Five Lights

The boy’s mother has given up use of the comb altogether and is pressing his hair against his skull with the flat of her palm. Wet as it is, little black spikes continue to explode from his crown, making their presence known at chaotic angles from the rest of the angular slick 

“Stubborn,” she murmurs. The guests are arriving soon. In her mind flicker nightmarish images of what is surely happening in the kitchen at this moment: the cake is caving, the soup is scalding, the cat is rinsing its paws in the pudding. And here she is, unable to manage a few obscene tufts. 

He sits quiet on the edge of his bed; the depth of his misery evidenced by a sullen downward pucker of the lips. She hovers over him, fussing.  Her pearls dangle inches from his nose. Past them, and opposite the bedroom door, along the floorboards and up the walls, hazy lengths of reflected light mill about anxiously. The boy finds this odd: the sun has been long set. 

His mother straightens and regards her work with creased eyebrows. She is still young, but just barely. Her dress is black, and she has painted her eyes the same. She looks at him, and he stares off to the side. She cups his smooth, pale cheeks with her hands and tilts the head up. His eyes stay locked. 

“Quin, this won’t take long,” she says. “Don’t pout.” 

She knows, however, that the unhappiness of children cannot be coaxed away directly, by command. It has to be shoved out the door when nobody’s looking. 

Her husband shouts from downstairs. His words are muddled, but he’s clearly in some sort of culinary duress. She stands and observes her reflection in the window opposite the bed. 

“Put your shoes on,” she says, turning away. “And come downstairs when you’re done. You can help me.” He still says nothing. His mother leaves, sighing. 

He stands, all awkward in his jacket and tie. The points of light wandering about the wall continue to puzzle him. This phenomenon, he decides, bears investigation. He is aware of light’s propensity for tricks. A steak knife arranged just so might splatter candlelight anywhere; a ring on a finger can cast lamplight through windows and into the streets. 

Barefoot, he inspects the lights further and stands in them, letting them play on his chest. He walks into them, tracing their mysterious source. He follows them out his room and down the hall, past the bathroom, along the banister-railed balcony which overlooks an ornate dining room.  He hears the metallic clatter of cooking noises, filtered upwards from the kitchen, directly beneath him. The lights are larger and stranger now; standing in them, one could imagine pixies were fluttering about beneath one’s clothes.  He observes the dining room from his precipice. The table is set with china; the napkins are elegantly knotted. Its perfection lends a pregnant air, as if the whole affair is precisely balanced on some point. 

The resolution to the boy’s curiosity about the light is hovering over the whole business like an all-seeing eye. When the boy’s parents had first looked at the house as prospective owners (ten years ago; he had been in her belly) the chandelier had captured their whimsy and secured their intent to purchase the place. It is an intricately wrought terracotta frame, this chandelier – fully five feet from tip to tip – from which five floral spirals erupt up and inwards towards the source. On the smooth crest of each spiral sits a fluorescent glass shade, looming like bowls of fire. Under each spiral, flitting this way and that, hangs a beaded crystal droplet. These dropets capture the light from directly above them and toss them about willy-nilly. What coincidental design had so compelled the light to the boy’s bedroom, he can not guess. He kneels and puts his face between the knobbed poles of the banister. 

On its own, the chandelier is a perfect vision. Situated as it is in so modern a space, so close to the balcony, it is an oddity – a grand and tacked-on accessory. The boy’s mother will often catch herself regarding it with a jaded eye. One can hardly do away with it altogether, but the room, indeed, the house, would require a drastic and desperate overhaul to justify its presence. On these occasions the mother says to herself, some day, perhaps

The boy stands transfixed by the thing and wonders, as he often does, at the wire that holds it to the ceiling. It’s a golden cable, looped by a golden electric cord. This business shoots into the ceiling and (one hopes) some hidden anchor point. It a miracle of physics, an exception to accepted laws – how one cable can hold the twinkling mass suspended with such apparent surety. Rather than accept such a blatant contradiction of possibility, the boy imagines that the chandelier must have some will of its own, patiently allowing mortals to dine and exist beneath its mass, oblivious to their danger. Dull dinners often prompt his imagination to a catastrophic scenario: a high, tinny snap; bits of plaster fall from the sky and land in the food; all eyes turn in horror to the ceiling; one more crack, the chandelier jerks lower with a strident jangle; a final snap and, in slow motion, the chandelier falls, askew, to subsequent, disastrous effect. 

