Sunset Beauty

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
The only words I can think of to describe this story are "love at first sight." But not the Hollywood or commercialized version of it. The real kind. Where you see someone for an instant and become overwhelmed with affection for them, a deeper connection than just physical attraction. And in an instant, the person vanishes from your life as quickly as they entered it.

Submitted: February 17, 2007

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Submitted: February 17, 2007

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Draped in my new $80 shirt and $170 jeans, I found myself driving down a barren road lined with forest at about dinnertime.  I was supposed to meet a group of people that was supposed to be my new friends, but I was running late.

I was the new guy in town and three weeks had passed before I worked up the nerve to ask one of the few coworkers that is close to my age if he wanted to, “you know, maybe, kinda hangout sometime- like, if you’re free or something or whatever.” It must have been with a heightened sense of perception that Jake picked up on my awkwardness and invited me over to his friends’ apartment for dinner and then out to the bars.  Though more likely it was pity.

I didn't care; no matter what his reasons, I was nervous as hell.  I still don't know what compelled me to pick up and leave the state I had known for 23 years of my life and accept a job over 400 miles away.  I'm guessing it was the promise of a biweekly paycheck and the idea that happiness could exist outside the world I had already grown so apathetic to.

Graduating college leaves you in a weird place.  It's that whole no-longer-a-student, not-yet-praying-for-retirement phase where you have no idea where you belong.  You begin to realize that the knock on your door to invite you to fame, celebrity and fortune may be running a little later than you anticipated.  Now you have to actually do something in the meantime- which typically lasts until the day you die.

I had been driving down that road for about nine miles when I began to think that maybe I missed the “right at the first light” I had been looking for over the past 8.5 miles.  The sun was falling and I was growing agitated at the thought of six post-graduates sitting at a dinner table, growing increasingly annoyed at my tardiness.  I hate being late.  Even more, I hate being late for a first impression.  I began to wonder if I should just turn around and go home.  Call and tell them I was feeling sick.  I had been making up pointless excuses like this ever since I was twelve, which was when I began to pay attention to my mother's expertise at doing so.

As I switched from radio station to radio station, I concluded that there was some secret, highly organized radio conspiracy where all stations play commercials at the same time, so that listeners would be forced to endure no less than ten minutes of irritating endorsements per hour.  My frustration was reaching a boiling point.

Just then, the trees lining either side of the road seemed to break and on my left I witnessed one of the most beautiful sunsets I had ever seen.

To be truthful, I had never really seen a sunset before.  I grew up in the suburbs- which is close enough to the city that the horizon is constantly blocked by rolling hills of endless shopping centers and one is unable to see more than two stars overhead in the dead of night.

The hues of a creamy purple, a blazing orange and the softest yellow I had ever seen were more beautiful than I had ever imagined.  Almost instantly, the streaked shades brought me to a most unexpected calm.  The colors faded together so gently as if they had been painted by a brush of silk bristles.  It now seemed to me that every painting or photograph of a sunset I had ever seen was petty and simply a pathetic, failed attempt to capture the scene of utter tranquility that I was now witnessing. No - that I was a part of.

The meditation I experienced was broken only by the sudden crescendo of a blaring car horn coming up from behind me.  Apparently extreme relaxation tends to drag the car a bit into the left lane.  After averting certain disaster, I quickly returned my attention to the canvas on my left.  Suddenly, I felt as though this moment had to be captured, that it must be preserved to prove it existed long after it tucked itself beneath the horizon.

I found myself elated to realize that I had left my digital camera in my car from the previous weekend - having attempted to ignore my growing feelings of isolation by taking pictures of semi-interesting buildings and places found in my new environment.

I noticed a housing development a bit up the road, just behind a hill.  A hill strategically placed so that it overlooked the road and faced the sunset as if God himself had put it there.  The hill pointed directly at the setting sun, forcing anyone standing atop it to look directly at the sunset - as if it were His way of saying, “Yeah, I did that.” Feeling as if it would rapidly fade into oblivion the moment I took my eyes away, the vision never left my gaze as I simultaneously steered the car into the housing development and fumbled for my camera.  

I turned the car right behind the other side of God's hill and quickly rotated my head as I looked for the perfect spot to capture the sunset forever.  I parked and- with the keys still in the ignition and the door left wide open- I raced up the hill with the excitement of a young child on Christmas morning.  After that morning's rain, the bright green grass was fluidly erased by a muddy brown streak when my sneakers lost traction and my body slammed- pricey new clothes and all- face down in the mud.

But I didn't care; all that mattered was preserving the sunset that awaited me atop the hill.  I cautiously brought myself to my feet and with three legs (the fourth “leg” was busy holding the camera high above the mud) I crawled up the hill to marvel at God's creation.

Already the sunset had begun to fade, but there were still sharp elements of the scene that first possessed my attention.  I inhaled deeply and brought the camera to eye level as I switched it on.

