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As the Sun Sets
“I’m going do it, Ms. Eliza, I really am,”
“Will you, Ander?”
Ander reamed his hands over his pant legs, his eyes stared at the carpet between them.
Eliza said, “Ander.”
Fabric hissed against the sweaty palms. Eliza reclined in her chair. She rested one leg over another, her elevated wedge tapped the air as she studied the boy. Ander Whipp, 16, had been taken into foster care after the incident.
He was born into the Isle, a cult who had made camp at the foot of Sideling Mountains. Ninety people followed Emerson Isle, a middle-aged man who claimed to be Lazarus who returned to inform what was to come. The term, The Isle, was coined in the late 90’s, after they had settled into their home.
84 people died in May, before the Announcement came out. Authorities found them littered on the linoleum, the crystal glasses glittering amongst them like stars.
Some people believed they had a follower tucked away in NASA, an earpiece for “Lazarus,” but no, they were going to the Moon, not escaping the Sun. It was their “Rapture,” an Isle child had shared.
The six survivors, with poor Ander included, were surrendered to the foster system, and issued by a judge to go to therapy.
Eliza eyed the candle that burned on the table beside Ander. The ember reminded her of him, teetering in its world.
“Ander, it’s been a few minutes, please, if you can, share your thoughts with me,” Eliza said.
“I think I’ll do it,” Ander said.
“You think or you know?”
“…I’m going to do it,” he whispered.
“Don’t correct yourself because of me, Ander. Tell me, what you want to do?”
Ander’s fingers cupped his knees. The muscle in jaw clenched. The corners of his lips quaked. Tears formed in his eyes. He mulled his lips together. He inhaled but expelled the breath in a jagged exhale.
“Breathe, Ander -”
“I don’t know what I want to do,” his voice creaked.
“Why do you feel the need to do anything?”
“They did,” he bowed his head. His body shuddered as he whimpered.
“You are not them, Ander,”
“But I have to -,”
“Ander, we have one more year.”
Ander’s eyes flashed onto Eliza’s face.
She tapped her foot in the empty air.
She said, “We have one year; we have to take advantage of that.”
Ander blinked at Eliza. The timer went off. He handed her the card his foster parents gave him. Eliza shifted in the room in silence, plucking tissues and readjusting the pillows of the couch Ander had been on. His hands never stopped shaking. They always had.
It was hard to discern if it was from the trauma Ander stomached, bleeding into his nerves, or it was his instinct reaching out for its magnum opus, like the ember on the candlewick, anticipating its extinction.
NASA had announced Apocalypse last summer. Heat waves that made people shelter in place were not just record highs. The Sun was dying, and within these months, the Earth would be consumed.
Eliza blew out the candle, watching as the existence of the fire dissolved in smoke.
“So, what are your plans, Cody?”
Cody, 25, would not look at Eliza. He looked around at the room, the neutral paint, the framed pictures of meadows. He shifted in his seat. He flexed his hands. Eliza noticed the tongue loll in his mouth.
“I don’t know what the point of this is,” Cody said. He shook his head. His eyes on the joint where the exit merged the rest of the room. Eliza straightened. She tucked one foot behind the other. She placed her notepad on her lap. She eyed the clock mounted on the wall to her right. 15 minutes in.
Cody Black had never taken a tissue. Eliza had never lit the candle for their sessions. They had never lasted the whole hour, because he never understood why he would be in this room with this lady and list these emotions. They had been meeting for a year and a half already.
“What is making you upset?”
“Upset? Why wouldn’t I be upset? We are going to die anytime now. I’m going to die by a stupid Sun, and be cut down in my prime,”
Eliza exhaled through her teeth. She wrote down, “in my prime.”
“It’s normal to be upset, but can you explain why –,”
Cody scoffed, “I’m so tired of you being an idiot -,”
“You have to stop trying to escape, Cody,” Eliza said.
He snorted, clenching his temples in one hand, shaking his head.
“Why do you think? You think I want to be caged in here with you? You’re not even fun to look at,” he snarled.
Eliza wrote down, “caged.” Cody Black was a product of his own faults, and the faults of his heritage. The Black Family were the oldest clan of the town. Tobias Black was an oil tycoon and financed numerous businesses in Arcat, making it a hub. However, the well had been muddied by the money, and now they created secrets, cast shadows, and bred scandal.
“You feel pressure, that’s expected. Anxiety is natural, Cody,” Eliza said to her notepad.
He peeled his face from his palm. He glared at Eliza. She could feel his eyes on her face. Nerves notched her stomach. She pretended to write something, focused on the click of the clock.
“I am not weak, Eliza,” Cody spat.
