Margot fiddled with the eyepieces of the binoculars. If she squinted, she could see the moon, round and white and far away in the darkening sky. She turned the knob backwards, and the moon grew until it filled the lenses. She imagined astronauts in puffy white spacesuits and bubble helmets, driving a flagpole with the United States flag into the spotted moon rock. There had been pictures like that in her history book.
“The moon doesn’t have a face, Lilly.”
“Over here.” Her sister Lilly’s hand blurred through the lens, guiding Margot’s head to the left. “Do you see it now?”
A bright yellow spot appeared in Margot’s vision. She blinked several times until her eyes focused on a grinning face, thick red lips smiling over a wide mouth of white teeth. A black line curved upwards in a swirling motion for its nose, with two crooked angles fixed for eyebrows. She turned the adjusting knob, moving the face farther away until it took the shape of a large yellow blimp floating above the stadium.
“Arturo’s Tacos,” she read. “That’s tacos. Not the moon’s face.” She set the binoculars down on the table.
“Then who brought me the bike?” Lilly puckered her lips and pressed Berry Blast lip gloss kisses on the glass.
“You don’t have a bike.”
“I asked the moon for a bike like Sarah’s, and when I woke up this morning, it’d brought me one with pink streamers. Go look.”
Margot jumped up and ran down the hallway, making sure to tiptoe when she passed Momma’s door. She pulled on her snowboots and threw open the front door of the trailer to see a small pink bike leaning against the railing. Pink and gold streamers flowed from the bike’s handlebars, and lightning bolts curved along the middle and front bars.
“Isn’t it pretty?” Lilly’s teeth chattered together.
Margot had never seen such a beautiful bike. She grabbed the streamers, and the icy wind whipped them out her hand. Glitter sparkled on her fingers. “Where did it come from?”
“I told you! The bringing moon brought it. And look what else it brought me.” Lilly held out her left hand.
“I don’t see anything.”
“I’m left-handed! Just like Sarah Henrichs. Look what I can do!” Lilly snapped her fingers in rapid succession.
If Margot had a free wish, she’d never have asked for something so stupid as being left-handed. She’d have asked for her own bike, too, and maybe a horse.
Margot stomped inside and kicked her snowboots off, and one of them hit the washing machine. The sound was louder than she’d expected, and she stopped, waiting for the creak of Momma’s door, and Momma’s angry voice asking why her nap had been interrupted, or why they’d gone outside without coats on.
Lilly tugged on her arm. “Do you want to play unicorns?”
Margot didn’t even like playing unicorns; she liked horses better. She wanted a bike, too. Why did Lilly always get whatever she wanted?
“Leave me alone.” Margot snuck past Momma’s door to her own bedroom and closed the door behind her. Outside the bedroom window, the few remaining leaves on the elm trembled then let go, and Margot unlocked the window latch and shoved the glass up until she could see the white button moon glowing behind the tree. The cold went straight through her nightgown.
Lilly was three whole years younger than Margot. If anyone needed a bike, it was Margot.
She clasped her hands together, and looked up at the moon.
“If you really bring things, I want a bike, too.” The wind whistled in response, and stung her face with flakes of snow. She peeled a long curl of paint off the window ledge and dropped it to join the other peelings half-submerged in snow. Her fingers looked like shriveled sausages. “Momma talks about how we need to be treated fairly, and this is only fair. And if you could make it a bigger bike, that would be good because I’m bigger than Lilly.”
Maybe God had brought the bike. Momma used to say God lived in the moon, but Margot hadn’t heard her say that since the ulcers came. Back then, Momma laughed a lot more, too. Like when Daddy was still alive, and he brought home funny presents like pencil sharpeners shaped like ears and rubber hearts with all kinds of colored tubes sticking out of them.
But if Lilly was right, and the moon really brought stuff, Margot had a whole list of things to ask for.
The next morning, she bounced awake, freezing cold from the open window. She pulled her snow boots up over her pajamas and ran outside.
Next to Lilly’s bike stood a gleaming purple bike with silver tassels and white rubber wheels. Margot squatted down and trailed her fingers along the metallic lightning bolt on the middle bar. The snow soaked into her nightgown until her butt got cold, but she hardly noticed. The bike was bigger than Lilly’s, just like she’d asked for. It was even more beautiful than Lilly’s. It was perfect.
“Margot!” Lilly stepped out barefoot onto the porch, her hair tousled around her head, her eyes wide. “You got a bike, too! A big one!”
“Because I’m older.” Margot steered the bike into the snow. “I’m going to ride it.
