The Dance of the Moths

By: Anastasiya Sankevich


On a Thursday at the edge of summer and autumn, when constellations studded the sky, I carried a cup of tea into my study. It was a beautiful cup, hand-painted with buds about to burst into flowers.

I set it down on my desk and lit the candles. The wax turned translucent, rolling down the brass like teardrops. The little flame rocked side to side and I smiled, brushing dust off my vintage typewriter. My fingers pirouetted across the keys.  Chapter 1, I typed, not knowing where to begin. The fresh bud of an idea was too fragile, too starved to write about. Even one wrong word could ruin it beyond repair.

The desk faced the window, so I distracted myself with the night-stained street. Rain cascaded from the sky, appearing radiant on the bricks. A golden halo embraced the streetlights, and a pair of moths waltzed around the silent glow. Those moths had wings of organdy, dull, delicate, and elegant despite the rain. How sweet it was to witness a poem unfold before my eyes.

My gaze drifted away from the moths onto first the sidewalk, then the gloomy park across the street. I sighed and pulled my eyes back to the keyboard, but came across another distraction. A woman stood under the streetlamp my moths circled, her hands embracing an inky umbrella. Something was trapped in her fist. I pulled glasses up the bridge of my nose, trying to make out what the “something” was. Finally, a beam illuminated her, and I smiled. A note tried to escape her clutch. What could it be? A love letter, like those they write in romantic novels from the 1800s? Or was it something darker?

Another person with an umbrella emerged from around the corner. The woman straightened her posture, waved, and slid toward the stranger. He held a similar note between his fingers. At the sight of the woman, his grasp weakened and the note fled with the wind. Neither he nor the woman seemed to notice. They made silent eye contact before strolling away into the park. I took a sip of tea and began writing in the newfound gust of inspiration.

After twenty minutes, I gazed outside once again. The moths still danced around the streetlamp, and the man and woman emerged into the light. They exchanged paper roses before walking their separate ways. My moths disappeared, too. I was sorry to see them go.


I didn’t want to write that day, so I sketched the scene I witnessed outside. A man and a woman talking quietly. The moon illuminating the street. Two moths with pretty wings, streetlights, tenebrous silhouettes of the trees. I set my pen down, trying to brush away the guilt of putting effort into something entirely unrelated to my craft. I took a sip of tea. It rolled down my throat, sour and ruby-red, loose leafs swirling in the liquid. Two hand-painted flowers that bloomed like stars on the porcelain of the cup.

Just like every Thursday, the man and woman strolled in the park. Every turn repeated many times, every step followed an orchestrated pattern. How I wished to hear their conversation, wondering if perhaps their words would light a match in me, inspire me, motivate me. Desperate, I wrote down the lines of dialogue under their portraits. But those attempts were wrong, hollow, pathetic. No matter how poetic my prose was, I couldn’t guess the spinning thoughts of the pair who walked in the shadows of the trees.

Since I couldn’t see every detail of their faces from my second-floor window, I had to guess from the glimpses when drawing. The woman was tall, had a prominent forehead, an intelligent brow. A Roman nose, dark hair often wet and ruffled, eyes like the night. She had the ideal face of a lost monarch, or a mysterious opera singer, or one of the muses that poets and artists rave about. The man’s hair was lighter, and his irises gleamed with wit. I didn’t draw pupils, for they didn’t belong. His face, both stern and fair. I couldn’t quite describe it, so I smudged the pencil marks and pretended that the graphite blur added a bit of mystery.

I monikered the woman Lenore and the man Adam as I saw them part ways on that misty night. As traditional, they exchanged fluttering paper roses. Ten years ago, I would have wished for a romance such as this, secret meetings and all. I, a young and foolish girl, yearned for the perfect cutout of a person, but gave up quickly. So instead I saturated my words with that emotion, wrote routinely every evening. Then that passion expired and my time turned to pondering the relationship of two people I didn’t know. I was a moth and they entranced me. Speaking of moths, a pair still waltzed eerily around the candid light. When the figures of Adam and Lenore disappeared behind opposing corners, the moths disappeared, too.

Such a ritual repeated for many Thursdays to come. I always sat in my study with a dainty cup of tea, candles lighting up the room. Though it was a distracting obsession, I had to be there, I had to watch, sacrificing productivity with a whimsical look in my eyes.


The shameful moon hid behind a veil of clouds. I stared at the street, searching for a light that would illuminate my manuscript. The streetlamp flickered and orange leaves soared by my window. They forever left their home behind, soon to rot in the drains of some unimportant avenue on the other side of the city. How tragic.
I lit the candles. The brass stand was engulfed in previously melted wax, dripping like tears and blood forever frozen in time. The flames didn’t glow with joy and passion. Today, they danced with fear, fighting against the cold air, breathless.

Distracted by the dark thoughts, I couldn’t force another word into the joyous and romantic book. So instead I scribbled down lines of poetry. Those poems spoke of death, hopelessness, cold. I almost expected rain, but it didn’t come. Only Lenore did. She stood in the gloom all alone, no sign of another figure appearing from the tangled alley. She waited, and I did too. Poor Lenore paced around the park all on her own. She perched herself on the bench, waiting in stillness. A single moth was her companion, seeming sorrowful as it spun around the streetlight. I wanted to wait with her and the moth, but my energy drained away. Sleep was too tempting to ignore. So I silenced the candles and finished drinking my tea. The cup was decorated with a single wilting flower.

