It happened in Juniper Valley Park during the nightshift. Like the others assigned to the Park, I generally sleep here during the day and early evening hours, though I often stay awake just to watch the daytime activity of our visitors: the walking, jogging, bicycling, skateboarding and all the rest. No one, it seems, ever takes notice of us. I should amend that. Sometimes, an inconsiderate dog will see in one of us a good place to lift a leg; otherwise we might as well be invisible.
But after dark, it is another story. Then it is our sacred duty to be awake and working. Our mission: to guide the way of the nocturnal wayfarer. And who are these folks? The local insomniacs, mostly, who forsake beds that provide neither calm nor comfort, no matter how pricey the sheets, pillows or comforters. Like tormented lovers who find themselves rejected by the only one they desire, these poor souls hurl themselves from their houses and head for the Park. Their desperate hope is that after a long ramble here in the bracing air of winter, or the sultry air of summer, as the case may be, they can return home to receive the longed-for embrace of Slumber.
Of course, among our nocturnal visitors are those whose dogs insist on dragging their sleep-disposed human companions out for a good midnight saunter before bedtime.
On this particularly cold autumn night, however, no one at all was about. The birds were long bedded in the crowns of the trees, the squirrels snugly tucked in their hollows. Even the usual insomniacs and the late-night saunterers led by their companion pets all resolved to stay home.
It is not possible for us night-shifters to speak to one another. For one thing, we are spaced too far apart for that without resort to shouting, which would disturb the peace of the neighborhood. In any case, it’s against the rules, so we must carry on in absolute silence.
On such a night, when there is only one’s own solitude for company, it is easy to fall into the abyss of loneliness. To prevent myself from doing just this, I find it helpful to daydream on these occasions. Yes, daydream, even in the dead of night! We here, like nightshifters everywhere, lead an upside-down, inside-out sort of life. And the way I get myself into a daydreaming-at-night state of mind is to let my thoughts wander, following whatever mental will o’ the wisp, however trivial, they chance to latch onto.
And so, on this night, when I sensed loneliness lurking in my lower depths, I had begun to think a number of silly thoughts. Such as: Wouldn’t it be wonderful if books could be made so that they would be absorbed by drinking an ice-cream soda? As you sucked up the soda through your straw, the author’s words would be transported along with the delicious liquid so that you would hear them inside your head, much in the same way that magic occurs with the help of those squiggles we call letters, typically found on paper or the computer screen.
In the midst of this silly thought, I became aware that I was not alone. The beautiful full Moon had sidled up beside me, so close that I caught a whiff of her perfume. Of course, I wanted to say something to her. It seemed rude to ignore someone like her when she was in such close proximity. But what can you say to the Moon? She is always so distant, so unapproachable, the Queen of the Heavens. Imagine yourself bumping into one of the British Royals in your own neighborhood, at say the 7 Eleven, or the Dollar Tree. What would you say to them? “You know, the Clorox is on sale today; you might want to pick up a bottle or two.” It is too ridiculous. I could feel my head growing feverish with the effort of figuring out the perfect thing to say. But in the end, it was the Moon who broke the ice.
“What a lovely park you have here!” she said, her voice so softly breathless, you knew right away you wanted to be in her orbit forever just to be able to keep on hearing it.
“Yes,” I stammered, “it is lovely. But sadly, you aren’t seeing it at its best. During the day, the trees are filled with birdsong, the squirrels play endless games of tag, young people whack balls at one another while old men roll them on the ground and get into long, abstruse discussions on the outcome, toddlers squeal with delight on the swings, and in the early morning hours, unleashed dogs bound about with unleashed vigor, chasing frisbees, and mad with joy because they mistakenly believe they’ve been taken to the countryside. But I’m afraid you’ve missed all that. Everyone is asleep!”
The Moon listened silently, then softly replied, “But we are awake, you and I. And that is quite enough.”
I blazed more brightly at what seemed like a compliment, even as the Moon’s cool voice evoked a calmness I’d never known. At last I agreed: “Yes, quite enough!”
After that we both remained silent. It is always lovely here at Juniper, day and night, no matter what the season or the weather. But while the Moon stayed, everything was altered, and made even lovelier. The topmost leaves on the trees, the winding paths, the swings in the playground – all were aglow with a radiance we could never hope to achieve. The whole luminous landscape suggested undreamt-of possibilities. Entranced, I wanted to speak of all this. But there was no need. My quiet companion, like the very best of friends, seemed somehow to understand, without the words being spoken, and to share my pleasure in the silently gleaming scene before us. That is how it was the night we were most soundly awake, the Moon and I.