His mother walks from under the balcony and into his view, clip clop clip clop, in high heels. She sets a platter of something on the table. She turns and looks up, catching him in this good mood. His face turns sober as hers turns smug. Ten year old boys do not often think their mothers pretty, but, in this moment, high above her, think it he does. 

“Where are your shoes?” she calls. The doorbell rings. He stands and runs to his room, the lights bouncing on his back. 

 

Bethany gathers a quick breath and presses her thumb against the doorbell. A lady in a black dress and pearls opens the door. His wife, she thinks, stepping up through the threshold. She regards her hostess and tugs her lips into a smile. 

“Bethany,” she says. “You’re Jo?” 

The wife nods. “Make yourself at home.” 

 “Sorry I’m early,” says Bethany. 

“No, no. Everything’s ready. Will’s just in the kitchen. Everyone else should be here any minute.” 

In confirmation, his voice sounds from the kitchen, presumably in greeting. 

“It’s good to finally meet you,” Jo says, as she ushers Bethany through the entry way and into the dining room.  “Sit anywhere. I’ll be right back.” She turns and clip clops out of the room before turning, as if remembering.

“Can I get you something to drink?” 

“I’ll wait, thanks.”

Bethany sits, alone in the dining room and brushes her bangs out from her eyes with her middle finger. How odd to be sat at an empty table! She sees the dining room, impeccable and fine. She smells food and hears a clatter from another room. A chandelier dangles patiently above her, splitting light into all its colors and scattering them across the walls. She thinks the chandelier a bit stupid; it tips the balance of the room off. Bethany tastes the air on her tongue and feels the straps of her dress on her shoulders. Alone, in this house, she feels present and alert, as if every nerve had been sharpened to a point. 

She works for Will, Jo’s husband. Indeed, she has been quite nearly doing his job for him for months now. He has been writing a dissertation, per the encouragement of their employer. While she had been hired by him to file and fax some time before, his doctorate consumed large amounts of his time and she found herself amassing the responsibilities he had, intentionally or otherwise, cast off. In the two years that she had been working for him, she had gone from his secretary to his colleague with little pomp. He had graduated the day before this one and the branch had been asked over for dinner. So here she sits, alone, present, and nervy; her surroundings soaking into her. 

She’s a slender thing, carrot-top if ever there was one. While a smattering of freckles on each cheek gives her an impish appeal, she is no tomboy. When she was five, her father had scolded her for some neglected chore. She had gently reprimanded him, with this explanation: “little girls are sensitive, and you need to be careful with how you talk to them.” 

She fiddles with her fork. She smoothes her dress. She rubs her knees. She explores her mouth with her tongue. The doorbell rings, and she feels the muscles in her jaw slacken. 

Will strides into the dining room. His shirt is blue and snug against his thin, sprinter’s frame.  His hair is short and shiny. 

“Hey,” he says, with a business smile. She stands and hugs him, pressing her chin against his shoulder and feeling his fingers against the line of her bare spine. Jo is a few steps behind him with more guests. She pulls away. 

“Sorry to keep you waiting,” Will says. 

Behind him come Robert and Sheila, laughing. They bring with them easy-going charisma and noisy affability; the room changes in an instant: loud, fun. Will and Jo, standing side by side. Across from them, Robert and Sheila, still laughing about something or other. They are sunburned, and in October too! They have been overseas, seeing sights in the Caribbean. Robert’s face seems all the redder, popping as it does out of his creamy Oxford. They all cluster together, standing just to the side of the table. 

Jo exits briefly and comes back with wine glasses. They are passed around and Will opens a bottle with a pleasing pop. He pours everyone’s glasses, giving a clever little twist of the wrist at the end of each, and pours her glass last of all. 