“I was not saying you were,” Eliza said.
Cody exhaled through his nose. Eliza heard the cushion shift under him. Her pen drifted over the paper, casting wisps of ink around the collection of quotes. His eyes shifted over her face, skirting over her shirt, and down her shins. Eliza exhaled through her nose. The notch grew tighter.
Townspeople talk, not only in the session room, but especially when there is money in the vocabulary.
While drifting through the grocery aisles, Eliza had heard that Cody Black had gotten a girl pregnant. Another one. Apparently, nature wanted the Black line to continue, but his parents refuted this, again. There was a rumor that he would go to therapy to keep his inheritance to “tame” him. The next week, Cody had arrived for his first session.
“Cody, don’t you want to feel better before the “stupid” Sun kills us all?”
He met her eyes with raised eyebrows. He blinked at Eliza. She offered a smile. The notch loosened in her stomach. She shifted in her seat.
He exhaled through his nose and reclined in the couch. He looked around the room, his eyebrows indented in embarrassment.
Eliza said, “What will you do?”
He sighed through his teeth. He drummed out a beat onto his thighs, then exhaled.
“I want to be good, but everyone is throwing themselves at each other,” he muttered.
Eliza kept the pen on the notepad.
“Who is throwing themselves?”
Cody cleared his throat. He concentrated on the floor. He took a few measured breaths. He flexed his fingers. Eliza furrowed her eyebrows at him.
“My friends,” Cody whispered to the door. He flexed his fingers. The notch tightened in Eliza’s stomach. She thought of Cody going out into the night with these brutish boys in khakis and button up shirts. How they salivated at the neon lights of club entrances, and chugged beer to find courage, descending onto women who hoped for something other than to be empty.
Or in Cody’s case, hosting a moment.
“They are enjoying their last times out, and I just stay home because I have to be good, I need to be good, but it doesn’t matter anymore, does it?”
The notch pulled jagged. Breath caught in Eliza’s chest. Cody looked wounded, his eyes shining with tears, his lips pulled into a frown. His chest was shuddering under the weight of the words, of the truth. Money muddied the well, but what about the well’s inhabitants?
Cody reminded her of monster, mutated by money. He was born a beautiful boy, crafted by music lessons, drivers, lacrosse, hunting trips, his marble self passed from employee, to employee, to employee. His parents casting looks upon him as if he was a display in the Met.
But the porcelain chipped, and they closed his exhibit to fix him. The Black Family plated him with plaster to shut him up. The chips survived. The veined porcelain scrawled into tattoos. The town heard of his exploits. How he started drunk fights, drove drunk, loved drunker. He evaded his name and would slip into the damp dark of bars, and he would bring girls home and break apart using them as an anvil, casting sparks in the night to feel something, to escape the weight of the family, to erase the lessons and just live.
“Why is there a need to be good?”
“You know, the whole town knows.”
“Explain it to me,” she said. Eliza eyed the clock. There were five minutes left.
“I have to be good because I have been good, I met this girl, Julia, and she is great, Eliza, she’s .. she’s,” Cody sniffed, blinking down at his hands, which were flexing and relaxing on his knees.
Eliza dressed a leg onto the other.
“I told her,” Cody muttered, “about the women, about what my parents did.”
The grocery store would never know his words. Eliza would consume these words and make them into silence. But they were hard. There was sand in her teeth. She let it layer her mouth like sediment, pushing it into the center like the base of a sandcastle.
“Do you need a tissue, Cody?”
A segment of a smile appeared under his hair.
“No…I just want to be good, Eliza, I want to be good to her. But it- it’s hard,” he said. He looked up at Eliza. Tears were rolling down his cheeks. He buffed them away with the heels of his hands. The water stained his knees, planting something in the cracks of the monster.
“You are good Cody, because you trying to better yourself and pass it forward by caring for Julia,” Eliza said. She offered a smile.
Cody nodded; he blocked his eyes with his hands.
“Take Julia on dates, make dinner at home, make these days special, Cody,” Eliza said.
Cody nodded. He clapped the hands on his knees.
“I am not good at this, but for what it’s worth, Eliza, thank you.”
Eliza blinked at Cody.
He grinned. He muttered something to himself and walked out of the room. The monster had shed its skin, leaving Eliza to look at it on the couch, a quarry she would have to move before the next session, but for now, she just stared at it.
“Mrs. Wyatt, we have discussed this before, no gifts,” Eliza said. Her fingers were entwined with the Afghan Mrs. Wyatt had dropped into her lap. For such an old woman, she still had a sly hair to her.
Mrs. Wyatt chuckled, “Can you just take it, Eliza? I’ll die happier knowing you finally accepted a present.”
