We stood in the street, looking up into the sky. The sun was so bright and warm, we would remember later. Blossoms wafting from the trees. Some of us wore sunglasses, others squinted into the light, using a hand as shade. Gary had one of the proper things you’re supposed to look through, looked like he’d made it from a bog roll tube or something. A chunk was getting eaten out of the side of the sun, slowly expanding as the moon crossed in front of it.
‘This is mint,’ Tim breathed, a quarter of the sun now gone. I did up my hoodie.
‘Gets chill, doesn’t it?’ Louise said from behind us. ‘The one I saw in Sumatra-’ she said, and I tuned out. Tim grumbled, ‘Yes, Louise…’, and I leaned against him, sweeping hair out of my face to watch the remaining quarter shrink.
‘Don’t look straight at it,’ Gary said, looking through his thing from the middle of the road.
‘We know,’ I said, looking to a patch of twilight beside the remaining sliver of sun. The summer heat had given way to a cool shade.
‘Totality!’ Gary said, stuffing the bog roll tube in his hoodie pocket. The sun was completely covered up, only a faint ring around the edge lighting the midday night like a bright full moon. Louise took a selfie, the whir of the Polaroid printing, the sound of her shaking the photo.
‘How long’s it last?’ she asked.
‘Couple minutes,’ Gary said.
‘Not something you see every day, eh?’ a girl from next door said.
‘Nope. It’s cool,’ I said.
‘Emily, by the way.’
‘Kate.’ Emily’s housemates were keeping to themselves, looking at the sky. ‘So, um, what d’you do?’
‘Eesh. Better you than me,’ Emily said. I smiled and she turned back to the eclipse.
‘It’s been a few minutes,’ Tim said, rubbing his forearms.
‘Hmm,’ Gary said, walking back onto the pavement, between me and Emily. He checked his watch.
‘I didn’t think it’d cool down this much,’ Tim said.
‘I told you to bring a top,’ I said. He grunted, burying his hands in the pockets of his shorts.
Emily turned to Gary. ‘You know about this stuff?’
‘Physicist,’ Gary said, shrugging.
‘It’s been, like, ten minutes. Is that normal?’
He checked his watch. ‘No.’ He got out his phone. We all gathered round, glancing between him and the eclipse, still at totality. He tapped for a while, skimming articles, shaking his head.
‘What’s up?’ Louise asked.
‘Cool tie-die,’ Emily said to Louise.
Gary coughed. ‘This can’t be right. It’s saying the eclipse is everywhere. At totality.’
‘Everywhere?’ I said.
‘It’s like if I’m standing between you and the telly, so you go to the side, but I’m still in front of it no matter where you sit. There can’t be a total solar eclipse at Paris, Moscow, and here at the same time.’
‘Well, there is,’ Tim said.
‘Brian Cox is melting down on Twitter.’
‘Should – should we be worried?’ Emily said. A cool breeze. Some people were going back in their houses.
‘I don’t know,’ Gary said. ‘It’s got to be a massive hoax.’
‘Well, how long have we been at…’ Louise said, gesturing to the eclipse.
‘Fifteen minutes,’ I said. Gary leaned against my car, googling. Tim went inside, leaving the front door open, coming back a minute later in jeans with a hoodie over his tank top. After a while we went back in. Gary sat at the table with his laptop, looking for answers. It was still dim out as Tim started doing dinner.
‘Is this the end of the world, then?’ Louise said.
‘Come on,’ Tim said.
‘Not gonna lie, this is scary,’ I said.
‘What are the boffins saying?’ Tim asked.
‘Glitch in the Matrix?’ Gary said. ‘Lovecraftian deities fooling around? This isn’t meant to happen! We’re totally lost!’
‘Chill out,’ Tim said. ‘How bad can it be?’
‘All the plants die. Massive global cooling-’
‘That’s global warming fixed, then,’ Tim said, popping a Guinness.
Tim laughed. ‘Cool it, mate,’ he said, chopping onions.
‘This is serious.’
‘What do you know, really?’
‘What’s that s’posed to mean?’
‘Oh, you like to call yourself a physicist, but you’re just a student. And still in second year, ‘cos you screwed it up last time.’
‘You do sports science, Tim.’
Tim put the knife down and whirled around.
‘Tim,’ I said, getting in front of him. ‘Drop it. I’m scared. We’re all scared.’ He turned back round and carried on chopping.
‘It’ll be night soon anyway,’ Louise said. ‘Maybe it’ll rise in the morning and be fine.’
I couldn’t sleep that night. I got out of bed early in the morning.
‘Eurgh,’ Tim said. ‘Go to sleep.’
‘I wanna go look.’ He was already snoring again. I felt an urge to slam our bedroom door on the way out, but I didn’t, tying the sash on my dressing gown as I stepped outside. The night was very dark and very cold. Emily was sitting on the wall outside next door’s.
‘If you’re hoping to see the dawn too,’ she said, ‘you’re just in time.’ There was a faint glow to the east. I joined her on the wall. ‘I can’t believe the world might be ending and I’m still single,’ she said.
‘I couldn’t sleep.’
‘And I kept thinking – the world’s ending, and Tim’s absolutely fricking useless.’
‘That guy you were with? He looked alright.’
‘That’s the only thing he’s got going for him.’
Emily laughed. The glow in the east didn’t seem to be getting brighter than twilight. We sat there waiting, as the eclipse began to rise in the sky.
‘We’re screwed,’ Emily said.
‘Wanna get absolutely turnt?’ she said, getting off the wall.
I tried a grin, though I felt sick. We might as well while we still could. ‘Go on, then.’ I started following Emily into her house.
We stopped. There was an increase in brightness, as though a lamp had been turned on. Not full daylight. But something. We looked up. In white capital letters, this was written in the sky above us:
ASTRONOMY IS EXPERIENCING TECHNICAL DIFFICULTIES
THANK YOU FOR YOUR PATIENCE.