THE SEARING SUN • by Greta Igl

Cece sits on a high hill, the whole town below her and beyond it, more hills and the low, orange sun. The town scrambles up toward her, but does not make it far. Cece can testify: it’s not easy to climb this high. She must pedal her bike hard, muscles burning, until her legs feel like they will melt. But she likes it here on her high, lonely perch.

It pleases her, how small things appear. The minuscule houses, as tiny and neat as a model railroad. See, there, the optometrist office where her mother works, helping people pick out glasses. For the young, Mom suggests frames that will make them look attractive. But for the old, she picks big frames with enough room for bifocals and trifocals. Cece has watched her mother work behind her little table, scritching numbers so microscopic that even Cece’s young eyes can barely see them. But that is her mother, careful and small. As if doubting her own eyes, her mother measures the distance between her clients’ aging and cloudy pupils twice, then checks once more before submitting the order. During fittings, her mother fiddles and tweaks by infinitesimal degrees. Finally, when she’s satisfied, she turns the mirror, exclaiming, “Oh, don’t you look dashing!” even though it’s obvious they look anything but. Their eyes are huge behind those lenses in a way that makes Cece uneasy. For all the magnification, those old men still can’t see how her mom winces as they survey her work.

No, Cece prefers the view from up here, away from her mother’s wincing and the half-blind men who can’t see what is right before them. Up here, she can hold her mother’s world in the palm of her hand.

Here, too, she can watch cars pull into the service station where her father works, the one way out on the shadowed end of town. His work is different than Mom’s. He bangs loudly beneath cars and under their hoods, in the oily, dark places no one can see. Cece has peered into those mysterious hidey-holes, but everything is murky with grime. Her dad bangs and tinkers, wrenching parts out and jamming new ones back in. When he is done, the cars drive away, vanishing into the hills. Then he comes home with his big, dark hands rank with grease and authority. Even at home, he bangs things around, cupboard doors and bottles, keys and anything else that falls into his giant, unpredictable grasp.

And so Cece has come to this hill. She doesn’t want to watch how her mother stands at the stove, carefully measuring noodles into a pan of boiling water. How she keeps her eyes down and says how nice it is that Dad’s home, when they all, every one of them, know it’s anything but.

No, Cece would rather sit on her hill, the town spread out before her, the round hills disappearing into the low, orange sun, her house so minuscule she can pinch it between her thumb and forefinger. Shadows fall between the crevices, covering the main street, laying over her house. Her parents will be there soon, banging and lying and carefully measuring.

The sun drops another degree and Cece winces. At this angle, it no longer casts shadows, but pierces her cornea with almost surgical precision. She looks away and finds her world gilded with dancing blue fog. How soft the fog appears, how forgiving, veiling the town and hills in palest gossamer. She risks another glance, laughs when the gauzy film appears again. Her mother would not like it, has often lectured her on protecting her perfect, youthful vision. But Cece does not care. Her mother’s vision is both suspect and enviable.

The sun shifts again. The veil dissolves, leaving sharp edges and giant, oily shadows. When the sun finally sets, she must go home, back to the banging and lying and measuring. One day, when she is bigger, she will vanish beyond the hills, like the sun and the cars her dad has tinkered with.

The sun winks a degree lower. Cece blinks and draws a jagged breath. For now, she must cloak herself in small, soft comforts. She stares into the searing, setting sun.

Greta Igl’s short fiction has been published by numerous literary magazines and anthologies, including Every Day Fiction, Boston Literary Magazine, Falling Star Magazine, and Word Riot. She is currently revising her novel, Somewhere on the Road to Me.

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