Short Story–Goodnight Moon

Rose’s eldest son looked up at the full moon hanging like a perfect circle in the night sky.   He wondered if their mother would still be alive in the morning.   The doctors had told the family that it was unlikely that Rose would live through the night.  Her sons kept a quiet vigil.  There was only the wait.  No more words, no more discussion of what was or what might have been, there was only the waiting for death.

Rose lay perfectly still on the hospital bed.   Her chest rose and fell so gently it was hard to notice.  Occasionally, the thin veins on her eyelids fluttered like the wings of a small bird.    Rose’s son wondered if his mother was dreaming.  What did she see?    Did Rose know that death was coming?  Were the relatives that had gone before her coming to greet her now in her dreams?   Was his father, young and handsome, holding out his hand for Rose to grasp?

The son had no tears.    There would be time for tears later when the world would expect a few from even a strong man.  Now, there was the waiting, the quiet ticking of the clock, the soft moonlight streaming through the window and the silent grief of two sons.  These were heavy hours.  The moon, solid and indifferent, shone on a world that was in a constant struggle: life versus death.   Rose’s son turned his face toward the moon and silently cursed it.

He knew it was foolish it was to be angry at the moon.   He realized that he was really angry at himself and then at his mother.   Wasn’t it one of the stages of accepting death, yours or that of someone else?   He looked at his mother.   She looked dead already.  Why was it taking so long?  This was torture.  This waiting.

There had always been a great divide between mother and sons.  Something invisible and unspoken that could not be crossed.  Rose had never bridged the distance.   The sons never understood what had separated them.  They felt as distant as strangers.

Rose’s son used to think his mother didn’t care.  She lived in a world all her own.  After their father left them, she was always looking for a replacement.  She outlived three additional husbands.  The step fathers weren’t bad men but they weren’t exceptionally good men either.  It was easy to get them confused with each other especially when the son tried to remember which step father had done what.   When their mother was dating, she laughed often.  Once they were married the laughter died.  She didn’t fight with her husbands or them with her but she never seemed to really love and care for them the way the sons imagined love to be.  His mother’s thoughts were always her own.

Like mother like son, he thought.  Roses’ son had lived a solitary life.   He’d date a girl and then later a series of women for a while but could never let himself get close enough to form a lasting connection.  He could never let himself become vulnerable.  He couldn’t believe that anyone could ever love him for who he was and he never let himself show his real self to anyone.   He’d break up with this woman or that.  None of them ever really understood why or what had happened to cause this thing that seemed so good on the surface to crumble and fall apart before it ever went anywhere.

In these last few years, as his mother’s health declined, the son slowly began to wonder what kept her so apart from her sons and from the men she had married.   The son began to suspect that his mother didn’t know how to connect that she was some sort of victim herself.   Maybe, it wasn’t a lack of desire on her part.   Maybe, she just didn’t know how to be close to anyone.  There, under the night moon, Rose’s son knew that this was true.

With a heavy sigh, Rose’s son felt some of his anger leave.    A sense of loss filled him instead.  He closed his eyes and turned his face toward the moon.   He didn’t like the sadness that filled him.  Anger felt stronger, more powerful.  He told himself he would not cry.  The indifferent moon sent its light into the small room.  The moon light felt like an intrusion.

It was only the moon, a cold, rocky witness.  Impassable stone, the moon light came from the sun.   Its random craters, a face granted the moon only by the imagination of the people below who looked up and saw what they wanted to see.  It was not a face, or a witness.  It was a ball of cosmic stuff, once hurtled through the universe due to some cataclysmic explosion that had no witness except maybe God.   The moon was a ball of space debris that had been trapped in earth’s orbit by an indifferent planet.  They belonged to each other by a twist of cosmic happenstance.  These heavenly bodies had no choice.  They were paired together in human time by forces outside themselves.

Rose’s son felt the flush of anger return.  It wrapped itself around his heart under the moon’s light.    He felt a stab of guilt.  His mother had brought him up to be a good Christian but his heart was never in it.  He only went through the motions.  He believed that God didn’t care about him.  God and his mother were hopelessly locked together in his mind.  The jumble was too confusing so he chose not to think about it or to practice any religion.    So many losses had dogged his troubled and lonely life.  Now, he was losing her mother and the hope that things would ever be different between them.   He would be orphaned at last, alone, older than he ever imagined he’d be and completely on his own.   As long as his mother was alive, he had the appearance of having a family, of having someone who cared even though he always may have doubted how sincere his mother’s love was there was always a chance that things might change.  One day he might wake up and feel happy.  He’d finally meet someone and settle down and share his life with another human being.  His aching loneliness would be a fading memory that would make the change in his life that much sweeter.

He closed his eyes and held his head in his hands.  A small headache was building in the center of his head.  He rubbed his eyes absentmindedly.  He had a habit of doing so.  His body reacted to his mental discomfort.  He wanted to rub out his thoughts, his memories, and his hopes.   They were too painful.

He shook his head slightly, straightened in his chair and looked over at his younger brother.   His brother’s face was drawn and sad.

If there was a great divide between Rose and her sons, an even greater divide separated the two brothers.  There, under the moon light, Rose’s eldest son decided that he and his brothers were as distant as two planets.  The orbits of their lives might as well be occurring in different galaxies.   As grown-ups they shared nothing in common and only spoke to each other when necessity demanded it.  They didn’t hate each other.  The problem was that they didn’t feel anything at all toward the other.  Each brother was a black hole where some form of sibling affection could have been.

