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The Retrieval of Light

By , Cambridge, MA

In street, barren and dark, a man sits hunched against a wall. Wind chills his bones, flowing through the layers and layers of clothing as if the clothes all had holes in them. Looking up, the man sees nothing. Pure darkness. It hurts his mind to imagine a galaxy far above the smog, above the darkness light seems impossible. The wind, the kind that would stir leaves on a beautiful fall day in 2010, stirs up nothing but dust and moves the thick air in 2180. Beside the man sits a cat. Cold to the bone, a torn rag used as a blanket covers the sleeping critter. The man, teeth chattering, reaches out a gloved hand and strokes the head of the small cat. He whispers, “I’m sorry the world turned out this way, Pumpkin.” No sense of time, no clean air to breathe, no sign of a brighter future. Literally. Since 2140, the sun has not made an appearance once. The trees have died, mass extinction of livestock, poor people left to die. The only things left in this world, humans, domesticated pets, and fossil fuels. The same fuels that are burned for “human consumption” are emitted into the air, contributing to the gloom. A stranger passes by, shuffling, head down, towards the end of the road. A streetlight illuminates the stranger as they turn the corner. Everything is scarce, food, electricity, life. The cat stretches and yawns, immediately regretting, as the little jaw swallows a piece of the darkness. The man whispers, “Soon, Pumpkin, you will see the world and all of its beauty. Go back to sleep, and this too shall pass.” The cat got up, stretched its legs, arched its fragile spine, and curled up, closer to the man this time. The blanket remains where the cat was. When day came around, shuffling feet strode past the man and the cat. Little chatter was heard, no one wanted a bite of the darkness in their lungs. Holding their breath, hours at a time, the people silently went about their business. Streetlights at every corner guided the way.
The man and his cat wake up to the sound of a bus going by. The one automobile allowed in the city. The one symbol of civilization, carrying people, from place to place, dark fumes exiting the back pipe. Few people sit on the bus, many believing that riding it supports the emissions of pollution. But the man has no other choice. They ride past the school, where an abandoned playground is nothing but a swingset, swings hanging by one chain, past the government buildings with powerful people trying the impossible, past the library with books hollowed to store the citizens money, all the way to the dump. The man and his cat spend the day collecting any useful scrap they can. A new blanket made of a cloth baby diaper for Pumpkin, a fork with a bent, rusty handle, and a laundry basket with one handle broken. Knee high in garbage, the man keeps looking. Looking for nothing in particular, just browsing. Pumpkin trails steps behind, nose close the ground. After hours of foraging accompanied by a gas lamp and Pumpkin, the man returns to the bus stop, just in time to catch the last bus back. At his place on the sidewalk, he opens his sack. A fork, a cloth, a watch band, a book cover, and four pennies. He shuffles two blocks and buys a dinner, his only meal of the day; 3 pennies for a plate of french fries and dixie cup of water, all tucked in a plastic bag to protect the food from the ghastly air as long as possible. He sits back down, his back, arched hunched over his plate. Opening the bag, the man watches as the cat stirs. A yawn and stretch, slowly blinking its eyes, the cat curls up in the cold. “Here, Pumpkin.” says the man, a gloved finger outstretched toward the cat’s mouth, half a french fry in hand. “Bon appetit little one.” The small fur heaves one large sigh and nibbles the end of the fry. The man munches slowly, at least he thinks so. No time present in the moment, no need for it anyways. A regular night, the wind picks up. It ruffles through the fur of the small cold cat. Another night, identical to last. Food digested, cat asleep, the man stares at his findings from the dump. A light bulb ignites in his mind. Diagrams of a futuristic machines and inventions flash through his expansive brain. But several parts are missing.
He goes back to the dump with Pumpkin three days in a row. The same bus, the same dump, the same lifeless shuffle. He collects scraps of metal, wire from old smoke alarms, and more bent forks. By the fourth day he is ready. Pumpkin sits wearily, eyes half open, following the man’s hand movements from his curled up position. Slowly, an electrical circuit is created, minus the batteries. A plastic frame forms an oval, no a sphere shape.  The man continues to work for many days and many nights. The gloved fingers stay warm as he winds the metal around the plastic around the circuit. Pumpkin sleeps and sleeps, weary from never moving, too hungry to stretch its legs. The man reaches into his pocket and produces 5 pennies. Carrying his creation, he buys one plate of french fries and two dixie cups of water. The man shares with his cat. Back at the same place on the sidewalk, the man keeps working. Metal springs and string entertain Pumpkin as the man works, until he uses them in his creation. In the wee hours of the 7 th day, it is complete. All the man needs is the battery. The man gathers his creation and wakes up Pumpkin. They board the bus to the dump for the last time. After spending the day knee high in the trash, the man and his cat return with 8 batteries. 4 pennies spent on dinner, a cat nap, and a few hours later, the man runs his creation for the first time. Slowly, the man takes the gloves off his aching fingers. Then, man attaches each end of the four batteries needed into their respective places. He connects the other ends and his creation comes to life. A glowing sphere the size of two soccer balls put together, emits light. Not just a light like a candle flame. A light that illuminates his food, his cat, his sidewalk, his block, his city, his country, his world. Color comes into focus and the feeling of a new day brings all of the city running to him. “Hurray!” The people of the town shout. The joy is contagious. Feet stop shuffling. The feet start running. The world once desolate now has color and happiness. The man sits stunned. Next to him, Pumpkin sits wide eyed. For the first time, the man can see the color of his little companion’s eyes. And the world is brought together. One glowing sphere grows larger and larger. And larger. The light spreads across oceans and deserts. To every nook and cranny in the earth. Just as suddenly as it lit up from the moment the batteries were hooked up, the magnificent glowing orb began to rise. Higher and higher. At first, the man and his cat was startled, and will it to come back. But as soon as he sees that it was only spreading light by reaching higher towards the end of the universe, he understood. He had created a brilliant spectacle. He named it Sun II. It kept rising higher and higher. Necks craned up, feet stopped running, jaws dropped. Sun II rose above the dark sky clearing it for the first time since 2080. Immediately, the world transformed. Following Sun II was the thick air and swallowed by Sun II was darkness. Eyes began to turn away from the orb, as it got increasingly bright. Eyes turned to each other. Exchanged glances became long stares. No one had seen each other so clear in their lives, not even families. Light poured into the atmosphere and colors with names lost with history appeared. People looked at each other’s face. Learning to identify their faces. The beauty in all of this was that few were alive over 100 years old, so most had never learned to look up, look at people, and understand someone based on looks. The new vision overwhelmed minds and silence remained unbroken. It was just too stunning. The man stood up. Pumpkin stood up. The world got to their feet and cried with joy. The burden of the world released from their shoulders. Possibility was imminent. Everywhere. Happiness lit people's faces. The world was restored. All at once, the loudest cheer ever heard was heard. Every single citizen of earth began to shout with joy. Music, singing, love was spread. Universal love. Love for life, love for each other, love for existence.




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