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Fiction: Day And Night

A late winter fantasy.

God created all things through separation. Water from water. Man from rib. Light from darkness. St. Augustine taught the separation of light from darkness was the fall of the unholy angels, whom God separated from His righteous servants after a war in heaven. The separation of darkness from light was thus a restoration of peace. From the midst of clamor and upheaval, man asks again if a separation of light and dark might restore peace.

The city became a place of dread and death. Between 2011 and 2028, the average commute time in New York and Los Angeles rose from 52 minutes to 109 minutes. A failing economy prevented the costly overhaul of public transportation. Man frittered his life away shuffling to work. Every seven days, one full Day was spent just getting from here to there. Overcrowding in major metropolitan areas increased boredom and ennui with life. Alcoholism rose. Drug abuse rose. The city dweller became overwhelmingly agitated, nervous, depressed, agoraphobic, claustrophobic, misanthropic, violent. Besides this terror, political divisions were more batholithic than ever. The public square was juvenile, horrific, animalistic. Those who refused to shout curses had to keep silent.

A socialist philosopher, a young married man named Josef attending St. John’s College, stayed awake late one Night rocking his infant daughter Josefine to sleep. Josefine would not sleep. Her face was bright, interested in the glory of life, but Josef was ready to fall down dead! Suddenly, Josef had a terrible vision. He saw Josefine forever a creature of the Night. Suppose she never learned to sleep at Night and wake in the morning? And yet this terrible vision stuck in the back tooth of Josef’s mind. Three days later, he finished the regal and enigmatic pamphlet “Day and Night.” When he finished “Day and Night,” another grand separation had taken place. Everything before it, and everything after.

We must restore a sense of wonder over man. A man has become nothing more than an obstacle for other men, he wrote. Josefine had inspired her father. The radical proposal of “Day and Night” ascended the ranks of St. John’s College and was shared with professors of other universities, who shared “Day and Night” with city planners and mayors and economic theorists, senators and other sundry heads of state. The heart of “Day and Night” embodied a glacier-like beauty and Josef quickly lost control of the idea as it was overtaken by men with great gifts for beauty and rhetoric. Josef was lost in the shuffle, yet he watched his idea unfurl with great satisfaction. Ten years later, New York became the first city to put the dangerous ideas of “Day and Night” into practice.

What was Josef’s idea? In the prophetic words of Eugene Rousseau, Josef’s most ardent disciple:

If the world is too small, we must make another world

inside this world.

If one world is too small, two worlds are needed.

The world would be split down the middle, like the infant Solomon condemned to two mothers. One half of the people would live during the Day, the other half would live at Night. The world must be shared: a strict curfew would be imposed on the city of New York. Citizens of the Day would live and move and enjoy their being in the city from six o’clock in the morning until six o’clock in the evening. Citizens of the Night would live and move from six o’clock in the evening until six o’clock in the morning. When the Night woke, the Day slept. When the Day woke, the Night slept.

A license was required to purchase anything. Of course, certain sacrifices must be made. A man of the Night may only purchase at Night. He may only ride public transit at Night, drive a car at Night, go to school at Night, do anything at Night. At six in the morning and six in the evening, custody of the city was turned over from one half of the population to the other. Purchasing off curfew was impossible.

“What of emergencies? Tourists? Special occasions?” And yet man has avoided too many prudent things for fear of bizarre hypothetical situations. Allowance was made for emergencies. Passes could be purchased for holidays. Tourists could acquire visas. “What of this unusual circumstance? What of that? What of another thing?” beseeched the anxious man. And yet, the exceptions were managed with dignity and care and no one in power promised perfection.

In the beginning, the City requested volunteers to become Citizens of Night. Convention dies hard and more than half of New York preferred to live during the Day. The City offered incentives to go into the good Night. Citizens of Night would pay no sales tax for seven years. Additionally, a small stipend was offered. The wealthy and beautiful glamorized the Night in a series of advertisements.

“Man was not made to live at night and sleep during the day,” claimed theologians.

“Neither was man made to live in the hair of other men,” claimed different theologians.

The young and unmarried found the idea of living in the dark more intriguing than did others. The elderly rarely left their homes and were without strong opinions. The family man resisted a future wherein his children could only ever play beneath the moon. Pharmacies develops drugs which could make men comfortable while resetting their Circadian rhythms. Preparations were made, lawyers retained, trial runs conducted.

And then it happened. For the sake of fairness, the world officially split in two on the Spring Equinox. The evening before, friends departed unto their separate worlds.

“Not bad,” said those who lived in the Day.

“Interesting,” said those who lived at Night.

In the same manner a man finds himself in a daze when the lights come on, so the remaking of the world dazzled and blurred and no sharp reaction immediately issued forth. Traffic was cut nearly in half, though the morning or evening commute was even shorter than this. A new surplus of time in the morning was given to leisure, to sleep, to reading the newspaper and preparing breakfast. A surplus of time in the evening was, at first, wasted on amusement. Later, trial and error. After that, maturity.

