I stumbled into my favorite corner pub after work, third shift in the burn ward. Mike’s served breakfasts and the best Bloody Marys in town – and after the shift I just had, I needed both. I walked in and Dan nodded at me from behind the bar. “Your regular?” he asked and I nodded tiredly back, collapsing at my favorite bar stool along the wall counter. I let the local morning news on the TV fill my brain; it was better than thinking.
An old guy I didn’t recognize came out of the bathroom and went to the bar for a drink at the same time my order came up. Dan brought my plate over and stage whispered “The guy at the bar is a bit strange, but harmless. He’s been talking to everyone, if you don’t want to listen to him just come up to the bar and I’ll shoo him off.” I smiled my thanks; it was nice to be somewhere where I was taken care of, instead of the one taking care.
Sure enough the old guy came shuffling over and sat in the chair next to me. “Good morning, young lady.”
“Good morning, yourself. What brings you out so early?”
“I’m always early. I live by the sun, when he’s up, I’m up.”
“So the sun’s a he then?”
“Of course the sun is a he. Helios. I’ve come closer to him than anyone.”
“Huh.” I tried to make my voice sound flat, I didn’t want to be rude but wasn’t really in the mood for story time. However he took my grunt as a sign of interest and continued.
“The first thing I remember was cold and mostly dark. The hedges were so high I only ever saw a sliver of the sky. It was Dad who figured out how to get us out, full of careful instructions.
“The day came to try. We leapt into the air and stayed there. It was – an ecstasy – to be enveloped in the sky I could only dream about before. We made our way forward, ungainly for birds but beautifully graceful for men.
“I could see Helios clearly for the first time. He was so beautiful, so warm and caring. I knew I had to go to him. I flew up, noticing some of the outer lightest feathers falling; falling down.”
The old guy had a dreamy look on his face, and the edge of tears in his eyes and voice.
“It started to hurt. My wings were turning molten. I could hear my dad’s voice far below me yelling something. But I kept straining up.”
I reached for my drink and turned to the old man, giving him my full attention. “Wait, isn’t this a myth? Ike-somebody who flew too close to the sun with wax wings and died for his folly?”
“It wasn’t a folly.” The man straightened and his watery voice became steel. “How is reaching for the most amazing thing I’d seen wrong? Helios is beautiful, and sometimes beauty hurts. Does that mean we shouldn’t strive, shouldn’t reach even if it is beyond our means? One of your poets said ‘it is better to be happy for a moment and burned up with beauty than to live a long time and be bored all the while’. I was happy for those moments; truly, brilliantly happy. Tell me, what is that worth?”
His eyes were burning into me.
“All they ever talk about is failure, foolishness. But neither failure nor fools are absolute. Perspective is a mighty thing. What they saw, the ones who were even bothering to pay attention, was my falling, my failing. But oh, I wasn’t falling. I was flying. I saw Helios’ face, closer than anyone, and I wanted to tell the world as quickly as I could. I was burning with a necessary fire, full of joy. I sang my way down to the earth, to all of mankind who had never thought to leave it, only wanting to share.
“My father saw me dive into the sea and assumed I drowned; he wasn’t a very nice man. He told people what he saw happen, all about his success and my failure. Thus my truth was replaced by a story that some poet invented. You see, young lady, even truth is unfixed.”
He paused to take a sip of his wine. I could see the edge of his wrist sliding out from the sleeve of his jacket – his skin looked like a liquid frozen in delicate patterns.
“So I keep Helios’ hours, everywhere I go. I am his and he is mine and someday we will find a way to be together forever. We’re just old fools in love.” He cleared his throat. “Sorry to monopolize your breakfast. Sometimes I need to tell folks my truth. Have a good morning.”
He finished his wine, and smiled at me. He walked outside and sat on a nearby bench I could see from the window, staring up into the sun.
“Old fool,” Dan said as he came to clear my plate. “Looking into the sun like that is bad for your eyes, everyone knows that. Do you want another drink?”
“Yes, please. I need to sit for a bit.”
I thought about the story the old man had just told me and wondered what had happened to make him adopt a myth as his own personal history. Even if I took his story as truth (yeah right) to risk so much for so uncertain a reward seemed like a ridiculous bet to me. I watched him sitting with his face to the sun, so happy he was glowing. That, I envied. I don’t know if I’ve ever been as simply happy.
****This is my entry for week 10 of LJ Idol. The poem the old guy referenced is "the lesson of the moth" by Don Marquis, which was very much my inspiration for this week. Thanks for reading.****