Lenore came for many Thursdays until one day, she did not return. The paper rose remained on the park bench until the rain tore it to pieces. The fairytale in the window was over. I had to put my fingers back on the keyboard and type.


The stack of writing on my desk begged to be burned. Truly, it was my head pleading to burn it and my heart refusing. How could I let the flame consume those hours, those tears, those ideas? So I buried it in the bottom drawer, hoping to never see the words again. Instead I looked onto the street that remained empty for so long. I saw a lonely moth, an empty park bench, gnarled trees, a weeping moon, and . . . Adam. Same walk, same posture, same face, but not the same stranger I first saw at the end of summer.

His dim silhouette spun around in the park. I had to remind myself I wasn’t witnessing a ghost, nor a shadow, nor a memory. I witnessed only a human, a stranger with a story that I didn’t know. Whatever that story was, its emotion haunted me even in the warmth of my study. I couldn’t help but wonder why he disappeared for so long, and a little voice inside of me muttered that it wasn’t by choice. I would likely never know the answer to the question. I would always remain in the dark. If ran outside in that moment and asked him, I could know the answer. But then they would know I’ve been spying on them for months, drawing them, invested in their life like I would be in a book. But what I saw wasn’t a book. Those were real events, real people, real moths, real umbrellas, real feelings.

I took out the stack of papers from my desk once again and my sight glazed over the words. Those empty sentences were nothing in comparison to the view in the window. I began to rip the page apart, but stopped once the jagged tear reached the letters. I rested it on top of the stack once again. I couldn’t do it. I wasn’t weak enough to hide from my own creation.

The stars reflected in my teacup, the sepia liquid rippling. That teacup was beautiful. Porcelain with gold details and a painted image of a single flower. The petals were crinkled and dead, a hint of rosiness blooming through. Having nothing else to do, I poured a saturated drop of tea onto a piece of paper, letting it spread into a design. It looked like a heart at first, then a moth with broken wings, then the moon. I looked once again at Adam. He still wandered those paths, still silent, still alone. At last he left, and the moth fluttered away, too. I saw the paper rose in his hand as he pressed it into his pocket. And like that, the street emptied for many days, leaving me alone in my study. Alone with the unfinished book and the flickering candles and above all, wonder.


When the moonlight was copper and viscous like honey, I wrote the last words of the novel. Tears swelled in my eyes. I felt like a free bird, able to break through the milky glass of the window. With nothing better to do, I broke off shards of wax from the solid mass that dripped down the brass stand. When I held the chunks near the jolly little flame, they melted into their kin.

It began to rain. The luminescence of the streetlights distorted in the ever-growing puddles. Tones of orange, navy, ultramarine, and gold blurred together in the landscape like watercolor paints on a wet paper. I sipped my tea from a cup decorated with two fruits that were once delicate flowers. The days became colder and colder. Frost crystallized in the mornings and the moans of the rusty radiator disturbed my sleep.

Despite the stinging temperatures outside, two moths danced around the streetlamp. What a haunting dance it was. Entranced by the brilliance, the beings moved in smooth and natural rhythm of their beautiful yet brief lives.

The street reflected every light, and the bare, lithe trees swayed in the park. My eyes widened when I saw a figure emerge from a nearby alley. The person carried a black umbrella, the raindrops bouncing off it in reflective particles. It was none other than the dark haired woman with a Roman nose and eyes like the gloomiest of nights. Lenore in the lamplight, Lenore in the rain. That familiar face that I only ever saw from a distance brought me back to the end of summer, when the leaves only began to change.

The same umbrella, yet it shielded the woman from such a different kind of rain. She also seemed haunted by the thoughts of that fateful Thursday, when she came to the street for the very first time. Retracing her past self’s footsteps, she wandered the park for a little bit, before stepping back into the light of my window. Yet Lenore didn’t leave quite yet, because another figure with an umbrella appeared in the distance.

Even from my second floor, I saw her eyes widen and her olive skin turn paler. The person appeared so familiar to us both, I was sure. Lenore seemed familiar to the mysterious stranger, too, because the umbrella flew out of his grasp and he didn’t care  one bit.

He approached her and stretched forth his hand. I glimpsed something delicate and white. Lenore took it, studied it for a moment, and then her eyes glimmered. The paper rose returned to its creator. Adam and Lenore returned to the street.

I watched their figures circle around the park. I didn’t want to hear their conversation; witnessing it meant enough. Instead I watched my moths, mesmerized, until Lenore and Adam stepped out from the darkness of the trees. They were now bathed in the lamplight, gazing at each other, lips barely moving. They stood right by my window. Adam seemed to notice my inquiring stare, and pointed it out to Lenore. She waved at me, the little old me with oversized glasses and unbrushed hair. My face burned. Their subtle smiles were bold enough to notice, and they warmed me from within even as the two turned around. It began to snow. As flakes danced in the night, Adam and Lenore walked away down the same street, hands clasped together.