“Do you want the light?” Anne asks as we push chairs back from her table.
Her elder hand hovers at the wall switch. Yard utility lights are as much part of rural life as rutted dirt roads and weekly grocery trips. The sun goes down and they blink on, forty-foot circles glowing in nearly every driveway and barnyard. I find them really annoying.
Most are automatic, operating on timers or light sensors, Anne has a switch.
“No, I’ve got my headlight.” I reply tapping the rounded plastic lens on my forehead.
“Oh?” With a worried look her hand drops. The switch stays unswitched and I don’t tell her that I’m unlikely to turn my headlight on, walking the quarter mile down the road.
I don’t know if it’s because she comes from a time when the night needed to be pushed back, as if the glowing yard light could keep dangerous things at bay, or simply because she is, in her ninety-somethingth year, more cautious than she was. For whatever reason, she forgets that, every night, we have this conversation when I look in on her after horse chores; her asking and me declining.
No, it’s not what you think, she’s still firmly in this world. Truthfully, she forgets fewer things than I do. She just doesn’t understand this one odd thing among many of her daughter-in-law’s quirks.
Some nights, she turns the light on anyway, not out of spite or stubbornness, but only out of a mother’s desire to keep me safe. On those nights, the cursed thing shoots its rays after me, spoiling my quiet as if the light is made of sound, a filmy barrier of static between me and the stars, keeping my sight small. So much is missed in its reach far beyond the bright yard pool.
On the nights Anne can be convinced though, on the nights that the half-globe at the top of the pole stays sleeping, there are the shadows of the scrub oak bending over the road; a trotting dog’s dark silhouette, his ears alert for danger; the ghostly stalks of the drying mullein shafts in the field. Without the light, the contours of road and ditch, of rock and washout come clear.
In the unmarred darkness, I can make note of the phase of the moon, a crescent sliver just over the western horizon; of the scattered clouds, their blank ragged voids overlaid on the canopy of stars. My eyes can stretch up and up to the misty band of the Milky Way, lying east to west in summer, north to south in winter and I become part of the cosmos here on the border between Earth and Heaven.
And on the upside bank, there’s a rustling in the leaves but I know it’s not Bear or Lion, the dog would tell me if it was. Likely it’s a vole or rabbit or some other nocturnal creature doing its part in the business of the universe, unseen by even my night eyes but still blessing my safety on my way home.
©2019 Annette Meserve