I noticed it when I was eleven. My parents were getting a divorce and Mr. McGonnegy said they had been unhappy since I was born. Whenever they fought, Mr. McGonnegy would just look at me and shake his head and say, “They used to be happy, boy. All your fault.”
McGonnegy’s cat was just as mean as he was and hissed at me as I ran past his yard. My parents didn’t even stop me; I just bolted out of the dining room and burst out the front door. I ran just to run, to feel my feet punch the hard pavement. It was near midnight, and the street was dark. None of the houses had lights on, for none of the other parents were up late, getting divorced.
They used to be happy. All your fault.
The old man’s words echoed in my head and I pushed myself harder. I ran till my chest felt so tight I thought I would rip apart, then I stumbled to a halt and screamed. I screamed as hard as I could, all the anger inside me tearing me apart. I wanted to be torn apart. There was no air left in my body, but I didn’t die. I shook with anger and exhaustion and fear. So much fear. I couldn’t scream anymore. I could hardly breathe.
“It’s all your fault.” I cried to myself, my anger turned from my parents to myself. All fury that had filled my screams dissolved into tears and I began to whimper. My body couldn’t hold me up and I crumpled to the sidewalk. From where I lay, pathetically crying on the sidewalk, I could see it: a yellow light. Scrubbing my eyes roughly, I could see it clearer. A yellow light came from the house on the corner. Distracted now, I looked up and down the whole street, and realized that the only light in my whole little world came from the house on the corner. Without thinking, I picked myself up, and mindlessly, followed the light to the end of the street. An empty road separated me from the yellow lit window, but that was okay. The light was bright enough from where I was. I stared hard at the window as my small chest hiccupped. The light was warm. White curtains covered part of the window, but someone had forgotten to close them all the way. I backed up off the sidewalk, hands out behind me, till I found what I was looking for: a small gnarled tree. Slowly, I sunk down to the ground, back against the tired tree. I don’t know how long I watched the yellow light. The next morning, I awoke, face in the dirt. I don’t remember my parents ever asking me where I went that night.
I saw it again when I was seventeen. In the settlement, my father got the house, though he was rarely there. The mine kept him busy, and that was fine with me. Ivy made the house, and my soul, feel a little less empty. Her hair was the color of sunshine and she never pulled it back. She taught me how to make pancakes and read poetry and lay so quietly you could hear the music from the nightclubs over in Macomb Country.
Ivy was gone before the summer was over. Her uncle came by the house and shouted about her future and how I’d wreck her. How I’d ruin everything and how he wasn’t gonna let that happen. He stood there and shouted and with every word, I felt the breath being squeezed outta me. She had been mine. She was hope and light and she was mine! Desperation fell heavy on my heart, on my lungs. I tried to tell him, beg for her to stay, but he wouldn’t listen. I begged, ran to him to make him hear me, but his rough hands pushed me back. I covered my face from his angry fists and his angry words till I could take no more. I bolted, bursting through the back door, leaving him shouting after me. I ran and ran and ran till I fell against her front door. I beat against it, too out of breath to call to her. I beat against that door till my fists bled. She had already gone. I saw the tears in my knuckles by the yellow light that night and felt my soul slipping through my fingers. The white curtains still hung in the window and the same blue lamp shone yellow light, just as it had six years before. The tree was more gnarled, but this time, my hands didn’t feel for the security of the trunk. I just fell against tree, staring blearily into the yellow window across the street. I didn’t fall asleep that night. I just watched the light and thought of how it was the same color as her hair.
When I was thirty-two, that house went on the market. Apparently, its owner had died. Natural causes, but there was no one who cared enough to repair the crumbling chimney and weed the front garden. The contents of the house were put up for sale, and a wooden sign by the cracked sidewalk promised that everything was negotiable. In the window, I could see a white tag tied around my blue lamp.
“What do you think?” My fiancé cradled the precious lamp in her arms, awkwardly adjusting her glasses as she looked at me. Behind her, I could see the old tree still standing at the street corner, lighter with time and smoother with weather. Ivy’s hair glowed yellow in the sunlight. She smiled and I smiled back.
“It’s perfect,” I breathed. “Everything is perfect.”