“You know how?”
“Of course I do.” She didn’t, really, but everybody else on her street rode bikes, so it couldn’t be that hard. Plus, Mrs. Stalling at school said Margot was smart, and a quick learner. She could probably teach herself.
“Hey!” An arm snaked through the hole in the wooden fence and slid aside several wooden boards. Sarah Henrichs, the neighbor girl, stuck her head through. “Where you’d get those bikes?”
Margot didn’t like Sarah. She was whiny, and a tattle-tale.
“Don’t tell her about the moon,” Margot whispered, and Lilly nodded.
Margot stepped out into the snow and faced Sarah. “These are our new bikes.”
Sarah Henrichs frowned. “That purple one looks like mine!”
“It’s not,” Lilly said.
“Well, where’d you get it?”
“None of your beeswax,” Margot said.
“Yeah!” Lilly added, as Margot wheeled her bike inside. Snow dripped off the handlebars onto the carpet. Margot straightened the tassels, and stroked the lightning bolt. She felt so happy she could burst.
“Where did you get those bikes?” Momma walked down the hallway. Her hair hung lank over her forehead, her robe loose around her stooped shoulders, and she clutched her tummy like it was hurting real bad. “Why are you bringing them in the house? They’re getting snow all over.”
Margot knew they couldn’t tell Momma about the moon. Momma would only get mad and say they were lying. But before she could think of something, Lilly ran up to Momma and threw her arms around her.
“It’s a bringing moon!” she crowed.
Momma took out cereal from the cupboard. Her hands trembled, and Cheerios spilled over the countertop. “Where’d you get that bike, Margot? Did you take it from the neighbor girl?”
Margot thought fast. “No, Momma, I didn’t. The-the school brought it. One for Lilly, too. I gave you a paper about it last week, but you threw it out.”
“It was the bringing moon!” Lilly protested.
“Girls, nothing comes for free.” Momma kicked the white plastic garbage can over, and several empty bottles rolled out. She leaned against the counter, and the thin cotton of her robe stretched against her ribs, making Margot think of the dogs and cats on the television with mean owners who starved them until their ribs poked through their fur. “Now the school will ask me for money, a donation or something, which I can’t afford.”
Lilly jumped up and down. “Momma, I asked for…”
“Be quiet,” Momma said sharply. “There’s always a price, and it’s usually too much.” She picked up a wine bottle, and headed out of the kitchen. “Margot, fix up your sister’s cereal. You’re making my ulcers act up.”
Margot drooped. Why was she the one that made Momma’s ulcers bad? Lilly was the one that brought up the moon. Lilly always got her in trouble, all the time.
“You lied about the bikes,” Lilly whispered. “Now Momma’s going to give them away.”
Margot suddenly got the best idea in the world. “No, she won’t.”
“How do you know?”
“Because Momma’s not going to remember the bikes. She’s going to be happy, instead.”
The next morning she jumped out of bed and ran into Momma’s room, even though she wasn’t supposed to go in there without Momma’s permission. Light leaked through the closed blinds, drifting over piles of clothes. The room smelled like sweat. Margot wrinkled her nose and sat carefully on the edge of the bed.
“Momma? she whispered. “Are you awake yet?”
Momma groaned and rolled over. “Is that you, baby?”
“Oh.” Momma’s face was a glossy red. Her tank top had twisted around, and one breast hung out of an armhole. She struggled into her robe, and glanced in the full-length mirror on the back of the closet door. The shadows under her eyes had lightened, making her look as young as she had when Daddy was alive. “The pain’s less this morning, Margot.” She pinched her cheek, and pursed her lips at the mirror. “Maybe we can go out for pancakes. Wake Lilly up.” She jerked her head at the lump under the covers, and Margot felt a pang of jealousy. Lilly got all Momma’s attention, just because she was small.
But it didn’t matter anymore, because Margot was the one who prayed Momma better. She pushed at the blankets.
“Get up, Lilly! Momma’s going to take us for pancakes.” She pulled the covers back.
Lilly opened slitted cat eyes. “I don’t feel good.”
Momma leaned over the bed. She had already put lipstick on, and her lips were as red as a strawberry against her teeth. “Lilly? What’s wrong?”
“Momma, I prayed for the moon to make you better,” Lilly said.
“No, I did,” Margot protested. “I did it, Momma! I prayed last night.”
Lilly started to cry, and Momma stroked Lilly’s hair. “You don’t need to cry, baby. Momma’s feeling better. Thank you for your prayers.”
“But they were my prayers! I prayed to the moon!”
