There was once a very lonely man—or the closest thing to a man that was not quite one—who spent his time in the sliver of light exactly between night and day. He dipped his fingertips in the yolk of new-day suns, and felt against his cheeks the electricity of stars crackling past. He walked the globe’s circle again and again just to stay in that precious band of teal and turquoise that he had grown comforted between.
He walked constantly. His calves were carved meteor and his steps looked like jet lines to any person who happened to glance up at the sunset-or-rise for a brief moment in their busy days. But he knew nothing of the people down on earth.
He knew nothing human or earthly, save for the birds flying south in the fall, and their kin that returned in the spring. Though he did admit to himself once softly, during a particularly dark and long eclipse, that the birds did not choose to fly for him. Their nature was the same as his, to journey and return in the same path that they had etched into the air at the beginning of time. Then retracing, retracing. The man felt that they were one and the same, but he was still alone. The thought had been so alarming that he danced and wriggled his limbs, jiggling it quite out and away.
And so he grew to not care particularly for the birds, or the fall or the spring, or about the funny little cookie-cutter people running about beneath him on the earth.
He knew no one.
That isn’t to say, however, that no knew him.
One person—a not-quite-child-not-quite-grown person—discovered him the day of the eclipse. She remembered it well, not simply for the eclipse, but because that was the day she had cut down the family clothesline with her father’s heavy, rusted gardening shears. (The string, she reasoned, would be much better suited to hoisting the sails on the miniature sailboat she was christening later down at the pond.) She had jump-roped down to the water’s edge with her mother’s yells echoing behind her.
It was then that the black water grew blacker and the green fields around her dimmed and she feared the wrath of her mother had actually caused the world to stop this time. But she looked up at the sun melting away and saw him, still and alone and lost-looking when the whole world was going dark.
After the eclipse, she didn’t stop looking. She always found him walking across the first or last strip of horizon light.
Then she spent some time growing, getting dirt under her nails and eating the bright tomatoes from her father’s garden as juice dribbled down her chin. She grew, sowing rows of seeds into the churned-up ground with her father, and sipping on her mother’s honey tea in the winter. Every evening of every year was spent like that, sitting with each other and breathing in the others’ laughter.
As for the man, she couldn’t say what he did after he walked stiltedly against the skyline and disappeared again on the other side. She hoped he sat down to rest with someone he cared about as night fell. But as the days turned into months and the months to years, she got the sneaking suspicion that every night he walked the globe straight through ‘til dawn on the other side of the world, then again and again and again.
Through the band of light she saw loneliness pretty clearly. So one day she slipped on some old sneakers and a knit cap her mother had made the previous winter (to catch the parts of her that were in danger of flying away). She cut and wrapped a few thick slices of bread from the morning’s loaf and shoveled the family toaster into her fraying satchel. She met her mom at the door as she left, and informed her she might be back tonight, tomorrow, or a year from now. Her mother fondly rolled her eyes and wished her luck.
Then she stepped out through the garden to the little rusting gate at the entrance of their home. Her father was wiping sweat off his brow and leaning over heads of lettuce with a spade. She smiled and told him she’d only be a minute.
The girl walked longer and farther than she ever thought possible, to get to the place where the sky touched the earth. It took a great deal longer than she thought, as her house and then her town melted into doll house sizes and the pine grew thick around her. The incline, of course, was the worst of it. Naturally it came at the end.
She made it to the highest point that she could climb with just enough time to catch her breath and sit a moment. The daylight ebbed and softened around her. The pines cooled. The glow of the world gave way to sunset and twilight, and she saw the man walking above her.
She stood up and called out to him, just some soul noise that broke free through her lips. (It was a lot of whooping and hollering, very wolflike in the mind of the girl but very human to the wolves far off in the pines.) Maybe it was his name, or maybe not, but the point is that he looked. So she gave up noise-making and waved ferociously with her entire arm as means of introduction. He could only stare. The stars began to set lower and hang above his head. She motioned to them frantically and clasped her hands together.
Now the man had not quite quit his walking during this exchange. (It was not in his manner, especially as he was unsettled and surprised and unsure of this little cookie-cutter person suddenly howling on his doorstep.) But just when he felt his heart might patter away without him, he reached for the stars hovering above and grasped one that was barely bigger than his palm. He tossed it down to the girl as he left with the light, disappearing behind pine and mountain. He only just saw her catch it as the world went dark behind him.
The girl expected the star to scorch her hands, or catch fire to her clothes, but it didn’t hurt at all. So she wiped her eyes with the back of her sleeve and thanked the star for keeping her company through the night, along with the trees and the fireflies and the soft breeze that was coming down over the hill and smelling like autumn. She thanked everything she saw until it was properly dark and she couldn’t see anything anymore. Then, she dared not sleep for fear it was all a dream, so she hugged the star to her chest and whispered the stories and songs her mother had taught her eons ago. This went on until the first grey hum of morning started over the mountain.
Quick as she could, she set the star down and dumped her satchel at her feet. The toaster settled its legs into the undergrowth as the girl got the bread unwrapped and slid into the slots. She lifted and plugged the cord into the little star (who had okayed it in the night with their conversing) and the toaster fizzled and jumped, its heat coils burning like flames in the hearth back home.
The toast was done just as they grey of morning grew into teal. The girl picked up the star and tossed her toast into the satchel around her shoulders. Along the left of the mountain line, the man came walking.
She whistled and waved. The man, this time, was surprised enough to stop to stare at the person who hadn’t gone away in the night. She tossed the star up at him (with a whispered goodbye) and he just barely caught it. Her hand stretched towards him. The star jumped from his palm, floating back to its fading kin far above the band of light. Kneeling, the man grasped the girl’s hand and lifted her up just as the first soupy bead of light crested over the mountain.
The toast was semi-squished in her satchel, but it didn’t seem to matter as the girl handed the man a slice and picked one of her own. The orange, orange sun bubbled beneath their perch, beneath that shelf of teal and turquoise exactly between night and day. Their legs dangled as they dipped their toast into the sun’s molten yolk and it tasted so good. Like gardens in bloom and starlight in summer and trees and mountains and not-quite-men and not-quite-women and not-even-close-to-cookie-cut-people. They dipped and ate and laughed until the yolk dribbled out of their mouths and onto the girl’s jeans and man’s carved legs, leaving singe marks.
The moment couldn’t have lasted much more than a few minutes or hours—whichever was shorter—before he helped her touch the earth again and she helped him smile even as they both parted and waved.
For the waving wasn’t the kind that said goodbye. Not really. It was the kind that said, See you soon. Or, I had so much fun. Or, I will always have this in my mind and be looking for a chance to have it again. ‘Cause it was easy, too easy, they both found—as the man caught the urge to look for the birds, and the girl skipped back down the mountain dreaming of home—to look up or down or behind when everything was altogether too much and too little. Looking forward was harder.
Though perhaps less so, when there was at least something, or someone, waiting ahead. Maybe with a toaster.