Eliza exhaled. The Afghan was made by the skilled craftsman, 86-year-old Betty Wyatt. Her kids had ushered her to therapy after losing her husband five years prior. They were worried that they would lose their mother to grief.
Mrs. Wyatt’s eyes squinted as she beamed at Eliza. Her purple heels, which she had worn to every session, swung an inch above the floor, she fixed the black dress she wore.
Mrs. Wyatt nodded at the Afghan.
“Please, Elizabeth, for me,” she whispered.
Eliza fretted at the woman. Five years of meeting, and their time together was coming to an end. Mrs. Wyatt reminded her of the ocean, magnificent, glittering, her blues in her depths, waving goodbye to the shore as her tides ebbed away.
She would not go out like her husband, asleep under layers of blankets, by the love of her life. She would go out in a shared moment.
“Oh, oh, Elizabeth, wait a moment,” Mrs. Wyatt said.
Tears dappled Eliza’s legs. She wilted over, her fingers hooking into the Afghan.
“Elizabeth,” whispered Mrs. Wyatt.
The tissue box sailed under Eliza’ tempest. The paper dissolved under her tears; the paisley pattern dappled by Eliza. Mrs. Wyatt offered the box again. Eliza inhaled and exhaled, her throat plating with the saline that flooded her senses.
“Thank you,” Eliza croaked. She washed her face with the tissues, studying the black smears from her mascara on the white. “I am so sorry, Mrs. Wyatt, please, let’s get back into our session- “
Mrs. Wyatt’s hands held Eliza’s right hand into her own. Eliza looked up. The old woman smiled down on her. The corners of her tiny eyes etched by tears.
“Let’s just talk, Eliza,” she said. Her voice was smooth and calm, like the calm in the water after a storm.
Eliza inhaled, exhaled. Her chest fluttered and she cleared her throat. Mrs. Wyatt’s gaze didn’t falter. She cocked her curly head to the side, looking down on Eliza.
“But I have to be here, I need to help – “
“It’s done, dear, now, we just wait,” Mrs. Wyatt said. She patted Eliza’s hands.
A calm filled Eliza’s body, washing her nerves into a hush. Eliza relaxed. She turned her right hand to fit her fingers with Ms. Wyatt’s. She looked at their hands together, her aged hands with hers, a thought of how time was stopping entered, and evaporated. She exhaled and nodded at Mrs. Wyatt.
“No more sessions,” Mrs. Wyatt said.
The hush loudened, filling Eliza’s brain with static.
She had no appointments next week.
No one had called to try to schedule another session.
“Do you want to have one more chat with me?”
Eliza nodded. She dabbed her face with the damp tissue. Mrs. Wyatt hugged Eliza, holding her tight, her hands brushing over her back. Eliza held onto her, allowing to be washed over by Mrs. Wyatt. Eliza let go of the Afghan and looped her arms around Mrs. Wyatt. The fabric of her black dress sleek and soft compared to the twine of her blanket.
Mrs. Wyatt sighed, she broke the embrace to look down onto Eliza. Tears shined in the wrinkles of her little face. She patted Eliza’s shoulder.
“Come on,” she said. She smiled at Eliza, then padded to the couch. Eliza sat beside her. Mrs. Wyatt patted her knee, her eyes squinted in a smile.
“Now, what do you want to talk about?”
The hum of the road filled Eliza’s car as she drove home. No one was on the road. No one would be. She looked outside. The Sun had burned the blue out of the sky, bleaching it to a burning white that made you squint. No birds flew in the radiance. The birds were waiting in Heaven for them.
The air that filtered in smelled like acres of brunt leaves. The trees that lined the road were match sticks. Their branches stretched out toward the brilliance.
The Sun was no longer how she remembered it. It used to be Mr. Golden, looking down on them in kind, wreathed with clouds as it drifted across the sky. It had grown to an oblong sphere, as it was growing into a creature, Eliza watched as it prowled high above, looking for something else to burn.
It used to be a miracle of Earth’s placement. The planet who had the perfect distance to harbor life without being harmed by the heat.
Eliza parked at her home, which was originally white. Now it was gray. She left her wallet and bag in the car and walked to the door. She looked up at the sky, at the eye shaped Sun that glared down at her.
She had always been instructed never to stare at the Sun. Of course, as kids, they would attempt to make the Sun blink on the playground, but they never could. Tears welled in Eliza’s eyes. She turned to unlock the door and padded into her home.
“Alexa, play Frank Sinatra,” Eliza called out. She kicked off her wedges. They leaned against the wall, collapsed on top of each other.
