Slivers of Light

December 28, 2007
By Jim Sullivan, Owings Mills, MD

Lucy opened the refrigerator door looking for orange juice. As she lifted the container to pour into her glass, she noticed its contents were empty and left it on the countertop. She considered water, but decided to leave the empty glass beside the container when the doorbell rang, signaling Ryan’s arrival.

The door shut behind Ryan as he made his way inside. “Hello, Miss Hand. Boy, you sure look pretty today,” he greeted. Lucy beamed. Maybe she had only imagined the new strands of gray hair in the mirror this morning. “Oh, thank you.. You’re a sweet boy. Let me get those for you,” she said, motioning towards the plastic grocery bags Ryan carried. “I’ll be right back with the rest of them,” he announced after being relieved of the bags, which Lucy set on the counter next to the empty glass.

She began to put the items away when Ryan returned with the remaining groceries, his black hair soaked in rainwater. The florescent glare of the light on the ceiling cast crayon-purple circles around his eyes when they met Lucy’s. It dawned on both of them how tired the other one was. “You know,” Lucy said suddenly, “I’m not going to be around very longer, and you’ll be off at college soon. I remember when you were just a little boy, riding your bicycle around the neighborhood. You were always a joy to behold. What I’m trying to say is…I’m going to miss this,” she finished simply.

“Long before either of those things happen, Miss Hand, you’ll forget that silly fear of yours and walk outside. Hopefully on a nicer day than today, though,” Ryan added as an afterthought.

“I like the rain,” she replied mildly, and they both looked to the kitchen window flecked with rain. In the silence that followed, they stood listening to the tiny droplets finding their way onto Lucy’s home and thought about life. Lucy felt she hadn’t experienced it for awhile now, and that Ryan was right. It was a silly fear she had that made her stay inside all day and night, seemingly endless weeks spent wishing she were somewhere or someone else. She had things to take care of before she left the world, experiences she was robbing herself of -- and for what?

“Well,” Ryan said, breaking them from their reverie, “I’d better go. It was nice seeing you, Ms. Hand.” Lucy sighed a goodbye in reply. When Ryan had finally shut the front door behind him, Lucy ruffled through the mound of groceries: eggs, butter, milk, more milk, rice, cookies, and -- at last -- orange juice. She poured herself the glass she’d been denied earlier and let it fill her throat, a cool sensation that she felt she hadn’t paid much attention to until now.

Struck with an idea, she rushed up the stairwell that led to her room, engulfed in darkness until she flickered the light switch beside her dresser. She looked at herself briefly in the full-framed mirror before deciding she didn’t like the wrinkled, gray woman standing before her. But it wasn’t so much her appearance that bothered her. It was the expression she had, as though her life were no longer worth living after all these years. It was a defeated look, so unlike the younger Lucy that stared back at her in the photograph beside her bed of her and her husband, which she had come upstairs for in the first place. Two young people who fell in love and were blessed enough for it to continue into old age, despite failed attempts at children that they never really quite resolved. But she felt as though Martin were there with her, as real as the lamp beside her bed or the mirror that mocked every unflattering feature Lucy possessed.

“I have to do it,” she announced to the room, void of anything but her and the elaborately carved furniture, including the mirror that drove her insane. Before she could talk herself out of it, Lucy hurried back down the stairwell and checked the kitchen window. Good. It was still raining, perhaps even heavier than before. Unless, of course, it was only her tired eyes playing tricks on her, or her vast imagination that -- why was she delaying this? It was, in her mind, a momentous occasion, one that warranted intense thinking and careful planning and oh, hell, it’s now or never.

The door Ryan had exited only minutes before suddenly seemed much larger, like the raindrops that she wanted so badly to soak her wrinkled skin one last time. Night was fast approaching. Her skeletal hands turned the golden knob of her door, swinging it open. The wind whipped at her face and the cold made her whole body shiver. One step, she urged, one step is all I need before I leave this damn house and reach something so unabashedly sensual. Her feet stopped dead in their tracks, suddenly carrying the weight of a thousand bricks. Please, she begged her legs, don’t give up on me now. But they wouldn’t budge from the frame of the doorway. Even the door urged her forward, the wind carrying it to her back and pressing hard against her. Her heart begged to escape from her chest, lungs suddenly gasping for breath as though intoxicated by the cool October air. She put one arm out and waited until a single raindrop splashed against it. It made her flinch unwillingly as she ducked back inside, touched the spot on her arm where it had reached her and then dissolved. She looked back outside at the terrifying rain, so foreign and unreal that she decided she liked her own world better. Maybe another day, she thought, making her way back to her kitchen where she finished unpacking the groceries as slivers of light crept into the corners of the house.

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