“To Dr. Will!” Robert says, raising his glass up towards the chandelier. The rest of the party follows suit with boisterous agreement, and Bethany raises hers. The glasses clink in a little cluster and the light shoots through them and splashes about. And Bethany remains standing, one hand at her side, looking at them all, feeling the straps of her dress on her shoulders and her heart battering against her breast.

 

Quin stands in the kitchen and stares at this merriment, shy and unsure of what sort of entrance to make. Around guests, dressed to please, unaware of his nearness, his parents take on an unfamiliar aura. They seem to be living, for the time, in a world into which he barely factors. The upward tilt of their chins, the steady, untroubled sheen to their eyes – his entrance would result, perhaps, in one or both of them saying something like, Oh, yes. Him. 

His father seems to speak in golden tones, and with a vocabulary quite unrecognizable. His mother’s every movement is underwater, graceful. And the three guests are altogether god-like. To think that he, Quin, would someday be an adult like them, is a truth which brushes lightly against the boy’s brain before becoming, again, intangible. 

One of the guests, a red-faced man, takes notice of the boy and announces him to the rest.

“Well, look who’s here!” he shouts. 

They turn to Quin, tie and all, and smile approvingly. The boy shuffles into the room, and his mother takes his shoulder, pulling him in front of her. He presses the back of his shoulders against her belly and everyone stares at him, as if expecting him to burst into song.  

“Quin,” says his father, “this is Mr. and Mrs. Scott.” The red-faced man and his red-faced wife smile. The man sticks out his hand, which the boy takes rigidly. 

“And this is Miss McWitt,” he continues. A freckle-faced woman in a green dress bares her teeth in a wide smile. 

“Bethany,” she says. He looks at her as if he has never seen a girl before. He feels something in his stomach, and is old enough to know what it is. 

The red-faced man takes the wheel. “How old are you now, Quin?” 

“Ten.” 

“Ten years old? You got a girlfriend yet?” 

“Rob!” His wife says with a shocked laugh. 

The boy shakes his head. The girl – Miss McWitt – laughs a high and sharp laugh. 

“Well,” he says, “they’ll be lining up outside your door any day now.” 

“Bethany here’s a single woman,” says Will. “Aren’t you, Beth?” 

The girl nods jerkily. 

“What do you say, Quin?” says Robert. “They don’t come much prettier than Bethany.” 

All nod in agreement. The boy barely understands any of this, and stares at his shoes. 

“Quin’s too busy for girlfriends,” his mother says, putting her hands on his shoulders. “He’s taking art lessons.” 

Delighted murmurs, they want to see his work. After dinner, suggests his father. Robert won’t stand it – he wants to see it now. The mother shrugs, dinner won’t be ready for a few minutes any how. Go up and get your drawings, she tells him.  He fairly dashes out of the room. 

 

“Wonderful people in the islands,” Robert says as all take their seats about the table. “People keep asking us how it felt to see people with so little. I’m telling you, those people have more than us. Our lives over here are so complicated. Learning to live with the world around you – that’s living.” 

“Oh!” says Sheila, grabbing his elbow. “Tell them about the café in the Dominican!”

He laughs, delighted at the thought. He is one of those for whom a captive audience is one of life’s great joys. The girl sits too, and the light sputters discomfortingly, in and out of her eyes. Her whole body tingles with itches that need scratching. 

“Our host took us to a great little place in the Dominican Republic. We’d been in the Dominican for a few days, and we’re just loving it – it’s amazing. But we had noticed, in this particular part of the DR, there were lots of people walking around who were missing arms and legs, or just had scars. It was weird, but neither of us asked about it – we didn’t want to be rude, you know. Anyway, this place our host took us to. The veranda opened up right onto the lake – the seafood in the Caribbean, you have no idea. We were sitting there and our host is talking about our itinerary. Just as our food comes out, there’s a splash from the lake. We look over and there’sacrocodile! Crawling right out of the lake, we couldn’t believe it! It was huge, 10 feet, maybe more. It drags itself out of the lake and right up onto the veranda! Nobody even flinched, I’m telling you, this crocodile is just crawling under the tables, this way and that, and nobody’s moving. Me and Sheila, we’re on our feet, terrified, and we can’t even say anything to each other. Our host, he’s only scared because we’re freaking out and he doesn’t get it. 

