First Light This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

By
   As he lay in bed, Stan's eyes stared relentlessly at the ceiling, studying the curves of the plaster in the near darkness. Moonlight flooded through the window and made a small rectangle on the plush carpet, crisscrossed by the shadows of the panes. "Dammit," he muttered, and glanced over at the alarm clock next to his head: 5: 32. The glowing numbers etched red lines in the gloom and glared maliciously back at him. He'd been up most of the night, and now he had only another hour of sleep before he had to prepare to leave for the office. Stan spent a few more minutes staring into the early morning, and then, realizing the futility of more attempts at sleep, pushed back the covers and sat up. Grabbing a thick robe from the small stand by his bed, he pushed himself to his feet. The springs creaked softly under the shift in weight. From his wife came a muffled groan, which transformed into a meaningless snatch of sleep conversation, and she drifted into silence. He looked at her for a moment, watching her sleep with her arms wrapped around an over-sized pillow, and then quietly crept from the room.

The sky was brightening as he descended the staircase, the moon low in the sky, but still visible. He emerged in a small hallway with his only son's room to the right, and the boy's bathroom across the way. He opened the first door a crack, the smooth hinges working silently, and looked in upon the son he seldom saw, blissfully asleep in the small paradise his father had provided for him. Toys were lined up along the shelf, just about everything a ten-year-old child could want - except for one rebellious truck that lay half underneath the foot of the bed. Stan, pushing the door entirely open, walked cautiously across the room with his feet partially buried in the high pile rug, and stooped to pick up the vehicle. His eyes fell upon his son again, and he realized that if the boy were to wake at that moment, he would be startled senseless to see his father in his room. He suddenly felt very distant from his son, and wondered why he hadn't realized how far apart they had grown until now. Leaving the truck where it lay, he stopped at the head of the bed, leaned over, and kissed the boy on the forehead. Immediately he felt very disturbed and confused, and quickly left the room, leaving the door open behind him.

He had been searching for the cause of these sleepless nights for months, and now for the first time, he felt he had an answer almost at hand. He had been unhappy with his job for some time now, a high-paying office position that took many hours of his day, but this in itself didn't seem to be the root of the problem. It was the lack of satisfaction that he once took in his work that he was hoping to regain. A simple, but strong love for his son suddenly overcame him, and this surge of emotion placed a fundamental truth directly before his eyes. It was his family that was lacking in his life, especially his child. Something that was supposed to bring him joy ended up as just another expenditure. These thoughts churned in his mind as he made his way down the hall and into the living room.

He found himself staring through the picture window that comprised one wall, into the backyard - a small, well-groomed field bounded by trees. The woods were part of the forest that the suburban town had put aside to give the area a more rural look, rather than just another housing complex for wealthy commuters to the city. But the field had been here before the homes had gone up, and as a child Stan had come here with his father for an occasional family picnic. Clutching the robe tightly around him, he unlatched the sliding glass door and strolled out into the crisp November morning as the slightly frozen grass crunched beneath his slippers. He remembered the games he and his brother had played here, the laughter of his mother, and the friendly football matches between the two children and their father. He thought of the grasshopper chases, the delight taken in the appearance of a butterfly, and the beauty and peace the outdoors had meant to him then. He remembered all this as he looked up into the now deep blue sky, and thought back upon his own adult life with a critical eye.

A powerful urge to relive his past few years, to change his misdirected life, suddenly gripped him, and he realized he had inadvertently walked clear across the field to the base of the tall evergreen he and his brother used to climb. Reaching up and taking one of the lower, thicker branches in his hand, he tested it for strength, and then surprised himself by hoisting his forty-year-old body up into the tree. The scent of the evergreen felt comfortably familiar, and as he reached for the next branch, a child-like serenity fell upon him and calmed him. The tiny green needles brushed past him as he climbed the tree, and the ground diminished below. He thought he might have heard his name called once from a bedroom window, but it was quickly dismissed, the task at hand becoming all-consuming, almost a passion. The branches became thinner as his altitude increased, and small drops of sap made his palms sticky to the touch. Within a few seconds his head broke free of the top, his body precariously balanced on the uppermost limbs. He turned around, looking out over the untamed forest on one side and his beautiful home on the other, and he beheld them all bathed in the eerie light of pre-dawn.

Then, as if miraculous, the sun broke free of the horizon, and fell upon his face. Stan turned toward the forest to face the brilliant orb, and watched as it slowly pulled itself free from the obscuring trees. He felt the excitement of a new day, and yet an inner peace that he hadn't experienced since childhood. As the confusion in his mind subsided, he relaxed his tight shoulders and watched the sunrise through calm eyes. Letting his eyelids close, he became one with the earth, the forest, and in turn became close to himself, looking deep into his own soul.

His reverie was broken by a slight rustling of the branches beneath him, and he looked down to find a lithe body scaling the tree just as he had done. From the mass of deep green foliage finally broke the head of a little boy, who looked up with a puzzled but amused look on his face and said softly, "Dad?" Stan looked down at his son, and felt the warmth of the boy's bewildered grin as if it were a small sun of his own . . . and smiled. n


This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.






Join the Discussion

This article has 1 comment. Post your own now!

gkegrace This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Mar. 30, 2010 at 5:55 pm
Love the descriptions! Beautiful language! At first I was worried that you wouldn't be able to pull off writing about someone older and in a different phase of life than yourself, but it really worked for you! Keep writing!
 
bRealTime banner ad on the left side
Site Feedback