Off the Lamp
The lamp on the desk was green and brass, with an old look, but it was
new, from the cheap desk goods store. The light from the green shade made all
the things on the desk look soft and rich, like rice in hot milk or beads on
suede. On the desk was the knife she used to clip mail, but there was no mail on
the desk now, no mail would come on this day when the lights hung on the tree
down in the front room and along the eaves of the porch. The knife gleamed in
the green light, she could see her face in the knife blade. The steel end shone
in the green light. She picked up the knife and traced the point on the blue
lines of her left wrist.
As she did, Jen came to the step and
called, “Mom!” Her girl, her own girl, she thought, and she dropped
the knife to the oak desk top. “What is it, hon?” she called back down the
“Can I go play?”
“Yes. Yes. Go and play,” she breathed in a sad, used up sigh, her
hope gone with the girl’s chirp.
No noise from the step, to leave or to come up. “What’s wrong?” Jen
asked with a ghost of fear in her voice.
“Zilch, you goose.” Zilch was their joke . “Just zilch,” she
sighed one more time. She ran her thumb all up and down the blade of the knife.
She stopped at the point, jabbed the pad of her thumb in the blade and gasped as
the blood came out.
The pain made her think. If she could feel the pain, Jen could go. She
would be fine. She would not have to do one more thing with the knife, she would
just have to get a rag and bind up her thumb. She could turn off the lamp, go
down the steps, and make lunch while Jen played in the yard. No one would know
how close she had come, how she had not quite touched the steel to the blue blue
of her wrist.
“Come watch me, mom,” Jen called up now. “Come on!”
It was as if Jen knew she must leave the desk and the green lamp and all
the things on the desk to live one more time. How do they know, she thought, how
can they tell? “Come on,” Jen called again. “You can make eggs and watch
me, and then we’ll have lunch and watch the tube.”
She smiled. The tube was an old word like zilch. It brought her all the
way back to now, past the old days, past the first mom who said zilch and
chugged a glass of gin on the bed, past the old black and white tubes that
drowned out what it was like to be a kid in a room with no out. She sucked the
blood from her thumb, pushed out her chair with her butt, and pushed her arms up
of the oak top of the desk.
“Here I come,” she said, and pulled the chain of the green lamp.