He says, ‘what’s wrong?’ 

I’m panicking, pointing, and I’m like, ‘There’s a crocodile in the restaurant!’ 

He looks behind him and sees the thing and he’s like – get this – ‘so?’” 

Robert pauses and looks around at his audience, evaluating the impact of this. Will looks at Bethany and the back of her neck slicks with sweat.

“I’m like, ‘crocodiles are dangerous!’ 

And my host is like, ‘well, they’re not going to, you know, hurt us or anything.’

And I’m like, ‘what do you mean? It’s a crocodile!’ 

‘Yes, but it’s perfectly harmless,’ he says.  

Just then, it – the crocodile – crawls up to this one guy a few tables over and out of nowhere, bites his hand right off. Just bites his hand off, and crawls back out to the lake with the guy’s hand! The guy falls on the ground, screaming like anything, writhing around, clutching his wrist, spraying blood everywhere.” 

Another pause, another evaluation. 

“And I say to the host, ‘you call that harmless? He just attacked that man!’ 

And my host shrugs and says, ‘it’s no big deal. He was just looking for a hand out!’”

There are some smiles – these are friends after all – but Bethany pushes herself away from the table. 

“Where’s the bathroom?” she asks. 

 No one answers for brief moment. 

“Upstairs,” says Will. 

She turns and walks briskly through the kitchen, her dress swishing behind her. Sheila’s sunburn has suspiciously deepened and Jo is staring towards the kitchen, listening to the creaks of the girl’s feet going up the stairs.  

Robert looks at the rest of the table.

“What was that?” he asks. 

 

The boy collects his drawings off of his bed, where they lay in a pile. He has ten, none of which took more than twenty minutes to complete. Two are of dinosaurs. Three are of himself. One is his mother. The other four are underwater scenes – sharks and whales. All were done with pencil and then colored in with marker, except for the one of his mother, which represents his brief watercolor period. 

Take them all downstairs? Quin thinks not. He would rather appear accomplished than prolific. He had been so proud of his work, so confident that the affirmation of his mother was genuine and reputable, but seeing it through Miss McWitt’s eyes now, a change was working over them. The dinosaurs seemed a bit stupid and boyish now. What does a grown-up girl care for a Tyrannosaurus Rex, particularly when it is eating other dinosaurs? These he puts back on his bed, thinks for a moment, and then puts them under his pillow.

And then, the pictures of himself. Do they not smack a bit of egotism? He wishes he had known he was showing tonight. Why had he never done something, well, pretty? The underwater scenes are almost right, but those sharks…

 He takes out the watercolor of his mother. Not ideal, this one, a bit girly. Surely girls liked girly things though? But do they like them from boys? They like flowers, this he knows. He sits on his bed and stares at the watercolor, having never felt so indecisive in his life. His mother stares back at him with blue blotches. She is in a sort of red dress, standing on a green line with a few red circles poking out of it on thick green stems. 

No, he decides. A boy who paints pictures of his mother among flowers would be a very young boy indeed – if a boy should paint these things at all. Never again will he paint a flower. He puts the painting under his pillow and collects the four underwater scenes in his hands. The colors are right, his teacher had praised them, and animals – well, who doesn’t like animals? 

He stands to leave and then, frustrated, goes back to his pillow and pulls out the watercolor. 

 

Stupid bitch! Thinks Bethany, sitting on the toilet. Her elbows on her knees, her face in her hands, her mascara streaking. She had gone about everything – literally, everything – wrong! The dress, she thinks, far too short, and backless – had she been out of her mind? 

Yes, she thinks. That was exactly it, you idiot, you were out of your mind. You’ve been out of your mind. She wipes a hot wetness out of her eyes with the backs of her palms like any child and leans back, looking up at the ceiling. Get some perspective. 

