by Mark Reep
They say you could see the Light from farther once. Years away, even. Maybe it burned brighter then. I’d thought it would be easier to find.
They say it’s a fallen star, older than the world. The woman I asked shrugged. Who remembers? Have you brought no vessel to fill?
No one had told me I could bring a pail, carry away all the light I could bear. There was a stack of five-gallon buckets for sale. They looked dirty, stuck-together, but they had lids.
Could I borrow one of those? I’ll bring it back.
She was one of those ageless women who might have grayed early, or be a great-grandmother. I couldn’t read the nametag on her uniform. She laughed. That’s what they all say. Sorry.
Light is slippery. It leaks from your pockets, falls from your hat before you can clap it on. I wore no shoes. She watched, impassive, and said nothing.
How long can I stay? I said.
She shrugged. Not like there’s a line today. Take a load off, catch some rays. You’re a pale one. You can use it.
I don’t know how long I sat and watched. The woman stood by, arms folded, watched too.
Do you ever get tired of it? I said.
She shook her head. No. Never gets old.
A hummingbird flew from the Light, hovered, considered me. She put her hand out. It lit on her palm. She bent her head in an attitude of listening, laughed. I’ll tell him. −Do you smoke?
What? I said.
She gestured impatiently with her free hand. Do you smoke? Have you asthma, or the like?
The hummingbird watched me. I said, No. Why?
Are we not all, each of us, earthen vessels?
She was smiling, a little.
I said, Well, yes. But how−
She shook her head. Only one hint. Rules are rules.
I thought. They watched me think, the woman, the hummingbird. When I thought I’d guessed I got to my feet.
Should I close my eyes?
She shrugged. I don’t. But I’m used to it.
What will it feel like? I said.
She smiled. Oh, you’ll like it. Might make you dizzy. That’ll pass.
I said, Will I be different?
She laughed. Sure. Don’t you want to be? Isn’t that why you came?
I guess so, I said.
Well, then. ‒It’s almost closing time.
Oh, I said. Okay. Thank you.
Just my job. Watch your step, now. That last stone’s wobbly.
I turned to the Light. It was waiting: Living summergold, fizzing louder, licking at my feet. I squinted, shaded my eyes with one hand, edged forward, put out the other to its heat. A buzz tickled my ear. The hummingbird flew past. I closed my eyes tightly, took another step. Another. The Light roared, wordless, consuming. I held my breath. When I dared come no closer, I opened my mouth wide, and drew in all I could.
Mark Reep is an artist and writer whose work has appeared in American Art Collector, Bluecanvas, Endicott Journal, Metazen, and Word Riot. The founding editor of Ramshackle Review, Mark is represented by Exhibit A, Corning, New York, and Jardine Gallery, Perth, Scotland. Visit Mark’s website and blog.