Kitchen Light


I’ve been doing a lot of work on my novel, “I Don’t Know Why.”  Here’s a brief excerpt that I wrote tonight)

I turned right on 14th Street, under the glow of the corner streetlight. It was about five o’clock, and some of the houses were beginning to light up, early risers assigned to various morning shifts who’d go to work and unlock and open up the day, preparing the world for the sunlit landscape of the living and sending the ghosts that inhabit the night to hide in the dusty corners of darkened closets and shadowy hallways that the daylight couldn’t reach. And I thought of the ghosts that haunted me – Matt Pollard, Kelly, Gerald, even Sam Richter – and it occurred to me that their exorcism was finally within my reach.

It was still dark out when I turned off of Vicksburg Avenue onto our driveway and walked thru the yellow glow of the yard light and onto the lit-up front porch. I lifted the welcome mat and found the spare key to the front door that my dad always hid there, the subject of one of my mom and dad’s most frequent and ridiculous arguments.

“It’s such a cliché,” my mom would say. “Leaving a key under the front porch matt. It’s so obvious.”

“Exactly,” my dad would reply.

“Exactly what?”

“Tell me, would you hide the spare key under the matt?”

“No! That’s what I’m saying, it’s too obvious of a place.”

“And that’s exactly why it’s the perfect place. Any criminal looking to break in would think like you do, that it’s too obvious a place to hide a key, and they’d look anywhere else. I rest my case.”

“It’s about time,” she’d reply.  “Because your case is pretty tired.”

“You see,” he’d say, pointing at his head, “you’ve got to learn to think outside of the box.”

“So that’s where you’ve been doing your thinking,” she’d say. “I think your box must have been left out in the rain too long.”

I unlocked and opened the front door.  The light over the kitchen sink was left on for me, and it struck me that this is what parents do for their children when they’ve grown up: they leave lights on.  It seemed like a feeble and insubstantial effort to retain some semblance of authority or control over a life that time had stolen control away from.  At the same time, I was genuinely moved by the warmth generated by those lights, by the simple caring evident in the gesture that said, we may no longer be able to protect you from the darkness of the larger outside world, but here, inside our home, inside your home, we can make sure it’s bright and warm and welcoming. I entered and shut the front door behind me and looked across the living room and the dining room and in the dim light from the kitchen, I could see, in the half-light of memory, the three of us, mom and dad in their bathrobes and me, in my two piece pajamas, on a long ago Christmas morning, and at the same time I could see my unconscious twenty year old body stretched out on the floor with mom kneeling at my side, crying, and dad standing over us with the phone in his hand, calling an ambulance. I realized, for the first time, the real cost of my attempted suicide.  It was more, much more than almost ending my life.  It was an unforgivable transgression against the holy covenant of home as a safe harbor that the three of us had spent our lives together forging.

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