Eugene lived out of a rusted Winnebago. After the navy set him free from the confines of duty, three squares a day, and gainful employment, he tossed his watch, clock, and calendar into the sea, as the destroyer docked at his final port of call. He had skirted long enough along the blurring edges of the world. It was time for him to stand in the middle of terra firm and become his own man. He would drive into the heart of the country he defended at sea and stake his claim, by staking no claim, at all.
For an old man with a long shadow, Casper, Wyoming was a good a place as any to make his stand. Casper, he had learned on the news, lay smack dab in the Path of Totality.
They were expecting tens of thousands. Scientists, gawkers, and thrill addicts piled in their minivans, just to watch the moon sidle past the velvet rope and jump the celestial line. They’d come from all over—kids, grandmas, war widows, regular folk, and way too many knuckle-headed teens. They’d wait, specialty eclipse glasses perched on noses bent skyward for the show, or no show, to Eugene’s way of thinking. But Eugene was not dazzled. He had witnessed too many eclipses in his day. Had seen them at night, too, over the water, and once, from the deck of the ship, before he made landfall with his crew and stood in shadows so deep, they clung to your feet like crude oil on the pinfeathers of a tern.
As he stepped out of his motor home, Eugene felt the long shadows still dragging at his feet like sodden blankets. He trudged across the blacktop in the penumbral shade, past encampments of binocular wielders at ease in lawn chairs, and beyond the forest of telescopes on high alert. This diminution of daylight was the opening act. He sensed the change. Like a swallow’s first glimpse of bell tower above Capistrano, the site made his heart pound.
He ignored the shouts from the women and of the pimply ponytail who dropped a pair of safety-filtered shades in his shirt pocket.
Eugene never put them on. He simply planted his feet, raised his face to the sun, and prayed the moon remained faithful, for once, when it was time to meet on the path of totality, when the shadows, weighing at his feet, would finally lift, for the two minutes, twenty two seconds it takes for a foolish old man to rise and fade back into the big, black nothing he helped create, all those arrogant years ago.