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new clothes





on a day in june, the second sun slipped into orbit. astronomers saw it coming from many years away. though alarmed at first by its breakneck speed, several months of careful calculations showed that the star was on a path to bypass the home planet entirely – offering a “once-in-a-lifetime spectacle,” they called it, but one of little consequence to humankind. the star’s behavior was “admittedly unusual,” but in the end they concluded with “indelible certainty” that it did not suggest imminent catastrophe. the predictable assortment of fanatics preached otherwise, propping up signs outside of train stations and spreading their gospel to anyone who would listen. but while the oncoming event made most people a bit nervous, relatively few slipped into hysteria. life simply had to go on. 


a live feed, starwatch, was broadcast across the planet, offering round-the-clock commentary from the world’s top scientists. in the days before the event, as the star grew from the size of a poppy seed to a pea, the voices on starwatch repeated the same forecast: it would be, at its closest, a grape, “not unlike the sun we have now.” it would drift across the horizon for about the length of one day, then continue on its way, back to pea, back to poppy seed, eventually disappearing into the inky black. some on this side of the planet would experience the “double-sun effect”, while others on that side would just have an extra-long day. 


when the big day arrived, all went as expected. the new star approached, stopping at grape, not causing any natural calamities, just floating there placidly in the sky. about halfway through the day, however, people noticed that the star was diverting from its original path. starwatch descended into a flurry of confused chatter, a spokesperson surfacing several hours later with the announcement that the star had inexplicably settled into orbit opposite their sun, that the two suns were circling each other, and that their planet, caught in the middle, would be subjected to constant daylight on all sides for the first time in its young life.


some time later, the second sun had become a fact of life. the absence of darkness was an adjustment for everyone. to keep the wheels turning, a planetary effort was made to sustain the common rituals of day and night – work hours, sleep hours, weekends – but inevitably, the lines dissolved. time zones melted away. everyone fell into the same non-time as everyone else.


there was no one prevailing sentiment about the merits of this smaller, brighter world. some shielded their eyes, insisting that it was only temporary. some felt trapped. some felt emboldened. the latter made the most noise. “though at first a shock to the system, we all now bask under the same eternal sunlight,” read the great equalizer, a popular essay of the time. 


this idea, however, did not hold up to much scrutiny. indoor space was at a premium. shade was bought and sold, leased and sub-leased, sued for, fought over. partially underground houses became the fashion amongst the wealthy, who took to carving their vast homes into hillscapes, aestheticizing the great inconvenience of modern life. public space, ever-shrinking, got sunnier and sunnier. “i don’t want to hate the sunshine, but it’s hard not to,” lamented one young mother, who due to the explosion of development had been forced to move seven times in what she believed was two-ish years, though she couldn’t be entirely sure, as it was so hard to keep count nowadays, but she knew she was pregnant for her first eviction, and now her son was walking. 


there were rumblings of unrest. conferences were picketed, petitions were circulated, and chants of protest echoed through the halls of important buildings. large-scale graffiti was, more often than not, spotted indoors rather than out. “your sunshine is not the same as mine,” read a wall at the housing commission one day. in time, one could not so much as walk through a doorway without seeing the message scrawled, spraypainted, postered, scratched, carved or otherwise imprinted on the closest wall: after all, there were more walls now than there ever had been. 


one day, the second sun left orbit. it did so without warning, resuming the path the astronomers had mapped for it so long ago. a child of the daylight years, now an old man, was scrubbing his boots in the bathroom sink when he saw the light change. his neck stiff, he had to turn his whole body to peer through the crooked window behind him. normally the window framed a scalding view of the vast grasslands surrounding his home, but now, all was going pink...purple...indigo...darkness.


the man stood there for several minutes before he realized he was afraid. his chest felt heavy, tense. he glanced around the bathroom but saw only shapes. there were no lights in his home; he had never needed them before now. remembering the candles he kept in the kitchen cupboard, he rested one hand on the wall closest to him and, the other on his racing heart, felt his way slowly through the black. as his hand fumbled over the kitchen counter, it found the small radio that lived next to the stove and incidentally nudged the dial. “just as we did not have the answers then, we do not have them now,” said a disembodied voice. “what we do know is that the second sun has gone, and that under its light we lived with what has been calculated as ninety-five years and one-hundred eighty-five days of sunshine.” 


the man inhaled sharply at the surprise revelation of his age, which he had never known for certain. he knew his life had been long: he had spent most of his years in battle, shouting and organizing and writing messages of protest on all the important walls he could find; rallying against the privatization of shade; fighting to help his people find relief. he knew it must have been a long fight, for there had been progression and regression and progression many times over. he knew that in time he had grown tired, eventually surrendering to retirement in the grasslands. and he knew from his mother’s stories that he was born the day the second sun arrived. now, swaddled by darkness, he knew how long he had lived.


a cloud shifted, and the kitchen was suddenly flooded with moonlight. he blinked at the sudden brightness, observing how the light flattened the colors in the room, giving it the appearance of a black-and-white photograph. it occurred to him, looking around, that this was the world as his mother had known it. he smiled, thinking of her. the weight on his chest lifting slightly, he drew a full, deep breath, and stepped forward into the night.

tomb (iv)

excavation of ancient royal burial mound as ordered by swedish king karl xv. the monarchy intended to prove that the mound was not a natural formation.


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