Short Fiction Friday: "Sunlight on Lilly"
(Posted By Jeff Holland)
(A Needless Prelude: There are dark stories a-comin’. Yes indeed. Tales of sudden death, mean sex, bad futures, haunting visions, and the like. But tonight I’m in a good mood. So this Friday, we bring you a love song. This would be the “4 a.m. romanticism” mentioned in the logline of the site. Mournful and sexy, the way such stories tend to be. Regular dark-heart programming resumes next week. For now, enjoy the day.
Cal Dolby has been a good friend of mine for several years. He used to have a girlfriend named Lilly, who was by all accounts very pretty, very intelligent, and very likable. He and Lilly were together for a year or so before she left for a job on the west coast. Dolby told me once that after he met Lilly, he fully understood what it meant to be happy.
This was a strange proclamation for a man like Cal Dolby to make. Our friends and I always teased him about his general reticence, his lack of outward enthusiasm or frustration. Dolby had himself expressed mild pride at the fact that he was by and large incapable of emotional extremes. So for him to express feelings of such a profound nature was alien to our entire friendship, and bore further investigation.
He brought her over to my house once so I could meet her, after they’d been seeing each other for a couple of months. She was shorter than either of us, maybe 5’3” or so, with shoulder-length black hair that wasn’t over-styled, but not by any means unglamorous. Her skin was a dark olive tone, giving her a sort of pan-ethnic look. Her image struck slightly of the future, when genes would be so blended that no single feature would give away a clue of ethnicity.
As I prepared dinner, she toured my home, pleasantly remarking on the architecture of my hundred-year-old residence, and complimenting the framed classic film posters adorning the walls. During dinner, she praised my cooking, even my excessive (to me, at least) use of rosemary. I found myself happy to meet her, and could easily see how a man could fall in love with her.
But Dolby’s words hovered. It was one thing to be in love, but to Know Happiness, and all that entails, was still a bit too big a concept for me to wrap my head around.
Other friends met her and heard from Dolby as he casually commented on his newfound sense of happiness, which of course caught most of our friends off their guard. When they asked what it was about her, aside from her good looks and obvious charm that made him happy, he would simply shrug his shoulders and smile. He would never really expand on those feelings. He would just say that when he was with her he felt a sense of ease and without her he did not. And this made him absolutely happy.
While they were, of course, happy for him, I saw a vague blend of curiosity, envy and frustration seep into our friends’ faces when they realized there would not be further elaboration on Dolby’s part.
In the August of that year, Lilly went to San Diego for a conference, and so I invited Dolby over to my house to relive our college years. We played our guitars, drank rum and coke, and smoked cheap cigars. After an hour of talking about nothing in particular, Dolby found it in him to further explain his feelings to me.
The way he told it, it wasn’t anything that she’d actually done, really. He’d simply come to an understanding one morning.
They were taking a weekend vacation in Ocean City, in a hotel situated right along the beach. They had been lying in bed, naked and sleeping for hours. Dolby woke up at sunrise, for the first time he could ever remember. The window in the bedroom faced east, so he could see the light slowly creep in through the blinds.
He said he didn’t even know how long he watched the sun rise, but eventually began following the rays as they traced across the floor, then onto to the bed, where they fell on Lilly. Her dark features were illuminated in the blue and orange and yellow of the early morning light. When they touched her face, he told me, he became aware of the absolute placement of things. The dawn’s light graced Lilly’s face and body so gently and unassumingly.
Because her muscles made little movement beyond her own breathing, Dolby found himself watching her, in her almost perfect stillness. He told me that he could see the heat, both from the warm sun and her warm body, rhythmically rising off of her.
And this vision gave him an instinctual awareness of every singular moment occurring in the world at any given time. In this case, it was an instant in time when he could look upon his lover in a perfect position in the dawning sunlight, for the purpose of allowing him to witness a simple moment of beauty.
This, he told me, made him realize what it actually means to be happy – to know that each moment holds a deeper meaning than we usually grant it.
He said he watched her sleep for over an hour, glistening in the sunlight like a calm ocean unburdened by passing ships.
Dolby says now that even with Lilly gone, he can still feel that sense of clarity. Sometimes he goes to the balcony outside his apartment and watches the sunlight and the cars passing on the street below him, and he sees those single moments that make up the world surrounding him every day.
He says that he has to look harder for those moments without Lilly by his side, but nevertheless knows they are there. He sees them when he needs to, and they always remind him of Lilly’s sleeping body, coated by the light of the dawn.