A Month of Short Stories 2014, Day 13 – The Last Night of the World

A year ago, for the month of June, I wrote about an online short story each day for the month. It seemed like a good idea at the time. My blog readership fell precipitously and nobody seemed to give a damn about what I was doing – which was a surprising amount of work.

Because of this result, I’m going to do it again this year.

Today’s story, for day Thirteen – The Last Night of the World, by Ray Bradbury
Read it online here:

The Last Night of the World

This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.
—-Final two lines of T.S. Eliot’s The Hollow Men

Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
—-First two lines of Robert Frost’s Fire and Ice

Bang, Whimper, Fire, or Ice. Today’s story, The Last Night of the World by Ray Bradbury postulates that the world will end with a dream. Everyone will dream the same dream and realize that it is all over… not because of what we have done, really, but because of what we haven’t.

The story was published in Esquire – they say of it, “One of twelve short stories the late science-fiction legend wrote for Esquire. And, weirdly, perhaps the most lasting.”

It’s a calm apocalypse, a soothing end to things. Nobody riots, nobody goes nuts… they simply live the last day pretty much how they lived every other one.

It was written in 1951 and I think of how it resonated in the time. This was the greatest generation, after all, and they should have been reveling in their victory over evil. But what do you do as a follow-up?

The couple in the story has two small daughters. The opening scene is one of tranquil family life with the girls playing blocks on the parlor rug by the light of green hurricane lamps. The couple drinks brewed coffee from a silver pot out of cups with saucers.

That’s not a modern family – time has sped too much. Today they would be gulping Starbucks from paper cups while rushing from soccer practice to dance class while text messaging each other to remember to pick up a frozen microwave dinner on the way home.

The last thing the woman does is go down to the kitchen and turn off the water tap – she left it on after they had done the dishes together. If I had written the story I would have her go down there and turn it on – have her express a desire to leave the water running for eternity. But that’s the difference between 1951 and 2014.

The one thing in the story I don’t understand is the date. It states that the world will end on February 30, 1951 – a date which obviously never existed. I’m not sure what to make of this.

They sat a moment and then he poured more coffee. “Why do you suppose it’s tonight?”

“Because.”

“Why not some night in the past ten years of in the last century, or five centuries ago or ten?”

“Maybe it’s because it was never February 30, 1951, ever before in history, and now it is and that’s it, because this date means more than any other date ever meant and because it’s the year when things are as they are all over the world and that’s why it’s the end.”

“There are bombers on their course both ways across the ocean tonight that’ll never see land again.”

“That’s part of the reason why.”

“Well,” he said. “What shall it be? Wash the dishes?”

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