The weight of the full moon seems to slow its journey and it takes longer than usual for the light of the sunset to fade from the sky. The girls in the van chatter eagerly about the volleyball game and their surprise victory.
The girl who called shotgun arranges phone chargers for the girls in the back seat, and occasionally joins in the conversation. “I love the full moon,” I tell her, “in the morning the moon is so bright that when I look out my window I think it’s snowed the night before.” I find small talk difficult. What do I, a middle-aged chaperone, have in common with teenage girls?
I hear the phrase ‘of mice and men’ from somewhere in the back. That’s more like it! “Of mice and men!” I exclaim. “That’s a line from one of my favorite poems by Robert Burns.”
Polite giggles meet my pronouncement. I continue my conversational gambit. “You know, ‘The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men/Gang aft agley.’”
“You’re funny, Mrs. Ojeda!” someone exclaims. “It’s a group.” The darkness hides my blush. Pop culture holds no lure for me. I don’t watch the news or read about it. I figure if it’s really important, it will show up on my Facebook or Twitter newsfeed.
The darkness cocoons us until suddenly, the conversation takes an unexpected turn.
“I’ve thought the same thing,” my shotgun companion tells me, “about the moonlight and snow. My brother beat me up one night and I ran away from home. The moon helped me see my way.”
I gulp and pit of dread grows in my stomach. The cocoon of darkness shrinks…I hope. Her matter-of-fact words don’t come out in hushed whispers of confidence. I detect no differentiation between the degree of importance she places on one event (the state of the moon’s brilliance) and her brother giving her two black eyes because she doesn’t ‘listen to him.’
I feel hopeless and inadequate and launch a prayer heavenward. I want to ask more, to know the who, what, why, where and when; to call the police and demand justice. But I don’t. I don’t know how many other girls have tuned out our conversation and how many listen. I don’t want to break the fragile thread of trust she has thrown out into the inky blackness.
And so I listen. I murmur inadequate words. More stories pour forth. She doesn’t live at home right now, so I know she is safe. For now. My mind screams against the injustice of man’s inhumanity to man and clicks through all I must do to make sure the right people know about her situation.
We arrive at our destination and she hops out of the van. The gaggle of girls grab their belongings and head out to waiting cars. She steps up and gives me a hug. “Thanks for driving us, Mrs. Ojeda. I had a good time today,” and runs into the moonlit darkness.