The sun is trying to eat me.
I go outside sometimes, and I walk in its light. It shines in my eyes. It gives me headaches.
This morning I am safely inside, protected from its rays by layers of glass and concrete. I sit down at the desk in our bedroom. The sunlight streams through the window. It can’t hurt me here, but I feel it on my face. Tasting my skin. It makes the computer screen hard to see.
But the sun still has not swallowed me.
The sun moves on, having realized that it cannot get me through the window, and the screen clears.
Please complete the following questions as accurately and honestly as possible. Your sincere responses will help us match you with the applicants most suited to correspond with you.
Name: Seth Morrigan
Select your age bracket: 35-45
Alchemist is not an option. This bothers me.
Sarah begins to stir.
The sun had woken me early this morning. I’d felt it passing over me, looking for a way in past the glass barriers. Not today, sun. Not today.
Sarah always sleeps late on Saturday mornings. I get up before she does when I can. I do not like the breakfasts she cooks for me.
Also I like to see her when she’s asleep. She looks so much more peaceful then. When she’s awake, these days, her face is always tense.
She’s awake now.
I watch as she stretches and throws off the covers. She swings her legs around and stands up.
I like it when her hair is tangled and out of place. I don’t tell her, though.
She seems surprised to see me at home. Usually by now I am out in the sunlight.
I tell her, “Good morning.”
I feel like I should say something else, but I’m not sure what. I never know what to say to her.
I turn back to the screen. The next part of the pen pal form asks how many pen pals I want.
She says, “Do you want breakfast?”
I say, “No, thanks. Doing research today. Did you know that fireleaf has a poisonous variety?”
She doesn’t answer.
How many pen pals are you interested in acquiring?
I choose the 1 – 2 option.
I hear the bedroom door close, with a little more force than was really necessary.
What qualities do you seek in a pen pal?
I need time to think about this one. I turn the monitor off, so Sarah won’t see if she comes back in.
I get up and stand in front of the bookcase. My shoes just barely touch the sunlight on the floor.
The shelves are mostly empty. I left so many of my books back in Moonlight Falls. Sarah hadn’t let me bring them to San Myshuno. She’d said they were unhealthy for me.
I want a pen pal who will let me decide what is unhealthy.
I want a pen pal who is not a pattern. Someone whose thoughts could actually surprise me. Someone who does not wear bits of other people to cover up the empty spots in their own self.
Someone who does not answer my questions with silence and then slam the door.
Ah, but I’ve done that to her myself many times before, haven’t I?
I want a pen pal who will not tell me that my thoughts are wrong, who will not feel threatened by my questions and who won’t become defensive. I want a pen pal who is not attached to any particular human imagining of reality, who can handle a questioning of…everything, really.
I want a pen pal who will not ask things of me that I cannot give them.
I want a pen pal who knows about the sun.
I return to the computer. I fill out the little space below the question.
I don’t know if this will work. I don’t know if there is anyone out there who could understand.
But I’ll give it a try.
Do you have a desire to meet your pen pal face-to-face?
I choose the “no” option. Of course. That was easy.
The next question is a hard one.
Please describe, in as much detail as possible, your reason for wanting to join the pen pal project.
As much detail as possible? I don’t think the form has enough space for that.
I look out the window. I think for a while. I hear Sarah banging around in the kitchen.
I begin to type.
I want to join the pen pal project because I think the sun wants to eat me.
I go out in it a lot. Alone.
It glints off things, and I don’t think they’re real. Sometimes I go to the dock with my fishing pole, and I cast the line out into the water, and the sun shines on the water and on the pole and on me, and nothing ever happens.
I think that maybe the sun is eating the fish.
There are rats on the dock. The sun does not eat the rats.
I often hear two of them scurrying around behind me while I fish, and I think that even rats manage to communicate with other rats and have mutually fulfilling relationships.
I think I used to know how to communicate with others of my species. I got one to marry me, after all.
Yesterday the sunset was a brilliant burning orange. Sarah, my wife, wanted to go out.
I did not want to. I knew that the sun would try its best to eat me. It’s hungriest at the end of the day.
But she insisted. So I went.
I should have known better.
She ordered something from the food truck in the square by our apartment building. I didn’t eat. I wasn’t hungry.
I know that she worries about me.
I tried to not notice the sun. I tried to focus on what she was saying.
I really do try.
