Light

“She couldn’t remember the last time she’d seen the stars,” Everett told his son. “And I’d have to drive her out past the suburbs to show them to her. We both know that wasn’t going to happen. So I went down to the hardware store, bought all these Christmas lights, and decorated the house. I was just trying to get her out to see them. She gave me a look and ran to the bedroom. Then I called you.”

“You gotta give her baby steps, Dad, like the doctor said.”

“I thought asking her to come out to the yard was a baby step! It’s been months. When’s she going to get better?”

In the quiet that followed, both Everett and his son heard the muffled sniffling and the telltale intakes of breath. Connor got up from the table. “It’s ok, Mom,” he reassured the locked bedroom door. “I’ll take some pictures of the lights on the house. You don’t have to leave the house.”

*****

A few days before, Miriam had watched from the living room as Everett propped the ladder outside the front window. He exhaled, and she thought for a moment that he’d taken up smoking again. Then she remembered the snow on the ground.

He raised his voice so she could hear him through the panes of glass. “They’re called icicle lights.”

He dramatically opened the box while dah-dumming the theme song from 2001: Space Odyssey. Once unfurled, he draped the lights around his neck to show how they could dangle from the eaves like icicles after a blizzard. She smiled weakly and pulled a blanket tighter around her shoulders. Everett reassured her with a wink, then climbed up the ladder carrying a hammer and a box of nails. The lights still dappled his body.

Everett’s dark silhouette—head and shoulders cut off by the top of the window— contrasted with the pale canvas behind him. After he started hammering, she felt each impact through the floorboards. She knew it was irrational, but she began to worry that it was an earthquake and not her husband causing the vibrations. She imagined him falling: his legs twisting unnaturally where he lay on the ground, his irises reflecting the blue of the November sky. What would she do? Would she risk running out to him? Last year, she would have been keeping the ladder steady as he climbed. That wasn’t a task she could handle now. On top of everything else, the man in the parking lot had stolen her marriage. If it had happened—if Everett had fallen—she realized there was nothing she could do.

Everett climbed down the ladder and was disappointed to find the still-rocking recliner empty.

*****

Miriam stopped by the mall to pick up some journals before bible study one day in May. She locked her doors and was about to walk out into the driving lane of the parking lot. It was probably the butt of a gun that caused the sudden pain at the back of her head; that’s what the police said. Her vision only registered white. She was blinded either by the blow or by the brightness of the day. She felt her body slam onto the asphalt. There was rustling around her shoulder, the thief slashing the straps of her purse. Then silence. A blind lamppost bent over her: the only witness. “I’ve just been mugged. I need to find someone.” The rational thoughts surprised her.

It hit her while she was walking toward the store. The weight of her terror. An empty parking lot, the horrible things that could happen at any given moment: viruses, hit-and-runs, freak meteors. She realized her exposure. Staring at the nestled carts in the corral, she chastised herself for parking so far away from the store.

The man in the mall security van told Everett he’d found her mumbling “No more light” and holding the back of her head.

To see the prompts we were given and other entries into the contest click the badge above. I wrote about 1,010 words of this on Sunday and killed 10% of my darlings every day for the next three days.

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18 Replies to “Light”

  1. Thanks for sharing this one on the grid this week! I never would have gotten to read it otherwise. Such a strong piece. I love the almost Memento quality to it, with the backwards chronology. Fear can be crippling, and for many, misunderstood, but you showed (never told) it so well!

  2. I am always amazed at how you manage to include so much in so few words. It seems like the rest of us get 750 words but you get 1500……or at least pack the emotion and story of 1500 into 750! Very well told, I really enjoyed it.

  3. Wonderfully written! I love how you tell the story backwards, taking us back to the moment that caused her agoraphobia. And I love the way she sees things through her fear – there’s an edge to everything, even her husband’s silhouette. Fantastic work, Nate!

  4. Yeah, I third what Christine said. I loved the way this flowed, revealing Miriam’s trauma bit by bit. It was such a complete, tight story. Wouldn’t adjust, change or futz a thing!

  5. Great glimpse into an agoraphobic mind! During the first section, I was thinking, “What happened to her?” You detailed her fall into the phobia quite well. Nicely done!

  6. It’s the little things that get you in the end. Lovely piece of writing. A strong, cohesive story unfolding to the origin point. As others have said, and as you always seem able to do, the people in your story made me feel, and listen, and feel some more. That has to be the mark of a great writer.

  7. I love, love, love the backwards chronology. It felt like you were peeling the layers back bit by bit. I liked the shift in perspectives, too. And it really felt like three perspectives: Everett, Miriam-after, Miriam-before. And such amazing details. The lamppost, the recliner. Gorgeous story, Nate, inside and out.

  8. You have described her paralysis so well without resorting to a clinical description. Empathy is probably the word that best sums up how I feel about all the characters here. Empathy.
    You never disappoint Nate.

  9. Hi Nate,
    I’ve been waiting for an entry from you. As usual, you wrote a fantastic perspective of the prompt. My favorite was how you drew me in at the beginning with three strong characters and had me roped until the very end. Loved it!
    Michelle

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