Published in Cleaver Magazine Vol. 1, No. 1 (March 2013).
Janene stood watching the swinging light bulb that hung in the unfinished laundry room of her empty little house, the pull-chain that released volts into the socket clinking against the burnt out bulb’s brittle glass with each sideways motion. In her left hand, she held a new sixty watt bulb, one which could replace the one still hanging, and solve all the problems she’d been having lately with her laundry: when she accidentally dropped a single red shirt in with all her whites, which dyed her work blouses, socks and white dress pants a dull pink; or when she folded clothes together because she could not see that she held both a pair of jeans and a t-shirt in the dark warmth just in front of the dryer, and then searched for half an hour before unfolding and refolding everything in her drawers; or, more recently, when she pulled from her pant pocket the piece of paper, now sopping and illegible, on which she had written the time of a job interview with a research facility looking for candidates with B.S.’s in Physics, and realized that she perhaps shouldn’t have screamed at the visiting district manager before walking out of the bank earlier that day.
Janene knew that these events could be avoided and that all the effects—the frantic shopping trips just before running to the office, tags still hanging off her clothes; the time spent redoing chores; the stress of trying to explain to a very skeptical and probing graduate assistant that yes, she was responsible and a good candidate for the job, she simply wanted to double-check the appointment date—all of these could be eliminated, or at least lessened, if she would just change the bulb. But every time she reached up toward the rocking socket with her right hand, a blue flame would ignite in her chest and illuminate her stomach, lungs, esophagus, heart, while images of Davis changing that same light bulb would project in her mind—that one day, as the plaid button-up shirt she loved lifted above the jeans that had worn spots on the pockets from his wallet, keys, cell phone. She had been leaning in the doorway, studying the image of his thick knuckles and splayed fingertips in the curved surface of the glass. He had turned and smiled at her when he was done, greyed bulb in his hand, and had kissed her forehead before turning to the bin to throw the old light bulb away. Janene had stepped into the room and watched him leave as she turned the picture of him changing the light bulb over and over in her mind, imagining the tiny packets of light—the “potons,” as her Laotian professor used to say—immersing Davis from the new light bulb, flooding down his arms, over his clothes and the slight paunch of his belly, right down to that patch of luminous skin over his hipbone. After that, her mind hadn’t been able to help but pull up the pictures of Davis that she held closest: the images she retained from the first night she met him, his profile haloed by headlights reflected in the cab’s side mirrors; his shaggy hair and thick arms bathed in fluorescent light as he cradled her hands in the E.R. the night Janene broke her leg after she slipped on a spilled drink and down the front stairs of a bar; the streetlights and stars reflecting off the snow all around them and shining in Davis’s eyes the previous New Year’s Eve, when they’d taken a walk after watching the ball drop and ended up drinking a bottle of cheap champagne by the river until they were both too cold to stay out any longer.
Davis had moved out within a month of changing the light bulb, but Janene as yet hadn’t cried once—not even to her mother over the phone—because, she said, when you expect something for long enough, its arrival should come as no surprise. “After all of the arguments, the broken dishes and other women,” Janene sighed to her co-worker at lunch one day, “how could I ever think we would stay together?” When, two months after he left, the same light bulb he had replaced burned out, Janene had shrugged in the sudden darkness, folded the shirt she was holding in half, and mumbled, “Things come, things go.”
Three long months after that shrug, Janene scuffed her foot on the carpet and shifted the light bulb in her sweaty left hand so that she held the metal threads rather than the slick glass. She closed her eyes and huffed, ashamed even in solitude of her desire to wait, of the temptation to never replace the bulb, despite the consequences. Janene reached up again—this time quickly, as if she could race the reflection and not be faced with the image of Davis, that crescent glimpse of his waist as his solid arm lifted—and even as she told herself it would be the last time she would go through this, the back of her mind wandered to the delicate cardboard box the new light bulb had come in, sitting daintily in the bottom of a fresh trash bag, and how easy it would be to retrieve, even in darkness.