She is not a stupid bitch, she decides. True enough, she’s made some mistakes – she should not have even accepted the invitation. She’s known that for days. She should not have worn this dress. Above all, she should not have left the table. But, it’s not too late. She’ll just go back downstairs…

No, no, no, how can she go back down and face them all now? They’re talking about her now, Richard and that idiot wife of his, talking about how what a fragile girl she is. They’re trying to decide if they should just leave her be or come up and talk to her. Who would they send? If Sheila or Jo comes up, she’ll die. Oh, to be anywhere else in the world. 

A knock. “Bethany?” It’s Will. 

She stands. She goes to the mirror, thumbs away the mascara from her cheeks. Frowns at herself. Tugs the hem of her dress lower, to no avail. 

“Beth?” 

There is a heat in the middle of her chest, half a finger below her collarbone. Fuzzy fireworks shoot in her brain. She goes to the bathroom door, unlocks it, and goes back to the mirror. 

He opens the door and walks in. He closes the door. 

“What was that?” he asks. 

“I don’t know.” 

“You scared me.” 

“I can’t handle Robert. You know I can’t handle Robert.” 

“Nobody can handle him. Sheila can’t handle him.” 

“It was just too much.” She looks at herself. “I feel like a stupid bitch.” 

“What?” 

“I shouldn’t have come here.” 

“Why the hell shouldn’t you have come here?” 

She looks at him hard, her lips just parted. She looks back at the mirror. In it she sees a painting of sailboats. In it she sees him walk over to her and stand behind her; his hands perch on her shoulders. 

“Look, Beth –”

“No, it’s fine. Let’s go back downstairs. I’ll just…” she stops, suddenly aware she doesn’t know at what she’ll just do. Why did she come here after all? 

“I’ll just…”

His hands slide down her side, tracing her pinched figure. They stop on the hard knobs of her hips and draw them back into himself. 

“I’ll just…” 

She watches in the mirror as his head inclines to the left and down – his warm mouth takes her neck and sends her nerves jangling. The hands in the mirror roam her body like predators. She tilts her neck back and sighs – loudly, too loudly! Not here! Her brain screams, stupid, stupid, stupid bitch! Not here! 

“Not here! Not here!” She whispers hoarsely, spinning to him, her face flushed to quite nearly the color of her hair. She takes his hands and pulls them off of her, placing them at his sides. 

“Not. Here.”  She says, loud. 

“Alright, jeezus.” 

She turns to the mirror and looks at her hair, damp and askew. The side of her neck, beset by tell-tale spots, is worrisome. She turns on the faucet and wets her fingers to tease her hair back into shape. He watches her silently, admiringly. 

“You should go back downstairs,” she says. “I’ll be right there. It’s fine, really.” 

“Look, Beth –” 

“Just go, please.” 

“Fine,” he says. He is pouting in the way of men whose affections are sensibly denied. He walks out and closes the door, leaving her standing in front of the mirror, toying with her hair and eyes, rubbing her neck. They say sex will turn you into a real woman or a real man, she thinks, but it really just makes children of us all. She wants to move – to fix her mascara, to walk down the stairs and get, somehow, through the night. But she knows that if she takes a step out of the bathroom, she will start crying and she will not be able to stop. So she looks into the mirror, and she does not move, and she does not cry. 

 

The boy stands in the doorway of his bedroom with a picture of his mother, his suit all a’shimmer with chandelier light. He watches his father walk out of the bathroom, turn away, run his fingers through his hair, and walk to the balcony, shouting something to the party below that the boy does not process. His father walks down the balcony, past the chandelier, and down the stairs. The boy stands stalk still and tries to sort his thoughts. In his ears he hears one phrase only, two mysterious words, playing in slow motion, over and over: Not here. Not here

 

Her palms pressing on the cold sink, Bethany hears conversation floating up from the dining room, over the banistered balcony, down the hall, and through the bathroom door. It’s a bit muddled. 

Will’s voice, loud and understanding. “She’s fine.” 

Sheila or Jo, she can’t tell, asks, “What happened?” 

“Your joke,” Will explains. “Blood gives her the creeps.” 

“I had no idea.” That’ll be Robert. “I feel terrible.” 

“Not your fault, Rob,” says Will. 

“Well, is she coming back?” asks one of the women. 

