The Theory of Twilight

Clementine Roy

When sitting in a window seat on an aeroplane, I always watch the events leading up to the take off. While the plane taxis into position, I will see blinking red lights placed alongside the runway tracks like electric tulips that have blossomed into a humid turbine spring. Seagulls might cut across patches of grass in between yellow-trimmed lanes of asphalt and perhaps in the distance, I might catch a glimpse of some famous landmark from whatever city lies nearby on the horizon.

After the plane has accelerated and lifted off the ground, my ears will pop from the change in cabin pressure. All the familiar features of the runway will slowly drop away from my discernment. The landing gear jolts into place under my seat. The pilot will turn off the fasten your seatbelts sign. Once the plane has reached its cruise altitude of 35,000 ft., I will look out in awe at the bellowing ocean of clouds and sunlight, amazed at the vaporous summits stretching endlessly across the sky. This aeronautical landscape seems devoid of definition, even time. I would not know how to measure an hour out there amid the rolling cirrus valleys. Nor should I find my footing upon the drifting, condensed carpet that extends so far into the troposphere.

Usually, while admiring the scenery from this altitude, a slight optical illusion will occur. In this optical illusion, I perceive a swarm of fine glowing specks, swerving about before my eyes. The specks circle in random patterns, resembling ionic aphids or illuminated amoeba transgressing the lens of a microscope. When I try to ”catch” some of the tiny specks within my line of focus, they will inevitably slide away into the vague regions of my peripheral vision. The entire time I am aware of the specks, I am never able to actually examine one. While watching these little blimps of light whiz about, I am unclear as to whether they are somewhere outside the fuselage’s window, or inside the cabin, circling about in the short space between my eyes and the plastic windowpane?

At times it even seems as though the specks of light are being reflected on the surface of my iris, as if a school of ultraviolet, radioactive quartz was swimming through the aqueous humour before my retinas.

In a way, these mysterious specks resemble a constellation of miniature stars, waltzing through some perpetual twilight within my optic chiasma. When I close my eyes they remain as ghosts, shifting along the fringes of my peripheral vision. I detect them now as a trace of their after-image, lingering upon the back of my eyelids.
The Stygian darkness of the eyelids is absolute. I chase the after-image across infinite zones of nothingness, no longer certain of my bearings. I might suddenly be standing in the middle of a dense night-time forest, or painted upon the centre-panel of a sealed triptych. The blackness I see absorbs even the depth of my vision, so that I have no concept of the space before me. The after-image of the circling specks sink lower and lower away from my photoreceptors, providing the only illumination in this void.

I wait. I allow my eyes to adjust to the darkness. The imprint of the tiny sparks can still be traced, however dimly. In the evening of my inner sight they have become the astrological bodies, the perpetual fireworks that swirl in the skies above my metaphorical forest. I gaze up through the tall, imaginary trees at my phantom solar system, wondering at the origin and distance of these nebulae. I ponder how many years it has taken their light to reach me? I hypothesise how long it will take the heat of my awareness to reach them? I wish to know what day I am seeing. I long to understand how far these minute, reflected mornings have travelled before finding solace inside the vast dominions of my visual cortex?

It is at that moment, that I wonder, am I really seeing these stars or am I inventing them? If my eyelids are shut, then with which pupils am I able to view this inner evening? What engine turns this wilderness? I gaze into that sky behind my eyes and chart the sanctum of my equilibrium.

© 2004