March 6, 2011 in Wordsmoker Short Fiction
We were sitting on the hood of the car, staring up at the sky. We’d come to see the sunset. The clouds had lit up pink and yellow, and I remember staring at them until my eyes watered, trying to catch the moments when the colors changed – when the pink deepened or paled, when the yellow faded into gray, when the edges disappeared into black. But I never could. As I watched, the colors simply persisted, pink and yellow and the pale bruising where they faded into uncolored cloud or the ashen shadows of the darkening sky. And then I’d blink, or look away for a second, and when I refocused, it would all be different. Until the time I looked back and all the colors were gone.
We were sitting there in the dark, feeling the coldness of the car’s hood seep up through the blanket we’d spread over it as the heat in the air followed the sun to the far side of the horizon. We were parked at the apex of this hill’s soft parabola, in the middle of a fallow wheat field, resting here at the point where the parallel troughs of our tire tracks ended, connecting us to where they began at the gate that perforated the line dividing the field from the road. The clouds were now opaque patches we had to look past to glimpse the first winking stars as they appeared in the sky between them.
As the sun’s halo receded, the silhouettes of the hills on the horizon grew indistinct, then invisible. A fainter, colder glow spread up from the opposite edge of our view, emanating from the lights of the maximum security penitentiary that nestled in the valley below our current perch. We peered up into the night sky to find which stars shone brightly enough to overcome its pale reach.
The radio was playing in the car, softly. Indistinct songs with sleepy vocals and slow guitars, a procession of lonely boys blurring into each other like a fading flannel plaid, hunter green and blood-woven red. I had been sitting up, but now I laid back to look straight above us, spreading my arms outward as I did. One of my hands brushed one of yours by accident, somewhere in the dark. A song was just fading – I could feel it through the metal of the hood more than I could hear it. I closed my eyes as the song disappeared. And as the next song began, your fingers found mine and held tight.
There in the dark, we held hands, staring at the sky, warmed now not by the sun or the lingering warmth of the engine beneath us but by this single point of contact. I could feel you turn your head toward me even though I couldn’t see it; I could feel you look down at where our fingers interlaced. Do you think he can see the stars, too, or are the lights too bright? I don’t know, I replied, though it seemed obvious to me that the lights would bleach the sky into a concrete gray ceiling over the prison yard. But whether he can see the stars or not, it’s still the same sky. I could hear you sigh at that, and turn back away to look out again at the night’s dark dome and the pale glow beneath it. I kept looking straight up as I squeezed your hand. After a moment, you squeezed back. I closed my eyes.
I vowed to remember this as long as I could, no matter what happened tomorrow, no matter what we ended up seeing after we entered that little room, no matter what happened within the frame of the window in the wall we had to face when we sat down. We could still hold hands, still recall the feel of the cold night air against our skin, still see the fading sun. We could contemplate the stars beyond the pale reach of the penitentiary lights, their brave shine. We could close our eyes and see.