“Stop it, Margot. You’re old enough to know better.” Momma’s voice was irritated. “The moon can’t bring you anything. It’s like a planet.”
Tears filled Margot’s eyes. She wanted to yell that Momma was wrong, but then Lilly made a gagging sound like the white cat from next door when it licked its fur for a long time.
Margot ran to the window to look for the moon, but it was already gone.
At the hospital, two men in white shirts put Lilly on a metal bed that made squeaking sounds as they rolled her away. Momma rushed alongside, leaving Margot in the waiting room, and so Margot watched the news on the television, reading the words scrolling across the bottom of the screen. One of the nurses gave her a can of soda pop and turned the television to Cartoon Network. Another gave her a Snickers candy bar, which was Lilly’s favorite kind, so Margot only ate half and wrapped up the rest for Lilly.
Margot didn’t even see Momma until she sank in the chair next to her. Margot grabbed Momma’s hand. “Look, it’s a new show! And I saved this for when Lilly comes back!”
Momma’s eyes were big and red, and there were black streaks on her face. “Lilly’s not coming back,” she said in a dull voice. She leaned so far over that her head was lower than her knees. “I don’t understand why this is happening. I can’t go through this.”
Margot stared at the floor, where there were dark stains like grease on the carpet. She didn’t understand either. She had only asked the moon to make Momma better. Dead was like the gerbil in school last year, and the fish that swam in the aquarium. Daddy was dead, and Margot hadn’t seen him in a really long time. She couldn’t even remember what he looked like.
She held out the candy to Momma, who slapped it away. “I don’t want that!” The candy fell on the floor, right in the middle of another stain. Margot’s fingers were sticky with chocolate.
Momma jumped up. “I have to get out of here.” She grabbed her purse and ran through the sliding doors. Margot waited for her to come back, but when Mama didn’t, Margot finally went after her.
It was raining outside, sheets of rain that drilled into Margot’s head and soaked her clothes to her skin. Mama was sitting in the car, starting straight ahead, so Margot climbed into the car, shivering from the rain. Momma put the key into the ignition, and drove out of the hospital like nothing had happened.
Margot kept very quiet all the way home, not wanting to upset Momma. When they got inside, Momma set her keys down in the little table next to the door, and turned to look at Margot, as if just realizing she was there.
“You didn’t get any pancakes.”
Before Margot could say she wasn’t hungry, Momma said, “You need to eat. Grilled cheese?”
Margot nodded, just to make Momma happy.
Momma made only one sandwich, which she gave to Margot. The cheese wasn’t quite melted, and the bread was stale, but Margot ate the whole sandwich and wiped her mouth with her napkin, then folded her hands in her lap.
“I think I killed Lilly,” she said.
Momma uncorked a wine bottle. “What are you talking about?”
“I asked the moon to get you better, but then it made Lilly sick instead of you.”
Momma said nothing for a moment, and Margot didn’t know what would happen next. But when Momma finished pouring the glass of wine, her hand was shaking. She drank the whole glass, and looked up at Margot.
“Why do you think that, Margot?”
“Because I asked for a bike, and then Sarah’s got stolen. And you said nothing comes without a price.”
A funny look appeared in Momma’s eyes. “This is how your bringing moon works? It brings you what you ask for, but takes something else away?”
“Yes,” whispered Margot.
“Then we’re going to ask for my baby back.” Momma grabbed her arm and dragged her down the hall to the bedroom. She pushed Margot up to the window.
“Pray right now. Pray for Lilly to come back.”
Margot clasped her hands together and looked up. The moon had shrunk since the night before, and the night air was mean and cold on her cheeks. It would be nice to have Lilly back & without her, Margot wouldn’t have anyone to play with. But if the moon brought Lilly home, then Momma would give Lilly all her love again, and there’d be none left for Margot. She just wanted Momma to love her the way as much. And she wanted a chance to be Momma’s baby, just for a little while. When she’d had enough, she’d pray for Lilly to come back, and everything would be like it used to be.
She pulled her head back inside. “The moon is done bringing anything until next month. It won’t listen to me.”
“You’re a liar.” Momma hit Margot. “You’ve been lying all this time, haven’t you? There is no bringing moon.” And then she hit Margot again, and again.
When Margot woke up, she had bruises on her arms and chest. There were lots of visits from doctors and nurses and people that Margot didn’t know or care about, and two days later, Momma made Margot put on her black dress and they went to church in the afternoon. There were lots of people there, who looked at a framed school picture of Lilly. People said nice things while Momma cried under her black wide-brimmed hat, and then they went home. Momma hit Margot that night, too, and she said it was because Margot didn’t cry at the funeral.