The eldest son looked at his brother.  How odd it seemed to feel nothing for the brother that shared this vigil.   With a sigh, the son moved his chair closer to his mother’s bed.   He placed the chair carefully so he could watch his mother and the moon.  His mother’s breathing was more shallow, her face more pale and drawn.  Life was slowly draining out of her.

The son looked back at the moon and silently cursed the coming morning, the coming of death.  Today it was his mother.  Soon it would be himself or his brother who faced death under an indifferent moon.    He looked at the window at the grounds around the building.   The outlines of trees, bushes, houses and cars could be seen under the bright moon.     Soft moon light played around the outlines of what was and what might have been.

A tear slid down the shallow rills of his cheek.   He wasn’t angry at the moon.   He was angry at death.  Death was as certain as the rain and the wind.  It spared no one.   It always came too soon.    He was angry because of what never was and of all that he was not.      From a great distance he noted the irony of feeling anger or feeling a sense of loss for something that didn’t exist.  What he hoped for and what he didn’t get was haunting him.  He clung to the impossible and couldn’t seem to let go.

The light of a small lamp added to the light of the moon that shown in his mother’s window.   Under this soft and peaceful light, he reached across the bed and took his mother’s hand.   He felt an obligation to do the right thing by his mother even if he didn’t feel the connection that he had long ago wanted.    He waited.  The hours slid by.  He dozed slightly in the chair.  Slowly he became aware of a change in his mother’s breathing.  He knew it wouldn’t be long now.    The son knew it was time to let go.  He needed to free himself and his mother.

“Mom,” the son said.

“It’s okay to go, Mom.  Dan and I . . . We’ll be ok.  You’ve worked hard.  You’ve had a full life. It’s time to let go.  I love you.”

The son said the words without feeling.  He played them over silently in his head and suddenly felt a sharp pain deep inside him.   He loved her, this distant and often cold woman.   He suddenly knew that in her own way she had loved him.  It just wasn’t all that he had wanted from love but it was what he received.  There was no changing that now.  No going backward, no living life over again.  The past was past.

The son glanced at his brother watching their mother from the other side of the bed.  His brother’s face was lined with the same pain that he felt.   Then his brother spoke, “Yes, mom.  It’s time to go.  We’ll be fine.   We’ll miss you but we’ll be fine.

His brother cried silent tears.  Maybe they weren’t so different after all.  After a few minutes pause, the time spent in collecting himself, the eldest son looked at his brother and asked, “Do you remember the book that Mom used to read when we went to bed at night?  What was it called?”

The brother looked up and with a sad smile said, “Goodnight Moon.”

“Do you remember the words at the end of the book?”  His brother asked.

“Let’s see.  Remember how we used to beg her to read that book over and over again.

Quietly, the younger brother, looked out the window at the moon and said,

“And goodnight to the old lady
whispering “hush”
Goodnight stars
Goodnight air
Goodnight noises everywhere’

No sounds filled the room other than the ticking of the wall clock and the distant sounds from the nurse’s station down the hall.  They both looked at their mother.   Somewhere in between the final words of Goodnight Moon, their mother had quietly left them.  No struggle, seemingly with no pain, she had left them as the brother’s final words floated up to the indifferent moon.

“Goodnight, moon.  Goodnight, Mom,” said the brothers.

Across the bed, where their mother had lain, her body now barely cold, they looked into each other’s eyes and found a piece of themselves in the other.   The eldest son bent down and kissed her mother’s cheek. His brother did the same and then reached for the call bell to let the night nurse know that their mother was gone.

“Goodnight, moon.   Goodnight, Mom,” the eldest said again.

The brothers left the room as the night nurse entered.  “We’re going home to get a few hours sleep,” the eldest said.  He added, “You have the name of the mortuary she requested some months back.”

“Yes, we’ll take care of calling them.  You can get in touch with them later today, after you get some rest.”   The nurse said this as she gently touched his arm.  He could see sympathy in her eyes.   He noted that she was about his age, and pretty.   It was odd, the thoughts that popped into one’s head at a time like this.  Exhaustion filled him now.  The most important thing suddenly became a few hours sleep.  Neither brother spoke as they walked the length of the quiet hall.

The nurse, with her back to the receding brothers, quietly said,

“Wasn’t it a beautiful night with that bright full moon?”

Neither brother heard.  Each lost in his grief and exhaustion.   The brothers were too far away to hear.

The nurse looked down at Rose and said, “Goodnight moon and goodnight Rose.”

She had suddenly remembered the words from an old children’s book.  The nurse was very fond of Rose.  She’d loved listening to Rose talk about her sons.  Rose was so proud of them.  The nurse took a moment and gently touched Rose on the check.  The nurses’ gesture was a caress as well as a goodbye.   Slowly, she removed the paperwork that was hidden in the top drawer of Rose’s night stand and began to fill out the necessary boxes to record Rose’s passing.  She would get a doctor’s signature in the morning that was almost there.     The night shift was almost over.  The staff’s calculations at the amount of time Rose had left had been accurate.  You develop a knack for this type of thing the more you spend time with the dying.  It had been a good night to die, a peaceful death under that brilliant full moon, a silent, perfect circle in the sky.




I am the person behind the words printed here. I write because my heart will not allow me the option of NOT writing. It has taken me half a life time to discover this basic truth, but now that I have, writing is as natural as breathing. This is where my breath takes the form of words.


I am reading

The Miracle Morning: The Not-So-Obvious Secret Guaranteed to Transform Your Life (Before 8AM)
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