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sun, do not forget me

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sun, do not forget me

Today, Antony turns 5. His parents are at work, but they promise they’ll be back with so many presents it will look like a hurricane attacked their living room for the next month. Atony is planning his first journey outside. He is so excited, he can’t stop squealing every few seconds, jumping in place. He has decided to wait till after lunch to go outside and visit the neighbors, lay under the sun, feel its ever-present warmth bake his face into a sunburn.

Antony has only ever seen the sun in pictures, where it looks all fuzzy and the brightness takes up the entire picture. Sometimes his mom goes outside and spends hours in their front lawn, drawing the entire street, even the sky, and most importantly - the sun. The sun is so pretty in his mother’s pictures, that Antony is always asking for stories and drawings and photographs, trying to get them all to match into one giant puzzle, one giant image of what the sun really looks like, not just a glimmer of its remains through their house. All the windows are shut with wood nailed to them, covered in blanket after blanket until the house is so dark it's nearly impossible to see without all the lights on.

Antony is tired of darkness. He’s grown tired of just imagining the street that he lives on, the way grass flows under the beating heat of a giant space light bulb. He is tired of using his mind to picture something that he can so easily find just outside his front door. Antony is tired, but he’s ready.

First, Antony eats one cookie he caught his mom hiding in one of the cabinets last night. He pulls a chair from the dining table over to the counter so he can reach the microwave, heating up a bit of the taco soup his dad had made a few days ago. It is still cheesy when Antony pulls it out, climbing onto the counter to eat his soup. Sesame Street is playing on the tv. The fairy is singing a song, Antony is humming along and swinging his legs. Antony likes her dresses, even if his mom is always trying to get him away from pretty things. She says boys aren’t allowed to like dresses, or the color pink, but Antony doesn’t care about her rules.

It's nearly two in the afternoon by the time Antony is ready to go. He is first debating on wearing some of his mom’s shoes - hers are much better than his dad’s - but decides against it. Antony wants to feel the hot pavement dig into his feet, and step in the cool, green grass. He hears his dad complaining about how much he has to mow every weekend, but never responds when Antony asks if he can help mow the lawn. Maybe he just doesn’t want to teach Antony. That’s fine, he can teach himself right now. He just has to go outside first.

Antony isn’t sure he wants to go outside. He’s never been, what if it's full of terrible monsters? What if there's a giant creature waiting outside his front door right now, claws scraping against the ground, a horrible hunch to its bony, jet black back? What if this monster is waiting for him to step outside, ready to snatch up his body with its huge, razor-sharp teeth, rip apart his body and leave scraps trailing across the driveway as it retreats to its home? Maybe that’s why his parents never let him outside, because there’s a monster waiting for him to get the guts to leave his darkness, to leave safety, and enter an unknown.

He has to go outside soon, if he doesn’t want to get caught by his parents. They’ll be home before the sun fully sets, which means that if Antony goes outside now, he’ll have time to get home and finish the pages in his math book. It’s a Saturday, so none of the other kids will be at school, and they’ll have time to play with him. A rush of anticipation runs through him. Oh, how he can’t wait to play with the other kids! They can all play tag, play pretend, be werewolves and vampires and run around on all fours, there’s so much to do! And Antony won’t have to be alone anymore. He’ll have friends his age who want to play all sorts of games, and no adults to tell him it isn't safe out there with monsters lurking in the shadows and hurt hanging in the clouds, waiting to drop.

That finally does it. Antony breathes deeply, and thrusts open the door. He forgot to unlock the door. It does nothing but pull his arm out of its socket. Not really, but it sure feels like it. He twists the lock with his tiny fingers and finally, after five years spent cooped up in the darkness, wondering what it would be like in the light, Antony can see the sun.

