The brochure says this is the best place to see the eclipse, only the brochure is a year old, and we have missed the eclipse.
“People don’t bring people into the desert at night,” I say.
He unfolds the legs of his telescope and tells me I can count the rings of Saturn if I want.
Through the lens I see a fuzzy planet turned upside-down.
We are miles from anything resembling life, and the air is cold and dry. Above our heads the night sky glows horribly.
“Jill?” he asks now. He has focused the telescope on something—the word he uses here is celestial. “When will you know?”
I look at a blurry collection of dim white dots. “As soon as they tell me,” I say, and move the telescope to empty sky.
My fingers are cold, and there’s a strange wind coming from whichever direction that mountain range is. A smell, too, I can’t quite describe, like disinfectant.
He hovers lightly over the soil as if trying not to leave a mark.
Last year, at the time of the eclipse, rooms here were renting for over a thousand dollars. Now we rent a queen room for just under a hundred. The brochure makes references to eclipse chasers, people who believe in the celestial and other worldly transformations. They come from all over to witness something that lasts only minutes.
I stare at my phone even though it’s late, and they will not call at this hour.
He tries to find something on TV.
My eyes are dry, and the lights in the room are haloed.
“Where were you during the eclipse?” he asks.
I make up something better than what happened. “I was on another continent,” I say. The truth is I was here, with the chasers, in a room my friend had booked three years earlier. What I had felt was this—I had felt nothing.
He finds an infomercial for kitchen gadgets, something that slices and dices, because two is better than one, isn’t it?
Life is just one moment then another. I do not love my boyfriend, but he treats me nice, and maybe that is enough for most people.
In the morning, I take his car keys and drive alone into the desert. I find the spot where I stood a year before and pretended to be interested in what was just a shadow moving across the sun.
My phone rings but I do not answer it. I know the caller is him, I didn’t leave a note.
What it looked like: white dots floating in grey masses. Aspiration is the word they use to describe the process of extracting cells—is that to make you feel hopeful?
I call him back and say, “The Sun is just floating in space, did you know that?”
He exhales slowly and says to come back to bed or says we’ll get breakfast or says none of this.
Last year so many people had transformations. They gasped and held their chests as if they might die. One woman fainted and her friend poured bottled water over her face to wake her.
When the eclipse began, the first thing I did was close my eyes. I thought it would make the experience better. I turned to my friend and asked, “Am I missing anything?”
“What am I missing?”
“Shouldn’t I be missing something?”
Nicholas Cook lives in Dallas, TX, along with his dog. His fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Jellyfish Review, (b)OINK, 100 Word Story, A Quiet Courage, New Flash Fiction Review, Camroc Press Review, and elsewhere. His story The Peculiar Trajectory of Space Objects won second place in the Feb 2017 Bath Flash Fiction Award. Find him at @thisdogisdog.