My older sister Nan and I watch the streetlights flick on every night. She’s eighteen and I’m fifteen. We marvel at the electrical hum, the butter-colored glow that fills the streets and casts shadows of welcome. Come into the night, she whispers, come, come.
We walk up and down neighborhoods of frame houses and even elegant Victorians with Mansard roofs, absorbing the glow, arcs spilling over dark sidewalks. We marvel at the way streetlamps illuminate homes and silhouettes. Laughter and voices seem to be amplified, elegant, lilting, even delightfully discordant, cheerful agreement over disagreement. We watch silhouettes move through windows watching HBO or Netflix, imagine familial units all neatly accentuated by the glow. We observe mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters piling into cars, the streetlamps documenting their motions. We imagine them going to their favorite Mexican restaurants, treating themselves to camarones a la diabla or voluminous burritos. Or maybe they’re going to the movies to see something stupid, but something they can laugh at in unison. Perhaps they’re relishing shared guffaws and childlike giggles over flatulence jokes or someone being comedically blown up.
Of course, we don’t like blue streetlamps. We avoid them. They glow, frozen like ice and stasis, like Mom awakening to a new morning.
During the days, we move about apartments replete with dust, Fat Tires, Wheat Thins knockoffs and onions, lost jobs and electricity withheld. We wait for responsibility to return. But the Fat Tires pile up, along with Mom’s fleeting cackled laughter, and we’re left gnawing on the ruins of onions, crackers, a lone Life Saver that’s somehow survived, orphaned on an empty shelf.
Sometimes, we walk all night. We lean into each other and murmur jokes about poverty and divorce, Nan smelling of sweat, onions, and Camels. We lean into a streetlamp or two, even holding on, as if it were murmuring a glowing lullaby. Sleep, sleep, a butter-colored blanket being pulled over us like the old days before job losses, lost self-esteem and malaise came knocking on Mom’s door. Sleep, the days when bedtime stories and motherly arms hovered, a shimmering, beautiful weight. Sleep, the days when Mom murmured nicknames. Nicky, Nan, and not Nicholas and Nancy and didn’t beg us to keep quiet. Sleep, the days when Mom graded papers on Lolita or Revolutionary Road, her low murmurs from the dining room a marker to hold onto.
But stares from midnight passengers or a slowed-down police car keep us moving. How do you explain your actions to people who see the world in absolutes? How do you explain the beauty of long angled light? They’d just talk about what makes a streetlamp glow, the science behind it. The annoying neatness of order. They’d say focus on the future, take things a step at a time, not knowing what it means to be propelled backward, backward, backward. They’d talk of bootstraps and putting aside senseless dreams and not being idiots.
We just want to absorb the glow of streetlights, long, angled, shapely, before the sun peeks out over the distant hills and garbage trucks whir. Before coffee-shops fling open their doors and expose maudlin walls. We want to savor stillness, before construction workers start constructing and destructing and hangovers arrive in small apartments whose spaces seem smaller by the day. We slink home, eyes half-closed, as responsibility demands and the lights flicker and disappear in a burst, the sun rising over them, dominant and round. We reach into the morning sky, grabbing, lunging for the streetlights even. We even stand on tiptoes. But we only trip and fall, feeling the chill of now-unheated apartments and morning breezes, colder than ever.
Yash Seyedbagheri is a graduate of Colorado State University’s MFA program in fiction. His stories, “Soon,” “How To Be A Good Episcopalian,” and “Tales From A Communion Line,” were nominated for Pushcarts. Yash’s work has been published in The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts, Write City Magazine, and Ariel Chart, among others.