“Eyes Like the Moon” by Mark Tulin

“We share the refrigerator space,” Mrs. Lindy said while opening the Frigidaire. “This section is yours, that’s mine. Mahsa and Jordan have the middle shelf.”

I nodded my head in approval.

“You seem like a nice person, Karl. But if you’re noisy, keep people awake at night or throw loud parties –you’re out.” She pointed her crooked finger to the front door.

We walked up the creaky steps to the bedrooms. My room was spacious with plenty of windows overlooking a large oak tree. Sunlight shone in the room to give it a bright, clean feel. There were old hardwood floors and a mattress that had seen better days. A few steps down the hallway was the bathroom that we’d all share.

Mahsa, a sophomore at Penn, had the room at the other end of the hallway. She was Persian, and, according to Mrs. Lindy, she was shy and soft-spoken. “She spends most of the day at school, and comes home late at night and goes straight to her room. You hardly know that she lives here.”

Jordan had the middle room. He had just finished his degree at LaSalle and was working as a psychiatric assistant at a local hospital. Mrs. Lindy thought he was very handsome. “If I were any younger,” she said, “I’d go after Jordan. That’s for sure.” 

Once we got to the bathroom, Mrs. Lindy said firmly, “We do our business, clean up the tub and toilet, and get right out when we’re finished, ‘cause somebody is always waiting to get in. No dillydallying, you hear?”

I agreed to the terms and put down a security deposit. My expectation was simple. I would have a quiet room where I could write, go to the library every day and have a kitchen to make simple meals.  The TV in the living room was old, but the reception was sufficient.

I went to the Regional Library every morning like clockwork, researching my stories and using the library computer. I wrote all my fiction longhand at first, going through three or four marble composition books every week. When a story was where I wanted it, I typed it on the library computer and then put it on a flash drive. I returned home and watched the news on TV while I ate a Trader Joe’s salad. My young life had been uncomplicated, thanks to a $30,000 inheritance from my Uncle David, who died from cirrhosis of the liver last year.

After a particularly productive day of writing at the library, I was relaxing on the couch while watching the 6 o’clock news when the phone rang. A crying female’s voice was at the other end. “Who is this?” I asked.

“It’s Mahsa,” she said through her cries. “Is Jordan there?”

“No, this is Karl.  I’m the only one home.”

“It’s awful, just awful. I’m in so much pain!”

I didn’t know what to say.

“They pulled a tooth,” she mumbled. 

“Pulled a tooth?” I repeated.

“Yes, I didn’t know who to call.”

“Where are you?” I asked. “Do you want me to pick you up?”

“I’m at the Temple Dental School,” she mumbled through her cheek, which was surely stuffed with cotton gauze. “I’m okay. I just needed to talk to someone.”

“I’ll drive down there and get you,” I said.

“No, please don’t. Tell Jordan that I’m okay. He’d be worried about me.”

When she finally calmed down, she told me that she had two wisdom teeth pulled. She blamed herself for eating too many sweets and not having good dental hygiene. She kept saying that she did it to herself.

“Don’t be so hard on yourself,” I commiserated.

“You don’t understand,” she corrected. “I never eat sweets. It’s only when I moved to this country that I started to eat candy. Why did I do it?”

When Jordan came home from work, I told him about the phone call. “Where is she?” he asked. 

“Downtown, I think. Mahsa said she was getting on the subway and then the 66 bus.”

Jordan waited for her in the living room while I went to my bedroom to read. She got in late, and I could hear their footsteps as they walked up the stairs to her bedroom. Faint crying and whimpering could be heard in the silence of the evening. Jordan’s voice was patient and supportive. I assumed that he was comforting her, helping to alleviate the emotional pain.  I listened to the two talk for a while, and then there was a strange silence. Soon her bed squeaked, and I could hear the sighs and moans of their lovemaking. I fell asleep by the time they were done.

The next morning Mahsa and Jordan knocked on my door. I had only seen her in passing, but now she stood in plain sight. She had a pretty brown oval face, dark and exotic features, long glistening black hair with a slight curl, and deep-set brown eyes that took my breath away. Understandably, Jordan couldn’t take his eyes off of her either.

