I went over to one of the windows from my childhood home and touched the handle. Behind my back, in the big room, there was nothing I remembered, nothing at all. So now I knew that my memories dwelled in a place that didn’t exist, a place that been swept from the face of the earth, and those four rooms, that bathroom, and that kitchen lived only in me. All the things that once seemed irremovable were gone. The toilet was dust; the plates were dust; the beds were dust. There was not a trace of my family’s passage; our smell had disappeared forever.
The New York Times hyped it like crazy. So did my friends. “The eclipse is the thing, man. We gotta go!”
I thought little of it until I was driving home to Toronto and, on a manic whim, instead of sticking to Interstate 80, I veered down 81 toward Virginia and the eclipse.I calculated that I could get as far as Roanoke, Virginia, which I learned through my app would have 92% coverage, and that sounded like something indeed, far more intense than 84%, which is all I would have had if I stayed my course.
Electronic signs began to appear at the side of the road. Solar Eclipse today 12-4pm. No stopping on shoulder or ramps. The interstate was heavily traffic, trucks lining the right lane as far as I could see, but it seemed right. We were all journeying down together, a convoy, to see this astronomical event. I listened solely to Off the Sky, brooding electronic music, perfect for the approaching darkness. I reached the Virginia border, only 234 miles to Roanoke. Only. Ten minutes later, I realized that was well over three more hours of driving which meant another three hours back. I was getting in deep. I focused on the music and the historic moment to come – the sky darkening, animals scattering, humans collectively moaning. It was going to be something, to be sure.
I gassed up less than a hundred miles away, ready to talk to the cashier about the moment to come, but she and a man from Texas were talking in amazed terms instead about the cost of cigarettes in New York. “$15?! That’s two meals for me! Who would be dumb enough to pay that?”
Back on the highway, it got suddenly dim. I looked up. Just a cloud. I drove madly – I needed as much coverage as possible! – until 2:35, five minutes ahead of the full 92% and pulled into a gas station. A van pulled in and two bikers. I looked up. The sun looked the same. I went into the store and bought a can of Chipotle Pringles. The woman looked tired, bored, completely uninterested in this remarkable event. I went back outside. The light began to dim. It cooled quickly, at least 10 degrees below the high of 95. Two people came around behind their van and donned polarized glasses and looked up. Another took a picture of them. “Eclipse!” I looked at my watch. It was 2:41. It had passed. Had I missed it? I wasn’t sure. I was going to borrow their glasses but was afraid they might be the unsafe kind and so looked into the sky again. It was getting hotter, brighter. Yes, it was over. It was eleven hours – a eight-hour detour in the end – to get to Toronto. I listened to nothing for a while, just the tires clicking over the asphalt. And I thought about the next eclipse, only seven years away. I can hardly wait.
In principle, it should be easy to decide whether the universe will end in eternal night or singular noon, in the infinitely thin dispersal of its substance or in the re-creation of the flash of the Big Bang. If the present average density of the universe is greater than three protons for every thousand liters of space, then gravity will eventually prevail and the universe will collapse back toward its beginning. On the other hand, if the average density of the present universe is less than this critical value, the expansion will continue on forever.
(Chet Raymo, The Soul of the Night, p194)
All I want to do is expand the narrative gaze so that the world is in the reader’s head, and all of the characters are specific and clear, giving each and every scene an ideal arc and so embroil the meta in a tightly composed understanding of why we’re all here. (And then I want to go to Europe.*)
*Credit to Steve Martin.
Their first sortie took them all of fifty feet from the Ship. They huddled close together for silent comfort and watched their feet to keep from stumbling on this strange uneven deck. They made it without incident until Alan looked up from the ground and found himself for the first time in his life with nothing close to him. He was hit by vertigo and acute agoraphobia; he moaned, closed his eyes and fell. Hugh fought against it. It pulled him to his knees, but he fought it, steadying himself with one hand. However he had the advantage of having stared out through the view port for endless time. “Just sit still and you’ll be all right.”