Maeve has lost interest in my trick of hanging things on beams of light. To me a beam of light is as solid as a coat rack or a laundry line. It slants into a room and the dust motes spin in it, and I can take little objects – marbles, bottle caps – and set them on the light, and watch them slide down its ray and land on the coffee table or the white sofa. Maeve gets mad because I always forget to pick them up afterwards.
Maeve has copper-colored hair that’s naturally curly. Light gets trapped in it. I like to tell her that her hair is luminous. I like to run my hands through it, but she doesn’t want me to, because I can’t stop myself from picking out the little pieces of trapped light and throwing them on the floor. This rids the hair of its luster, which is why Maeve objects. But I like the way the light feels, squirming between my thumb and fingertip. One night, after I had been combing her hair with my fingers, we started fighting, and I swept up all the little strands of light from the floor and dumped the dustpan over her head. I was trying to give them back to her, but they looked like glitter, and she ran upstairs and slammed the bathroom door and took a shower.
One time we locked ourselves out of our apartment, and our neighbor, Rebecca, had a flashlight. She shined the beam at an open second floor window and I climbed up it. Rebecca was impressed. Maeve was grateful, but even then she wouldn’t say that my ability is astonishing.
“Why don’t you think it’s cool anymore? Why can’t you be like Rebecca?” I asked her.
“Oh, I don’t know,” she said. “I guess I’ve seen it too many times.”
When we’re really fighting, she’s more honest. “You’re too vain about it,” she said. “You think it sets you apart from other people.”
“It does set me apart from other people. Other girls seem to like it.”
“Go be with them, then.”
“I only want you,” I told Maeve. I lied. I stay with Maeve because I’m used to her. I know who she is. Other girls might be astonished by me, but I’m not astonished by them. If I’m going to be with someone who’s just normal, it might as well be Maeve.
She didn’t like my spotlight. It’s the kind you see sitting in used car lots, pointed up at the sky, the kind that waves back and forth to advertise a sales event and makes a whole, bright circle on the bottom of the clouds. The kind they used to summon Batman. It’s sitting in the front yard, and I’m walking up its beam of light, and I’m going to sit on the flat circle at its top.
“It’s showing off,” Maeve said last night, when I was describing my plan to her.
“It’s not showing off,” I said, “people will think it’s cool.”
“They’ll think you’re a show-off,” she said.
I called around to rental places while Maeve was at work. The guys who delivered the spotlight were surprised that I wanted them to put it in our apartment building’s front yard.
“How are you going to power it?” they asked me, and I showed them the orange extension cord I had. They told me that it pulls down a lot of watts and I told them that it would be okay. When they left, I plugged my extension cord into the socket in the living room and ran it out through the window to the spotlight. I turned the spotlight on. It didn’t blow any fuses.
When Maeve came home, she was angry. “You’re going to get us evicted,” she said.
“No, I won’t. It will be cool.”
Maeve went inside and slammed the door. I sat on the stoop, guarding my spotlight, waiting for night. Dusk came slowly. I watched it fade from the black shingles on the roof of a garage, and I studied the sky and saw bats wheeling through the air, and I heard the cicadas wake up and set their bodies to thrumming. The street lights went on long before it really got dark. When the sky turned black, I turned on my spotlight.
The spotlight cuts strongly through the ambient light from the street lamps. I use a little step ladder to climb to the top of the light and step off onto its beam. The beam is wide and generous. But it’s set at too sharp of an angle. I have to bend forward as I climb, grasping it with my hands. Below, the tree tops swish in a slight wind. Insects like the light, and they fly right through it and slap against my palms. I glance up, but the top of the beam is still far away, round and flat and pressing against the bottom of the sky. I glance down. Maeve has come out of our apartment building and is standing in the yard, looking up at me. The glow of the spotlight’s beam washes into her bright, burnished hair. It washes away the expression on her face. I lift a hand and give a little wave. She looks down. I see the orange extension cord in the grass beside her foot. She bends over to look at it. She has only to grasp it and pull it loose from the spotlight’s cord, and I will fall.
© Karl Stevens