Gateway to the Moon: A Novel
Gateway to the Moon: A Novel

Gateway to the Moon: A Novel

by Mary Morris

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"If you haven’t read Mary Morris yet, start here. Now. Immediately."
Jodi Picoult, New York Times bestselling author of Small Great Things

From award-winning novelist Mary Morris comes the remarkable story of a remote New Mexican town coming to grips with a dark history it never imagined.

In 1492, the Jewish and Muslim populations of Spain were expelled, and Columbus set sail for America. Luis de Torres, a Spanish Jew, accompanies Columbus as his interpreter. His journey is only the beginning of a long migration, across many generations. Over the centuries, de Torres’ descendants travel from Spain and Portugal to Mexico, finally settling in the hills of New Mexico. Five hundred years later, it is in these same hills that Miguel Torres, a young amateur astronomer, finds himself trying to understand the mystery that surrounds him and the town he grew up in.

Entrada de la Luna is a place that holds a profound secret--one that its residents cannot even imagine. It is also a place that ambitious children, such as Miguel, try to leave. Poor health, broken marriages, and poverty are the norm. Luck is unusual. When Miguel sees a flyer for a babysitting job, he jumps at the opportunity, and begins work for a Jewish family new to the area. Rachel Rothstein is not the sort of parent Miguel expected. A frustrated artist, Rachel moved her family from New York in search of a fresh start, but so far New Mexico has not solved any of the problems she brought with her. Miguel loves the work, yet he is surprised to find many of the Rothstein family's customs similar to ones he’s grown up with and never understood.

Interwoven throughout the present-day narrative are the powerful stories of the ancestors of Entrada's residents, highlighting the torture, pursuit, and resistance of the Jewish people. A beautiful novel of shared history, Gateway to the Moon is a moving and memorable portrait of a family and its journey through the centuries.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780385542913
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 04/10/2018
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 352
Sales rank: 50,073
File size: 4 MB

About the Author

MARY MORRIS is the author of numerous works of fiction, including the novels The Jazz Palace, A Mother's Love, and House Arrest, and of nonfiction, including the travel memoir classic Nothing to Declare: Memoirs of a Woman Traveling Alone. She is a recipient of the Rome Prize in literature and the 2016 Anisfield-Wolf Award for Fiction. Morris lives in Brooklyn, New York.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One
Perfect Darkness—­1992

Miguel Torres stands in the old cemetery and aims his telescope at the sky. It’s a clear, cloudless evening. And there’s no moon. So it is easier to see the stars when there’s no moon. Miguel stumbles as he adjusts his scope. He has difficulty navigating the uneven terrain of tree roots and crumbling stone. Still he likes the old cemetery. It gives him the best view of the night sky. Near the trailer where he lives with his mother, there is too much light. He comes here for the darkness.

A brisk wind blows through the branches of the old oak tree. It blows through piñon trees, and the air is redolent with the scent of pine. But it is also a dry, dusty wind and Miguel has to keep wiping his lens with a soft cloth. He buttons his thin jacket and peers into the eyepiece. Squinting, he pans the sky. It is late spring and a good night to be out. The days are already hot on the high desert plain, but the nights remain cool.

He focuses on Cassiopeia. He likes to begin with this constellation because her major stars form an M. The Celestial M some call it. Or the Lazy M. Whatever the case, Miguel feels as if it’s his signature in the sky. From Cassiopeia he moves up to Ursa Major and then over to the North Star. This orients him. Once he gets his bearings, he locates Jupiter and sharpens his focus on its moons. Named after Zeus’s lovers, the largest moons of Jupiter and their orbits were what Galileo used to determine that the Earth is not the center of the universe. But, of course, Galileo went to prison, recanted, and spent the rest of his life under house arrest.

Miguel has never been to prison, though he has spent a month in juvenile detention. But juvie was a little more like what he imagined summer camp to be—­bunk beds, sports, three meals a day—­except for the razor wire. It was a year ago when he’d gotten caught with a gang of his pals playing chicken on the highway, and next thing he knew, the cops were rounding them up. His father, who lives down the road, thought it might be good for him to spend some time straightening out, and his mother didn’t argue. He’d shared a room with three other boys and they all had lice. The room had a small window, and the only pleasure he’d gotten that entire month was staring at the night sky. Since getting out, it seems as if that’s all he wants to do. As his father likes to say, there are worse things to be hooked on.

Miguel stumbles again, almost toppling over as he makes a fine adjustment to his scope. But then he often stumbles. His feet don’t seem to know where the rest of him is going. His mother calls him a long tall drink of water. Over six feet tall, lanky. His muscles haven’t caught up with his bones. And those bones have just grown and grown. He is almost odd-­looking. He has green eyes like his father. Some of his friends call him the Praying Mantis because he is so skinny and because he falls for girls usually a few years older who are known to devour boys.

