The sun took an age to set there. She kept wondering if it was her imagination. Was she so much in the present that she was scrupulously aware of every passing sunset moment? No. There had to be another explanation.
Her dining-room faced west, and from it sprung a tiny balcony, with just enough room for two chairs. The view over the rosy-tiled rooftops was one of the reasons she had fallen in love with the house. The vista flowed unobstructed to the horizon somewhere on Western Europe’s Atlantic edge. During the winter months the sun set behind her neighbour’s house, but by early Spring it was back, offering spectacular day’s end light shows all the way up until early Autumn.
The first summer in her house, she would sit on the balcony around eight thirty armed with a glass of Anjou wine (the kind not sold in British supermarkets) to watch the sunset. After half an hour it still didn’t seem to be going anywhere. Then it would sink behind a cloud bank, only to re-emerge fifteen minutes later, to offer another two and a half hours of liquid purply gold with which to paint her day anew . She had come to call it the “second sun”. This unusual topographic effect was why the French Gâtine, though far from Marseille, registered one of the highest numbers of sunshine hours in the whole of France.
It was by now 7:43 and sun was flatly refusing to set. She was so immersed in her waiting reveries that she hardly noticed when he came and sat beside her. The familiar smell of oil paint exuding from his aura. It was, coincidentally, just as he joined her that the sun pulled a bruise-coloured bank of cloud over its face.
“Do you think we can have a second sun?”
“Yes, of course,” she replied, hardly skipping a thought. “But it comes with a price.”
“What price is that?”
“The price of knowing your future mistakes as well as your past ones.”
He peered over his spectacles as the sun emerged from the cloud bank, now decked with deep and brilliant golds and purples, like an actress after a quick and miraculous back stage change.
“As prices go, that doesn’t seem such a bad one. And anyway, are you so sure of the future?”
It was exactly when he asked that she suddenly realized she was not. She felt a pang of gratitude for his eccentric presence in her life.
“I guess the second sun to me is as much a burden as it is a gift. I wouldn’t mind if I’d died when I thought I was going to. I know I should be grateful for the extra time. But sometimes it just seems to me extra time to be extra disappointed. The Buddha’s First Noble Truth was tattooed into my heart by the age of eight. Everything since has just felt like a punishment.
“Well,” he said, bringing a lighter to the cigarette he’d been rolling in his hands while she talked. “I think if anyone needs a second sun, it’s you.”