by Will Musgrove
A week ago was the first time I saw the sun starer. Hungover, I went to close my bedroom blinds and spotted him standing on the street corner gazing up like a turkey in the rain. He looked to be in his mid-fifties and wore a white t-shirt, white slacks, and white shoes, an outfit selected, I assumed, to prevent overheating. With his head tilted upward like a fleshy sundial, his focus hovered above my apartment building and stabbed into the celestial heat lamp keeping us all alive.
Later that afternoon while on my way to Pair-A-Dice to knock back a few, I’d slinked past him on the sidewalk but, my curiosity getting the better of me, decided to go back to ask him why, to tell him he’d rot his brain staring at the sun. He responded with: “I’ve lost everything, man, and just don’t want to feel anymore.” I mentioned how a lot of people see the sun as a source of beauty, that maybe all that mixing hydrogen and helium would inspire him, would provide him with something to go on for, to search for. He didn’t reply, so I went on my way.
At Pair-A-Dice, sitting on my usual stool, I tried scribbling what was special to me on a cocktail napkin. Replacing the dot above the i with a heart, I wrote Jessica. It’d been a few days since she’d called, a record, but I wasn’t worried. What were a few days? Under her name, I doodled alternate versions of the sun starer. In one, he caught ablaze. In another, he melted into a pile of goo. In another, he ascended out of the atmosphere, where a speech bubble ballooned from the sun’s inky lips and read: “Don’t you know it’s rude to stare, buddy?” That night, on my way home, the sun starer was gone, but the moon was out. Leaning against a drugstore, I peered at the satellite’s craters, at its gray glow. I thought maybe I’d see something I’d never seen, something motivating, but soon got bored and went inside to crash.
The week continued like this until yesterday when, in the distance, the sun starer’s head rested slack against his chest. I darted up to him. He smelled like cooked ham. Blisters glistened down his arms and on the back of his ears. Not knowing what else to do, I grabbed his shoulders and shook him, but it felt like shaking an empty cicada shell. I needed to get help, so I removed my cell phone from my pants pocket and started dialing. The line on the other end rang and rang until beep and: “This is Jessica. You know what to do.” “I love you,” I kept saying until a recording told me I was out of time.
That night, with the moon full and my hands shaking, I poured all my liquid sun down the drain and prayed for the sun starer, prayed for myself.
Will Musgrove is a writer and journalist from Northwest Iowa. He received an MFA from Minnesota State University, Mankato. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in trampset, Rejection Letters, Versification, Unstamatic, (mac)ro(mic), Ghost Parachute, Truffle Magazine, Flash Frontier, and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter at @Will_Musgrove.