When the Sun Sets

3 min
Image of Short Story
It was a black sky that I saw when I finally put the pen down. There were times when I almost ended up asking myself why I did this, day after day. Why I chose to spend my nights in solitude, hunched under the lamplight with my fingers smeared with ink, and my eyes heavy with sleep. Why I chose to write for hours with an aching hand, knowing I had other options. I wondered if I had ever considered all of the choices before committing to this life.

I gathered up the pages, stacked them, and placed a blank sheet of paper atop the pile. With my hand nearly falling off, I scrawled in black cursive letters- “When the Sun Sets.” Yawning, I got up from my desk, and headed off to sleep, aware that it was almost morning.

. . . . .

She set the broom down for a second, panting, and suddenly received a harsh slap across the face. She looked up into the glaring face of the old warden whose favorite pastime was to inflict punishment upon the orphans. Her feet and back ached, but she picked up the broom and started sweeping the floor once more, knowing there would be no dinner if she did not.

It was when they all huddled into their tiny sleeping room that their keen eyes all lit up. Half the cots were empty; the other half creaked with the weight of twenty girls of different ages sitting close together for warmth. One one corner, a tall girl braided a smaller girl’s hair, on another, a girl with shabby spectacles hummed to herself. They all were waiting, until Sophie brought out the worn and old book, and hugging the littlest girl to her bosom, she began reading in that calm, soothing voice that all the girls longed for after an exhausting day.

“When the Sun Sets,” began Sophie. “That’s the name of the story.”

The small girl sitting beside Sophie coughed, but fell silent, eager to hear the story. Her eyes grew wide, and she snuggled closer as she shivered.

“There was a garden in which we held our song,
Where rich and poor, all belong,
For ever and ever we live as free,
As a bird flying high over the sea.”

The room took on a serene air, as the story continued, and one by one, lulled to delightful dreams of fairylands and singing flowers, the girls dropped off to sleep.
. . . . .

I slapped the letter down on my editor’s wooden desk.

“I resign. I’ve had enough sleepless nights.”

She looked unsurprised, as if she’d somehow been expecting this. Calmly, she picked up the letter, and scanned it. She smiled.

“Are you sure? I remember a time when writing was your world.”

I had to fight back the tears brought on by the recollection.

“Well, now it’s not. I’m sure.”

She smiled again. She pulled open her desk drawer, and gently placed my letter inside. Closing the drawer, she looked up at me with a serious expression.

“It seems to me that your resignation was a rather spur-of-the-moment, hasty decision. And since I see it that way, I will be holding on to the letter for a few days, to give you some time to reconsider. Frankly, you are one of the most sensational writers I have ever worked with, and I would discourage any other activity that you decide to take up instead of writing. I’ll see you in about a week.”

I glared. I wanted to resign, and no one would tell me otherwise. But her head was already bent over another manuscript, her practiced hand making small marks between the lines of printed text.

I turned and walked out of the office, telling myself that it was only because I was too tired to argue. I never looked back as I walked out, vowing never to return.

. . . . .

For a long time, as I made the familiar walk home from my editor’s office, I busied myself in thinking. I never saw the small child hurtling down the street, until she crashed into me. Her small face immediately burst into tears, and I looked around nervously, not knowing quite how to deal with a howling child. I awkwardly stared, until a big lady with a red face and glasses came after the girl, glaring. “Now, mind you, Miss Sophie, don’t you go bothering any strangers with your tantrums. Go and read that book you are so fond of instead of loitering around in the middle of the street. Trying to run away, were you?”

The girl looked even more scared, but she immediately stopped her howling, and I was relieved. I bent down to look into the girl’s eyes.

“So you like books, Sophie? What’s the name of the book you’re reading?” The lady turned to scowl at me, evidently displeased, then turned on her hell and strutted back to wherever she had come from.

Sophie looked at me shyly out of big, curious eyes. Then suddenly, as if losing all her notions of me being a stranger, she burst into a torrent of words.

“It’s called When the Sun Sets, and it’s about a girl who goes fishing, but never comes back home. You know what, I would like to be her, to go to the magical lands at sea, instead of sweeping the boring orphanage.” She suddenly clammed up again, afraid she had said too much.

But my fists had already balled up, my nails digging into the skin of my palms. My eyes were watery with emotion, and without a word, I pulled Sophie into a hug.

Sophie looked astonished, but then smiled at me and said, “You are as nice as the magical fairy of the sea in the book.”

I smiled back, and said “Thank you Sophie, for reading my book. You made my day.”

And leaving Sophie with a stunned but happy look on her face, I turned and hurried back to my editor’s office. Because now I knew exactly why I spent sleepless nights, creating magic with my pen.

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