A solar eclipse has lasting effects on a woman who emerges with the power of an Empathion
|Robin shows the guard her employee pass and climbs the museum’s center staircase. She walks through several exhibits toward the 20th century room. Directly ahead of her is Andrew Wyeth’s Christina’s World, one of her favorites. Stepping around the crowd of people, Robin sees that the painting has mutated again. Yesterday a middle-aged farmer appeared in the painting, standing at the top of the hill, his hands at his mouth as he called for Christina. Today Robin sees a new mutation: Christina has pulled herself closer to the farmhouse at the top of the frame, almost upright. The changes transform the painting from despair to hope. Robin is triggering the changes in the painting. She has become a human antidote to the loneliness and yearning she reads in Christina’s World.
What she experienced with Christina’s World was not a one-time thing. A few days earlier she walked through another wing in the museum, passing one of her favorites, Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks. The waiter in the diner was still scrubbing the counter, but the man and the woman normally seated silently at the far counter had disappeared from the frame. The space they once occupied was now empty. The next day Robin passed Nighthawks again. This time she saw a different couple filling the empty space, animated, smiling, joyful. Dressed in swanky clothes, the man and the woman sat at the counter, cigarettes in hand, intimately leaning toward each other, the woman laughing and fingering her pearls. Nighthawks became a different work of art, filled with romance instead of loneliness. Another painting, mutated.
Robin considers herself sensitive, quick to respond with compassion to people and situations. What she experiences now is different, more intense, mightier. In the past days her sensitivity has concentrated into a sort of super power, a capacity not only to read and absorb people’s emotions, but also to transform their loneliness or pain tangibly into hope or joy. Others might consider Robin’s alternative realities delusional or hallucinatory, but not Robin. If her power enabled her to bring hope and joy to characters in paintings, she can only imagine the impact of applying her power in the real world.
Her power — for want of another word, she calls herself an Empathion — developed after the solar eclipse. Robin and her museum coworkers took the back steps to the roof so they could watch the eclipse from the top of the museum, the city spread out beneath them. The eclipse had been infinitely calculated and recalculated by NASA, the National Parks Service and Weather.com to begin at 10:24am and to reach two minutes of totality at 11:45am. For the first time, the city was directly in the path of the eclipse and would be blanketed with darkness. No one knew what to expect.
Armed with special glasses, Robin and her colleagues chatted and sipped iced coffees, occasionally looking toward the sun as they waited for something momentous to happen.
“It’s starting,” said the museum’s medieval expert, Sean. As the moon crossed over the sun, daylight took on a strange cast, as if it were twilight rather than morning. Robin’s colleagues put on their glasses and stared at the sun, but Robin refused to watch the moon block out the sun. She feared — irrationally, she knew— that the eclipse would not end. Darkness would take hold, stealing joy from the world. She fixated on the growing shadow enveloping the city block by block. The shadow closed in on the museum building, crawled over the lawn and crept up the museum’s outside steps. Steadily it climbed the sides of the building and covered the rooftop.
For two minutes Robin was at the center of the penumbra. She smelled burning, electrical burning. Across the rooftops she saw the nearly fully dark sky oscillating and distorting. From the west a wave of arctic blue light flared over the city, hit the rooftops and broke over the museum. No sound, no vibration, nothing tangible — only cold blue light covering Robin’s feet, legs, waist. Her fingers touched the arctic blue light, and sparks flew. Robin felt electrified. An aura of blue light gloved her hands, her arms, her legs. Her colleagues were silhouetted vividly in violet, crimson and yellow. She could see her friends speaking to one another, but Robin heard nothing.
The shadow moved on. The arctic blue light drained away. The sun reappeared from behind the moon. Daylight returned. Robin’s coworkers prepared to take leave, taking their final vapes and tossing their coffee cups. At that moment Robin understood: She was the only one of them who saw the wave of arctic blue light, who felt its cool, who felt the sparks. Did anyone else experience this?
Since the solar eclipse Robin has started to test and hone her Empathion power. Last week she sketched an unknown woman with incomparable detail, without even realizing she had picked up her drawing pad. The next day she saw the unknown woman on a park bench, lined and disheveled with a cardboard sign asking for food. Robin sat down beside her and gave hera her sandwich. The smile that broke through the woman’s face tore Robin’s heart. On Monday Robin heard music in the street and saw musical notes — half notes, whole notes, quarter notes, clefs — dancing across the sidewalk. When she raised her hands, she discovered she could change the pattern, melody and cadence of the music as if she were a conductor. A teenager in front of her immediately started bopping and singing exactly to the beat of Robin’s music. Last night, stretched on the couch with her twelve-year-old niece, Robin downloaded the movie Terms of Endearment. She prepared her niece for Emma’s illness and death, but the movie’s ending mutated. Not only did Emma survive, she and her sons thrived.
This is her power. To alter the trajectories of people who are unhappy, lonely and yearning for a different life. Will she use this power to help others? To help herself? Can alter trajectories in her favor? People say that Robyn is a good girl, but the power to alter trajectories and situations is seductive. Will she be a good witch or a bad witch?
First Chapter Ends
Note: This was updated September 3, 2017
Inspirations: Andrew Wyeth's Christina's World, solar eclipse, "all literature is longing," The Kugelmass Episode from Woody Allen's Side Effects