“She’ll be back in just a minute,” Will says. “She’s just a little woozy.” 

“What should we do?” asks Jo. Bethany takes time to pity her: her role as hostess has grown considerably more complicated than she had bargained.

“She said to go ahead and start eating,” Will says. “She’ll be down.” 

“Are you sure?” 

“I’m sure.” 

“Maybe I should go up and check on her?” 

“Honey,” says Will, “she’s fine.” He puts a sliding drawl on the last word, and Bethany imagines his hand soothing Jo’s shoulder for emphasis. 

“Now, I’m starving,” he says. 

The party seems to murmur in reluctant agreement. Bethany turns away from the mirror and, what the hell, slowly slides down to the floor, her back against pale blue cabinets under the sink. She pulls her knees up to her chest. There is a catch in her throat and she tugs at her lower lip with her teeth. But, still, she does not cry. 

 

The boy takes the steps down one at a time, his ears tingling. From the balcony, he had observed his father, and the red-faced man and woman – all laughing. He had not seen Miss McWitt. 

He walks through the kitchen, where his mother is fussing with food, her back to him. He stops and observes her. Her actions are sporadic and flustered; he is familiar with this current mood of hers and wonders what could possibly be the cause, if not him. He thinks, not here, and wonders what he can ask her, if anything at all. She is peppering the soup with violence. 

She turns, the intuition of mothers, and takes in her son. The expression on her face would suit that of a small child, caught in the act of something shameful. She closes her mouth and levels her eyebrows. 

“What’s wrong?” She asks her son. 

The boy feels a thrilling burn in the front of his brain and his cheeks spark. 

“Nothing,” he replies. 

He watches her evaluation of him, but he’s all poker face. 

“Did you get your drawings?” She asks. 

He holds it up to her and she gives a shy little smile upon recognizing it. 

“Really?” she asks.

The boy nods. He should ask her. He should not ask her. 

“Well,” she pauses, flustered at this token of affirmation. “Go and show Mr. and Mrs. Scott,” she tells him. 

The chandelier lights roam the kitchen and quiver about him. He should ask her. 

“Mom,” he starts. She looks at him, her eyes rounding. A dozen inadequate words die on his tongue and it occurs to him that this is a very adult thing, like up-turned chins and girlfriends, and he has no idea how to manage it. He walks out of the kitchen and into the dining room. He feels his mother’s eyes on his back all the way. 

 

On the bathroom floor, her brain shouts “go” to her until it quite quells her body into submission. She stands and turns to the mirror – one last time, she thinks. She looks, honestly, little worse for the wear – if a mite paler. She will be confident, fearless even – she will laugh and she will treat everyone with a chummy graciousness – save for Jo, whom she cannot bear to treat with anything more than politeness. She leaves the bathroom, walks past the chandelier, goes down the stairs and through the kitchen. 

When Bethany enters the dining room again, the effect is palpable. Her presence is acknowledged by ecstatic smiles that seem to say Ah, Bethany! So glad you could join us! as if she had merely arrived late. They continue passing around salad, but it lacks the genuine flow. They are like actors playing the part of party guests. Only the boy, she notes, has balls enough to stare at her. He is next to his mother, and his look has a troubling air, as if she were a math problem. But when she sits opposite him and looks into his face, he quickly finds something fascinating on his plate. 

“Salad, Bethany?” asks Will. She nods and there is a rush of hands to help pass the bowl to her. Amid a hot quietness, she dishes the stuff onto her plate. Overhead, the chandelier weighs down on the dinner like another guest, an uninvited dignitary. Its light rains, rains, flashing in and out of her eyes so that she screws her eyes to keep it out.  

Robert pipes up, loud. “Quin was just showing us his painting of his mom.” 

The boy’s face flares up and he says nothing. Knowing smiles flash about the table. Oh, the trials of youth. His hands are stuffed under the table – clutching, presumably, his mother’s portrait. He does not look up. 

“You should show Miss McWitt,” says Will. 

  The boy, glinting, says nothing. 

“Don’t you want to show Miss McWitt?” says Jo. 

