Esme Michelle Watkins
We don’t remember the days before Aurora Borealis. How we’d scoured weather reports for months and left for Abisko only when conditions were perfect to see her. How some compared her light to biblical fables but we wanted to see for ourselves. How they told us she would appear in an inky, cloudless sky. How Aurora wasn’t really Aurora, but an amalgam of solar particles and gasses and magnetic fields.
We don’t remember the time. How the sun shone brightly at midnight and made clocks an inconvenience rather than a necessity. How we counted hours by the progression of ports on our journey around the Swedish coast. How we hiked with supplies on our backs through mountains and forests before we reached that point. How we went days without seeing a local. How it didn’t matter because neither of us spoke the language well and each person we encountered eventually threw up his hands in frustration. How we considered the act a rejection. How the rejection stung like paper cuts, hundreds of small paper cuts. How, after some time, we thought we’d found the perfect spot in the marshes and waited. How Aurora took four long days and nights to arrive. How we read about the ancients, who reasoned Aurora’s delay was punishment for digressions in a past life. How we dreamed of Aurora’s reflection in the sea. How we prayed. How we loved her before we met her.
We don’t remember the legends. How the ancients revered Aurora and named her mother of the sun. How they believed her fingers pink as roses painted the clouds. How she kidnapped Tithonus from his father and made him her lover. How she’d petitioned Jupiter to grant him eternal life but neglected to ask for eternal youth. How Tithonus, tortured by time, turned into a withered, gray cicada. How Aurora watched in horror from the sky. How she wept.
We don’t remember the stillness before Aurora came. How her light pierced the sky with no warning. How we jumped up and down in vain attempts to touch it. How Aurora drowned the moon and smothered the stars with shades of blue and green and pink. How we fell to our knees in reverence. How fragile we believed she was, how we feared even a sneeze was enough to make the light disappear. How we whispered to each other because we thought she couldn’t hear. How the cool air punched at our lungs. How we were so close to the Arctic Circle, we felt small as dots on a map at the edge of the world.
We don’t remember what happened to the film. How we’d left four canisters in a bin near the lip of the x-ray machine at the airport and can’t recall whose fault it was. How we argued. How we settled for photographs taken by others and illustrations we found in small gift stores. How they could never replace the pictures we’d taken. How we didn’t hold on to many things from that trip—not even a receipt, or a postcard. How neither of us felt it necessary was once the light was over.
Esme-Michelle Watkins is an attorney from Los Angeles. Her fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Boston Review, Indiana Review, Word Riot, Voices de la Luna, 4'33" and elsewhere. She is a Callaloo Fellow, a Kimbilio Fellow, and the fiction editor at Apogee Journal.