A shallow moon hung so low in the black as to be almost touchable. Alone in its splendor, isolated by its own exception, distinct and majestic, it shone peerlessly in the night sky. Joe Saphreaux gazed upward and remembered his wife, gone the better part of a decade now, and could almost hear her teasingly sarcastic voice saying, "Well you just hung the moon now, didn't you," when he did something to displease her.
He listened to the silence the land on which he sat hadn't known in over a century. No planes breaking the quiet from above, no big rigs from nearby highways rumbling in the distance, no lonesome whistles from far away freight trains bellowing their arrival as they approach deserted street crossings, none of the echo of industrialization he hadn't realized he'd been hearing his entire life until it wasn't there. There were no sounds of people or their presence at all save the gentle snore of his thirteen year old girl and the worrisome wheeze of his ten year old boy as they slept beside him, huddled together for warmth and comfort beneath a hideously gaudy blanket given to him as a white elephant gift at an office party in another life. He'd sit for another hour trying not to remember before waking the boy for his watch and closing his own weary eyes.
Remember he did, however. He remembered frozen meals made ready by the simple acts of puncturing transparent cellophane and pushing a button. He remembered the school bus picking up his kids in the rain, then reassuring his wife after reading the anxiety etched into the set of her eyes. He remembered all manner of things lost, then willed his jaw to relax and his teeth to stop grinding, staving off the headache beginning at his temples and reaching like tentacles into the spaces behind his ears.
He sat. He listened. He forced himself to maintain the vigilance required to survive.
His daughter turned, restless and wound as always, even in sleep. Something akin to a gasp escaped her lips as she did so. Joe wondered as to its source, then if he wanted to know it. In turning she left herself uncovered, arms bare to the chilled autumn air.
Her brother woke, groggily looked at her exposed arm and clumsily covered her sleeping form. Kid brother, idolizer, protector and ten year old. Life and the roles played in its span were in some ways little different than they'd been when Joe was a boy. That way of thinking was an illusion, however; a false promise of normalcy that was no more.
Life and its roles were nothing like what he'd known. To think otherwise, even in passing, risked all that was left. In the faltering light of reddening blue embers from the night's fire the boy looked to his father who in turn shook his head indicating it wasn't yet time. Young Jake closed his eyes and quickly fell back into an easy all encompassing sleep of the sort available only to the innocent and those so daft or heartless as to live as if they were.
Joe opened his eyes to muted sunshine, its rays diffused by a lifting fog quickly burning away to nothingness. The kids were still sleeping, Jen's hair a tangle of straw colored chaos, fury and mischievous delight; Jake sprawled like a pile of dirty clothes, content in his condition.
Joe didn't bother chastising himself for faltering, for failing in his responsibilities, for falling asleep on his watch. It wasn't the first time. He was exhausted. They all were. He lacked the energy to take himself to task for the lapse.
Nothing happened. He was grateful. He would try to do better.