Friday 17 April 2015

'Chasing the Sun' by Cassandra Parkin

As the moon swallows the sun they gather on the beach, sliding from their blacked-out van to join the humans. In full-body wetsuits and smothered with sunblock, Ray-Bans shielding their eyes, they can pass despite the daylight, as long as they’re careful.

                The gulls wheel and scream, convinced they’ve somehow missed the evening, desperately cramming all their arguments into the unexpected twilight. The six stand close and silent, savouring the tingle in their flesh that thrills with its reminder of mortality, like humans eating fugu.

                “Amazing, isn’t it?” says the woman standing next to them. Her face is lined, her hair brittle.

                The one nearest to her turns his head doubtfully, blinks, offers an uncertain smile. He thinks of the abattoir he worked in one blind and hellish summer – his last, before an unwise short-cut through a midnight graveyard saw him waylaid, toyed with, coldly assessed and finally made the offer no-one ever refused. Imagine if one of the pigs walked out of the truck and laid its head on your lap. In the ropey blue veins of her hand, life throbs and trembles. She is far from a gourmet choice and he isn’t thirsty anyway, but just as humans will salivate at the chip van, he has to force himself to look away.

                “Amazing,” he says cautiously.

                “I’ll never see another,” she says, and for a terrible moment he thinks she will touch him. “Unless I go abroad. But I don’t know if that’s a good idea. I’m seventy-one, you know.”

                “Amazing.” Perhaps he can make her stop by becoming very tedious. “Amazing.”

                “My granddaughter should see the next one. Unless that global warming gets us. How old are you? Will you last? What d’you think?”

                I’ll tell you what I think, tiresome elderly human. I think this is my one opportunity, my shining moment, to stand in sunlight - the last for at least another century - and you are ruining it. He wishes he could still sigh. He can hear the amusement of the others, too high-pitched for humans.

                “It’s getting cold.” She shivers. “Makes you think, doesn’t it? We’re all children of the sun. Without it, we’d die.”

                Not me, old human woman. Not any more. Except… he looks at her again, sees the life flowing through her. Again, he remembers the abattoir. The pigs that, knowing he meant them harm, never laid their head on his lap; but were nonetheless bound to him, just like this woman on the beach.

                Perhaps I am still a child of the sun, he thinks. Although hopefully less annoying than you. Oh, now what - ?

                The woman has undressed to a saggy blue swimsuit.

                “I’m going in,” she confides. “I’ve always wanted to swim during an eclipse. Are you coming?”

                From behind the moon’s shadow, the corona flares out. He puts out the tip of his tongue to savour its sting. He is definitely thirsty.

                “Amazing,” he repeats, and follows her down to the water.

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