Magical moments in literature, take one—Gregor Samsa’s horrified awakening; Colonel Aureliano’s memory of ice as he stood before a firing squad; the silky billowing of Gatsby’s flung shirts on the rainy afternoon he was finally reunited with Daisy. Any book lover can run a finger along the spines of his shelved collection and feel the tug of a hundred scenes so alive they beg to be pulled out and read again.
But for me, no scene is more profound than a two-word passage from Goodnight Moon. What this story of a little bunny drifting off to sleep lacks in plot, it atones for in poetry, in its induced state of mantra-driven bliss. Goodnight clocks and goodnight socks. Goodnight kittens and goodnight mittens. Goodnight red balloon. Perfect, the mesh of the narrative’s dreamy rhythms and the gradually dimming bedroom scenes. The words—few and simple—shimmer with a Zen-like grace, a fitting harmony for bedtime’s wind-down fizzle.
Yet three-quarters of the way through, an impish and deceptively powerful about-face occurs, the narrative—and, in essence, the reader’s perceived world—turned inside-out. The page is blank, a masterstroke of intuition and Dada-esque pranksterism. Two words grace the white field—Goodnight nobody.
Goodnight nobody. It both affirms (the acknowledging Goodnight) and denies (nobody), and behold, the linguist’s Mobius strip. Physicists who fret over tears in the time-space continuum should examine this self-negating, two-word sentence for it acts as a chain reaction’s first split atom, and the unleashed force that radiates from its origin ripples out and engulfs the child’s world, bestowing upon it a new dimension that will haunt the rest of his days. Goodnight nobody lends weight to the weightless. It paints the invisible. In an uttered breath, ghosts are born, spirits recognized. Goodnight nobody resonates as a grinning bass note smuggled into a lullaby’s slumbering melody. Too young to realize it, the child has been introduced to monsters in his closet, imaginary play friends, stuffed animals that stir to life after goodnight kisses and whispers of sweet dreams.
And this netherworld of haunted non-existence echoes into adulthood, its roots burrowing deeper, twisted barbs that embed themselves in our souls and minds, filling us with an acutely individual awareness of angels and demons, of fates and forces beyond our control. Goodnight nobody is a Pandora’s box of perception and awareness, a hailing of sparkling possibilities, a whisper of longing and regret and desires unfulfilled.
I read the story to my son, once, twice, again, his eyes and limbs growing heavy, a sinking into the realm of dreams he alone experiences. Goodnight nobody, and welcome, my little man, to the unseen world, a greeting as gentle and embracing as the kiss I plant on your dozing head.