The one o’clock controlled movement is called at quarter till. Across the compound officers everywhere rising at once from their chairs, keys jangling, locks turning. We step out of the chow hall, the cook, the baker, and I, into a sepia haze, though we smell no brush fire. Our shadows on the walk appear strangely stunted.
“Look at these fools,” says the cook of the crowds pouring from the buildings, “all staring at the sun. Hopefully they go blind; they need to be thinned out.”
Grinning, I lower my hand from my eyes. Who can resist! Though all morning the news anchors warned of the dangers of staring baldly into a solar eclipse. Two brothers, once young, now old, testified to the cottony veil afflicting their visions since witnessing the eclipse of 1979. This followed by an apocalyptic slideshow of smoldering rods and cones, starburst retina scars like crater impacts. “A quick glance couldn’t hurt,” I say to the cook. For who has never admired the sun, if only briefly, to feel his own smallness?
The cook brushes past me. “Suit yourself,” he says before disappearing into the dorm. Behind him Jack is returning from Laundry with a bag of clothes slung over his shoulder, his free hand scissoring, going nowhere in a hurry. All that meth.
“Jack, you’ll watch the eclipse with me, won’t you?”
“And burn my eyes out? Fuck no.”
Elsewhere on the compound men converge outdoors in front of the library, the gym, the commissary, and in front of the chapel where the waning sun projects scythes of light through the silver birch’s papery leaves. Nearby a man stands with his back to the sun squinting into an empty oatmeal box. Another inmate has made solar lenses by layering scraps of tinted film atop his sunglasses. A line forms behinds him, and one by one the men take turns peering skyward through the shades.
Someone has brought moon pies.
Meanwhile I linger on the front stoop of the dorm daring glances at the sky. Beside me a Mexican cups several nested pairs of sunglasses to his face.
“I see it!” he cries. He turns and regards me a moment before offering me his glasses. “You see?”
Overhead, past the dorm’s eve, a black worm nibbling away at the sun.
Even through four darkened lenses the sun’s glare still kicks between the eyes, and I have to look away before long, vision swimming, imagining a world turned permanently gauzy like the old brothers’.
“You see?” the man says again.
“Yes,” I say to the man. “I do see.” And the man grins at me, his face a luminescent purple blotch.