“N-now play-playing, Frank Sinatra station,” Alexa prattled. The electronics had been affected by the heat, shorting out as they sweltered. It seemed that they still wanted to provide their users services, as if they wanted to comfort them.
There was a stutter in the orchestra, but soon ‘The World We Knew,’ by Franke Sinatra enveloped the home.
Eliza looked around. The stairs rose ahead of her. She climbed up as Frank sings of the past. Eliza looked at the pictures that framed the stairwell. Her family, which were one of those where only one was left to tell their stories. There was a picture of her and her parents. Her and her aunt and uncle. Her first dog, who she would see soon. A trip to Niagara Falls, which would not quell the fire. She stood in front of the steely blue landscape of the waterfall, a smile glowing brighter than the yellow of her raincoat beaming at her.
“Alexa, volume 13.”
“V-v-volu-me thir-t-t-teen,” Alexa warbled.
Frank’s voice swelled, filling the upstairs with his baritone.
“Over and over, I keep going over the world we knew,” he sang.
Eliza turned to the window that peeked into her neighbor’s home. They had left a few months prior, joining the wife’s family on the West Coast. Eliza had never had a good conversation with them in the time they had lived side by side. When she did see the wife, a red head who scrunched her nose when she smiled, they had always talked about how sticky syrup was. The husband always nodded when they retrieved the mail or trash bin at the same time.
She looked at the sliver of their home. The walls had been stripped. She could see the nails of where their pictures had been hung. The pots that lined the window sill hosted crinkled plants.
Eliza exhaled. She strolled into her office. She skimmed the accolades that plated her walls. Degrees she accrued. Ceremonies she attended. Cutting the ribbon at her practice. Medals from runs. Eliza’s chest grew tight. She inhaled through her teeth. The ghosts shined in the growing light. She looked out the window. The light was pooling in, encompassing the right side of her computer screen. Thunder rumbled in the distance. Eliza looked at the wall again. Below was a bar cart admonished with different bodies of liquor. She grabbed the gin and put it to the lips. The aromatic formula pricked her body, burning her stomach. She pulled away to hear her panting. Blood pounded in her head. Tears welled in her eyes.
The thunder rolled again. A tree fell in the distance.
“Now over and over ..” crooned Frank.
Eliza threw back another shot. She wiped her mouth and paced down the hall to the bathroom. She peeled off her slacks, her shirt, her underpants.
“That inconceivable, that unbelievable world we knew, when we two were in love,” Frank sang.
Eliza’s breathing sharpened, jerking out of her chest. She buckled, her nails pinching her skin. Tears rained onto her toes. She inhaled. She exhaled. She felt her body shudder. The gin settled onto her nerves. A haze filled her body, her blood with fog, that was passed off to the other articles of herself. Her chest relaxed. Her hands filled with static. She felt the thought rolling in her temple, but no more worry came.
Eliza turned on the water and let it fill the tub. She chugged the gin again, pushing for a few more gulps to keep the process of numb going.
A teary-eyed Eliza blinked at her in the mirror. Her lipstick smeared by the gin, tendrils of her dark hair framing her face.
Eliza exhaled. So did the reflection.
“I hope I see you on the others side,” she whispered. She raised the bottle to the reflection. She clinked the bottle’s lip to the mirror and inhaled another shot.
She laid in the tub. She placed the gin bottle to her side and let her body be encompassed by the warmth.
“It’s done, Eliza, it’s done,” she whispered to herself. She closed her eyes. Another thunder trampled through her neighborhood. She felt the house shift.
“O-ver and over,” Frank finished the lyric.
Eliza pushed farther into the water. Her hands held onto the tub.
She thought of Ander, the survivor who was cleaning his face, whispering a prayer as he cleansed the shadow from his little chin.
She thought of Cody, who laid in bed with Julia in his arms, breathing in her scent as they heard the thunder pass over them.
She thought of Mrs. Wyatt, who was looking out the window at the garden, smiling as the light ate more and more of her flowers.
She thought of the emptiness of next week, the vacant road, the smoke in the air, and the haze in her body.
She inhaled and exhaled, unfurling her fingers from the tub. She folded her hands neatly over her chest. She closed her eyes.
Thunder broke into her home. Glass shattered downstairs. Wood splintered. Her body shook in the tub. Water spilled over. The gin warbled as it flooded the floor. Something told Eliza to look and she saw this blinding brilliance that enveloped around her.
Eliza smiled at the vastness of light, an element that was everything all at once, dimensions, time, emotion. She felt the haze evaporate in the brilliance. She inhaled, exhaled, humming with the electricity, switching on to something more, everything, with everyone.