It was impossible not to notice the slightest change in a town as small as mine. That time high school seniors moved up the speed limit sign, the day the grocery store repainted the parking lines, and the week the preacher forgot to close his curtains were all changes that sparked conversations and gossip. Maybe they shouldn’t be so big a deal, but it was ours so they were. People had settled here to keep change away. I liked the predictability, the schedule–I depended on the dependency. So of course, I didn’t know how to react to the deep darkness of the neighboring house, particularly the one window that had always faced mine.
I had gotten used to the glow that it gave off despite the fact it was an anomaly. To have the lights suddenly gone, however, felt stranger than when I’d first seen them. The queerness of them stabbed at me every time Molly, the girl next door, flipped them on. It didn’t seem possible she could simply turn them off now.
My sister collected elephants because she was obsessed with their ability to remember, which deeply contrasted with her five-second memory. I liked comic books because they were novels made awesome. But why would a ten year old girl suddenly develop an infatuation with light real enough to last seven more years? Molly had droves of electric candles, Christmas lights, lamps, book lights, and flashlights of all kind and color, a collection that only swelled. Granted, her brother Jax was weird too, but her brother was not female, and thus, vastly less interesting. I was no spy, ninja, or reincarnation of Sherlock Holmes, but too many comic books had convinced me that climbing up the tree against Molly’s window was a–if not brilliant–bright idea that would aide in the quest of why she invested in light.
I heard a hiss. Jax’s skinny and hideous cat had his arm wrapped around a branch rather lovingly. It seemed I had interrupted a love scene. Right after the thought I heard, “What kind of ninja wears yellow?”
I startled and met Molly’s eyes. She leaned out her window, an eyebrow and both corners of her lips raised. “I, um, wanted to blend in with your lights.” This sounded more legit than the simple fact I liked the color and owned ninety-nine percent yellow things.
“Then you’re a day late, Reinaldo.”
I ignored the use of my name. I liked to go by “Rein” because it’s less weird and people didn’t question it because it sounded cool. “I was on vacation,” I couldn’t help but reply in a whiny voice. She–Molly Anders Willowson–was the only human being besides my grandmother who used my real name. “And why am I late?” I continued.
“Go to the door before I answer any questions, weirdo. Don’t knock. I‘ll be there faster than you can climb down that tree.”
And she was. Before I had any time to question my masculinity, she was pulling me up the stairs to her room. Molly’s house was very green, not in the color sense but the environmental sense. I always believed the reason for that was so their light bill wouldn’t be a fortune each month. Molly’s room was like a second moon and all the stars. I wasn’t surprised when I saw it was no longer the case but scared.
“I’m never leaving this town again.” God, it’d only been a week. How could so much have changed?
Her spectacular collection of lights had been confined to four beat-up boxes, but she couldn’t be moving because her room was otherwise the same. Molly began to pick at her fingernail polish. For a couple seconds, I was fascinated by the falling specs of yellow. It was like she had pixie dust at the end of her fingertips. Was I Peter Pan, her guide and friend, or just one of the lost boys she had to contend with?
“Because, Molly, your lights are gone.”
“You know our state song?” she asked quickly. “‘You are my sunshine, my only sunshine, you make me happy’, and all that other hoopla?”
I nodded. Secretly, I found the song depressing. “You’ll never know, dear, how much I love you” got me every time. There was absolutely nothing worse than not knowing and nothing better than love.
“Well,” she said, “I want to create some sunshine. Will you help me?”
I thought of Orlando and Disney World, of the week of jarring lights and the nonstop wail of sirens and cries of laughter. And I thought of this place, of its silence and shadows, and how when I was ten and afraid of the dark, my parents refused to buy me a nightlight. I thought of how Molly had become my nightlight. “What are you asking exactly?”
“I want to cover our park in light. Will you help me?”
All my frisbee friends were still on vacation, no one was at home currently, and I had no real curfew. Tests to study for? Not currently… Despite the “yes” reasons and “no” reasons and how they fared against each other, I had to help. I owed her and one of these days, I had to tell her why.
I picked up a box. “Sure. I’m all about artificial sunshine.”
She smiled and unconsciously tugged on one of her pigtails. “We need transportation and face paint and food.”
“I have a truck,” I offered. Everyone in my town did, indirectly.
“I have face paint–and I know just the person with food.”
Twenty minutes later, at six-thirty, Molly, her brother, and I piled in my truck with black stripes carelessly marked across our cheeks, boxes of light, and a family-sized bag of Cheetos. Molly sat shotgun and chose the country station, much to my chagrin, and while the man sang about dirt roads, I drove down one. I rolled the windows down and Jax whooped and we all thrust our arms into the evening air, feeling brave, feeling loved, feeling the now turn into then. It was the kind of magic our town made us feel frequently. When the stars came out early into a purpling sky during spring break and you drove with friends who’d seen most every stage of your life, it was hard not to wish you wouldn’t have to go off to a big city with your big dream and fight for your destiny.
I pulled to a stop in the parking lot. Before I had stopped completely, Molly jumped out with the longest extension cord known to man. I noticed Jax’s laughter when I shut off the truck.
“What?” I asked.
“Why did you agree to this?” he asked in answer. “Simply because she’s pretty and mysterious and your friend?”
That was a large part of it, but I shook my head. “The night we moved here, I was in my bed, shaking with fear of the darkness all around me for about fifteen minutes, when light all of a sudden poked a hole in the pitch black and all my fears crumbled like a gingerbread house made of graham crackers.” I took a deep breath and closed my eyes, remembering that moment of momentous relief. “I want to help Molly poke a hole in someone’s pitch black. Why did you agree to this?”
“We’re . . . we’re moving, Rein. Our parents are getting divorced and Mom wants to see California and Molly needs to leave something behind. I’m her brother; I love her. Why wouldn’t I agree?”
My mouth dried and I felt a lonely emptiness gather up in my chest. “I–what? When?”
Jax hopped out of the truck. “Let Molly tell you. For now, just pretend you don’t know, okay? Let’s try and give her this in the best of spirits.”
It must be soon then, my brain told me, but I pretended not to hear and helped him unload.
Molly plugged the extension cord behind a statue of the state bird. The plug was there for speakers, but that had only happened once when the park was opened. I don’t know how safe it was, but we began to clothe the trees with necklaces of light. As the sun disappeared behind the horizon, I saw the girl of light become darkness as she gave the trees the Christmas lights around her neck. Jax began to flick on the portable lamps that he had placed on places the pluggy lights couldn’t reach. When I plugged in the final night light, we were done. It would have been dark except for the stars, but we had arranged our own weird constellation on the earth.
I pretended not to see Molly cry and her brother hug himself tight. I pretended not to feel the sting behind my eyes and the questions in my throat. We drifted towards each other until we were side by side. Molly grabbed my hand then her brother’s and said, “God said let there be love.”
And there was.