As he stands with his feet apart in the cemetery, he can see the skies. He is hoping to find a moon. Not a moon that anyone else has ever found but one of his own. A moon that no one else knows is there. What will he name it? Maybe after a character in Star Wars? Han Solo? Luke Skywalker? Princess Leia? He’s always surprised at the names given to the moons. Ganymede, Callisto, Locaste. So why not Star Wars? Miguel can never dream of discovering a galaxy or a comet. Or even a new planet somewhere deep in the Milky Way. That’s for people who spend their lives with high-­powered scopes fixed to the stars. But it is not out of the question for a boy to find a moon.

Moons have long been a preoccupation of Miguel’s. He is drawn to them more than he is drawn to other celestial bodies. Moons are manageable. You can stare at one and it won’t hurt your eyes. And they have low expectations. He prefers the cooler, reflected light to the burning stars. In this high desert where Miguel lives, the sun cracks his lips and makes his throat dry. Whenever possible he seeks the shade. If he could, he’d be nocturnal.

Miguel doesn’t like his position so he moves the telescope to the right until he is on firmer ground. Carefully he sweeps the skies as he looks for Arcturus in the constellation of Boötes. It is one of the brightest stars. He feels certain that Arcturus has planets in its orbit, and he’s sure that those planets must have moons. The universe interests him. He doesn’t know why. Perhaps it’s because each night when he steps out of his mother’s trailer and stares at the sky, he wonders if there isn’t a better life for him somewhere out there. When he was younger, he’d go outside to get away from his parents’ fighting. He spent months trying to invent a device that would contact a spacecraft to come and get him. In his early teens he went out to sneak a smoke. But since juvie he just does it to watch.

Miguel never cared that much about the earth sciences, but he cares about space. The first time he gazed through a lens, he saw a crater on the moon the size of Texas. He learned that the Earth could slip through the gap between the rings of Saturn. That is how big they are. His science teacher, Mr. Garcia, taught him to ask questions. Why is it that a supernova is in the same shape as a snail? Why does nature repeat its patterns? He ponders the three-­body problem, trying to understand what keeps the Earth in its orbit. How is it that we keep spinning at all?

For years he wanted his own telescope but knew he’d never be able to afford it. Then last year Mr. Garcia gave him a gift: a membership to the Amateur Astronomers of America. In one of its newsletters he read about a man named John Dobson who taught people how to build their own telescopes from scratch and at almost no cost. In the Santa Fe Public Library, Miguel found a book by Dobson, in which he learned the intricacies of magnification.

He began with the mirror. He spent weeks grinding it down, polishing it, getting the shape just right. In flea markets and pawnshops he scavenged lenses from an old pair of 7/35 binoculars and these he used for his eyepiece. Then he built his own sixteen-­inch scope with an eight-­inch focal length that is strong enough to see galaxies and star clusters that are light-­years away. The telescope cost him seven dollars to make and he can see Cassiopeia and Andromeda, her daughter. He can see Perseus. He can even see Algol, the evil winking eye in the center of Medusa’s head in the constellation Perseus. When he presented the telescope to his teacher, Mr. Garcia was amazed at its strength.

Miguel pans along the outer ridges of his own galaxy. The ground is too rocky and he can’t get the scope stable so he moves over a few graves. At least he assumes they are graves. Mostly there are grassy mounds and broken headstones with their strange writing that nobody can decipher. No one has been buried in this cemetery for at least a hundred years. That’s what his mother tells him. In fact no one in the town remembers the last time anyone was buried here. No one comes to tend the graves. When he was younger, he came here on dares to see who could mingle longer with the ghosts. Then he came with his girlfriend because it was a good place to slip his hand under her shirt and run it along her smooth, warm skin. But since he joined the Amateur Astronomers of America, he’s been trying to get better purchase on the sky.

He folds up his telescope. Though he is reluctant to leave this crystal night behind, it’s Friday and his mother expects him home. He makes his way down the hill toward the lights. When he gets to Roybal’s General Store, he’ll give her a call. As he was heading out that evening, she asked him to pick up milk. It is one of the things that makes Miguel crazy. She’s always asking him to do something. They can’t have a conversation without her saying “Would you mind fixing this?” or “Will you pick this up after school?” Someday this will drive him away.

He’ll leave the way his aunt Elena did. He barely knows his father’s sister. He can only recall seeing her a few times. She left Entrada to go to New York City and become a ballerina. Even after she had her accident and couldn’t dance anymore, she still didn’t come back to Entrada. Instead she travels the world. She sends him postcards from places he’s never even heard of. Kuala Lumpur and Cádiz. Bombay and Melbourne. He uses an old globe to locate them. He keeps the postcards in a shoebox in his room. Cards with rust-­colored animals sleeping in trees, carved figures that rise out of the ground, pyramids of spices and fruits he’s never seen. Someday he’ll travel too—­though it is intergalactic travel that interests him. The speed of light. He’ll be the first tourist on Mars.

