Losing Light

The sun was singing on the bricks the last day of Malcolm Trench’s life. He had always liked to sit and watch as the sun went down. The day aged and the light yellowed until it faded and left altogether. Something in it enchanted him.

When he was younger, he had used to sit with Eva, his arm around her shoulder, and watch together as the sun went down. He worked odd hours as an engineer, so he was home around sunset. She was an accountant and she got out of work just after five, usually, so she would meet him at his apartment at six and they would sit in the living room by the big window. They used to just be friends, because she had been the younger sister of his childhood buddy. He had loved her forever. Even when they were friends she often came to his apartment to watch the sunlight disappear. There wasn’t a very good view from the living room window. The buildings leered at them, dirty windows and chipped paint, and they could barely see the sky. Instead they watched the sunlight shift colors, briefly making beauty skim the cracked and crumbling buildings. The white inside of the apartment cooled to eerie blue-gray as if the apartment was closing off to the rest of the world, dipped in shadow, and it was just them inside with the blue-gray walls around them.

One day Eva brought a pizza over and they ate and talked in low voices as the sun went down. She made a joke and he grinned. They were quiet for a moment. Malcolm remembered, later, how she looked then with the light cast in a glow down the line of her face and the hair curling free to her shoulders. She leaned forward, as if it was a casual calm motion and not one that sent shivers through him, and she pressed her mouth to his for the first time. Her lips were slippery with grease and soft. They didn’t notice the sun slip past the horizon or the dimming of the world to darkness.

After that Eva came over every evening and they watched the sunlight sidle away across the sky together until they were too distracted by the press of his arm on her back, the warmth of her thigh against his, and they scrambled and pushed at each other on the living room sofa. He could still remember what her sweat smelled like.

When she got pregnant he knew they had to get married. It was the right thing to do. She cried, tears trapped between her cheek and his shoulder, and he held her. They were too young, but they didn’t know that until later. They sat together, her with her growing belly, in his living room looking out the window. He rubbed her feet while the sun retreated. They got married in a courthouse ceremony. Malcolm’s mother came, and Eva’s parents sent them a letter of congratulations. The baby was born three months later. They named it Henry. Malcolm wanted to love the little red monkey as much as he loved his wife. He tried very hard.

Two years after they got married, he left. Perhaps she left. Probably neither of them really knows anymore. There wasn’t any reason to stay together any longer. Technically, they never got divorced. It comforted Malcolm for a while to know that there was still a piece of paper somewhere tying his name to hers. Eva sends him postcards sometimes with updates on Henry, who recently turned fourteen and has so far obstinately refused to discover girls. They both visited Malcolm last year. It was a short and awkward visit, except for the last night they were there. The three of them, the disjointed family, had sat in Malcolm’s new living room in the chairs he picked up for cheap down the street. There were two windows without curtains. The family sat with their dinners on their laps, waiting for the sun to go away. The light stretched thin and the shadows invaded. Henry was calm and quiet, not in the sullen teenage way he was growing into but in a peaceful way. Eva smiled unconvincingly at Malcolm and there was a kind of recognition in her smile. For one moment, they were together again in the onset of evening.

Earlier this evening, Malcolm left work. His boss had finally handed out the Christmas bonuses, apologizing grudgingly that it had taken him all the way into the new year. Malcolm cashed the check and waited too long to tuck the money into his wallet. A teenager shoved into him and yanked a gun out of his shorts. Malcolm looked into the trembling barrel of the gun and the kid told him to hand over the money, now. Malcolm backed away, tried to look around. The teenager whipped the gun into Malcolm’s head. It bounced off his skull with a thud, and Malcolm collapsed back onto the bricks. The kid grabbed his wallet and took off without looking back.

When the gun hit Malcolm’s skull, a blood vessel burst in his brain. He died at once. The kid would probably have been horrified to know that. His name was Brian and he carried a gun without bullets because he wanted to look threatening but didn’t want to go to jail. He thought he had just knocked out the guy outside the ATM. He ran and congratulated himself on making so much easy money. Brian had a long and convoluted life that led him to this moment, that thud, and the pieces of his life fit together in interestingly intricate ways. However, this is not Brian’s story. It is Malcolm’s and it ends here, with the setting sun singing on the bricks.

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Sunlight Stealing

Sunlight slipped through the window like a thief easing his way into their bedroom. Laura flinched from the brightness pressing at her eyelids, flaring in her half-sleeping sight.

She was just about to face the end of it. Falling asleep, she’d been brooding on their fight. Andy had curled up on his side of the bed, so she’d huddled on hers and run the lines through her head over and over like a script she was memorizing. She had been sure she was right, he was wrong, he should have called, she should be angry. Then she repeated the argument and she doubted. Later, though she couldn’t remember it, she was certain that the fight looping in her mind was the reason for the dreams.

Sleep swallowed her up while her lips were still moving around the angry words, and she dreamed. She found herself alone, in a vast and flat wasteland. There was nothing but desert sand and a wind that billowed and swirled around her. It pushed Laura, unyielding, until she dropped behind a hill. There was a cave there, lit from within. The sky was dark then, the sand near invisible, so she went inside. As she entered she saw that the cave glowed, an unearthly light from the crystals embedded in the walls. It was a tunnel, deep underground, and it wound and wove as she walked on.

There was the brief sensation that she had turned upside down. Laura knew she could feel it in her stomach, the quick twist from left to right, down to up. There was sky now, in the space she thought had just been the floor. It loomed above her head. It was lower, angrier, than the sky was normally, and it was a dull orange. She nearly brushed her nose on it when she looked up at the stars. The area around her was narrow, a long cramped room with the sky opening above it. Andy was there, and an elf, and a talking raccoon. They turned to her, and they said, “Hello, Laura, are you ready?”

She squeaked, “Ready for what?”

They did not answer her. Instead they turned, her lover and the talking raccoon, and gestured onward. At the end of the cramped room under the low dusty sky there was a door. It was nothing but wood planks, bound by iron and adorned with only a latch. Light shimmered around its edges. She reached for it, and it swung open. Andy walked up to stand next to her, at her right hand, and the raccoon appeared at her left. Andy said, “It’s an adventure, love. We’re going to face it together, just like everything else.”

She smiled, weakly, and the raccoon snarled, “Gods above, but dreamers in love make me sick. Come on, you humans, let’s go defeat the evil already.” She smiled at him too, and together they stepped forward.

When the mist cleared from around them, they were in a fair. There were balloons clamoring together in the sky and a little girl with a cloud of cotton candy. There was a giraffe walking past them and a clown flying by. Laura knew that the fight lay at the end of the lane, and with Andy and the raccoon beside her she walked bravely toward it.

Laura groaned and threw an arm over her eyes. The movement only jostled her awake, though. The pale stealthy light of the sun had already made its way into the room, and it had robbed her of her dream. She turned, and saw Andy. He was frowning in his sleep, probably still angry from the night before. She glared, annoyed, at the sunshine. She wanted the rest of her dream, the end of her story. She sat up instead, because the sun had come up before she could finish it. Her hands fumbled, her eyes still bleary, but she found her glasses on the nightstand and set them on her face so that she could see clearly. The dream was already fading as she shook the sleep from her head. The room around her was pale, just traced with enough light to see by in the waking day.