Early on, some supporters called for an hour of overlap in the morning and evening so shops, schools, and institutions could stay open uninterrupted. However, an hour of overlap would double the traffic at exactly those hours of the Day most in need of thinning out. An hour was given Citizens of Day to return home, and an hour was given for Citizens of Night to arrive at work. Thus, between five o’clock and seven o’clock in the morning and evening, a universal closure was observed. The Twilight was the name of the final hour of one man’s Day and the first hour of another man’s day. As you will see later, the final moments of a man’s Day out in the world became profoundly significant in his relationship with the Others.

Man became a planning creature again. In the Middle Ages, living a year longer depended on a finely detailed agenda from month to month. Horses to shoe, a roof to thatch, a plow to repair, coats to mend, fields to plow. Allowing work to pile up meant death by starvation or cold. And yet the Modern era had abandoned man to a world without a calendar, a world where all tasks could be indefinitely put off, a world where man caved to sloth for weeks on end only to suddenly and angrily try to accomplish a thousand tasks in a single day. In the world of Night and Day, a man quickly learned to regulate his time with greater exactness. Leisure was spent in preparation against becoming chronologically stranded, for after curfew, a man’s car would not start, neither could he pay for a ride home on a bus or taxi. Were he accosted by the police walking home, he might be given a hefty ticket. Obviously, all new laws create new black markets, however, the pragmatism at the heart of Josef’s idea dictated black markets should not be fought, but commandeered. During the day, delivery services to Night persons were regulated and taxed heavily. The same was true for Day persons during the Night. Before curfew, a man paid ten dollars for cigarettes. After curfew taxes purchased through a delivery service shot the price up to thirty.

Both the man of Night and Day came to think of the world as a borrowed place. When the world was an undifferentiated swarm of individuals looking out for their own amusement, a man found it hard to treat the world as a gift. And yet after Day and Night, every morning and every evening, a man received the world from those who had taken care of Her for the last twelve hours. A man inspected the world as a thing which belonged to him, a thing he was receiving back after another had taken it on loan. Or else a man of Day thought: The world truly belongs to the Night. I am only the caretaker, the steward. Unless a man loses a thing for a while, he is never truly grateful for it, for he frets over it and fears another man will take it from him. Unless a man sometimes yields a thing to another, he comes to hate the thing. On the other hand, when a man becomes acquainted with regularly losing the world, the world becomes miraculous again. Having been robbed of its true purpose for many hundreds of years, sleep became like death once again. The meaning of sleep was not simply the restoration of energy to a body so that it might indulge the senses once again. The meaning of sleep was detachment, loss, release. Man began to dream again, for he understood sleep as a sign of his mortality, and so his dreams were sweet.

In the final moments of Day or Night, it became commonplace for people hurrying off to their homes to leave small presents in the streets marked “for the Day” or “for the Night.” What stopped anyone from doing this before Day and Night? Nothing at all, however, a man leaving a bottle of wine tied with ribbon on the sidewalk outside his home suspected someone like himself would pick it up. After Day and Night, the man who, just a few minutes before six, left a gift for the Other had perfect confidence the Other would receive it.

Some thought it a way to worship the Sun or the Moon. Some objected to this, and some delighted in it.

Who should rule? The question provoked sharp disagreement. Should the mayor of the city be a man of the Night or a man of the Day? At first, it was thought the mayor should serve Day and Night, and that his waking life should straddle the two worlds. However, the first mayor was a disaster, living his life mostly at Night and prompting sharp criticism all around. A concession was made, and the Night chose a mayor, as did the Day. This was fitting, of course, because in the years since the parting Equinox, Day and Night had become increasingly polarized in terms of creed and dogma. The Day was primarily occupied by those of one political persuasion, the Night occupied by the other. Heated disagreement remained, and yet the disagreement was continually attended by gift-giving and the respect one always, invariably affords the Other as a matter of curiosity— it is our own likeness in others we invariably find suspect.

For the man of Day, the people of the Night were aliens, with separate convictions and customs. On the rare occasion a man of Noon walked around the world at Midnight, he felt himself in a foreign land, shocked to hear his own language spoken. The moon was dazzling. The sun was dazzling. The old Medieval theory of the spheres was less absurd than we thought. The Night had its own evening news, as did the Day, and its own newspaper. A slight difference in the brightness of paper and darkness of ink represented ideal circumstances for reading— the man of night read by artificial light, the man of day read by natural light. When a man of Night acquired a curfew pass and shopped during the Day, he found Others treated him with profound respect upon recognizing him as a tourist. He laid his goods before the grocer, presented his license and appropriate papers, and the grocer beamed and said warmly, “How are the stars doing? Greet them for us. You honor us with your presence.”

And of course there were a few Romeo and Juliet stories, but you have known this from the beginning.

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