[Hi all! I know it’s been four months. Will explain later but first, here’s what you’d rather see today. Enjoy.]
The man looked at the gray sky again and sighed.
He perched on the railing, feeling all elbows and knees as he tried not to bump the two women on either side. A young brunette to his left chattered nonstop with her companion. On his right, a mature woman in a baseball cap sat reading a pamphlet. He didn’t want to disturb either of them.
Around him, the excited flow of chatter rose and fell as experts on little mobile screens discussed the imminent first total solar eclipse of the century. Everybody seemed to have prepared for the event with bagged lunches, information pamphlets, eclipse glasses and extra batteries for their mobiles. Of course, he had come only with sunglasses that offered no protection. Don’t stare at the sun, experts warned. So he’d spent the last hour glancing up at the sky for a only second or two. Not that it really mattered now.
His impromptu trip to this college town to personally witness the phenomenon had turned out to be a waste of time. He’d taken the needed the break in his schedule and arrived that morning unprepared. The morning dawned with blue skies. Now, ominous clouds had rolled in, blotting out the sun and threatening to make the thing a non-event. It’d put him in a worse mood – just the opposite of what he’d hoped for. Story of my life, he thought.
Squirming on the metal bar, he managed to jostle both women. Damn it. I’m not in the mood for small talk.
Both budged over just a bit. The chirpy one threw him a toothy grin . “It’s packed and jammed, huh?” She waited for an answer.
He blinked at the American, trying to process the slang and the accent. Oh, she must mean it’s close quarters here. No shit. I should just leave. He managed a weak smile and a nod before studying the sky as if there were something to see. He felt her turn away slowly to turn address her companion. The woman on his right closed her booklet and looked off into the distance.
So now you’re moody and rude. He felt like a tosser. He should apologize somehow, or at least try to chat Chirpy up – only he couldn’t bring himself to do it.
The man’s head dropped and he gave a sharp exhale. It was that time of year again when he felt his mortality. Well, not so much his age – he had reconciled himself to growing older as a fact of life. But his youth oriented profession pressured him to strive and achieve his goals before The Powers That Be perceived him as too old. He’d gained success later in his career; that maturity had helped him cope with it but now he felt behind the eight ball, as the Americans say, as if he had to achieve it now, whatever it was.
He stared at his clenched hands. What was his looking for? He had no right to complain. He’d appeared in a play off-Broadway to positive reviews, snagged some roles in feature movies and even worked in independent films where he could hone his skills and stretch himself. He was breaking into the US market. His agent touted him as a new kind of rising star. Why did he feel as if aging was blotting out his star, much like the clouds blotted out the sun overhead -that he was running out of time? Damn it, was he always going to become so maudlin this time of year?
“Damn it, damn it, damn it, ” he hissed.
“Are you okay?” A soft voice on his right. The baseball cap woman.
The man glanced at her, readying a brushoff but stopped. Two brown eyes gazed back. No, not just brown but big and soft, steady and caring. They seemed to pull him in.
It was out of his mouth before he knew what had happened. “Tomorrow is my birthday!” Alright. Now, that explains everything.
He expected his behavior to elicit the surprise but he didn’t expect the rest, as her eyes registered consideration and then knowing.
“Ah,” she said, her lips curling into faint smile. She nodded and regarded him for a moment. “You need to look up.”
He blinked. Look up? What did that mean?
“Here. Take my eclipse glasses. They’re certified,” she stated wryly.
He donned the glasses and looked up. “But they’re completely dark. I can’t see a thing!”
He reached to take them off, but she stayed his arm. “Keep watching. Never mind the clouds. It’s almost time.”
The man looked up. Was something happening? Yes! Against the dark filter slowly appeared a vivid sliver of orange crescent. The crowd cheered. The clouds have parted, she murmured. He grinned. The clouds had parted just in the nick of time. The moon moved in front of the sun leaving nothing but the sun’s corona.
“Totality!” somebody yelled and the crowd cheered louder.
“It’s quite dark now. Like dawn before sunrise,” she murmured close. “But there’s always dark before light.”
“Amazing,” he breathed.
The woman murmured again. “Now, you only have to wait for the light. When it comes, it will be brilliant.”
As the moon rolled away from the sun, a pinpoint of orange began to glow bigger and brighter until an engagement ring of light burst into view. The crowd cheered again.
The man whipped off the glasses and turned grinning to the woman. “A total eclipse. That was absolutely amazing!”
She smiled back and squeezed his arm. “Don’t forget: you only have to wait for the light. When it comes, it’s brilliant. Enjoy it.”
He stared as she jumped down from the railing and turned back to him.
“And don’t forget: have a happy birthday.”
[Have a happy birthday Richard Armitage, wherever you are.]