• —My teeth hurt.
Mr Moon listened. But he seemed distant. This was his way.
• —They’re chipped,— muttered The Hare.
• —I know.
• —And cracked …
• —I remember.
• —I’ve looked at my face. In the glass. I’m not myself.
• —I’m … disappointed.
• —But …
• —You’re whining. Again.
• —No, I’m …
• —Have you become tired of my company, Hare? Already?
• —No … Mr Moon, please … I’ve always … I’ve …
• —After everything I’ve done? After everything?
Mr Moon peered down at The Hare as if from a great distance. As if, say, The Hare were a mere speck of dust. Or a grain of dirt on the sole of a boot. Quite easy to remove. And he decided he wouldn’t speak to him for a while. This, too, was his way. He became, if anything, slightly more distant, slightly more out of The Hare’s desperate reach, than he was before. And The Hare, whose gaze rarely left Mr Moon’s face, noticed this. He became agitated. He felt himself near the very precipice of panic. His friendship with Mr Moon might be lost. For all time. He knew he had to find a way to rescue the situation. He had to retrace his steps. And quickly.
• —You … I mean … you look so fine, Mr Moon. You always do. And you’re smart … really … I mean it. But I guess you knew that before, didn’t you? Sometimes — you’ll think I’m mad … I know you think I’m mad — you have a kind of … way with you. You glow.
Mr Moon listened. He glowed a little. Said nothing.
• —I … you … I didn’t want to fight. But you said I had to. I had to, you said. And because you wanted it, because you said I must follow the order of things … I did it … I did the fight.
Mr Moon had not forgotten. He recalled his careful choosing of a match, the sending of his summons. He remembered The Hare retching as his adversary approached. How the brute lumbered closer, drooling, kicking the stones, whetting his fury. And then … the shameful bout. The Hare’s battered face. The blood spewing from his mouth. His whimpering cries.
• —If I met him again …
The Hare continued. Inevitably.
• —If I met him, I would show him, Mr Moon. I would … I would kill him. I would rearrange his face. For you, Mr Moon. I would.
The Hare felt he was on a roll. He felt he was putting things right. A bit. Mr Moon hadn’t objected. But he hadn’t said much either. Seemed a bit sniffy. Instead, he gazed out into that boundless middle distance, his marbled face impassive.
Mr Moon had spoken. The Hare could barely contain himself.
• —Just say the word and I’ll …
• —I’ve done with you, Hare.
• —I’ll do whatever you …
• —Your pathetic lies.
• —My lies? Mr Moon! Some folk tell … uh … I’ve never … I’ve always told you …
• —And your limp excuses. You snivelling little …
The Hare was about to protest further but Mr Moon interrupted him. Inevitably.
• —Drop your jaw!
• —No, Mr Moon, please …
• —Drop your jaw, Hare! Show me … inside the cave …
There was no escape. He had no choice but do as he was bid. So, with bottom lip aquiver, he opened his mouth for Mr Moon’s inspection.
• —Right down. Drop it right down, Hare!
The Hare lowered his jaw until he began to wince. His gums still ached with the memory. With what had passed.
• —Now look up. Up. Up into the stars …
And Mr Moon with curious ceremony peered inside the gaping maw. The aftermath of the unfortunate event was evident, even to someone like him who rarely took an interest in the muck of things. It was like a bric-a-brac stall for items unwanted and discarded. Sickly mounds of congealed blood, a root exposed here and there for gruesome measure, a potpourri of cracked and wavering teeth.
• —Poor Hare. What an ordeal! But why suffer this alone? And in silence? Martyrdom, you know, is not the prized way of life that some would have you believe it is. It’s true, you have endured something … let’s say … something out of the ordinary. But, you know, a trouble shared is a trouble halved. Yes? Isn’t that what some folk say, Hare? Hmm? Now, there’s a phrase you’ve always been fond of, and you use it rather a lot, don’t you? Hmm, Hare? Some folk!
The Hare wasn’t able to reply at this point even if he’d somehow found the courage. His jaws were stretched too far apart. Willingly? Unwillingly? He couldn’t easily say. Even if his life depended on it. And, in any case, they were beginning to hurt unbearably. But he managed to utter a kind of voiced nod. He felt he had to. He had to show Mr Moon that he was hanging on his every word. He couldn’t just listen quietly. Mr Moon might deem that rude.
• —Some folk this. Some folk that …
He sensed Mr Moon hadn’t quite reached the crux of his meanderings. The nub. And something about this worried the Hare. A lot. It felt like something gnawing quietly at his innards.
• —When are you going to stand up for yourself, Hare? Hmm? When are you going to beef up? Is it always my lot to protect you? Look out for you?
The Hare made to speak this time but was prevented. Yet again.
• —Keep still. Don’t speak. Want to twinkle like a star, Hare? Want to glow like a moon?
The Hare was confused. His need to please Mr Moon knew no earthly bounds. And so, he trembled a little. He blinked once. Maybe twice. His doleful eyes were glued, as always, on the now scowling shape that loomed above him. Mr Moon’s shadowy face bathed his. It chilled him. And he took a strange delight in it. It felt familiar. And intimate.
• —I am not some folk, Hare!
