In the new silence I stand looking up at the moon. I never thought it would be like this. The street where I live is sloping, cobble-stoned, a line of terraced cottages, an anomaly in the centre of a busy town. It has sometimes been peaceful but never silent.
The moon is in its early quarter, just more than a slither. Quite near it hangs a satellite, slowly, I’ve read, orbiting to greater distance. Between them, from where I stand, they own the sky, one a conduit between earth and the heavens, the other a reflection of unimaginably distant light. Both are brighter than I ever remember: no planes fly beneath now.
It’s only nine-fifteen, but most windows are dark. Early nights for my neighbours, and shared stillness. I think of their lives, their mysteries, their secret selves, locked away.
Proximity and distance – the riddle of the present moment. In separation we reach out when before we would have stepped back, wave our semaphores from the doorstep, detain the postman for a two metre chat, make online pacts of mutual support.
I stand on the cobble stones and rest my gaze on the moon, the seer of all human folly, the survivor of every age. For the first time I understand why we might be moved to call to it, to project on it our poetry, our music, our love. It observes our struggles, our banality, aloof but forgiving, distant but constant, always returning.
My mind goes back. I remember the hospital sheets, taut around my fevered body. The metal bedstead set on linoleum, the matron who addressed me like a schoolteacher. Was I seven, eight? I remember the discussions at the foot of the bed, how far away they seemed, how separate from whatever was happening to me. Then, as I began to recover and as a special concession, I was allowed to hear my mother’s disembodied voice calling to me from the stairwell at the end of the corridor. I hadn’t seen her for weeks. Did they really once treat children like that?
So I know. At least a little. And the moon sees it all, that the planet it orbits cannot fathom separation, that the self we withhold must one day be apparent, that a hand waved from solitude is no less than attenuated love.
I stand and wave at the moon as the world spins out another day.
Mike Fox has co-authored a book and published many articles on the human repercussions of illness. Now writing fiction, his stories have appeared in journals in Britain, Ireland, America, Australia and Singapore. His story Breath, published by Fictive Dream, was nominated for the Pushcart Prize 2019. His story Blurred Edges, published by Lunate Fiction, was nominated for the Pushcart Prize 2020. His story The Homing Instinct, first published by Confingo, was included in Best British Short Stories 2018 (Salt). His story, The Violet Eye, is available from Nightjar Press as a limited-edition chapbook. http://www.polyscribe.co.uk or @polyscribe2