Clock Full of Sun

August 5, 2013
"Don't go out, now. It's dangerous."

Allen remembered then that she would kiss him on top of the head and place him by the window as he watched the kids outdoors with their little plastic glasses and greasy arms dancing in the dull yet bright light of blue sun.

He didn't understand how something that reached him harmless through the clear window could possibly cripple him. But he saw his grandpa, arms and legs cracked and blistered. Big black sores sucking up medicine and water but never disappearing. As of the solar flare and the explosion, there was no grass, no animals. There was just them. A small slapped together rickety old town that survived on a scorched earth.

The oceans had dried up and there was no rain for 40 days and 40 nights. Until there was a gentle wind that swept through with tiny dust particles and collected moisture. It began with a small rain. At least that's what his mother had said. That's the scientists and scholars said.

The clock on the wall ticked. Allen watched the large hand swing to the right. Salvaged from one of the storage piles around town, the old metal clock had been given to Allen by his father. Who was presumably gone now. Both hands locked on the 12. Allen looked out the window and everything was still shining. Bright and gray. Bright and gray. He climbed into bed and tried to sleep.

Outside, the children began coming in for their bedtimes too. Faces were rubbed like the curvatures of little forks and spoons to remove the solutions that protected them from the sun. They got dressed, and they went to bed.

Allen lay with one arm under his head. He had forgotten to draw the curtain, but it was alright. Sometimes he thought that the sun was just veiled in gray clouds and that one day it would change back. It certainly looked the way the sunlight used to be when it was cloudy out. Only brighter.

"Allen. Al-len! What are you always staying inside for?" Abbey walked into the room and grabbed a towel. She scrubbed her face vigorously. Then she drew the curtain and got into the bed. Everything was dark. Almost like night used to be.

Allen wasn't really close with anybody. Not even Abbey, his little sister. But he knew she adored him. Somewhere in the back of his mind he knew he adored her too. Even if it was only a little.

That same night after she'd said it to him, Allen's mother broke her own rules. She really did leave. Gone out. The only things she left behind were broken pieces of reminiscence, and Abbey.

Everything was quiet now. Abbey was the only one who shared a room with Allen and she was easily asleep by now.

Tick tock.

Allen had thought about this for a while. Somewhere in the back of his mind, he believed that his mother had left for a reason, and his father too. He got up and the bedsprings creaked slowly, groaned. He dropped to the floor and peered under the bed, grabbing a canvas knapsack, with straps for his arms and a long cross-shoulder one. From the bedside dresser, he grabbed tubes and tubes of Sunscreen, water skins, a small rain-net all rolled up, and the food packages.

Abbey always looked so innocent when she slept.

He wanted to say that he would come back, but really he knew he was selfish and he was leaving Abbey behind partly because he didn't want to take care of her. He didn't know if he could protect himself and her all at once.

Allen looked at her figure curled up in bed. His eyes were dry, and he swallowed with ease. He knew he would miss her, later.

Allen took a tube of Sunscreen and squeezed some onto his finger. He thought of toothpaste. Then, he reluctantly began to rub it on. It was just greasy, really. The process was slow. Only a little went on at a time but he had used the whole tube by the end.

Tick tock.

Out the back door. The sun was still shining brightly. It met his eyes with a snarl and he backed up, bumping into the door. He felt as if the whole land was glowing. It was vast. It was empty. No clouds in the air but a blue sun.

Allen put his sunglasses on. Everything dimmed and he hated how it was all the same color. Dull and gray and shapeless.

The back door opened. A little face peeked out, eyes squinty. Abbey put her own little butterfly sunglasses on. Then she looked at Allen.

"What are you doing?" It was hard to see her expression. Allen thought the wings of her glasses gave her black alien eyes.

"You can come with me."

She reached out for his hand. "What are you doing?"

"I'm leaving."

"Be right back," Voice muffled as she disappeared inside the shack. Then she came out with one hand behind her back. With the other, she reached out for his hand once more.

"Why are you always by yourself, doing what you want to do? If you leave, who will teach me how to read?"

"Ask the other children. Ask Curtis. He should know."

"But I don't like Curtis. He can be very mean. Please, Allen?"

And then she held out a silver dish with clear window-glass. Inside, pointer markers ticked. Gears rotated and pulled and pushed one another.

"My clock. I had forgotten it."

But Albert really hadn't. He'd let it go. Nevertheless, when Abbey pushed it into his hands, he took it obligingly.

"This is your compass. Didn't you tell me about that? The needle spins round and round and it finds where it needs to go and it goes."

Allen studied the face of the clock. He could just reach through the surface and pull the hand taut. Stop the gears that spun against each other in a measured, calculated, fashion. The clear glass met his fingers coldly.

The clock face watched him. Twitched its circling dance. No matter where I go, I will always come back to them. The hand always returns to twelve, one way or another.

Allen clenched the clock and looked up at Abbey; her face was pale in the graying sun. She reached out again.

Allen slowly placed the clock back into her hand and turned away. He began to walk steps away from the small town.

"Wait!" The voice was small, hesitant. Allen turned his head, and then stopped and turned around all the way. Abbey ran up behind him. There was nothing in her hands. "I left it on the porch." She was breathless. "I'm coming with you."

From his knapsack, Allen produced a tube of Sunscreen and gave it to her. He watched as she rubbed it on with ease, recognition. She embraced the solution. When she gave it back, he stuck it into the small loophole on the arm strap. It hung there, within easy reach of both of them. He remembered that he had only packed enough supplies for one person. Then he reached into his bag again and pulled out a book.

It had been easy to steal from the Infoware. No one guarded the library of knowledge that lingered, loomed, in their faces. They lived to live, and not to remember.

"Here, look what I brought," he flipped the book open, "'Traveler's Guide to a Lonely Planet'. I'll teach you how to read on the way."

"On the way to where?"

Allen looked at the sun. It was just a thought, really. He didn't say a thing and took her hand instead.

They walked down the road towards the sun that never set, hand in hand. Silhouette on cloudy marble.

There was no shadow cast behind them. They became the shadow.

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