She was talking about her work. We used to live in Moonlight Falls, where she worked at a catering company. We moved to San Myshuno for my health, she said. She said that I needed a change of scene, an apartment instead of a big rambling house, lots of people around instead of empty cold beaches.
She had to start over here. She washes dishes now. I know it’s hard.
I brought my work with me. What bits of it she let me keep.
Sarah thinks of existence in terms of food. It’s why she cooks so much for me. It’s her way of expressing….I don’t know. A willingness to keep trying?
I wouldn’t blame her if she left.
Even though I don’t think I want her to. I liked the way her hair looked in the light from the setting sun.
I know it makes her uncomfortable when I am silent for too long. I tried to think of something to say.
She stopped talking about the people she worked with.
I knew she wanted me to respond to what she’d said, to show her that I cared and that I’d been listening and that I valued her and that what she said and thought and felt was important.
It’s not that I don’t know the rules of how to communicate. That’s not the problem.
I opened my mouth, and for some reason the sun fell out.
She looked at me, with those pale blue eyes of hers, and I knew I’d done it now.
She said, very slowly, “You think the sun is eating you?”
I thought about how to reply. I could say, “Well, not yet, but it wants to. I have eluded it thus far, though.”
I could say, “No, that’s what not what I said. Why do you never listen to me?”
I could say, “Everything is empty and nothing is real and I don’t know what to do about that.”
Or I could not say anything. That was probably the best idea. Saying things got me in trouble.
Of course, not saying things did too.
I stood up and walked over to her side of the picnic table.
At first I thought it’d worked. She was soft and warm and kissing me back.
But then she stiffened and stepped away.
Do you know what it’s like when no one hears you? When you can’t say anything that anyone else would understand even if they were listening?
It doesn’t matter what I do. What I say or what I don’t say.
The sun is always hungriest at the end of the day.
She said, “Seth, it’s not that I’m mad at you. It’s just that we need to talk, okay? You can’t say something like that and then think I’ll forget about it and never bring it up again. I thought you were doing better here.”
She looked so tired.
You have to understand that I know she cares. I know she didn’t mean it the way I took it then.
You also have to understand that sometimes the sun wins.
The sun sank its last few rays deep into my chest, and then it pulled. Hard.
I said, “No, I’m not doing better here.”
I said, “You took my books and my work from me.”
I said, “You’re suffocating me.”
I said, “Stop cooking for me. Stop watching me.”
I said, “I don’t want to be here anymore.”
It wasn’t me. It wasn’t. It was the sun and its hungry light in my chest. It was the emptiness and the glass barriers. It was the fire that burns and burns and never stops, and it’s orange and yellow and it’s turning my flesh into itself, and I can’t get away from it.
You have to understand that, that it wasn’t me. It was the sun.
I saw her expression. I saw the water in her eyes.
But I couldn’t stop, not until I’d used up all her oxygen.
Finally, the sun let me go. I remember feeling empty and drained. I remember that I wasn’t quite sure where I was. I remember that I was breathing hard and my heart was beating fast.
And I remember Sarah turning and leaving. I remember her going back up to our apartment. She didn’t say a word.
She didn’t have to.
I can hear her now in the kitchen. Scraping the breakfast that she made for me, even though I said no, into the trash. It’d be cold by now.
No wonder she was surprised to see me here when she woke up.
No wonder she slammed the door.
But still, she made me breakfast. She always does.
She’s washing the dishes now. I hear the water running.
She’ll be leaving for work in about an hour. I’ll head out then. Go down to the dock. Fish. Try to learn the ancient relationship secrets of the rats.
I see I am almost at the end of the space that this form allots for my explanation of why I want to join this project, so I’ll wrap up.
The sun is trying to eat me. I don’t want it to.
I don’t want to lose Sarah.
I don’t want to lose myself.
So I am throwing this out there as a last resort, to see if anyone can hear. If anyone can understand.
After you have reviewed your application and made any necessary revisions or corrections, please click “Submit.” Only click once. Do not click “Refresh” or the back button on your browser.
The Pen Pal Project will notify you by email within ten days of any suitable correspondents we find for you.
Thank you for your wishes to participate in this project, and happy writing!
The Pen Pal Project is an actual thing, and you can participate too, dear reader! 🙂
Here’s the forum thread: The Pen Pal Project It’s open to all versions of the game