As he reaches the steps of Roybal’s, he begins digging in his pockets for change. He is hoping he can get a candy bar as well. The best thing, as far as Miguel is concerned, about living in Entrada is that Roybal’s is pretty much always open. He can pick up a candy bar, a can of soda, or some loose cigarettes at just about any time of day or night.

The Roybals live in a house attached to their store and it seems to Miguel as if they must be a family of insomniacs because there are always lights on and there is always someone to ring up a purchase even if it is just for a package of bubble gum and some beef jerky. Miguel is an insomniac as well. Or at least a night owl, for which he has recently learned there is an actual genetic disposition. At times Miguel feels more closely related to bats and raccoons than to humans.

Old man Roybal is at the cash register when Miguel walks in and gives him a wave. “Hola, m’hijo,” Vincent Roybal calls out to him as he always does. But then the old man calls everyone “my daughter” or “my son,” and in some ways he is correct. If you go back far enough, everyone in Entrada is related in one way or another to everyone else. Almost everyone is a Roybal or a Torres. Miguel’s great-­grandmother was a Roybal. They are so inbred it is a wonder that they don’t have tails and pointed ears. “Qué tal?”

“Hola, papi,” Miguel calls back. “It’s all good.”

Miguel leans his telescope against the counter as Vincent Roybal takes a long drag on his cigarette. “See any ghosts?” Miguel laughs. The old man likes to tease him about going to the cemetery at night. “How about spaceships? Any landing up there?”

Once more Miguel laughs. It’s always the same joke with the old man, but Miguel doesn’t mind. Besides everyone in Entrada knows that Miguel is crazy about spaceships. The ones that might come here and the ones that NASA has sent off into space. He’s read everything he could get his hands on about Roswell and the rumors that the army has an alien in captivity. And he’s obsessed with Voyager. Once he spent so much time staring at the sky, looking for Voyager, that he got a frozen neck and his mother had to massage it with hot oils and compresses. He knows every piece of music, every image and greeting on the Golden Record that ET was supposed to find and use to make sense out of human life.

“No spaceships. No aliens.” He grabs a quart of milk from the fridge and also a Hershey bar for himself. He thinks about slipping the candy bar into his pocket the way most kids do, but decides to pay for it instead.

There’s a short line. Old man Roybal can’t just ring up an order. He has to ask how this father is or that sick cousin or how someone’s favorite team is doing and at times it seems as if he’ll go on talking forever. As he waits for Mr. Roybal to finish with “Señora Mendes of the large breasts,” as Miguel has heard him refer to her, his eyes scan the store. He likes to look at the wall with all of the “For sale” and “To rent” flyers. There is always a missing dog with a name like Nachos or a kid’s bike that has been taken from a yard and a “Please return: No Question Asks.” That pretty much says everything, “No Question Asks” when it comes to Entrada. Miguel crosses out the k, add an s and a comma. “No questions, Ass.”

On the wall, buried among the sad eyes of missing dogs and an offer to sell an old Honda 360 for a hundred dollars, he sees a notice, “Couple Seeks Afternoon Babysitter for Two Little Boys. Must have wheels.” It’s got smiley faces all over it and little tabs with the number to call. No one’s taken a number yet. Miguel could use some cash. His mom is barely getting by and he has almost nothing to spend on books, gas, or girls. The job is out on Colibri Canyon Road just north of Santa Fe, about forty minutes from his place. He gets out of school at two and can easily be there before three. Besides summer vacation will be starting soon.

Miguel knows Colibri Canyon. He worked there once when his father was laying pipes. That was a long time ago but he remembers it as a dirt road that winds its way through the canyons. It’s a pretty isolated spot. But Miguel isn’t picky. In the summers he does construction, mostly installing drywall and painting houses, so this summer maybe he’ll try babysitting. It seems like easier work. He tears a strip from the sheet and tucks it into his pocket. Though he isn’t quite fifteen, he looks older, and he’s been driving since he was twelve. He can get his learner’s permit soon. And his father’s old Chevy sits in front of their trailer.

At last Señora Mendes heads out the door, and the bell tinkles as she goes. “Papi, can I make a call?” the boy asks.

Mr. Roybal points to the old black phone. “Help yourself.” Instead of calling his mother, Miguel phones the number in the notice. In two rings he hears a woman’s singsongy recorded voice. She sounds as if she’s doing a commercial for dish soap. “You’ve reached the Rothstein residence—­Rachel, Nathan, Jeremy, and Davie. You know what to do!” And then there is the beep.