He stares at it, but it’s too bright to look at. He grins and turns away from the heat and brightness. So that’s what the sun looks like. It’s even better than in his mom’s photographs and drawings. It's beautiful, it's ethereal, it's magnificent, it's all the words that mean beautiful and yet everything more. The sky is a blue brighter than any colors in his mom’s colored pencils, bluer than anything Antony has ever seen. He squeals and rushes out from his doorstep and the canopy shielding his curious view from the rest of the world, as if it wants to protect him from the dangers hiding in every shadowy corner, every inch of brightness in this magnificent world. But there are no monsters, and there are certainly no shadows dark enough to hide his little body, let alone that of a grownup.

He steps his bare feet into the grass, freshly cut just yesterday. It’s prickly at the top, but it's so green, so very green, and all Antony wants is to lie in it forever. But there are children he has to play with first, so he decides to go knock on all the doors on the street facing his, and then on the ones on his street if there aren’t any kids to play games with on the other one.

Surprisingly enough, almost every child on his street is available, and they’re all friends with each other. They’re all not much older or younger than Antony, either, which is a huge plus.

For hours, they run around, scream and squeal and snort and then giggle. They all play tag, pretend that they’re werewolves and vampires and growl and hiss at each other like madmen. They run through the street, pavement rocks digging into their bare, dirty feet. They don’t laugh when Antony whimpers as the rocks stab his feet like a thousand tiny knives. They don’t laugh when Antony admires the feeling of the sidewalk, or the way the long, tall grass of his neighbor sways in the wind, calling to him like a siren in the ocean.

They don’t even laugh when Antony pleads with them to stay, please don’t leave me here alone again, even though their parents are calling for them, dinner is ready, and the children are starving and thirsty and sweating from spending so long outside. They beg for shade from the heat of the sun, shadows to protect them from its rays. Antony bows his head and waves goodbye, but plans to spend hours more outside, even though his body itches all over and red spots are appearing on his skin, and he is much too hot and much too cold at once. Even though he is in pain, his stomach aches and his body cries, he is not going back into the ever-present darkness of his house until he absolutely has to.
Scratching furiously at a red spot on his elbow that itches so much it hurts, Antony runs into the grass, lying on the prickly green blades and watching the clouds pass by. They are so beautiful, a light grey color, floating along space at their own pace, shifting and forming shapes, joining in with other clouds, forming friendships with their fellow cloud companions, never leaving the bright blue sky. It's darker than it was earlier, Antony realizes. The sky is slowly turning into a deep blue, darker than the ocean. The corners of the massive expanse of sky are darkening, blushing shades of red and oranges, purples and blues, mixing together into an impossibly magnificent view. Leaves are falling off the massive tree in his front yard, colors the same as those at the edges of the sky, all different shapes but yet still looking almost exactly the same, like a pair of siblings, only there's hundreds of them.

This is the first time Antony is going to see a sunset, and he plans to make the most of it. He leaps up from his spot on the grass, but nearly falls over again. He is very light headed, and it feels like the world is spinning. Antony wants to sit down, but the sun is about to disappear, fall off the edge of the world until tomorrow, and he can’t miss it. Nothing can stop him, even as he stumbles, and his feet turn to lava when they touch the pavement. Even as the world spins, a million stars turning into comets above his hair, hair crawling with lice and termites and all the little bugs crawling over the pavement and onto his skin, his rotting skin covered in holes and fiery lava pits where bugs lay, spreading poison and fire into his veins, directly to his heart. His heart which is beating so quickly, faster than the pounding of a racing horse’s feet, quicker than the flapping wings of hummingbirds resting on the violet hydrangea bushes in front of his house. The sky is twinkling with stars. When did it get so dark? The sun had only begun setting a moment ago. Perhaps he closed his eyes and fell asleep, and has just now woken up. Maybe he forgot to remember the sunset.

The pavement is still hot from the sun, even though it has long since fallen into its bed, waiting for the stars to darken into nothingness, for the moon to make its descent. Antony had heard a story about the sun and the moon. His mom had told him that they’d been in love when they were human, and wished to spend the rest of the universe’s life with each other. But they were cursed to spend eternity apart, so every night the sun died so the moon could live. The moon died every morning so the sun could live, both caught in an impossible race, never catching up to one another, but just on the brink of joining together and seeing what has become of their eternal love.

