On the morning of the solar eclipse, it rained in Kansas City, a steady shower that lulled me back to sleep. My snoring woke me up. Time for work. I pressed the power button on the Mac, and was greeted by the familiar C major chord, stringed instruments, I'd guess. I wrote dull words in a halfhearted effort that matched the halfhearted sound of the laptop. The muffled tap of electronic keyboard—more thap than tap—always made me miss the decisive clack of a typewriter, the soundtrack of real writing.
The showers moved out. A drone of traffic on a highway in the distance accompanied intermittent splashes outside my window, the last vestige of rain drip-drip-dripping off the roofline.
Around 11:00, I padded in sock feet to the living room to turn on the radio. I loved a still-drowsy household, only the humming refrigerator to keep me company, but squeaky floorboards shouted my progress from upstairs to downstairs. The newscaster’s voice was excited. He seemed a little wired. “ … sure hoping there’ll be a break in the weather out here.” They were broadcasting live from a park, counting down to eclipse totality, which would engulf us at 1:07 PM.
His excitement was contagious.
The screen door slapped shut, when I ran out onto the patio. Rain showers had left hot sticky air behind. Sweat beading on my forehead confirmed: it’s August in Missouri. Cicadas were chirping desperately for mates, their insistent noise drowning out my thoughts. A pair of squirrels squawked at each other as they ran across a power line, and a private jet flew low, making a roaring pass to land at the corporate airport over the hill. I smacked a mosquito on my arm, then went back to writing.
An hour later, I grabbed my eclipse glasses and climbed to the farthest corner of our steeply sloping lot. The clouds had blown away. A hole in our backyard canopy was filled with bright blue sky, the high-noon sun dead center. I donned the glasses. The moon had bitten off its initial chunk of the sun. I’d seen it on paper, on line, on television. I knew exactly what to expect, but still, it was unexpected. Still, I was mesmerized. I stared until my neck began aching.
Every few minutes, I sat on the patio, reluctant to leave the show, then rushed back up the hill. My knees hurt from my awkward stance on the hillside. My feet struggled to find purchase. An encroaching evergreen shrub scratched my shoulder. A bee buzzed past, en route to the sedum bed.
The moon’s shadow crawled across the sun.
A train groaned by, the engine’s low bass telegraphing it was eastbound, loaded with coal, the groan lasting several minutes before it faded. A cardinal whistled from a branch directly over my head. It’s mate responded from another yard. In my neighbor’s tree, a second cardinal family joined the chorus. Sparrows chimed in a jittery two-part song. A flock of them burst from the treetops, a sudden flight that caused the leafy branches to rustle. As gnats zipped at my eyes and nose, a ground critter scrabbled through the weeds when my foot surprised it. Behind it all, the drone of highway traffic, the din of cicada courtship.
At totality, the corona: blazing sun transformed into a black disc encircled by a white halo. At one in the afternoon, in the misplaced dark that should have been one in the morning, my neighborhood fell dumb.
Darkness hushed the cicadas. Cardinals grew mute. Sparrows were speechless. The highway stopped humming. Gnats stopped zipping. Insects that crept along daily underfoot—their minuscule comings and goings heard in a backwater region of my brain—stopped creeping.
Across the fence, a lap dog yapped, alone in its incomprehensible world, until a Labrador that lived a few houses away howled in sympathy. When they exhausted themselves, barking cowered into whimper; whimper was swallowed by silence.
I thought the stillness would swallow me. too. Quiet hung in the air, as heavy as August humidity.
Faintly … in the distance … a barely audible note. Maybe I was imagining it. At first mysterious, and then unmistakable. Bursting through the silence of midnight-at-midday, from the elementary school down the street, gathered outside for the best science lesson of their young lives, children cheered the moon.