Miguel hesitates. “I’m interested in the position of babysitter,” he says. “I saw your ad,” and he leaves his name and number. When he hangs up, he goes to pay for the milk and Hershey bar. But old man Roybal has spread out on the counter the tattered copy of his family tree and he’s hunched over it. Miguel leans across the counter, gazing at the maze of branches that make up the Roybal lineage, which consists, more or less, of everyone in Entrada. It makes Miguel uneasy to see his own name dangling from a stem with the year of his birth and a blank space for his death. He doesn’t like to think about life having a beginning and an end. He prefers to think of it as a continuous loop that goes around and around the way the Navajo do.

Miguel takes out his wallet and is about to pay when the old man waves him away. “You’ll pay me next time.”

He assumes he won’t pay the next time either. “Thanks, papi.”

Vincent Roybal gives the boy another wave, dismissing him. “De nada, m’hijo.”

Miguel walks home under the starry night, telescope under one arm, munching on his Hershey bar. He loves chocolate. Even though it’s badfor his skin, he has a candy bar at least once a day. He’s so skinny he’deat them all the time if he could, but his mother always says he’ll ruinhis dinner. So he sneaks them on his way home. Besides he’s almost starving when he walks in and is greeted by the familiar smell of the chicken stew his mother has cooked.

“You’re late,” she says without looking up. She’s right. She’s already swept the house, moving all the dirt into the center of their trailer where she scoops it up with a dustpan. He’s never understood why she doesn’t just sweep it out the door. But when he asks her, she just replies, “Because we don’t.” She’s turned the portrait of the Virgin Mary to the wall and lit the candles. She’s said the blessing with her eyes closed, moving her hands in a circle. His mother doesn’t like to perform the Friday-night rituals without him, yet she won’t complain. She’ll just ignore him for a little while.

He walks over, putting his hand on her shoulder. Looking down as if she were a bonsai, he kisses the top of her head. With a ladle in her hand she pretends to bat him away. She looks tired and the lines around her eyes and mouth have deepened. But Miguel can tell from her lush black hair, the fine features hidden in the folds of her now plump face, that she had once been pretty. She’d also been a spelling whiz. Once she made it to the state competition. Miguel certainly didn’t take after her in that regard. She’s still spunky, but working as a hotel maid and drinking too much beer and eating tacos have taken their toll.

“Wash your hands,” she tells him.

The trailer is small and narrow. Just two rooms. Miguel sleeps in the bedroom since his father moved out. His mother sleeps on the couch. Mostly they eat standing up at the counter, but on Friday nights they eat at the fold-uptable. Now she serves him a large bowl of chicken stew with a crust of bread and brings a small bowl for herself.

His mother tends to graze rather than eat but she makes a point of sitting with him. He can tell that she isn’t in the mood for talking. Sometimes when she’s tired from her job at the hotel in Taos, she doesn’t want to talk. Instead she works on one of her crossword or sudoku puzzles. Her real name is Gloria but her father called her Morning Glory because she is perkier in the morning, fading by the end of the day. Now most people just call her MG.

“It’s good, mami,” he says, patting her on the arm. His mother looks up at him and smiles. It makes him so happy to see her smile. Her whole face alters. It is as if he can see her as a girl—the one his father fell for when they were just kids themselves. As Miguel gets up for a second helping—one he doesn’t really want, but he wants to see that smile break across her features again—the phone rings. His mother makes no attempt to answer it. “I got it,” Miguel says.

When he picks up, he hears a woman’s voice. “Is this Miguel?” She sounds light and breathless as if she is talking while on a treadmill. He pictures blond hair, blue eyes. Not from around here.

He hesitates. “Yes,” he says.

There is a pause. “You called,” she says, “about the babysitting job.”

Then he remembers. “Oh, yes, I did.”

“Good. So you’re interested. That’s great. Can you come by tomorrow?” He expected that she’d ask him something about his age or his experience, of which he has none, but she doesn’t. It is as if she is hiring him sight unseen. “I’d like you to meet the boys,” she says. “You can start work on Monday. Is that good?”

Miguel nods, and then realizes she can’t see him. “Yes, that’s good.”

“And you have a car right?”

Miguel thinks about his father’s old Chevy. “Yes, I do.”

She gives him the address out in Colibri Canyon. And then she hangs up.

When he gets off, his mother asks what it was about.

“A job.”

She nods, looking at him with her cold, dark eyes. “You need a job. But you also need to study.” He looks back at her the way he always does. Nothing about his mother has ever seemed familiar. He has never seen a flick of her wrists, a grimace on her face, and thinks, “I do that.”

Perhaps he is an alien. It would explain his link to the stars. Perhaps some starship deposited him in this place and wiped out his memory. At times Miguel scans his mother’s face, looking for a trace of himself in her eyes, her mouth.

“I can do both.”

She makes a face. “We’ll see.” They finish their stew in silence. Miguel watches the hands of his grandfather’s old clock as they move mysteriously backward.

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