Sunburnt, flash fiction

I air out my bedroom at dusk, cranking open the hinged window away from me. The indoor atmosphere that was sunbaked for the past eleven hours I now usher lazily past the screen. A moth flies out from the open crack, size of a loonie, brown and grey with a drip of elusive orange on the topside of its wings, like a human eye weeping tangerine mascara, blinking with each wingbeat and looking through me.

The small life then dissolves into the night.

It will be mingling with its comrades now, the nocturnal realm. It occurs to me that the window, jointed on the long side with a thick white frame and a cross in the middle, was last opened the night before. The moth must have been drawn in by my light, and trapped between the glass and screen; for a night – when it should be living, and a day – when it should be sleeping.

A cool breeze wafts past, and I try to imagine what the moth, she, had experienced. Being drawn in by a human’s artificial sun, and having a door close in on her. Seeing other moths fly by in the night, beating paper wings against transparent rock, until the world begins to change. A light outside the dome of stars shines in, revealing canvas clouds lit up from inside, sculpting depth and volume to what was once silhouettes, turning the world’s brightness up. All the colours without words to go by them, a moving painting.

Her compound eyes absorbed all this, something never seen before in her short life. The invisible painter’s presence is only felt in shadows, shrinking inch by inch, signalling the arrival of a godlike entity.

My window faces the west, and as the first rays of sun peek past the overhang, the moth burns it into her fleeting memory. She realizes her insignificance as the glowing orb lengthens the shadows. But she exposes herself to the blaze, hour after hour, watching until finally the sun sets a myriad of dazzling colours, overwhelming the senses, and the moth is back in her nocturnal niche without a glare in the violet sky.

Then I opened the cage, and she, sunburnt, weak, and starved, escapes into the night.

I stand there, breathing in the breeze. Will the moth return, seek refuge from the environment at a windowsill, and wait for the sun? For the rest of her delicate life; a week out of the cocoon, will she spend it all obsessing over the beauty of daybreak, something her species has never seen? A sobering gust of wind ruffles my thoughts. Who am I kidding; it’s just a moth. Eat, breed, die, living out its insect instincts. One of millions of others, a slave to its DNA. It might even have a lower chance of survival from being trapped for a while.

The night is no longer comfortable. I crank the window closed, and face my reflection in the glass. Eyes dark, eye bags drooping, bloodshot. I move closer, but the window is no mirror, and my tired face dissolves into the dark.
Looking out, my eyes that had adjusted to the artificial sun cannot see anything. The window is closed. No sound, no smell. Just the stone hard glass. The moth would’ve been looking at my light like that yesterday, all night long a human body faced a rectangle of light, fingers a dancing mania.
My first day without sleep. Her first night forgoing sleep.

When I saw the sunrise today, I was scared. Frightened by what I had done, what I am capable of. Step back from the window, and it turns into a mirror again. Leave eye contact to my peripheral vision.

What am I doing with my life, immersed in a virtual world instead of a sleep cycle, accompanied by a trapped insect in the mirror. It’s not healthy, I know. Unnatural for a moth to see the sun, no matter how beautiful and terrifying it is.


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