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The Moon is a Ticket Stand
That giant clown head at the Cina-Box 101 movie theater always drove me nuts. I sold overpriced popcorn, cotton candy, fountain drinks, and tickets. Saturdays, I was allowed to see free matinees, but I usually didn’t go.
“THERE ARE SPACE ALIENS INVADING THIS PLACE!” shouted a preteen in full Darth Vader getup.
“Xander, stop it, or we’ll be kicked out,” said the kid’s mom.
“It took 100,000,000 years to slay the volcanic ash monster of Groswold after the revenge of Glay the Great. The baby aliens born with jelly in their skulls spew poisoned gas at the Ninja-Star Lords of Sorth. The Grobies are outnumbered—the planet is under attack. HELP!”
“I want to see Trolls 5, not Death-Star 12,” moaned a little girl.
“Shut up, little dingbat baby Yoda, or I’ll pinch you,” said Xander.
A fat woman in lots of makeup argued with her boyfriend about the show they wanted to see. “We have to watch Love is a Seagull or I’m going home! For the last time, I do not want to watch Death by Cops 10! The ninth one was so full of profanity and violence that I plugged my eyes and ears. Why don’t you go collude with Russia if you love violence and depravity so much?”
The boyfriend hustled toward the ticket booth. “Two tickets for Death by Cops 10,” he said.
I am Jillian Hills, the seventeen-year-old who once worked at the Cina-Box 101, and I saw everything. I saw meltdowns, birthday parties, breakups, engagements, stoned people, ladies with fifteen kids, gangsters, Baptist pastors who were Star Wars addicts, everyone and everything. That Baptist was real funny—he held a Bible study in the lobby and told all the kids that Luke Skywalker represented Jesus. Heck, I could never see spiritual meaning in those zapping lasers. People. Are. Strange.
It was that clown head which really freaked me out.
This Saturday night was big business and I was plumb exhausted and sad, having nowhere to go after work. Mom was usually at her Alcoholics Anonymous meeting or else she was out drinking—I could never really tell. So I stayed. I watched a dry documentary about a dolphin who got a kidney transplant, an inspirational flick called The Miraculous Heaven-Child 3 (the same kid died and went to Heaven and came back three times, getting so rich from it that she could afford a golden calf), and a “historical women’s movie” that took place in Victorian times and was rated R. I was so tired of staring at screens that when I walked outside, my retina shot back bright colors onto the full moon.
The moon is always changing, and yet it is a constant. What a strange and lovely thought. While my grownup brother was a Minecraft zombie, my friends ignored me, and my mother was off performing her own agenda, I just liked to sit around and contemplate the moon. The moon is a half-dissolved communion wafer. The moon is a bird’s egg. The moon is God’s dinner plate. The moon is a silver doorknocker. On and on and on.
I got into my car and put the keys in the ignition and turned up the stereo because I wanted to cry. The voice was some country singer whining. I flipped it to station with politicians yelling at each other, to a rap song, and to a depressing news report of a lady found dead on a bridge across town…
Then, suddenly, I went cold.
That lady on the news…her name was Cassandra Hills, my mother!
I didn’t hear my own shriek; I just felt a wave of sickness sweep over me, as my hands froze to the steering wheel. Somebody help me! Cars around me honked and squealed. Time warped, and I found a police officer guiding me into his squad vehicle. His gumballs flashed larger than life, like a scene from Death by Cops 10, and the foggy air was like hot breath in my face.
“What will become of my car, blocking traffic?” was the best thing I could say. Nobody bothered to answer.
There was a sign that read EMERGENCY ENTRANCE! I expected someone to escort me to the morgue, but instead the nurse took me to hospital room where my mother sat on a bed, healthy as a pig.
“Mother,” I breathed. “You came back from the dead! I must’ve missed the six o’ clock reality show, and my brains are fried. Mother, why are you alive? The radio said you died. They found you dead. Dead on a bridge!”
“The radio sometimes gets things wrong,” Mother said. She smirked with blue-lipsticked teeth. “Oh, don’t blame me, Jillian. I was bored, so I took a special drug that would make me look dead and I laid down on a bridge. I was plumb tired of bars and AA meetings—I wanted to ‘rise from the dead’ and start fresh in my life.”
I couldn’t believe I was hearing this from my own mother. A child should never hear her mother talk like this.
“You are discharged now, lady!” barked a nurse.
Mother and I didn’t say anything as we went out to my car, which was in the parking lot. The headlights flashed. The moon blazed down on us, comic-book bright. Mother smiled at me, and I thought of her words, A fresh start. Why not? What was stopping us? We could get in this car and drive away from a town where everyone knew us too well and despised us. The world was millions of places, and we would drive and drive and drive.
The moon was a ticket-stand for the greatest adventure of my life. I took a deep breath. Would I pay the price?
My mother handed me the keys, and I jammed them into the ignition.