Jan/Feb 2006 Spotlight

How They Looked at the Sun

by Ian Duncan Smith

Back at the apartment he watched her looking down on the square where the good-looking men peddled lighters as though they were keeping some ancient tradition going. Those lighters wouldn't last a day, and they never sold any. He thought they ought to try selling something useful once in a while, but the tourist board paid them to be there to give the old town character, and they hadn't the motivation. It was all faked for the tourists. He told her it was all faked, but she watched all the same.

He shook his head. He'd had a great holiday. He'd had a great time all round, but his head hurt. A long time ago, the same jabbing headache came on after flying a kite for the children, so he knew that staring at the sun caused it.

But the children were no longer children. All the same, he'd had a good run for his money. He'd worked hard all his life. They both had.

She closed the shutters to make the place dark for him. He needed plenty of sleep. They both did.

"Looking at the sun burns the eyes permanently. If it keeps on hurting, see a doctor."


He'd fallen asleep with his mouth open, his head tilted back like she'd told him not to. He'd enjoyed baking until his head felt like bursting and his eyes hurt. He'd been thinking how long it took the sun to travel there.

She scraped a dining room chair across the tiled floor. The noise of the chair went right through him like a kebab stick. He was sure she did it on purpose.

She'd picked up the packet of tablets like they'd agreed.

She said she'd talked to the man who worked on the beach. The man's eyes had been burned by the sun. She said his pupils were jammed shut, and they wouldn't open in the dark. He couldn't go indoors because he couldn't see in the dim light.

"He's no good for anything except finding deckchairs on a beach."

No one was any use any more. He knew that much.

She sat down, opened the tablets. She'd been pretty good about it: the plan, the way they were going to do what they had to do. He was amazed how resigned she was at the end, as though the sense of futility had been under the surface waiting to claim her, too.

He remembered how dying soldiers turned to stare at the sun.


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