The last short story I read as part of my challenge that year was The Last Night of the World by the science-fiction legend Ray Bradbury (I’d highly recommend his book on writing, Zen and the Art of Writing). This story begins when a husband asks his wife, “What would you do if you knew that this was the last night of the world?” She asks if he’s means there’s a war coming, an atomic bomb, or germ warfare. Stirring his coffee, the man says: “But just, let’s say, the closing of a book.” He predicts that it’s the last night of the world because of an ominous dream, one his colleagues have also reported. There’s a calm, accepting attitude throughout, and the woman goes on to ask her husband if they “deserve” the end of the world. He assures her that it has nothing to do with “deserving.” After putting the kids to bed, the husband and wife spend their last night together in the most ordinary manner – washing dishes, playing a game. The man asks his wife if she thinks they’ve been “bad”, She says no, but they haven’t been “enormously good” either. She thinks that’s the root of the problem: “We haven’t been very much of anything except us, while a big part of the world was busy being lots of quite awful things.” In bed, they kiss each other. He says: “We’ve been good for each other, anyway.” The story forces its readers to reconsider an age-old question about how we choose to live our lives, about the inherent value of the ordinary moments – and sheds new light on what bravery and courage look like in the face of an inevitable ending.
First published in the February 1951 issue of Esquire and available to read here. Collected in Stories Volume 1, HarperVoyager, 1980