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Those two weeks, when the sun touched the earth, and we all died so absolutely that there was no coming back, and our feet were inches off the ground, and the light was so bright that even in the afterlife we went blind, we saw.
Those two weeks.
There were a number of weeks prior to those two weeks, and the same number again afterward, during which the sun approached the earth and swung slowly away again. Hot, muggy. Clouds hued dirty and orange as the pollution of our planet condensed and burnt in the sky. Ominous.
If the meteorologists saw it coming, they didn’t tell us in time. Some of us they didn’t tell at all. Hard to say what was post-recorded as if pre-released, as they pretend to have prepared us to brace for the burn. Hard to know truth from lie, and of the politics between meteorologists and astronomers. There are theories that they kept it quiet not to invoke global panic, offering up just that one stretch of mountain range and its occupants in sacrifice, relieved their predictions landed on a scarcely populated region. I try to imagine what I’d have thought of the news. The sun is coming. Just for a skim of the surface. I’d have laughed, or immediately done the things I’d dreamed of doing if not for the consequences. Confess an untold love. Tell a friend they’re an asshole. Sleep with a woman.
They’re much quieter now, the meteorologists. They share their predictions for the week ahead with less certainty. They know they know nothing. There’s a note of apology in their quieter words, and a note of awe: the sun can touch the earth.
We, the ones who cowered up in the altitudes of the Cascade Range, not knowing in which direction to run or if running would have changed anything, we the ones who were swallowed by the sun, refrain from encouraging more beliefs. We are not so quick to suppose, anymore. Nobody saw it coming. Nobody would see it again.
We close our ears to rehearsed theories, arguments. Bickerings amongst the departments of state. Amongst countries. Perhaps it’s all a ruse, the arguing; gleaning forgiveness. If answers are important to the people of the world, they aren’t to us on the mountain.
The sun left scars all over us. Scars on our skin, on our retinas, scars in our hearts and minds. We are so terribly damaged and, at once, inviolable. It was a death that cannot be touched again by death. I’m the wraith of myself.
I don’t know how many millennia separate two such events. There are scratchings in desert caves and early poems that tell of the sun’s previous arrivals, and of beings who have known of it, and have spoken about it, but none of those beings were incarnate humans. Visiting giants, otherwise angelic, or gods who walk and talk like the god in the garden, or dwellers that govern the earth from the inside, depending on which cave you’re reading from. The writings were memories of memories. Myth or not, they knew.
And now that the memory is ours we have no words to speak about it. We have no lasting images. Not of the approach of the sun, not of its arrival, not of its departure. We just have scars, and a strange sadness in our hearts that such a thing exists and we are not strong enough to know it properly.
In my town, we had little option. The lake was too far, the falls too dry in August, and all the buildings hot like the sun. Too hot. Unapproachable. So we made for the murk of the woods on the final day of the sun’s approach. The oak tree where we sheltered – whose body splits into finer and finer parts in a hundred divisions on each branch – blew mostly away as ash in its first moment inside the sun, because of its fine parts. Other trees – the resinous pines, the older redwoods – went in later moments. Like the oak, though, went our minds. Our thoughts and understandings, our beliefs. Our fine parts. Each scar in our minds came with each belief that burnt away in the sunlight. Each belief, each fragile, gracile leaf, had only spent its existence flickering this way or that in the wind anyway. None of what we believed in before the sun touched the earth made it through. The oak’s trunk remained, only in the way that our minds remain. Unencumbered. And in that way we huddled together, skin to skin as our clothes fell away, heart to heart, only whispering into each other’s ears so not to have our voices taken too. Inside the sun we dared open our eyes, catch each other’s gaze; know. We needed nothing – no food, no air, no water – so gone were we, but the presence of each other. That was all. The reason for being. What kept us conscious.
It was beautiful.