“Hey. What are you doing up there?”

My moment of peaceful solitude and reflection was alarmingly interrupted as my head instinctively turned towards the source of the distraction, though my camera, hands and eyes were still focused on the sunset.

“The sunset.  It's just that...  It's so-”

“This is private property.  You're trespassing and- WHAT DID YOU DO?! The grass! The Homeowner's Association is going to-”

Once legal implications were suggested, my attention was broken and I turned, prepared to unleash great scorn upon the cause of the intrusion.  Revealing the deep anger I felt, my hands tightly clenched the camera and depressed its button as I turned, taking what could only be a horrible distortion of the sunset so insulting to its beauty.  Distinct streaks of awesome colors blurred into a swirling mud of confusion.

“Look I didn't mean-”

But I stopped.  For suddenly, the sight now before me captivated me more than any mere sunset, any fleeting shooting star, any petty image of snow-capped mountains ever could.

She wasn't incomprehensibly gorgeous and showed no signs of anorexia or indoor tanning.  Auburn hair with streaks of gold was pulled taut into a ponytail swinging gently behind her head.  She yelled to me from a pair of loose fitting sweatpants and a T-shirt that was on the verge of being one size too small, but could still under all legal pretenses be considered “her size.” She wasn’t unattractive, but it seemed to me that she was a girl who normally went unnoticed when passing members of the opposite sex.

Yet there was something about her that grabbed my attention and refused to let go.  Even though I didn't recognize her, I felt like I'd seen her face a thousand times before.  There was an ambiguous familiarity about her that captivated me and still is impossible to accurately relate.  

I could do nothing more than just stand and stare at her.  I thought it insane, but somehow that face seemed perfect to me.  But how could a face be perfect? There are just different kinds of faces with infinite options of nose length, eye color, lip texture and freckle density.  But I knew it was the peculiar familiarity I felt that made it seem perfect to me and I felt like no one else in the world could look at her and see that perfection the way I did.  For the first time ever, a guy who didn't believe in destiny, fate or falling in love felt that he was staring at a face created just for him.

By the time I regained use of my brain, the sunset had vanished beneath a dark field.  But I didn't care.  The only thought doing laps inside my brain was that of finding some solution to erase the obvious look of agitation showing on that perfect face.

When I reached the bottom of the hill, I froze as she stood facing me, seeming to expect me to respond.  I too desperately wanted me to say something, but the only thing that came to mind was an extremely strong urge to propose marriage.  Being of sound mind enough to realize that my proposal had at least a 51% chance of being rejected, I kept quiet.

She looked at me puzzled, offering me the impression that she was just as confused by my silence as I was.  Not hiding her confusion, she held a look of bewilderment and unease as she turned slowly and walked back across the road to her front door, which stood directly opposite the hill to my back.  I tried to force my brain to work, to come up with something to say that would impede her movement away from me, to get her to turn around and stay in my life for just another moment.  At that instant, I was prepared to spend all subsequent moments of my life with the very same goal.

But all I could manage was a deafening silence that pricked my ears and pained my heart.  I didn't even realize she had gone until the sound of a slammed door brought me back to reality.  It was now dark.  I had no perfect face, no sunset and was even later for my dinner plans.

Eventually, I climbed woefully back into my car and found my way to the social gathering planned for the evening.  I arrived over an hour late and was met by Jake's offered greeting: “Hey man, glad you could make it.  Wasn't sure you were coming, but I think there's still some food left in the kitchen.  Dig in.” Absolutely no signs of agitation or frustration at my tardiness, nor much sign of previously expectating my attendance.  It also seemed apparent that it was so common for dinner guests to show up adorned with medium amounts of mud that an inquiry was not necessary.

The night went by fine enough.  I engaged in whatever conservation did not entail a prerequisite that I “had to be there,” which was limited enough.  I had no qualms with this as my mind was focused on doing all it could to hold on every minute detail of the memory of the girl in the sweatpants.

A few days later, I was loading pictures from my camera on to my computer and I came across the lone picture I took that night.  I sat at the desk in my living room, and came upon a breathtaking photograph of the most perfect sunset ever made.  I sat there staring at the monitor for countless minutes as time seemed to fade away.  Though I thought I had taken the picture as my arm moved recklessly to my side, the picture was pristine.  Brilliant, individual streaks of color could easily be discerned as if each were made by a separate pencil stroke.

Every now and then, I still find myself feeling lost or like I still haven’t found a place I feel comfortable in the world.  I go to the mall and nothing in any of the stores seem to appeal to me or they just don't seem to fit me right.  I've listened to the same songs so many times that I don't even remember why I liked them in the first place.  And its times like these that I pull out that picture and instantly remember how it felt to see the most beautiful sight I’ve ever seen.  If only I had a picture of it.


© Copyright 2018 joseph bradford. All rights reserved.

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