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art by Billy Sagulo

Totality

Tony Pisculli is a theatre director and fight choreographer living in Hawaii and a student in the Stonecoast Creative Writing program. This is his first story.
My first total eclipse, Munich International Airport. A fortunate layover on a hectic business trip to Europe.
The moon has already carved an enormous black bite from the disc of the sun, leaving a thin, white crescent that slowly shrinks as I watch. Just before the crescent vanishes completely, it flares up in four bright dots--Bailey's Beads--which wink out, one by one, in quick succession. The last spills a hot circle of light around the silhouette of the moon before it, too, sputters out and the corona appears, dancing and flickering like the ghost of the sun.
Immediately the temperature drops. A hush settles on the world. The birds and crickets fall silent, fooled into thinking that day has become night.
Totality.
I take my safety glasses off, cheap cardboard things with black polymer lenses, and watch the crowd--hundreds, maybe thousands of people, all oriented in the same direction, all wearing glasses, gazing up at the sky.
All but two.
A man in a well-worn jacket, searching not the sky but the crowd, and a young woman running toward him from the direction of the eclipse.
She throws herself at him and they embrace like lovers. No, like high school sweethearts, passionate but innocent. He picks her up and spins her around, her long, blond hair fanning out behind her. For a brief moment she's silhouetted against the eclipse. The corona backlights her hair, and she's impossibly beautiful.
Then they're whispering and kissing and nuzzling each other as if reunited after a long absence. I'm embarrassed to witness this intimate moment, but I can't look away. The girl sees me watching and smiles.
"Would you take our picture?" she asks. She hands me an old Polaroid camera, the kind with the disposable flash bar across the top. I line the couple up in the viewfinder and they smile, arms around each other. The flash pops and the camera whirs....
I feel the change before I see it. The air warms slightly and the birds begin to sing. I look up to see the white hot crescent of the sun hugging the moon. When I look back, the girl is gone.
The man takes the camera from me, the undeveloped photo still hanging from it like a tongue. He tugs it free and writes with a felt-tip pen on the wide, bottom border "Munich, Germany. August 11, 1999," and below that, "2 min 17 sec." From his jacket pocket he produces a stack of some dozen or sixteen similar polaroids wrapped in an aged, red rubber band.
The band breaks, and the photos tumble to the ground, a patchwork quilt of images of the same couple. In a jungle clearing, the faint wisp of a corona just barely intruding on the frame, "Siem Reap, Cambodia. October 24, 1995--2 min 10 sec." Standing on a beach, knee-deep in surf, "Baja California. July 11, 1991--6 min 55 sec." On a bridge lit up from beneath, "Portland, Oregon. February 26, 1979--1 min 58 sec."
I could sort them by the lines on his face and the wear on his jacket, but the girl looks the same in every picture as I saw her a few moments ago, unchanging, forever young.
I look up from the face of the boy in the photo to the face of the man he's become. He offers me a sad smile, as if ashamed of his devotion to this intermittent love affair of perhaps twenty minutes total, scattered across as many years. He expects pity, but I feel only envy. There's no one waiting for me when I get home to Boston. There's never been anyone waiting for me. And if that's because I never asked anyone to wait, or wasn't willing to wait for them, it doesn't ease the sting in this moment.
He gently takes the pictures from my hand and disappears into the crowd.
In the years since then I've become an eclipse chaser myself, missing only the events where totality took place over Antarctica or the open ocean. I've seen six more total eclipses, sometimes with a companion, mostly alone. I always look for the lovers, for the telltale flash of someone taking their picture. I've never seen them again, but I know they're there.
The End
This story was first published on Thursday, December 19th, 2013

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