I watched a man’s shirt come away and his bracelet melt from his wrist, while shining strands of soft, fine hair lay intact against his forehead, oscillating in the heat. He watched me watch him, our fascination mutual. My things had come away, too; my clothes, my various adornments. The ink evaporated from the tattoo below my breast. And we were naked. Stripped of our personhood and laid bare before one another as the very matter we were composed of in the first place. Sun stuff. Stuff of the sun. It’s all we ever were. We leaned in closer, rode it out, seconds drawing on like small eternities we didn’t tire of.
Even if we could invite a reoccurrence – loop the sun quickly around its circuit to have it touch us again tomorrow, and move in a light like that – I don’t think a single one of us would. While we survived with our sanity once, to invite it twice would be to invite the possibility of madness.
Not everybody in that stretch of mountain survived the way we did. There were others, in other towns, under other trees. Some went mad, inside the sun. Some tremble all the time now. Some closed their hearts and live bitterly. The majority of us, though, the scarred grateful and the sad, the living, loving dead, we were the ones who saw.
Though it took a lot from us – though it took everything – we were given a new thing: a strange knowing. Not quite solid enough to put into words on a desert cave wall or in ink upon paper, or characters in bytes upon the ether, as if we were still interested in that, but solid enough to live by. We know why we are here. Humans, on earth. We know that, now. We can answer that question. We only lament that we cannot share the answer with others, all the ones who were not there, to enter the sun, to survive the death. Though they are lucky in their own ways, they’ll never know what we know. There are no words. When we speak amongst ourselves, we only get so far as a sentence or less, before trailing off and carrying on in silence. And we nod, and small, wondrous smiles are at the edge of our mouths, and we shake our heads and bite our lips. Our eyes are wide and alive for a while before they glaze and our faces set, as we return like spectral aeronauts into the memory of the sun. There’s no going there with what remains of the mind. No true remembering of a thing we had no true sight to see. No thought to survive the magnitude of consciousness.
The man I huddled closest to amongst the trees, the man whose eyes I met and whose fascination I shared, stayed close. We live in a cabin half way down the mountain, at the edge of the devastation, no longer in the town at the top. Nobody can live at the top. It’s too much, too haunted a shrine. We visit the top, get lost in its stunning desolation, and leave again. But the man and I don’t speak much. We touch each other’s skin, catch each other’s eyes, sit together on the veranda in long silences looking out over the plains and glittering towns in the distance, breathing in each other’s scent in the too-warm breeze that’s always there, in one direction or another. We’re together because we shared the impossible, and people didn’t. Together because we are strangers to people, and because people talk so much, and because I loved him inside the sun.
But I love people again, too. I love us because of our delicacy and our frights, our imperfections, our juvenile pride. I forgive a sin while the sin still forms in the sinner’s head, before it is even a sin. I forgive me. What was I thinking. What were we thinking. We thought we were immortal, but we were just children who had yet to be burnt by fire to know not to touch it. At last I am immortal, only because I’ve seen my mortality. The scars are worn like gold at my wrists and neck.
Our skin is softer, now. Prone. We watch the sun in the sky like a violent lover we were not ready for, never meant to fall for. We look up, at once scared of her and aching from nostalgia. We are endless ghosts of a strange war we could never have won, wrapped in the rags of the living and the dying, resplendent in our way.
I look back at the years I lived before the sun touched the earth and the years I lived after, I wonder, of the two sorts, which were pretend. Was I pretending then, or am I pretending now.
When we come to understand, if we ever do, we may one day be able to talk about it with others – human or otherwise. To love people is to love people, whether they died with us or are still scratching memories on their cave walls. We would tell them that the sun can touch the earth. We would tell them of the after-life, devastating and terrible, and sad and beautiful. We would tell them of broken things. The broken before, and the broken after. We would tell them that we chose it.
Emily Hunt is a fiction writer and graduate of University of Toronto Creative Writing program with Honours. Born and raised in England, she now lives in Canada where she writes from a hundred year old school desk small enough to contain her literary sprawl without being too much of a fire hazard. Her first novel, A Wheeling of Antique Moons, is currently on submission.