A Dying Sun

He’s sitting in the window of a café, staring out into the lovely evening as though it were a gloomy prospect. If you noticed him at all, you’d quickly sum him up as just some guy, a guy like any other. And the universe would forgive you for that assumption because there really isn’t that much to know about him.

Oblivious to the possibility that anyone could be interested enough to watch him, he sketches a rather poor coffee cup on a napkin. If you were wondering, this man is not an artist, nor even trying to be an artist. He is just a guy. A guy with a pen and a napkin, passing the time with barely an acknowledgement that he’s wasting his life.

As a girl walks in, he lifts his blank eyes just long enough to establish that she — like most girls — is firmly out of his league. Not because he’s ugly. He isn’t. But when you’ve allowed your personality to bleed slowly away like ink from paper, the pretty girls can sense it. Pretty women are like those cancer dogs. They can smell weakness on a man without even turning their heads.

He scribbles a couple of stars, an envelope — trying to do that thing where you don’t lift the pen. How the hell did they do it in school? He’s so engrossed in this impotent task that he doesn’t notice the girl hanging her bag on the chair next to him. He notices when she sits down and crosses her legs though, because one of her achingly sweet little feet brushes his leg. He jumps and elbows his coffee. He doesn’t get her, but now his napkin is all wet and the stupid drawings he’s spent half an hour on are seeping into each other and he feels a bit sick

He steels himself and balls the napkin up in a tight fist, tosses it with studied carelessness on to the floor. Then blushes and stoops to pick it up again. He doesn’t know where to put his hands, his eyes, his ears feel like they don’t belong. She’s looking at him, staring he thinks. He hates himself for bringing attention on himself when he could have just gone on numbly invisible, the way that’s safe and familiar. Instead he’s been thrust up to the surface like a pale twisted thing from the deep and he can feel his skin burning in the hot sun of her stare.

She twitches a little smile and turns away. He was just a little blip on the radar of her consciousness after all. He relaxes back into nondescript darkness, settling his blanket of unimportance around his narrow shoulders once more. Remembers sitting in the wardrobe of his first bedroom, surrounded by as much bedding as he could squeeze in without suffocating. He misses the soft pressure of the cloudy pillows that cradled him so gently that he felt weightless and floating.

A cough. He’s wrenched back to this day, this time. This awful place of bright clatter and steam. And the girl is looking at him again.

He wasn’t always like this. Was he? He can barely remember now. He has some blurry images of happy faces, balloons and space hoppers, but he could have got those anywhere. The stock gallery of other people’s memories; don’t we all borrow from it to help us tint our pasts more rosily?

The way he has become is entirely his own fault, that he knows. Could have tried harder, could have smiled more, joined the hockey club. But he didn’t, because that would be like tiptoeing to the outside reach of a cliff edge and doing a silly dance, expecting not to fall and be maimed on the rocks.

If you don’t try to fly, you can’t fall. No lower than you already are in any case, so he chooses to stay low to the ground, in the cold shadow where the sun can’t reach.

Waits there for some sort of solution.

*

Shaking off the butterfly specimen feeling the man in the café has draped over her morning, the girl saunters out on to the street, pausing to put on her sunglasses. She notes her reflection in them as she does so, and gives a small nod of military approval.

Those sunglasses will be found crushed and battered, just like her body is going to be. But that’s not yet, that’s later.

She turns with purpose and heads off into the day, light with youthful self-belief. When you’re beautiful, everything is beautiful.

*

Our guy has watched this delight of genetics shimmer out of the door, and he doesn’t want her light to fade from his day just yet. He ineffectually mops at the coffee he spilt and dithers a while, feeling guilty about leaving the mess, and then clumsily negotiates the social maze of mothers, babies, lovers and writers to the door.

At the corner of the street he lives on, he just catches the glint of dying sun on salon-fresh hair and shoots after it, intent on basking in its rays for just a little longer. As he nears the shop where his pretty game has paused to browse, he fancies he can catch a coconut scent from her skin.

She doesn’t even look up, not that he wanted her to. He pretends to study a bus timetable, angles his gaze so he can see her reflection in the glass case.

She’s a strain of human that is alien from his own. She doesn’t have skin like the drowned, nor eyes that require small feats of ocular engineering to see just fairly well. She’s a perfect representation of all that can go right, while he is the very finest example of mediocrity.

The day dims and streetlights flicker gradually into luminescence.

*

He can see her dead and there’s blood and he wants to weep but he’s afraid. He hadn’t considered her a mortal, how can she be done with?

Her poor, cracked, glorious sunglasses lie in a tangle near her outstretched hand, as though she might pick them up and exclaim over the damage. He hopes she will but he knows she won’t.

The thought that slinks into his brain and crouches there like a toad is this: he has killed her. Not with his own hands and not through any kind of contact an investigator could see. But she’s dead. And he was there. And he wasn’t enough.

He sits for a few minutes, grieving. Then he turns for home, leaving the girl strewn across the pavement like a scatter of stars that died a million years ago.

*