed. Alana glanced at the yellow watch (her fifth one this year) strapped to her tiny wrist. 12:05. Had we forgotten to eat breakfast? Again?

It was my idea to come to Jasper Beach. That afternoon, the entire house glowed with the return of the prodigal sun. Downeast winters were frigid and brutal, biting to the bone. So when the early summer sun beckoned, its rays spreading like liquid gold across the landscape, and the cloudless sky, in all its vastness and splendor, stretched its waking arms up to the heavens, you heeded.

But as I look skyward, in the far distance, the afternoon sun gathers at the break of the horizon and an ashen blanket of clouds loom overhead. A sharp wind whistles around my ears and slits against the gravel beach below, creating a haunting screech.

“It’s getting late and I want to get home before the rain.” I stand, my left hand saluting the setting sun. “Ready. Set. Go.”

Alana wipes her nose, takes in a deep inhalation, and dunks back under water as I gather our things—which is no small task. I’m prepared—if not over prepared—for anything. I stuff a set of goggles, two beach towels, sunscreen, empty bottles of water, a fully stocked first-aid kit, and hand sanitizer back into our monstrous bag. I hook the small, pink lifejacket in my arm, cursing myself for bringing it along since Alana can officially swim now and has been able to for two years. But when I start packing our beach bag, somehow, it ends up in there. I can never be too careful when it comes to Alana. Her safety.

She asked about him the night before. After ten years, she increasingly wanted to know more about him. Her interest always started with a question: could my father wear a watch? I’d swallow hard to ease the constriction in my throat, a move imperceptible to her naïve eye, and respond with an equivocal answer. “I’m not sure,” I’d say, my voice pitched up on the final syllable, my lips crooked in contemplation. I never knew the answers to her questions. But I looked the part as best I could. We’ve followed this seesaw pattern for almost a year now and I didn’t know how long it could continue.

I would do anything to protect her from the darkness of the truth.

9 thoughts on “Shepherd Moon

  1. Cat Lumb says:

    I enjoyed reading this, and read all the way to the end – disappointed that it felt so short! Yet, at the same time the descriptions make the pace feel languid and literary and I liked that about it. I think it’s linked to the long sentences, though I did have to go back and re-read a couple to make sure I understood it because sometimes the words ran on; this might have something to do with the amount of commas in a lot of the sentences. Still, it’s a pleasant style when done well.

    The sudden insertion of Alana yelling after the fourth paragraph really threw me, because I didn’t expect to be in the middle of a scene, nor did I realise they were outside or anyone was swimming. It pulled me out of the text – although, I wonder if that was intentional: to make the reader feel as yanked out of the thought process as the character?

    I was a bit confused about the reference to Howard Cove and then Jasper Beach – are these the same place?

    I would read on – especially given that last sentence – but I think the pace would have to quicken a little if it was going to hold my interest in a story beyond the descriptive prose.

    • Terah Harris says:

      Thank you so much for your feedback! You are a sharp reader. I was definitely going for a literary feel. I’m pleased that you picked up on that. I tend to write long sentences and I’m working on making sure they are clear. I definitely do not want my reader to have to stop and re-read a sentence. As a reader, I hate having to do that.

      Yes, the idea of Alana insertion is to pull the character out of her head. Howard Cove and Jasper Beach are the same place but different areas. Thanks for the catch. I’ll have to fix that.

      Again, thanks!

  2. Jennifer Eller-Kirkham says:

    I do like this and find the story interesting. I find it slightly over-descriptive and would like less description and the story to move a little faster.
    ‘What comforts and sustains the worry and fear is the bond we share,’ … the ‘and sustains’ confuses me in this sentence – it seems to contradict itself – it comforts the worry and fear I get but how does it sustain it?

    The notebook’s hungry ‘line-filled’ pages…. I like this but would leave out ‘line-filled’. the pages are hungry and empty. Making them line-filled clutters up the metaphor and undermines it.

    The morning sun spreading its rays like liquid gold I find a bit cliche.

    I think you right well and the above are fairly nit picky. I did feel somewhat that Alana came across as slightly younger than 10. The fact that she is 10 and has only recently learned to swim jarred a bit for me as kids usually learn by 3 or 4 so it needed a reason for me.

    Overall, it works and is interesting and I wish you well with it.

    • terah7 says:

      Thank you so much for your feedback! Yeah…I tend to go a little overboard with my descriptions. But your comments will help me tighten the writing a little bit more. All of your suggestions helped.

      FYI…there’s a reason why Alana didn’t learn to swim at an early age but the first 1,000 words doesn’t cover it.

      I truly appreciate your critique! Thanks!

  3. Leah McKinnon says:

    I liked the concept but I didn’t really understand the first paragraph – I thought she might be a mother who has experienced postnatal depression but later I question that. It was a little slow, maybe too much description instead of action. I found it difficult to follow the time-location descriptions. It was morning and then afternoon, winter then summer, is it a weekend away or a new start in life… it could be clearer. You’ve left me wondering if the daughter comes up again and what is the issue with her father.
    Again great concept, certainly very interesting topic but might need some rewording.

  4. jwarach says:

    The prose is solid and mature. It flows effortlessly, pulling the reader along. The descriptions are evocative, and put the reader squarely in the place and time depicted.

    I can feel the energy and youthful enthusiasm of Alana, as well as the affection her mother feels for her, and the underlying conflict she is experiencing, which, I assume, is yet to be more fully explored and explained.

    I want to know more about Alana and her mother, and what is surely to be revealed about her father.

    Nicely done.

  5. Anonymous says:

    You almost lost me at avocado eyes.

    There’s a lot of back story in the beginning, I was waiting for it to get interesting. For me that point didn’t come until the mother was handling Alana’s questions.

    Thanks for posting!

  6. raelenepurtill says:

    Hi Terah. This was a great read. Enjoyed it very much.
    I was thrown by the tense change from the characters reflections to what was happening now.
    Also I couldn’t help feeling that Alana was in danger as Mum packed up the things, if so there might be some other ways to inject tension there. Mum is still being very reflective at this point where the story starts.
    You have a very mature, contemporary and literary voice. Great job.

  7. Stephanie K. says:

    Your writing style is confident, competent, and well structured over all.
    However, there are a few things that bothered me on this page.
    The first half of the paragraph that begins, “We’d had a great day” is disjointed and hard to understand regarding the physical imagery. For example, “…sending a billowing wave of sheets sailing into the air” seemed to mean there were several sheets and they billowed off the bed entirely? Where you said, “She settled against me, her right elbow propped against my thigh,” it’s hard to picture. Is the mom sitting? Lying down? And why mention writing two lines of poetry that morning? That doesn’t go with anything on the entire page.
    In the next-to-last paragraph, you said, “I’d swallow hard to ease the constriction in my throat, a move imperceptible to her naïve eye,” but swallowing hard is not imperceptible. That’s not what you mean, I think. This statement seems poorly crafted compared to the rest of the paragraph.
    Overall, I get a good sense of the main characters and setting. Your style reminds me of Jodi Picoult’s work in that you have a female protagonist with a deeply personal secret chip on her shoulder and an intimate relationship with the person she’s keeping that secret from.
    I hope this helps.

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