Mahsa apologized for the frantic phone call yesterday. “Thank you, Karl, for putting up with my childish behavior.” She smiled as much as she could with a sore gum.

“Don’t worry, Mahsa. We all have our moments.”

I invited them to sit on the full rattan chair under the tacky picture of a small country town in Italy. They took my invitation and quickly opened up to me. She talked about school and felt homesick for her family in the Middle East. Her father was a banker, her mother a housewife, and she had two younger sisters and an older brother. “My father is a wonderful man,” she said, showing me a picture of him standing in front of his bank. “He believes in my dream of designing modern homes in our country.” 

I could feel the power that her father had over her. Her loyalty to him and the debt she had to repay for his generosity was unmistaken. Jordan related about his job on a psychiatric unit with severely mentally ill patients.  He talked about their strange behaviors, the voices they claimed to hear and their sad personal lives. Mahsa looked lovingly at Jordan’s lips while he spoke.

“What does your name mean, Mahsa?” I asked, changing the topic.

“’Like the moon,’” she said.

“She’s beautiful ‘like the moon,’” Jordan interrupted, and he pulled her closer.

When I was born,” Mahsa said, “my mother looked into my eyes and saw the moon.”

“Eyes ‘like the moon,’” Jordan repeated, giving her a long, tender kiss that made my face turn red.

In the next few months, I had many conversations with Jordan. I soon understood what Mahsa liked about him. He was charming, and he knew a lot about music. He wanted to write songs, and he studied the great lyric writers like Dylan and Lennon. He told me that it wasn’t Mick Jagger who founded the Rolling Stones, but Brian Jones. And it wasn’t Brian Wilson who wrote the lyrics for all the great Pet Sounds songs, but a jingle writer named Tony Asher. When he wasn’t speaking of musical trivia, Jordan was talking about Mahsa, and he recounted in detail a recent night they had together:

“We were caught in a summer rainstorm at Burholme Park. I covered Mahsa’s shivering body with my arms as we slowly made our way down the grassy hill. I watched the raindrops drip off the ends of her curls and tasted the rainwater on her silky face like I was lapping up delicious wine.  

“She bit my upper lip to draw some blood and told me to kiss her harder as the thunder and lightning rocked the ground where we stood. We were oblivious to everything except each other as the moon peeked out from the dark rain clouds.”

“Mahsa’s moon,” I said. Jordan nodded and continued:

“‘Bite me harder,’ Mahsa demanded, no longer shy and soft-spoken but self-assured and hungry for me like I had never seen her before, Karl.

“We fell to our knees on the grassy knoll where she let me take off her blouse and unsnap her bra. I kissed her hard, perky breasts and devoured her tasty nipples. We lay there wet with passion, soaking in our young bodies, and we enjoyed every moment as if the next would be our last.

“We continued to hold each other as we walked down the rain-soaked street under the blurry street lamps, stepping in puddles, getting soaking wet until we finally arrived our front door. You and Mrs. Lindy were away somewhere, and we had the house to ourselves. ‘I don’t want to do this anymore,’ she whispered. I felt her breath on my chest and could feel her desire, Karl. It was as if I were at the center of a volcano and it was ready to pop. ‘Whatever you want,’ I said. ‘I’m not forcing you to do anything.’ I was just happy to stroke her skin, Karl. Honestly.

“She wanted to taste me, to have me inside of her, but she felt guilty. She knew how angry her father would get if she ever betrayed him. She feared becoming an outcast in her family and her culture if she had sex with a non-Muslim man before marriage, especially with a Jew. Right then and there, I knew that I was the wrong person for her, not part of her dream or her life’s story. I was an obstacle in her path. But I couldn’t help myself.

“The rain stopped and the clouds cleared. There was the beautiful moon hanging from the sky as if it were there only for us. It was the same moon that her mother saw in her eyes when she was a newborn baby. Her eyes closed.  She unfastened my belt and reached into my pants. Her fingers trembled and were cold. She cried and said that she couldn’t do it anymore. I said it was okay, and that it didn’t matter. She grew silent and moved away from me, inching to the edge of the bed. When I tried to get closer, she pushed me away…  

The rest of the story ended abruptly as Mrs. Lindy walked in the house. Jordan walked upstairs to his room, and I turned on the news. Later that night, I was in the kitchen talking with Mrs. Lindy. As she was opening a can of Chicken of the Sea tuna she told me that she noticed something going on between Mahsa and Jordan. “I know she’s beautiful and sweet, but I’m worried that they’re going to get carried away.” 