The Hare had to agree. In his eyes, eager but innocent as they were, Mr Moon seemed complete. Untarnished. To Hare, Mr Moon was all that was perfect and true. There was his lofty height: he was inclined to tower far above the earthly and the everyday. It was no secret that the Hare saw himself as one of the earthly many. There was his airy reach too: impossible as it seemed to some folk, Mr Moon could be anywhere he chose to be. He was everywhere in the Hare’s world. In every corner, in every crevice of his mind. Asleep or awake, he was there. This amazed the Hare. Perplexed him – sometimes, into silence.
There was his giant-like girth. And the weight of his frame. The space he occupied left little for those around him. And this was not even to mention the depth and scope, the agility, of his mind. Mr Moon’s way of thinking, of deliberating, was other-worldly to the Hare. It mystified him.
But it was Mr Moon’s self-composure that drew the Hare to him. It filled him with wonder and regard. In this unique stillness, he found a kind of light. A brightening in the gloom. And on some days, a great calm too. This was really something for the Hare because he normally found himself rattled by one thing or another. Mr Moon’s stillness won him over. There was something out of the ordinary about it. It had a strangeness. It bewitched him.
But was Mr Moon as still as he appeared? As still as he seemed to the Hare? He was a good listener. Adept. Attentive. And some folk say — it’s true — that those who are keen to listen, and are good at it, are more inclined to keep still. They want to hear, say, the green leaf whisper in the cool of a summer breeze. They want to hear, say, the murmur of a butterfly wing. Their stillness is intended. Purposeful.
Mr Moon was a proactive thinker too. And some folk say that those who choose to lose themselves in thought find respite in their minds. Vacate their bodies. Withdraw to a more contemplative place. Retreat … into the cave.
But was Mr Moon actually still? Or did the Hare, so innocent, so excitable, just imagine it? Did he slave to make the picture perfect? Place it neatly on his eyes? While all the time his mind was at mischief? At play? Was it possible? Was it possible that Mr Moon was not, in fact, still? Was it possible, say, that as the Hare blinked Mr Moon shifted? So, so slightly. That in the time it took for the Hare’s eyelids to fall, fall all the way to closed, and then lift up, right up, up all the way to open, that Mr Moon moved? Infinitesimally? Not, say, so you would notice? It’s possible. Though the Hare couldn’t tell. He would never know.
Mr Moon was on edge — had he lost his lustre? His glow? No. He wouldn’t entertain such a thought. He wouldn’t allow it. All the same, he found himself, alone, at the edge of the Lake for Other People, the waters lapping at his ego. He was troubled. Wanting. He tilted forward a little to see his reflection better in the lake. He needed confirmation. He needed a reminder. Just to see the sight he never tired of seeing. That would provide the remedy. The sight that gripped him. Held him in rapture. The wondrous …
But wait. Had the portrait waned? Lost a little of its sheen? Was there something missing from the picture? Vanished? He could see all the component parts were there. There was the mastery. The mystery. The magic. They were all present for his eyes to acknowledge and admire. And yet. And yet. He still felt torn. There was something tugging at his confidence. There was something plucking at his heart.
Beneath him. Beneath the surface of the water where his likeness lay, mottled by the light, some fish were going about their lives. They were disgruntled. It was personal for them — being under water — it was private. To Mr Moon’s surprise, they seemed wholly unaware of the great beauty that lay about them. Above them. Were they the blind sort, he mused, ascended from the depths? In any case, they were unseeing. Their eyes mirrored the deep. He watched as they flitted past his reflection, without pause, without recognition. A tremor. Could they be spirits? Ghost fish?
Mr Moon turned slightly. A whisker. And he looked down at the Hare who sat trembling, face pressed into the scree beneath his feet. In hiding. He felt a certain … he almost felt regret for what had passed.
• —Chin up, Hare! It’s not as bad as it seems. This will be like a new adventure for you. You’ll warm to it, you’ll see.
Then he looked away again. Marshalling his thoughts.
• —Your teeth. They won’t trouble you any more. They won’t give you pain. And that’s a good thing. You ought to thank me. Yes? Of course, I understand if you’re not up for speaking. Just at the moment. Well?
Here he paused. Took in the Hare with a sideways glance.
• —A simple nod will do, Hare.
He paused again. Waited for the Hare to oblige. To give the nod. And, after a moment, he did. And as he did, a gob of bloody tissue dribbled from between his lips and fell to his feet, glistening as it fell.
• —Now, now, don’t make a mess, Hare! What have I always said? Hmm? Other people take responsibility for their actions. Accept the consequences. You have to learn to do as your friends bid you, without question, or accept the consequences. The outcome, Hare. Now, the outcome for you, Hare, is that you no longer have any teeth. Life will seem a bit odd for a while. A bit gummy. Solids won’t be an option for you, I’m afraid. It’s liquids only. The thing is … I’m not entirely sure how long you’ll last, Hare. You might … waste away … somewhat.
The Hare made to interrupt. He gathered himself, briefly. But then he made a sound like … like longing. Like a toy slumped in a box. Mr Moon, always one to listen, revelled in the sound. For him, it felt like justice done. And as he turned to make his exit — his cratered side glimpsed — he seemed untouched by the Hare’s sorry state. Impenetrable. And this, too, was his way.