Just imagine for a moment, that you’re me, and you’re watching the sun break through the gaps in your fingers as you hold your hand to the sky. In the late autumn afternoon as the sun is setting; we’re in an open field, just her and I, a few kilometres from Hennison where I left the car, and an almost ten-minute run from the coast. The sky through my fingers is warm and fiery, the sun beaming brightly near the horizon.
I push my glasses up my nose as I catch her gaze. With a beaming smile that’s met mine, I hardly hear her mutter “let’s go” before she’s taken off, and I find myself running after her.
The blades of grass slither over my ankles, and distracted by the tickling sensation, I almost miss her momentarily pause to pick up the bottom of her skirt from around her ankles. As she does so, she spots the largest tree in the distance.
A few months ago when the carnival had come to town, we were sat at a picnic table at dusk under coloured lights hanging from the tree branches above us. By complete accident a few weeks before, I first met her. An absolute electrically charged firework of a girl. I was in complete shock that someone like her had landed herself in our tiny town in the south-eastern corner of Victoria. I had to get to know her. Small talk led to big talk, which led to becoming friends, which led to meeting up at the carnival.
Between sips of her lemonade, she told the story of when her father at our age had spent weeks travelling to see the Northern Lights. Although some of the details were fuzzy, she would giggle, smile at most points, and continue telling the story, although getting distracted by the lights tangled between the branches above. It didn’t bother me that she spent most of her time staring at the bulbs rather than me, because the way her eyes sparkled with love and childlike wonder told me more than she ever could.
I remember the way her smile had faded. “But of course, I can’t travel to see the Northern Lights,” she swirled her straw and shrugged, “so I came here, in hopes of seeing Aurora Australis, the Southern Lights. Apparently you can see them down south.”
I catch up to her now in the middle of the field, panting from running so far.
“That one?” she asks. Her gaze never left the tree.
I remember leaning over the picnic table that night and whispered “I’ll let you in on a little secret – because I trust you.” This caught her attention. “No one likes to venture out of this town. Everyone is too comfortable here. But I’m not. About two years ago I stumbled upon this spot, this amazing spot that no one knew about. It’s a twenty minute walk south of the coast, but you can make it there in ten if you run. You feel like you’re in the middle of nowhere. It’s nothing but land, trees, and the coast in the distance. And if you’re really lucky and come at the right time, if you climb the tallest tree and watch the sunset, you get the best view of the whole town bathed in red.”
“You can see everything from up there?” she asked, gnawing on the end of her straw.
She sat her drink down and leaned back, eyes gleaming. “Hey Miles,” she started. “Do you reckon… if we’re really, really lucky…” her voice, underlined with doubt, trailed off almost instantly.
Now, in the middle of the field, I catch that same gleam in her eyes as she stares at the tree.
“That one.” I nodded.
Without a moment of hesitation, she takes off, and before I could even register, I’m gripping onto the bark of the tree and climbing up after her. I can see her shoes struggling to grip the higher she’s climbing, but she doesn’t deter. Within a matter of seconds she’s perched on one of the highest branches, staring out at everything.
I shake my dark hair out of my eyes, using my shoulder to shift my falling glasses. I grunt as I pull myself onto the branch that’s just underneath hers. By then, relaxed with her back against the tree, she’s staring at the horizon watching the sun slowly set. Her skin is bathed in orange glowing light.
She is now still, quietly breathing. The soft breeze wisps through every blade of grass, whistling delicately. The air is fresh, and my lungs are full. Right now, nothing else matters. Nothing else exists except my beating heart, this blanket of red sunlight, and this amazing woman sitting above me in the tallest tree a few kilometres from Hennison.
She lets her leg hang off the edge of the branch comfortably, and peeking out from the bottom of her skirt her foot sways. I outstretch my hand and watch the sunset between the gaps of my fingers.
“Hey Miles?” she asks.
I smile, leaning back against the tree. “Yes?”
“I hope we’re lucky tonight.”
Aurora, something tells me we will be.
Words by Carli Stasinpoulos
Photograph by Ben Neale