Thoughts in the Moonlight: Microfiction



Ilya Repin, “Moonlight Night,” [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons



The river shimmered in the moonlight, but for the moment, Jo was immune to its charms. She was pondering the telegram she had received:

“J.  Mission on. Pack your bags.  Love, T.”

Her brother Tommy was an excellent surgeon, but not such a great communicator. As she bent down to rub her setter Dottie’s spotted back, Jo thought about this “mission” and wondered how long she would be gone.

Tommy had told Jo that Mr. Roentgen’s discovery could change medicine and medical care. The new apparatus that the commission planned to ship abroad used these invisible rays–X rays– to photograph bones right through the skin. The X ray devices could also be used to see bullets or shrapnel within a body.

We keep improving ways to kill one another, Jo thought, I suppose it’s only natural that we find new ways to treat those that survive.

She pictured all the politicians she had seen shouting slogans, ignoring facts. She admired scientists who checked and re-checked and shared their knowledge. A German scientist discovered X rays, and now English doctors were using the discovery to help Greek soldiers.

Perhaps, she thought, with these new-fangled X ray machines, the young men, pawns in squabbles between nations, might have a better chance of surviving the carnage of the battlefield. Tommy and the other surgeons, and she and the other nurses would do their best, however inadequate it might be.

Calling to Dottie, Jo turned to take one last look at the river. Then she squared her shoulders and strode back to the house to pack her bags for Greece.


This story is for Jane Dougherty’s Microfiction Challenge. The prompt is the painting above, “Moonlight Night” by Ilya Repin. Even though the painter was Russian, I thought the woman was English, and she seemed to be pondering something. I found out that X rays were discovered the same year the painting was completed, 1896. Soon after, X rays were used in field hospitals, and a group in England financed the transportation of a X ray machines with surgeons and nurses and sent them to Greece during the Greco-Turkish War of 1897.

You can read more about the early use of X rays here.


33 thoughts on “Thoughts in the Moonlight: Microfiction

  1. I appreciate your travel through time and geographical space here. Now I have to wonder what the dog was thinking. He/she seems pensive too. I also noticed a sly reference to a contemporary situation: “She pictured all the politicians she had seen shouting slogans, ignoring facts.”

    No evidence of struggle creating this piece – you continue to amaze me, Merril.

    • Thank you very much, Marian. I’m pleased that I amaze you. 🙂
      Yes, you did pick up the reference to current politics and situations.
      I think the dog was probably wondering if they were going to walk soon.

  2. I enjoy how you find bits of history – like x-rays – and work them into these stories. Did you take the date of the painting and search for events that year? Or had you already known about the invention of x-rays? Or something else? Fascinating.

  3. Recently saw a documentary on the Ronanov Dynasty – which had through the years tried to turn Russia toward the West (Peter the Great went as far as to decree the nobility wear Western style clothing, including for men to lose their beards), and yet it was last czar Nicolas II (whose formal coronation took place in 1896) who took a firm stand against the constitutional monarchy, in spite of trip to England in a few years earlier to observe ‘democracy’ in action. The times they were a changin’. In science, politics, the machinery of war as greater exchanges between people from Greece to Russia to England. All nicely captured in the flash of fiction. 🙂

    • Thanks so much, Doug, for your astute comments. I did see that Nick II was crowned that year, and so many other things were happening, as you mention. The times were changing indeed. I guess there’s an unfortunate irony in the fact that so many gains in science get exploited by leaders and war mongers, but at least some discoveries–X rays, penicillin, etc, also get used to help the war wounded.

      • Irony seems to be an inherent partner of Progress in the modern world – a condition that leads to people finding themselves on a “mission” that would never would of have dreamed.

  4. I liked the painting but “felt” she had traveling on her mind. This was the only slightly similar, original thought I had that got carried out in your lovely story with much depth and interest included. I have been trying lately (the past two times) to imagine where the art piece would take me, before reading your own interpretation, Merril.
    This was clever in your approach to research the actual time period this painting was completed. It was amazing how you mentioned science. (As our President elect is going to ignore three or more scientific facts, in his pursuit of “supposed jobs.”)
    This one was possibly my very favorite art inspired post, so far!

  5. Pingback: Microfiction challenge Moonlit night: the entries – Jane Dougherty Writes

  6. Great piece of research, Merril and what a lovely piece of writing to go along with it. Could be part of a historical novel, a woman about to embark on her adventures and who knows what perils and joys she’ll find in Greece? Great writing and a reallt interesting context

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