The Slowly Waning Moon

Tomorrow.

He rolls the word inside of his head, ripping it apart, mashing it together again, until it is nothing more than a senseless sound bouncing in his skull. He has accepted his fate already—or as he likes to believe—but still, with the end so near, so close that he can almost see it unfold in front of him like a crumpled piece of paper, that word brings that familiar sense of despair that has haunted him ever since a few months ago when the announcement came.

He won’t live until noon. Then again, nobody will live until noon.

“You’re doing it again.” His daughter’s voice startles him out of his morbid thoughts.

“Doing what?”

“You’re thinking about that.” She doesn’t clarify. There is no need. He knows what she is talking about, and it’s more of a mercy for both of them if the future isn’t mentioned. Somehow, not saying what is about to happen stalls the fear, the panic, the urge to flee, get out, run, all of which are impossible. It’s strange, unnerving even, knowing that with all the details and embellishments cast aside, he and everyone else on this planet are insignificant, delicate, and helpless. Whatever banner they had been parading with since the beginning of time, declaring that they were something more than beasts, was now useless. It wouldn’t save anyone.

“Sorry,” he murmurs. He tries to distract himself by chewing at a piece of bread, even though there is no point. He will not have a stomach tomorrow. He will not even need a stomach tomorrow.

“I’m not hungry either,” she says.

He glances at her plate, the bread and canned meat relatively untouched.

“You have to eat,” he says.

“What’s the point?” she retaliates calmly. He doesn’t know how she can keep such a level head given the circumstances. Some part of him wishes that she would scream at him, cry, give some display of hysterical emotion so he can know that she hasn’t given up hope. It’s futile to wish at this point, but the last thing he wants is for her to feel that there is nothing left to do but sit down and wait for the end.

“Just do it,” he snaps, suddenly furious at the whole situation. They should not be talking about whether to eat or not because of the coming apocalypse. They should be talking about school, or summer plans, or the thousands of other topics that would be discussed if everything were normal. But everything is not normal: everything is damned. And he can’t do anything about it.

She doesn’t argue, but she doesn’t obey him either. He didn’t expect her to, because they both know that what he said was not out of genuine necessity but an urge to flip off the world as a last attempt to prove that what he still did had some worth, that he still mattered in the scheme of life. It was pathetic, but what did he have to lose?

“I didn’t mean it,” he says quickly, ashamed at his blatant loss of control. He is supposed to be the collected one, firm and unwavering despite the odds—although it was a joke to even say there were odds in the first place, because all of them were going to lose—not his fifteen-year-old kid.

“It’s okay.” He watches as she traces patterns on the table. She has always wanted to be an artist. He hopes that wherever they are going, she will still be able to draw.

“I want to go outside,” she says.

He nods and slings on the rifle propped against his chair as his daughter leans against the porch door, watching with inscrutable eyes. He knows that seeing him handle a gun is uncomfortable for her, but being attacked, maybe even killed, in the dark is something he would rather avoid. And, even though no one has wandered onto their isolated property as of yet, unlike in the city where looters or madmen come and go by the hour, there is no need to take the risk and rush the inevitable.

He moves to sit down in a rocking chair, but his daughter grabs his arm. He looks at her, puzzled.

“Can we sit out there this time?” She motions to the yard, which, in the blackness, seems much larger and much more foreboding than it actually is.

He hesitates, but one glance at his daughter’s face undoes his conviction. This is their last night here; he might as well indulge her and—as he moves his chair to the grass, still close enough to the light pooling from the kitchen—indulge himself. It feels good to relax his guard after too many days of wariness and fear.

For a few moments, there is no sound as they both enjoy the night. It’s pleasant outside, and he can’t help but think that at least the world was kind enough to make them go out in nice weather.

“Remember the time we went stargazing on the camping trip?” she asks.

He laughs lightly. “And we had no idea what we were looking at?”

She smiles. “The only thing we knew out there was the moon.”

He sweeps his gaze over the sky, settling on the sliver of the moon on the horizon.

“It was a crescent out there too, wasn’t it?” he asks.

“Yeah.”

After a pause, she murmurs, “I wish we had more time.”

He feels his throat tighten. “I do too.”

She interlocks her own fingers with his. “We would have done this more.”

“Stargazing?” he dodges.

“No. Just being together.” Her grip tightens. “I don’t want to die.” Her voice is no more than a whisper.

“Come here.”

She stands in front of him and he pulls her onto his lap. She’s too big for this, but he wants to hold her close, to reassure her that even though everything may not be all right, he loves her.

“It’s going to be okay.” He nestles her against his chest. “We’re going to be okay.”

“Don’t leave me alone,” she says, gripping his shirt. “Don’t die first.”

“I promise,” he says, and out of all the promises he has broken, this is one he is determined to keep.

“Do you ever wonder what happens afterwards?” she asks softly.

“Sometimes,” he admits. “Do you?”

She nods. “What do you think happens?”

He shrugs, because, he has no idea. And, if he is honest with himself, he doesn’t want to think about it. The options are too many, and the gamble is too great. He doesn’t want to risk his belief on something that may or may not exist. And he doesn’t want his daughter to either, so he keeps quiet, for both of their sakes.

“Do you think there’ll be a moon where we’ll be?”

“Maybe. Why?”

She mumbles something that he can’t catch.

“What?” he asks.

“It’s stupid.”

“I’m all up for stupid right now,” he jokes although he is dead serious on hearing everything his daughter has to say, to make up for all the times he wasn’t there to catch her words.

She doesn’t look at him. “Well, I was thinking, if we somehow don’t end up in the same place, I’ll look at the moon and know that you’re looking at the same one.” When he doesn’t say anything, she mutters hastily, “I told you it was silly.”

He shakes his head, trying to restrain the emotions that are churning inside of him that he doesn’t even have names for. They are indescribable, because no matter how much he stutters and stumbles, there will be no way to convey how much more there is of them. In order to prevent himself from doing anything embarrassing that would not help either of them in any way, like crying, he wraps his arms around his daughter and presses his lips to her hair.

“What is it?” she asks.

“Nothing,” he sighs.

A sharp wind sweeps across the both of them. His daughter shivers and presses closer to his body.

“You want to go back inside?” he murmurs.

“No. I want to stay out here for a little bit longer.”

“We can still go out tomorrow.”

“I know, but we won’t have another night like this.” He hears a tremble in her voice.

“Are you scared?” His grip around her tightens.

“Are you?”

“Honestly?”

“Honestly.”

“I am,” he says, and it feels good to finally tell the truth, “but I’ve got you, okay?”

She doesn’t reply, but he feels her soften, a coiled tension released.

And it was just the two of them then, waiting for the dawn.





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