Bethany spins some courage together out of the loose strands in her gut. “I’d like to see it, Quinn,” she says to him. At this he looks up a little and meets her gaze. They look at each other for a moment until the lights flash in her eyes again and she breaks away. 

“That damn chandelier,” says Jo. “That’s the worst spot for it, Bethany. Why don’t we trade places?”

“No, that’s fine,” the girl says. “I’d really like to see Quin’s painting.” 

The boy looks under the table and keeps quiet. He looks, Bethany notes, like he’s working through the final question on a game show. 

“He’s just shy,” says Will. 

“Come on!” says Robert. “Shy? A big guy like you?” 

Sheila laughs at this and the lights flash about again. 

“You know what it’s like when you’re little,” says Will, and at this, the boy looks at his father. 

“But shy?” Robert cries, in mock disbelief. 

“Big boys like you shouldn’t be shy,” declares Sheila. 

“It’s fine,” says Bethany. She puts on a pouty face; she is playing this little game. “I don’t have to see it.” 

“Aw,” says Sheila. “You’ve made Miss McWitt sad.” 

“It’s never a good idea to make pretty girls sad,” says Robert

“Quinn,” says Jo, resting her white hand on the boy’s shoulder. “Do you want to show Miss McWitt your painting?” 

“Not here, not here,” the boy whispers hoarsely. And at this, the girl feels, rather than sees, Will’s eyes turn to her but she tilts her head up and she does not look at him. 

“Not. Here.” The boy repeats, firmly. 

The guests look at each other in sheepish bemusement, feeling like bullies. Will is looking at his son, his terror masked to look like fatherly concern. Bethany looks at the ceiling, at a spinning chandelier that seems so out of place, so unavoidable, and when the lights hit her eyes now, she has nowhere else to look. And it seems to her, looking at this chandelier, that it suddenly jerks a little jerk and a powder of plaster floats down from the ceiling and dusts her face lightly, like feathers.

There is a dry snap and if she had been looking at the boy’s face she would have seen it looking struck as if by revelation, but she does not see this. She sees the chandelier jolt shortly downwards, off-kilter, and she hears silverware dropped onto plates and the shuddering creaks of chairs being pushed away from the table. There is a quick, final snap from above. There are shouts but she does not move and she does not look away and she sees the chandelier, tumbling askew, getting larger and larger in her vision, until the light issuing forth from it blinds her altogether. And in the whiteness, for a brief moment, she sees someone she recognizes, shouting something she does not understand. 

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10 Comments

  1. Tyler, I loved this! I was captivated by the story and couldn’t stop reading. If you write more fiction, (I think you should) I promise to read it!

    Reply
    • I live for comments like this. Thanks so much. I’ll write as long as people keep reading and, to be honest, probably long after they stop. Thank-you!

      Reply
  2. Well crafted! The setting allows for the interaction of the husband, lover, wife, and child and how the affair affects each of them. I liked the twist of using the overheard phrase “Not now” by the son. My favorite sentence was “The hands in the mirror roam her body like predators.” The fact that she is seeing the hands in the mirror seems to allow her to distance herself from their affect and gain some perspective on what is actually going on. Good build up about the chandellier, and I liked the affect of the light blinding her as it comes closer. It is a thought-provoking ending, but I wish I had more clues into who it is she sees. I have my own ideas, but I’m curious about what you had in mind.

    Reply
    • Thanks for the very thoughtful review. The chandelier represents grace, which looms over the home but nobody knows quite how to make a natural part of their existence. The idea is that the falling chandelier at the end is the final act of grace, in which “I stand at the door and knock” becomes “the end is near.” It’s a very Flannery O’Conner ending, I suppose, and I don’t claim to have done it half as well as she does, but that was the idea.

      Reply
  3. This was absolutely amazing.

    Reply
  4. This story is absolutely brilliant. I loved the way you played different parts of the story in together, wrapping the people up in the conflict. It’s really clear to me that you love words. Thanks for sharing–I’m going to go read everything else you’ve ever written, now.

    Reply
    • These are some of the nicest compliments I’ve ever received. Thank-you very much, and I welcome your honest comments. Particularly if they’re always as nice as this.

      Reply

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