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Claire de Lune

D.J. Rozell currently writes in New York and tries to appreciate the moon every day. Other works can be found on Twitter @djrozell.

"Every night we pray for the safety and long life of Professor Darwish whose tireless eyes warned us in time. And we thank the many scientists and engineers who built the rocket that pushed the Icy Destroyer of Worlds away from Mother Earth." Here I pause for the children to make some small gesture of honor in whatever tradition they find comforting. "The Destroyer was angry for being denied Mother Earth, so he shoved Father Moon who is not so big. This made Father Moon wobble in the sky. But Father Moon is stronger than he looks. He flung the Destroyer far into space never to be seen again. Afterwards, Father Moon shone like a diamond in the sky as a sign that we were safe." When I get to the part about the bright moon, the young children clap while their older siblings watch in silence.
This is the show I put on with only a decorated sock puppet narrator and a few cardboard cutouts made by a teenage boy I lost track of months ago. The young children watch as though it was a billion-dollar Hollywood production. I end with some simple science demonstrations dressed up as magic tricks. One never stops being a teacher.
After the younger ones are led back to their family tents for bedtime, the remaining older children move in closer to ask questions. "My father says that the comet was never going to hit us, that rich countries were trying to make the moon bright on purpose so people could not cross the border at night." The boy is making a tentative statement, his eyes searching for truth.
"It's hard to know what is deep in the human heart, but I believe that our lives were saved." Even as some of our lives were ruined. "To nudge a comet the size and speed of Darwish 9 away from Earth on such short notice was almost a miracle. It was just an accident of our crude methods that it passed so close to the moon."
I am too tired for such conspiracy theories tonight, so I steer the discussion towards the math and science of the event. Together, we calculate the unintentional gravity slingshot that the moon gave the comet as it passed and the resulting increase in the moon's orbital eccentricity.
I discuss how that little push to the moon changed the tides. Some of the children tell stories of their villages being flooded so often that everyone had to leave. I give them time to speak out their pain and comfort each other. A girl talks about catching a fish in her own bedroom and acts out the chase. Some of us laugh and the girl smiles.
Then we calculate how many times brighter the moon looked after it was coated in a layer of ice crystals from the passing comet--temporarily raising the moon's albedo from worn asphalt to fresh snow.
"Almost eight times," yells out the eager girl who has never yet remembered to raise her hand. I hope she retains that enthusiasm later. Her parents have confided in me that the family would be trying to cross tonight.
I would go too, but I feel that I am needed in the camp a bit longer still. An older man who I think used to be a judge dispenses a rare unkind word to me after class. "Don't be a fool. You are a refugee, not an aid worker, and no one will mistake you for one despite all your good deeds. Go when you can."
I look up at the stars and think of the night when the moon washed them out. We were told to celebrate the greatest achievement in human history, but then to see that otherworldly bright moon surrounded by a pale blue ring of day-sky in the middle of the night. Awe and fear. It is why I still teach. To maintain the awe but relieve the fear. See, it's just Rayleigh scattering, not the end of the world. But even under that brilliant moon, humanity could not see its failings.
My home no longer exists. The wooden frame was still standing when I left. I assume the foundation will be there for some years before the stones are buried in sand. But these new tides are washing it all away long before I expected to lose my homeland to climate change. I still feel the shock of being yet another educated person preparing for the wrong disaster.
I thank the old man. He is right, of course. I have been offered extra supplies to continue teaching these rootless children who arrive at camp, but I wonder what I can accomplish. Yet, I will not leave tonight. Instead, I wait on this new shore, watching people wash up like little starfish to be saved. However, the analogy is all wrong. Some would prefer to throw them back into the ocean but not to save them. In this age of refugees, we are all fleeing something. I am just another rescuer in need of rescue.
The End
This story was first published on Tuesday, June 15th, 2021

Author Comments

Existential threats are a popular topic in science fiction. When I wrote the first draft of "Claire de Lune" more than a year ago, I was thinking about climate change and how living through a quasi-natural disaster can bring out the best and worst of humanity. That the piece also works as an allegory for the COVID pandemic demonstrates that art, like life, is full of surprises.

- D.J. Rozell
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