an hour’s worth of sunshinePosted: February 25, 2010
“Simon, snap out of it.” Marshall says, brusquely.
“Huh?” I answer, somewhat confused. We’re sitting at a round table, outside, in a brisk mid-February noon. The sky is a bright azure, with nary a cloud in sight; the sound of other people’s conversation cuts through the dull hum of cars passing by. I’m slightly intrigued by their voices, noting the hints of anger or deceit in the cadence. Marshall’s sitting across from me, one leg on top of the other’s knee, clutching between his left index and middle finger a smoke and in his right hand a probably lukewarm coffee. His pick-me-up on shitty days, as he always said. But today was hardly shitty- at least, the weather wasn’t.
Mia’s to the left of me. My mind had dreamt of all the possibilities that we could have had the second I saw her beautiful face. She moves a strand of hair away from her face, I stare long enough to get a decent look, but not long enough for her to consider me creepy. She was checking her phone, anyway. But damn, damn if she didn’t look nice today, even though she said her wake-up time was approximately an hour ago. Damn if those eyes, that shirt… “Simon.” She says, interrupting the thoughts she knew I was thinking. “You said there’s something you wanted to talk about.”
That’s right. There was. The coffee that was placed in front of me ten or so minutes ago had finally stopped steaming. I take a sip, and begin an anecdote. “I remember this old short story that I read back when I was still in grade school. I forgot who wrote it, hell, I forgot most of the plot details. But I do remember that it took place on Venus. Some sort of alternate-universe version of Venus where it could be inhabited by humans. In the story, Venus was a planet that rained constantly, every day for every hour. Except for a single day, every seven years, when the Sun decides to peek through the clouds for about an hour.” I pause for a beat. Mia’s listening intently, as she always does. Marshall’s feigning disinterest. I think. “There’s this kid, a new kid introduced to a classroom full of children born on Venus who have never seen the Sun. The new kid is different because she was born on Earth, which was apparently still inhabited, and could vividly recall basking in the Sun’s warmth and all of that stuff.”
“How long ago were you told this story?” Marshall asks me, flicking ashes away from his cigarette.
“Too long.” I answer, before continuing. “During their recess, while the teacher is away, all of the jealous kids begin to tease the new kid for being from Earth and stuff her into one of the classroom’s closets. They lock the door, look outside, and see the sun beginning to shine through the clouds.” I clear my throat. Marshall’s eyebrow raises a millimeter. “Here’s the fucked up part. The part that breaks my heart all of these years in the future, given my current situation. The kids go out and frolic in the Sun for that precious hour, ignoring anything and everything that happened before they first saw the Sun. After forty or so minutes, one of the kids feels a raindrop on their hand. This causes the other kids to realize who they left behind.”
“So what happens next?” Mia asks, looking somewhat enthralled. If there was anything that was keeping her from never seeing me again, it had to be these stories. They’re all I have. Without them, I’m just a deluded fool, a neurotic, friendless egotist who just needs to find that one- “Well?” She interrupts, again. Mia always had a penchant for that.
“The class rushes into the classroom and open the closet that the new kid was trapped in. She’s pale, she was crying. They lead her outside, so that they all could feel the Sun for a few more minutes before it escapes for another seven years, but as soon as they come back outside, the rain is pouring relentlessly, as it always did.” That was what I took from that story. Being put in a compromising, disadvantageous position by things out of your control and missing out on something rare, something beautiful. Waiting helplessly, crying your eyes out and your voice hoarse for someone to save you, someone to take you to those fleeting moments that you have with the warmth before the rain comes back, and having noone come until it’s way too late.
“How do you deal with it?” Simon asks, to both of us, or maybe to the people walking by. Hell, they probably could care.
I take a long drag from my cigarette, letting the nicotine coarse through the hemoglobin before slowly exhaling. “Deal with what?” I answer, before shoving the cigarette face first into an ashtray. I notice Mia look at it with disgust, maybe also a slight hint of wanting. Everyone loves the idea of cigarette smoking. Not the practice.
