Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Simplicity: Light

(Second in a series of vignettes exploring the basic needs of human life. Prior needs: Shelter.)

The softness of her pillow hardened sometime in the night.

Her cheek was numb. And her right ear. But she didn't move to relieve them.

After lying for hours, she opened her eyes to break the march of her obsessive thoughts.

Not enough light crept around the curtains for 9:30 in the morning. The color was wrong, and even the stillness beyond the walls sounded like deep, deep night.

In the shower, hot water slithered through her hair and down her back. Every switch was on, but the extra bulbs only thickened the orange light. The shadows lingered.

She dressed in soft clothes as the television talked winter storms, wind, and snow accumulations. Buses were parked at schools. Trucks flashed down empty roads spraying white fans of salt.

She sat.

The same spot as the day before.

Knees close. Back propped against the headboard.

Already, she felt the day aging. After lunch, the sun would rest on far away tree tops. It's rays would flatten and fade. Twilight would be long, and even that would seem precious when the darkness took hold.

She cried sometimes instead of sleeping. Now dawn failed her too. Nothing but grey squalls and gloom. She closed her eyes again.

The phone rang.

Her machine voice answered.

No one left a message.

The television flickered. Things circled in her mind. Minutes. Maybe hours.

The bare skin of her ankles took on the shade of stone.

"Honey?" he said.

His cheeks were splotched with cherry red.

She narrowed her eyes at him. Too confused to be startled.

"Hey," he said. "What's going on?"

"You're home?"

"The storm. Haven't you been watching?" He pointed to the continuous news. "It's a monster."

She focused on radar images. A gigantic mass drifted eastward. The trailing edge just cleared their city.

"I barely made it," he said. "I followed a snowplow. Thank God for four wheel drive. That got me the rest of the way."

She nodded.

"Of course, now it's letting up," he said. "Perfect timing."

She watched him smile.

It looked foreign.

"Come on," he said, tugging her.


"Come on. You'll see."

He pulled her enough to force her feet to take over.

Her steps dragged down the hall behind him.

"You have to see this," he said.

He pulled open the front door.

She didn't think to prepare.

Brilliant white needled her eyes. Winter sun igniting infernos of snow.

She shielded.

She shuddered a step backward.

"Cool, huh?" he said.

She dropped her fingers one by one.

Her lips parted.

Shadowy thoughts curled like smoke.

"Wanna go out?" he said.

But her hand was already on the storm door. Still in slippers, she stepped into the trailing edge of a snow drift.

There was no sound.

Only trivial cold.

Light bathed her body from every direction. It reflected and ricocheted hotter than a summer day.

She felt taller.

Her heart beat strong instead of hiding in her chest.

For the first time in endless weeks, she stood higher than the ground.

For the first time she saw herself breathing a lilac spring.


Vesper said...

Yes, light, it can do wonders in us... "She felt taller."
All life depends on it.
Well written, Jason, with beautiful images.

Vesper at chickwithaquill

Bernita said...

Lovely, Jason.
Perfect details.

Missy said...

Oh, Jason! It's like you're in my head. Perfect.

Jaye Wells said...

I've never lived any place that has weather like that as a regular occurrence. But when I read your piece, I remembered intense light on the snows of Colorado during a trip. The brightness made my eyes feel bruised, yet it was so invigorating. Nice piece.

Aine said...

There are too many sources of darkness in our lives. I'll take light from any source I can find.

"For the first time she saw herself breathing a lilac spring."

I didn't want to feel this wistful until after Christmas, but you got me. I look forward to longer days and warm breezes.

**snaps out of the reverie** Back to holiday baking....

Sarah Hina said...

A house, a room, becoming a tomb.

I loved "her machine voice answered," her ankles turning to stone. You captured this character's isolation and dread so well. You let us bathe inside of it, dreading it too, before finally guiding us to the light.

I felt that cold whistle through my lungs. And I felt elevated.

WH said...

Absolutely stunning work. To the point yet vivid. Bravo.

virtual nexus said...

Acute delineation. Brilliant.

Ello - Ellen Oh said...

I loved all the little details that make your pieces come alive. But my favorite line (and there is always a line you have that just really resonates with me!) is "Winter sun igniting infernos of snow." I loved that.

Scott said...

Man, I've been feeling like she does since the snow started. Nice descriptions.

Chris Eldin said...

Very few people can make me angry with their writing.

These two lines:

Light bathed her body from every direction. It reflected and ricocheted hotter than a summer day.

She felt taller.

I felt betrayed. You pulled me into the beginning and middle of this vignette. And to be honest, most of the end.

Your writing is, as usual, very beautiful.

But this transition did not feel sincere. I did not like it. You pulled me in and let me go. I wanted to go farther, but you stopped short. Yes, I am pissed.

(this is my opinion of course. but i stand by it)

Anonymous said...

Vesper, light is one of those simple biological stimuli. You feel better with it, and worse without it.

Bernita, thanks. :)

Missy, I'm off to read your post! This time of year, lack of light and its effects are such powerful forces.

Jaye, much appreciated. I'm glad the descriptions jived with those feelings.

Aine, yes, there are times when every ray of light is precious. :) (Can't wait for the cookies!)

Sarah, you describe it so well. Thanks for your openness to the feelings I was trying to portray.

Billy, thanks for the kind words!

Julie, light and dark can be like that, can't they? An all or nothing situation.

Ello, that was my favorite line too! Thanks for the energy you always bring here.

Scott, I sense a good bit of these feelings around the blog world. I hope the light comes to you too.

Church Lady, although you were quite explicit with your judgments, I'm having trouble following your explanations. I think you're saying that you did not believe this character's reaction to the light. You wanted me to go farther, but I'm not sure in what way or in what direction. That said, I did not intend to suggest that this woman's troubles are ended. However, I stand by the notion that light can have this kind of simple, visceral effect. When night comes again, her feelings will fall, but that does not diminish the rush of feeling that simple bright light can bring. It was my choice not to end the piece with this reality, however. It was my choice to let her, and the reader, have a positive moment. Of course, I respect your opinion and reaction. I would ask, however, that you not be so quick to anger at mine.

Chris Eldin said...

Hmmmm...didn't mean for my post to be quite that harsh.
I loved this vignette. Your imagery and details are so evocative, and I was truly pulled in. I just didn't believe the woman's transformation. I felt if you had written more, it would have been better(for me). I felt I was there with the woman, and wanted to feel more of the 'why' of the transformation.
Very few pieces pull me in so completely, so I actually meant this as a compliment. If it were just ho-hum, I wouldn't care about the woman.

*crawls back into hole*

SzélsőFa said...

I like light when it's gray outside and a sunny day after a series of cloudy/rainy/snowy ones can uplift me.
I liked your dialogue with Ch.L., as it threw some more ... uhm... light as to the end of the story.
I think Ch. L. was meant to say that her depression was quite completely described and the ending is a bit unsure.
The reader does not know whether this lift (to her mood) is temporary or not. I think it isn't...

Anonymous said...

Church Lady, constructive comments are golden. Everything I write can be improved and sharpened, and the only way I'm going to learn is to get honest feedback. I was just taken aback by the tone of your comment. I appreciate, though, that words on a page are hard to control and that you didn't mean to express your thoughts the way it seemed. Thank you for clarifying. :)

Szelsofa, yes, the optimism is there. We can hold onto to it. For me, the woman will still have her struggles, but I think the slide downward is over.

Anonymous said...

Simply lovely.

Terri said...

You describe this woman's state of mind well... and you give hope with the ending. Nice :-)

Anonymous said...

Wayne, thanks!

Terri, thank you. I was hoping I captured that kind of depression fatigue.