Then Momma went to the doctor again. When she came home, she told Margot that her ulcers were gone, and she was going to be in a magazine about how vitamins and exercise had cured her. The magazine would give her five thousand dollars for the interview.
There were visits from more people. A nice woman in a red suit came several times and talked to Margot about Momma and Lilly, but Margot didn’t answer all her questions & she knew she’d be in trouble if she told the nice woman about the bruises.
She wished Lilly was there. It wasn’t the same without her.
The night of the full moon, Momma came into her room and sat down on Margot’s bed. Her cheeks were flushed, and her breath smelled like sour grapes. She hiccuped, and made a funny-sounding laugh. “Ready to try your moon again, Margot? It’s been a month. How does this work?”
Margot pushed the window open and knelt beside her. “I fold my hands like this.”
“Oh, and here.” Momma pulled out a crumpled piece of paper from her pocket and unfolded it. “This is very important. I want you to ask your moon for all these things. Go slowly so everything is clear, okay?”
Margot took the list like it was a lighted firecracker. She couldn’t pronounce all of the words, although there were some things that looked nice, like a canopy bed, and a swimming pool. She prayed through the list as best she could, added a request of her own, and then handed Momma back the piece of paper.
“What do we do now?” Momma asked.
Margot wasn’t sure, but she tried to sound like she knew. “We wait until morning.”
“Then we’ll wait.” Momma held up the comforter and Margot climbed beneath it. She kissed Margot’s forehead. “Goodnight.”
Margot lay in bed, and tried not to worry. What if the moon didn’t bring these things? What if Momma thought Margot hadn’t asked for everything on the list, and hit her more?
Then it was morning, and light spilled through windows framed in frothy pink curtains. A lace canopy stretched over Margot’s head and joined with four silver columns at each corner of the bed. The walls were painted with grazing unicorns, shining coats and pearl horns glinting in the sunlight.
Lilly would love them.
“Lilly!” Margot shouted, before she remembered that Lilly wasn’t there anymore.
She climbed out of the canopy bed. Instead of her pajamas, she wore a frilly pink nightdress threaded with pink and silver ribbons that scratched her skin. Matching slippers with sparkly jewels waited next to the bed. She would have liked the slippers better if they were purple. Pink was Lilly’s favorite color, not hers.
Thick fluffy rugs padded the hallway outside her room. The staircase at the end spiraled down into a larger room with mirrors on the walls, and Lilly’s bike, pink and glossy, leaned against the staircase. At least it looked like Lilly’s bike, with the pink and gold streamers and the black lightning bolts, but there was something strange about it, like it was bigger. Like it used to be her purple bike.
“Is that you, baby?”
It was Momma’s voice. Margot walked down the hall into a large kitchen to see a beautiful woman that looked like Momma, but different. She wore tailored pants and a white silk blouse, her chignoned hair sleek and shiny, and her smile was wider and whiter than before. Her heels made a clicking sound on the floor like the shoes of the principal at Margot’s school. She slid manicured fingers into an oven mitt and withdrew a pan of small cakes from the oven.
“I did some praying, too.” Momma’s face glowed. “And we’re having cupcakes for breakfast!” She picked up a cupcake and swirled frothy layers of frosting on top.
Margot climbed up on one of the stools next to a counter of gray marble. Above her head, pots and pans with bronze handles hung from the ceiling. A heaping bowl of red grapes sat on the counter. Grapes were Lilly’s favorite fruit. Margot wished Lilly could see how large these grapes were, like plums.
“Do you understand, baby? Do you understand what’s happened?” Momma held out her arms.
Margot nodded. She understood that she had to play along, so Momma wouldn’t ask the moon for a new daughter. Maybe if she acted more like Lilly, Momma wouldn’t hit her again, or pray her away.
Margot buried her face in Momma’s waist. Momma smelled like frosting, and her hands were soft and gentle.
“Ready for cupcakes, then? I made them with yellow cake because it’s your favorite.”
Yellow cake was Lilly’s favorite. Margot liked chocolate better.
“Try one, baby.” Momma held out the frosted one, and Margot took a bite. It was the best yellow cake she’d ever had.
Erin Stocks is an Assistant Editor with Lightspeed Magazine. Her fiction can be found in the upcoming anthology Anywhere but Earth by Coeur de Lion publishers, Flash Fiction Online, the Absent Willow Review, and the Hadley Rille anthology Destination: Future.