Anticipating sunset on the winter solstice always feels like sitting in a doctor’s office waiting on test results that you already know the answer to. There’s a grim industrial carpet under your feet with strange stains that you don’t want to inspect too closely, an array of uncomfortable chairs with other patients scattered at maximum distance from each other, fliers in a rack by the door. You can hear the receptionist talking on the phone in a low voice just over the counter and there will be at least one insipid art piece on the wall, bleached of life and colour. If you’re lucky, a single window permits a view of the parking lot and a row of dreary, sad cars.
It’s always raining when I go to the doctor’s office of my imagination, so everything is slightly damp and sticky and the room smells like wet weather and wool. Dripping umbrellas are jammed in a bucket by the door and the window is streaked with drops of moisture that slowly and steadily trail down to the sill before vanishing from view. The gutters are spitting and overflowing around the foundations because no one’s bothered to clean them in quite some time, and the parking lot is awash with a swirl of water and garbage blown in by the wind.
In the doctor’s office of my nightmares I’ve forgotten to bring reading material so I’m stuck staring glumly around the room or thumbing through weathered magazines or reading pamphlets that don’t apply to me. Nutrition information for expecting mothers. In Spanish. Narcotics Anonymous fliers. Posters for a fundraiser I can’t afford to attend. I try to avoid meeting the eyes of anyone else in the room, to close my ears to murmured conversations and ignore the nurse’s call unless it’s for me, and then I’m always startled, lumbering up to gather my things and trail behind to have my vital signs taken. For some reason I always take forever to get organised even when I don’t actually have anything out in the waiting room; there’s a long lag between hearing my name and actually striding across the waiting room to the door into the depths of the office, clutching my book.
This is just a nightmare in general, honestly, the idea of being trapped somewhere with nothing to read, unable to leave; there’s a reason the emergency kit in my car includes a book alongside the first aid kit and rescue blanket. I use the book more often than I use anything else, stuck in traffic on 128 or other long, winding highways during roadwork. As a small child I used to lug a stack of books with me everywhere and people thought it was either endearing or bizarre, but still didn’t get it, the urgency behind it, the need to always have an escape. Wherever I was, I needed something to read or I would feel like my entire world was falling apart. Just knowing I had a book there was the important part, sometimes I didn’t even open it.
So there you are sitting in the office, knowing what the doctor is going to tell you when you’re called back. At least the sun sets on time on the solstice instead of leaving you cooling your heels in the front room for 20 minutes after the scheduled appointment time, waiting to be ushered to another room to wait. On the solstice, you don’t have to sit in a doctor’s office staring blankly at the bland decor, or an exam room, trying to decide between the paper-covered table or the uncomfortable chair in the corner or the unofficial doctor’s chair, the spinny one with the squishy seat, waiting for the doctor to show up. Try sitting in it sometime; it will utterly throw off the doctor’s routine.
No, the sun very much keeps to the planned schedule. It’s good like that. When it dips behind the horizon—when the doctor finally shows up in the doorway with your file—you know exactly what’s going to happen next. It seems like a pointless formality to go through the dance of greetings and exchanges of information about your wellbeing. It’s the end of the day. Everyone’s tired. We might as well cut to the chase (turn on the headlights, set out for home).
It will be dark for a very long time tonight (something is wrong), but after this things will get lighter (now we can start treatment). Because this is how things go; things happen and we deal with them. These things have been happening for a very long time and they’ll keep happening long after we’re gone. The sun will keep rising and setting and people will keep getting test results they don’t really want to hear and everything will go on for everyone else just as usual, just like nothing at all happened. Except that some of us won’t make it through the night (treatment) and the sun will never rise again for them.
While the southern hemisphere enjoys a long summer day, we have a short, clipped winter one. While one person sits in an office with anticipation and dread, another person sets a table for dinner. People say we’re all connected, but we’re not, really; the Earth doesn’t stop moving when the doctor confirms your suspicions any more than the children in the pool stop splashing for a minute when the sun sets on the other side of the world. We’re all spinning around in our own galaxies and sometimes we pass each other, sometimes we crash into each other, some people become the moons to others’ planets and others are the suns to others’ moons, but in the end, we’re all in it alone. Orbiting, spreading, falling into black holes, but still, alone.