Antony feels like that now, doomed for something dark just so he might live to see the sun again someday.

He wishes for his mom and dad now. He wants to cry for them, to yell out for his mom and dad, or anyone, anybody with enough sense to see he’s hurting, that he can’t breathe and his skin is rotting and the world is still spinning, even from the ground, and it's darkening so quickly, so very quickly. His lungs sound like they are rattling. Words he can’t say are dancing inside of him, leaping from side to side, holding each other's hips and twirling in their flowing dresses, like flowers falling to the ground. Antony’s favorite flower is an orchid. But he only likes the light purple ones. Purple is his favorite color. It’s the color of his mom’s wedding dress, and his dad wears a purple shirt and black tie to work on Wednesdays. His dad loves Wednesdays, but Antony prefers Thursdays, because he likes the way his mom says ‘Thursday’, as if it were the name of a regal king or queen. Maybe some tsar of Russia was named Thursday. Antony doesn’t know, he’s only five, and besides, he’s just started learning the history of bagels. Antony loves bagels. Especially with cream cheese. He learned last Thursday that cream cheese was made with milk. He even got to watch a video about how cream cheese is made. It was so cool. Antony wants to be a cream cheese maker when he grows up. He told his dad that, but his dad just laughed and ruffled his hair. That made Antony mad because he had just brushed and washed it, all so his dad could see how nice he looked for their Sunday board game day. It’s where Antony gets to play board games with his parents all day. It’s so fun! Antony loves board games. His favorite are the matching ones because he always wins them.

Antony has seen so much today, yet it is not enough. He yearns to see the sun again, but he also cries out for his darkness, for the black swirling nothingness that has kept him safe, safe from the monsters eating at his body, their dark curling shadows glowing like the sun, but they can’t be the sun, the sun is so kind and beautiful and perfect, and it can’t be cruel to him. Antony has done nothing but wish for the day he could see something as pure as the sun, but now that he’s here, choking on something wet and crying, and bugs are crawling over his body, he wishes he had never seen the sun at all. It’s nothing but hatred in the form of perfection. Hatred in the body of a god, a god that wants nothing more than to end all life he deems unworthy. Is Antony unworthy of being happy? He doesn’t think so. He’s only a kid, after all. Nothing more pure than childhood, that’s what his dad always says.

If his parents were here, they would fight back the monsters eating him alive, with lawn mowers and paint brushes, they’d destroy everything hurting him and they’d hold him and give him kisses on his cuts and scrapes. They’d carry him inside, take him to a bath, wash his hair and tell him jokes and random blurbs of their days. His mom would tell him about the models she painted, and his dad would tell him about the kids he taught, about how none of them are as smart as him, how none of them are as good at math or spelling. And Antony will beam with pride and giggle when his mom tickles his stomach and laugh when he smears soapy bubbles on his dad’s face.

It’s nearly pitch black now. Has his beloved darkness come for his rescue? He must be closing his eyes. But someone is shining a flashlight into his eyes now, he’s sure of it. Or maybe that’s the moon. There aren’t any bugs crawling across his skin. There aren’t any monsters eating at his rashes and bruises and cuts and sores. There’s just rocky pavement digging into his pounding head and aching heels. There’s just Antony. Just Antony and the moon, staring at him from space. There’s a face on the moon, he realizes. Perhaps it's the face of the darkness that has kept him safe. It’s watching him, and it looks to be frowning. Antony wants to talk to it, but he doesn’t know what to say.

It’s cold. So very cold. Be calm, my silent bird. The moon is speaking to him. It sounds sorry for him, but all Antony can focus on is the smoothness of its voice. It sounds like a voice he’s heard before, but he can’t remember where. Maybe it’s the voice his parents make when they sing bedtime songs to him.

Go to sleep my darling child, the moon whispers, wrapping Antony up in its cold embrace.

He sleeps.

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