I didn’t tell Mrs. Lindy that they were already carried away. “They’re just friends,” I lied with a straight face.

The next night, Jordan worked the overnight shift at the hospital. Mahsa came downstairs and wanted to know if I would take her out for a drive in my new sky blue Karmann Ghia. She needed to take her mind off of the pressures of school for a while. After a few minutes of driving down the Roosevelt Boulevard, she surprised me by asking “Can I drive?”

Before I could say anything, she moved closer, nudging the back of her head against my chin while her little brown hands clutched the VW steering wheel. Anyone else I would have declined their request to drive my prized car, but I couldn’t resist Mahsa.

We drove around in circles that whole night until we ran out of gas. It didn’t matter how many times she scraped the tires against the curb or barely avoided hitting parked cars, just as long as her enchanting fragrance was wafting under my nose.

“Do you like me?” she asked.

I didn’t want to tell her the truth because of Jordan.  “Yes, as a friend,” I said.

“How much?”

I was silent, afraid of where this was going.

“Well, you shouldn’t. You shouldn’t like me so much.”

“Why?” I asked

“Because you’ll get hurt.”

She looked up from the steering wheel, and a tear fell from her eye. “I’m going to hurt Jordan, too. He doesn’t know it. Please promise me you won’t tell him.” 

She was so beautiful, I didn’t want to believe that she could hurt anyone. I thought she was playing me, and I smiled, giving her the impression that I wouldn’t be duped into believing such nonsense.

The next day, while I was at the library, Jordan startled me by sitting at my table. He looked extremely upset. I thought someone close to him had died. “What is it, Jordan?”

“She was too scared to tell me, Karl,” he said, his eyes glassy.

“She just got up and left when I was at the hospital, moving to the far end of the city somewhere, and trying to forget I ever existed. I found a letter on my pillow. It didn’t really say much. She just apologized for leaving so abruptly and not telling me why. She said that it was better that way, that she wasn’t right for me and that I should marry someone of my own kind. She said ‘I enjoyed the time with you’ in big capital letters.”

He handed me the letter. There was no return address or phone number where Mahsa could be reached, just the scent of her perfume. For a moment, I imagined her brown eyes gazing at me and her soft, gentle face waiting to be kissed.

“It happened so fast,” Jordan kept muttering to himself.

When I got home, Miss Lindy was pissed that Mahsa didn’t give her a month’s notice. “I’m going to keep her security deposit,” she snarled under her breath. “Serves me right for not checking her references.”

For the next few months, Jordan and I talked about Mahsa all the time. We even went to her school and hung around expecting to see her, and Jordan kept reading her letter trying to find some hope – a remote chance that things were really not over. I knew it wasn’t healthy for him to hold on to her and feel as awful as he did. He began to focus on his work more and more, taking as many extra shifts at the hospital as he could get. His obsession with work was so consuming that I rarely saw him anymore.      

I spent another year at Miss Lindy’s boarding house. Eventually, the money ran out, and I had to get a real job. I gave up writing for a while and moved back in with my parents. I took evening classes to become a social worker and met a dark-haired Israeli woman in grad school who very much resembled Mahsa. We married after graduation, settled down in a trendy suburb of Philadelphia and had two children.

I lost touch with Jordan but heard that he had graduated from medical school and that he was doing his residency in psychiatry. I also found out that Mrs. Lindy had passed away from complications of diabetes.I wished that I had known sooner, because I would have liked to attend her funeral. 

I haven’t forgotten my time at Mrs. Lindy’s boarding house and the beautiful exchange student, Mahsa. Sometimes I look up at the sky when there is a full moon and see Mahsa’s eyes staring down at me. I wonder if she married a strong Persian man like her father or fulfilled her dream of designing homes in her little town outside of Tehran. I could only imagine how beautiful she still must be.

© Mark Tulin