But oh, those summer nights
I think the sun is a flower,
That blooms for just one hour.
- Ray Bradbury - All Summer in a Day
We sneaked up to the roof to share a cigarette. I didn’t smoke–or hadn’t tried it before–but I wanted to be with her. She took a long drag off a Virginia Slim, its delicate form a manufactured homage to her fingers, her lips, her eyes, which closed sweetly to shut out the world as they savored the flavor of the moment before parting again only to let her treasure lift away on her breath, soft as the touch of a ghost and twice as chilling. She breathed for both of us while I stood motionless, afraid to disturb the air. Her eyes flashed up at me standing astride the doorway. They were hungry.
My first taste of cigarette smoke was filtered by her lungs and drawn through her lips, sweet and ashen, evoking images of vampires and other morbid, sexual beings; a clear contrast against the brilliant summer sun cutting in through the rooftop doorway. Instead, I thought to myself, I should think her a spirit. The mist climbed its way around her head and through her hair–still damp from the pool and ruffled from my hands–where it all became lost again in the haze of too much or too little light. I thought that if I looked away she might fade completely and leave me only the taste on my lips by which to remember her.
The waves softly rolled down the shore some distance below us, but all we could see was the brilliant sun, a few feet of stony roof and an endless sea beckoning in the hypnotic way of great distances and heights. My stomach pined with the urge to let go and step into the abyss, wondering if I might be caught in that vapor as well and become like her, only half real and magical.
We took too long to meet, she said. We’d wasted all our time with flirting and wondering, daydreaming about what might be. Now that we were together, it was already over; too much to say, to much to be done, and neither of us had the stomach for it. We kissed.
The next day I sat the long drive home in silence. I let the sun wash over me as I stared at it as directly as I could manage. Vision slowly burned away and I was blind again and with her once more. She was the ghost of light and dust, and I was still so as to not disturb. With a deep breath I breathed her in, and for a moment tasted sweet ash before it turned to salt and spread to my eyes.
Too much time wasted; too much dreaming and not enough living? Was it all just time locked away in a closet, staring at the summer through a crack in the door locked by my own hand? That day it seemed that way and more. After all, it was the end of something beautiful before it had begun, but distance cultures wisdom and perspective gathers peace. She is a ghost, part of the past, with no purpose but to haunt. The other, the one with the real lips that press gently and smile at children, drove away that same day dealing with her own ghosts.
There is beauty there, and love of a sort. For all of that I am thankful.