All Stories, General Fiction

Totality by A. Elizabeth Herting

The entire world had gone mad. Completely bat-shit crazy which was really saying something in this over-sexed, social-media crazed, smartphone obsessed cesspool that made up modern life. Douglas Garuder had long been a man whose time had passed him by. Hell, he still had an ancient flip phone with a long, spidery crack up the screen. Not that he ever used it. Since Joan had passed away some five years ago, there really wasn’t anyone he cared to talk to. Most of the time if he even remembered to look at the damn thing, he always expected her to call, reminding him to pick up eggs or some other mundane item at the grocery store. That feeling was always followed by the crushing, black sadness that he would never hear his wife’s voice again. At least not in this life anyway.

He looked down at his watch, another ancient relic that he was always careful to wind and clean. Most of the kids today would get lost trying to read its face with the roman numerals and elegant, thin hands. It was a gift from his old man, the last thing his father ever gave him on the day he left home for good. He had taken Doug’s hand in a firm shake, squeezing his son’s other arm with as much emotion as he was capable of showing. Doug watched his father through the window for as long as he could, his dad standing in the middle of the dusty road, waving goodbye as the bus carried his only son away to basic training. It would be Doug’s last stop before being shipped off to the exotic shores of Vietnam. His father died of a heart attack two weeks later and from that day to this one, he only ever took the watch off to shower.

It was due to happen in just a few minutes. Doug could feel humanity’s collective excitement as the eclipse neared its apex. The hype had been going on for weeks, hoards of people clogging the highways along the eclipse’s path. It was an event not seen in nearly forty years and not due to come around his part of the world again for another forty. It seemed that just for today, in this hour, that people were putting aside their smartphones and looking up into the heavens much as their ancestors must have done thousands of years before. It was a very humbling thought, a visceral connection to their common past. It felt like a truce, a temporary halt to the endless hostilities and constant infighting of day to day life.

Doug could feel a weight lifting from his soul as the seconds ticked by and the moon began to darken the sun. He could sense Joan here all around him, could picture her as she was on the day that the last total eclipse occurred decades before. He was the newly-minted principal of Bolingbrook Elementary School and Joan a first-grade teacher. She was vibrant and full of warmth as she helped her little charges put together the cardboard “shadow boxes” they used back then so the kids wouldn’t be tempted to look directly at the sun.

He was immediately drawn to her, she had an inner beauty that more than matched her outer appearance. Laughing blue eyes and long dark hair that shone in the fading daylight as she took each child outside to view the eclipse’s reflection. She didn’t react to his bum leg, his limp a souvenir from his last tour in ‘Nam. To her, he was a complete man, one she deemed worthy of respect and affection. Doug was a complete goner the moment he looked into her eyes as he introduced himself on that day–they married less than six-months later. She always said that the eclipse had brought them together, it was their heavenly matchmaker. God how he missed her. It was a constant, physical pain.

A honk from the street below brought Doug out of the memory. From his vantage point ten stories up, he could see the people milling around below like colorful ants. Men and women of every age and creed, stopping in the midst of their busy day to take in the momentous sight. Doug thought they looked like they were going to a 3-D movie, almost every one of them wearing the special glasses that all of the stores were selling out of. It had been relentlessly hammered into all of their heads that you must never, ever look directly at the eclipse at the risk of your eyesight. He was sick to death of hearing it.

Doug felt a sudden delicate breeze on his face, wondering again if his wife was present. The eclipse was almost complete, he could feel the darkness taking over the light. It was disorienting that night should conquer the day at eleven-thirty in the morning, Doug was not surprised that strange things seemed to happen during these events. It was a primordial, palpable feeling. He could almost hear the collective intake of breath from the people below as time seemed to stop. Totality had finally been achieved.

Doug took a deep breath of fresh air and carefully removed his watch, lovingly setting it onto the ledge. It was his one real regret in life that he and Joan were never able to have children, he had no one to pass his only keepsake on to. He hoped that someone would take it in, it really was a good watch. They didn’t make them like that anymore, quality had been sacrificed on the altar of instant gratification. He wouldn’t miss that, not even one little bit. He stretched up to his full height on the ledge, propping himself up with his ever-present cane and finally turned his face up to the sky to meet his heavenly matchmaker.

Oh my God, Joanie, it’s beautiful, magnificent! Doug could see the edges of light attempting to escape around the moon, glorious in its rich blackness. Besides his wife’s face, it was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen and he stared at it for as long as he could keep his eyes open. He could hear her then, calling his name, her voice was like music to his battered old ears and Doug knew that the time had come.

He could still see the eclipse, it was etched into his eyes as he turned away from it and got himself ready. He had lived a good life, a good as he was able but really, he had only been going through the motions for five long years. Douglas Garuder discarded his cane, shedding it like an old skin. He would not miss it, not even one little bit. He lifted his arms high above his head and leapt from the ledge in a semi-graceful swan dive, plunging headfirst down to the concrete below and into his wife’s waiting arms.

Totality had finally been achieved.


A. Elizabeth Herting

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7 thoughts on “Totality by A. Elizabeth Herting”

  1. The resilient Ms Herting has returned with a bittersweet little thing that I much like. I will forgive her for beating me to the eclipse (an aside which will make sense in a few days), for now. But if she continues to jump me on celestial matters I will then know that I am forever star crossed.


  2. Must be Central Time Zone. Just missed totality here in the Pacific Time Zone. After all the hype it was impressive, but short of life changing.


    1. We had a couple of minutes in totality, and it was incredible. I think it went beyond the hype. One of the most special things I’ve ever seen, and I haven’t spoken to one person who experienced it and didn’t think it was awesome.


  3. This story was well-told, but I have to admit I was a bit disappointed. I’m not put off by tragic endings – I admire them very much – but having experienced the eclipse I was so hoping that he would recognize (or rediscover) the beauty of the world and space, and try to live on without the love of his life. That, of course, is the prerogative of the author, and in any case it was well done.


  4. Hi A. Elizabeth,
    There is a word in Dave’s comments that I totally agree with and that is ‘elegant’
    This is a lovely piece of writing and I like the imagery of him believing that his darkness would become light once again. This works so well with the back-drop of the eclipse.


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