Dad and I drive to a state park in the mountains near Asheville to see the eclipse. They make a big deal about it, with food trucks and live music, bluegrass and an Allman Brothers tribute band. People set up shade tents and lawn chairs, cook hamburgers and hot dogs on charcoal grills. Little kids wait in line to get the eclipse’s progression painted across their foreheads.
‘Your mom would have loved this,’ Dad says.
She’d gone on the internet to get us ready. I remember her one morning at breakfast, pouring Dad’s coffee for him and telling us about how the moon’s shadow crossing the land is called the umbra, how this would be the first time in almost 40 years people like us could see the corona of the sun. ‘It’s going to be something we’ll remember forever,’ she said.
Dad gets the little cooler out of the car. He hands me a soda and gets a beer for himself. It’s before noon. I wonder how many more he’ll drink.
‘To your mom,’ he says, raising his beer in a toast.
I tap my bottle against his.
‘To Mom,’ I say.
A man and a woman come and spread a blanket across the grass on the ground near us. They sit side by side, the man’s arm around the woman’s waist, her head against his shoulder, and sway together to the music.
Dad finishes his beer and gets another.
‘Be sure to love her,’ he calls over to the man.
It’s August, getting hotter as the sun climbs the sky. Dad takes off his shirt.
‘Need another soda?’ he asks.
‘I’m OK,’ I say.
By the time the music ends Dad has drunk a six-pack. He goes to pee in one of the portajohns they’ve brought in to handle the crowd, weaving around families eating picnics and stopping every so often to lean against a pine tree to steady himself. A little girl points and laughs, like he’s a clown. When he gets back he lies down in the grass and goes to sleep. I ball up his shirt and slip it under his head.
The moon edges in front of the sun. I put on a pair of the special protective glasses Mom got us online. I start to wake Dad but as the darkness falls it’s like he’s supposed to be this way, and I let him sleep.
SCOTT RAGLAND has an MFA in Creative Writing (fiction) from UNC-Greensboro in the U.S. Before taking a writing hiatus, he had several stories published, most notably in Writers' Forum, Beloit Fiction Journal, and The Quarterly. More recently, his work has appeared in apt, The Conium Review, NANO Fiction, Newfound Journal, Ambit, and The Common (online), among others. He also has a flash forthcoming in Fiction International. He lives in Carrboro, N.C. (U.S.A.), with his wife, two dogs, and a cat. His three kids have left the nest.