“That constant train of rejection, disappointment, and general shittiness?” Simon did have a way of finding faults. His own, most of the time, but he was equally as good in finding what’s wrong with others. “Being left in the dark confines of a closet while others are enjoying what little sunlight there is? The knowledge that something so beautiful only comes about every seven years, and it just slips through your fingers, not because of you, but because of someone else?” Seven years ago, I met a girl named Steph. A year ago, she shattered my ideals on romance. Now I know he was asking me the question. Another cigarette from the pack. Last one. Two clicks, and it’s lit. Inhale.
“I learned to cope.” Exhale. It’s true.
“How the fuck do you cope with something like that?” Mia blurts, catching me off-guard. Wasn’t paying much attention to her.
Inhale. “You just do.” Exhale. “Instead of going through life bitching about how something didn’t work out, how some girl didn’t go out to dinner with you, how you didn’t get that job promotion, how after all of your effort you’re back at where you were before, you accept those things as the world teaching you a lesson. Don’t get too involved. Don’t get too invested. Expect nothing more than a bit less than shitty.”
“You’re kidding.” Mia scoffs.
“Do I look like I’m kidding? Life consistently finds a way to shit on everything I want to go right. Sure, the spontaneous things, the ephemeral things, yeah, they work out pretty alright but when I want something to be done a certain way, when there’s something that I really want to happen, that I really want to go through for whatever reason, the universe sucker punches me, says, ‘Haha, you idiot, you really think things will go your way when you want them to go your way?’ and forces me to get on with things. So I do. I get on with things.” Simon has been unusually quiet. Maybe I finally struck a chord. I look over his way. He’s staring off into space, as he always is. Mia, on the other hand, I saw her eyes fill with passion. Maybe a hint of tears. That’s how it always is with women.
“That’s awful. That’s really, really awful.” She continues.
“You think the world’s a shitty place!” Mia yells. A few eyes around us dart up before immediately darting back down.
I raise my voice only slightly. Not enough to incite a definite reaction from those nearby. “It is a shitty place! Name one time when something you wanted to happen actually happened the way you planned.”
A pause. I think I stumped her. Finally, jaded pragmatism wins over hopeless romanticism.
“I can’t think of one.” I finally whisper. Marshall was right. But I can’t let him have the satisfaction of knowing that. Deep down, that wasn’t true. I just had to find the reason. “But what about all the other times when things go your way when you don’t plan for them to? What about the times when life hands you a gift in the form of a twenty dollar bill on the ground, a bright sunny day, or some girl throwing herself at you when you really weren’t really expecting her to?” A breath. “What then?” I say, with a slight air of triumph.
“Did you want those things to happen?” He shoots me down. Why does he always shoot me down? And while I’m asking questions to myself, where the hell has Simon been in this conversation? I could always count on him for some degree of support. He still was in love with me, I could tell. If I ignore it long enough, it’ll go away.
“Not necessarily.” I answer Marshall, even though my mind was caught elsewhere.
“Well then, there you go. Things that you want to happen won’t happen. So there’s no use in hoping for anything less than shit, because when you’re not hoping for anything, that’s when the good things come your way.” He takes another drag. I hate the smell of cigarette smoke. “Life’s what’s happening when your head’s stuck in the clouds.” It looks like Marshall meant that for Simon.
I’m snapped out of my trance. Mia’s back to fidgeting, twiddling her thumbs, running an index finger around the rim of a coffee cup. Marshall’s looking directly at me. “So that’s your mentality?” I ask. The sky’s still a nice shade of blue, there still wasn’t a cloud. I could finally start feeling the Sun’s warmth. Maybe that’s all I really need. A jackass to put me in my place and a girl for me to fall hopelessly in love with.
“Blow off the times when you get blown off.” Tim continues. It’s obviously his final statement before he goes to buy another pack of smokes. “Don’t give a shit when your life’s a shit pile because that just makes it worse. And with that brain of yours that does all it can to make things seem like they’re awful, that’s never a good thing.” He cursed one too many times, but damn if he wasn’t completely right.
I just awkwardly nod.