I was watching a solar eclipse on the roof of my future ex-best friend’s apartment building. Other people were there for the same reason, a dozen or so strangers who had also climbed the short flight of stairs, pushed open the metal door, and were now settling on ledges or what were possibly ventilation units.
“This is so end of days-y,” one of them said.
End of daisy. Chalky petals plucked. Loves me, loves me not. My friend was already talking to one of the guys. Turned out he lived one floor below her in a mirror image apartment. Others chatted about the weird smell in the elevator or how great it would be to create a rooftop garden. These were the days before we tucked our attention into handheld digital privacies.
We donned our protective paper glasses and looked up to see a thick crescent of sun like the horn of some mythical beast. My friend’s shoulder was touching her newfound neighbor’s shoulder, their chins tilted at the exact same angle. Next to them, a midlife white dude sat uncomfortably in a lawn chair, his mouth slowly opening in astonishment. A primitive awe was overtaking all of us, making us indistinguishable, until the metal door screeched, breaking the spell. It opened to reveal a tall girl with faded blue hair and fingernails like a crime scene.
“Did I miss it?”
She had not. Space was made for her and it felt, then, that we were no longer strangers but a community.
My friend was sending me telepathic signals emphasized by unsubtle eyeball gestures. Up to that point, all of my boyfriends had been invented, except one, a Catholic trombone player who I’d had sex with only once because he felt so guilty about it afterward. My friend obviously thought I should talk to the guy who was standing a few feet away, the end of days-y one. Let’s call him Clyde or Charlie. Charlie seemed so completely whole and content observing the moon as it crept across the sun, so much so that no part of me longed to insert itself into his experience.
“Everybody thinks eclipses are these fantastical coincidences of celestial mechanics,” the white dude in the lawn chair was saying, loudly. “I mean, If that’s not a pile of horse shit, I don’t know what is.”
“How about a pile of horse shit,” said Charlie, non-sarcastically. The man’s face contracted until his eyes became two black beads. Charlie smiled and I saw that one of his front teeth (white as moon) was charmingly chipped. He asked the man if he wanted a beer. Disarmed, the man said he did. Charlie reached down, graceful as a dancer, took a beer from the open cooler at his feet and handed it to the man. The man opened it, set it on the roof, and leaned forward in his chair.
“So, the moon,” he brought two hands up in front of his chest as though holding an invisible basketball which, we all knew, was actually the moon, “is gradually moving away from the earth. Every year it moves 1.6 inches farther away. They don’t tell you that in school or the media. The fact is, cave people saw a much bigger moon than the one we’re looking at today.”
“Yeah, it was a more romantic time,” sighed the blue haired girl. This was said sarcastically and there was chuckling.
“Alls I’m sayin is it just so happens that the sun is 400 times wider than the moon? But also just happens to be 400 times farther away? So that now, in my lifetime, it, the moon, appears to be the exact same size as the sun? Coincidence, sure. Whatever.”
“Well, what else could it be?” I asked.
He picked up the beer, exposing a circular mark on the textured grey roof. “You don’t want to know,” he said.
He was right.
The guy who had been talking to my future ex-best friend asked the new girl if she lived in the building. She didn’t, was just cat sitting for her grandma. Not every opportunity to connect with other humans need be acted upon, I told myself. I told myself I was better than everyone because I was not afraid of my own mortality. If I died before replicating my DNA, what did it matter? Ambivalence would protect me. Or would it? The night before, I’d dreamt the sky cracked open and out walked a monster and a lord. Both wanted to date me, but the producers of the reality show which this was told me I could only choose one. The lord seemed really full of himself, so I picked the monster.
Charlie must have felt me staring at him because he looked me in the eye directly, maintaining contact for several heartbeats before returning his attention to the cosmic drama above. I touched my hair. It felt like Weird Al Yankovich’s hair. My grandma always said the best place to hide valuables was in plain sight, but in an unexpected spot such as inside the fireplace or on top of the aquarium. This guy was probably my soul mate. He wasn’t unattractive, but it wasn’t that. He had seen me, albeit briefly. He’d seen under skin and hair right down to the neutral bone, and liked it.
But what had he seen? A nineteen year old who wanted to eat the whole world? Someone who believed invisibility equalled freedom? If there was one thing I’d learned so far in college it was to be suspicious of the male gaze and what it made of me. I would never talk to him but I would remember him for the rest of my life. Maybe three or four times a year, until the day I died, I would see his profile tilted upward.
“I’ll tell you what it is.” The man in the lawn chair was enraged, a feeling he clearly nourished. “A goddamn slap in the face.”
“It’s happening,” said Charlie.
All of us looked up at the perfect black O of totality. I wanted to open my mouth as wide as it would go so I could be just like it, cover my hands in ink from ball point pens until they glistened like snake skin. Low, heavy clouds bumped up against the bruise colored mountains that circled the city I’d lived in my whole life and I wanted to fly over them like a shore bird for sixty miles straight without stopping, over subdivision after subdivision, but only dark and windy roads led to where I was going.
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