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The Tender Fire
Derek Henkel

My wife and I sit on a bench near an exhibit in the children's Museum watching our daughter join several children in the fun of jumping around a small room filled with plastic balls.

"That was fun! Let's go to the make-up room!"

Our daughter grabs us each by the hand and leads us excitedly down the hallway.

"What's the hurry?"

"Daddy, you just can't sit around all the time."

My wife laughs. I turn and make a face that conveys 'I wonder whom she takes after?'.

She returns my expression with a warm, deep, smile that has rarely been shown lately.

"I wanna be a clown."

Looking into a large mirror surrounded by bright light bulbs we work with the make up provided and paint our daughter's face.

"Hold still. I'm almost through.. Don't scrunch your nose."

"It feels funny."

"Almost done... There!"

The little one bounces up and down in her chair, giggling as she looks at herself in the mirror.

"Now you're an honest to goodness circus clown."

"Thank you, Mommy."

"You're welcome, Honey."

I lean close to my wife. We smile at one another. I give her a quick kiss, and as I lean back she dabs some red grease paint on my nose.

"Let me do you."

"I don't think so."

Our daughter stands. "Let's go to the telephone room."

The rest of the day is spent playing with different phones, shopping at a miniature grocery store, pretending to fly a plane, answering questions identifying local celebrities on a large lighted display, and watching our daughter climb on a large stuffed sneaker.

Driving home my wife sits close to me humming and our little clown plays with a balloon.

The moon has no borders, boundaries, titles, or deeds. The only creatures that might hold claim are the Mother Goose cows that hurdle it at bed time. A full moon. There is something powerful about it. Tides and currents are directed by its force. Calendars were constructed by its math. The word lunatic comes from 'lunar,' implying that people may be changed by this sky-bound presence. Werewolves. Vampires. Folklore? All one needs to do is look around to see that these monsters are very real.

I'm sitting on our back porch looking up at the perfect circle in the sky, waiting for it to wink its eye, realizing that there is someone across the continent looking up at the same moon. Some believe we have the right to claim this solar property as our own. Firstcome first served. Finders keepers. They want to colonize it, offering shuttle service to those willing to serve as space squatters. This probably sounds great to a lot of people. Not me. The moon is history's. The moon belongs to the dolphins. The mountains. The jungles, rain forests, and cactus. It is tied to the entire globe and its inhabitants. It is not commercial property. It is a word for rhyming. It is a reference point that allows one to gaze and gain strength. It is a midnight cheese snack. It is a night light for all.

About the author: Derek's work is featured at

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