Sunday, September 30, 2012

The Color of Light

I tried capturing it in jars, first a Hellman’s mayonnaise, not only rinsed out, but scoured, cleaned within an inch of its life. Outside was the crisp light of early fall, the trees not yet turning but on the verge. The sky bright with free floating dreams, the kind that rarely float close enough to catch. I stood underneath the pear tree where the light was subdued, and I held up my jar, as high as I could reach, and the light flowed in. It filled my jar, stopping just short of the top, a clear bright color with the promise of cool nights and fire.

When I put the lid on the light tried to escape, pushing back against the lid while I pushed down, and just a bit of it got out, not much, but more than I’d like. I wanted the jar full, so it could last all winter, and not run out halfway through January.

I tried a pickle jar, scrubbing the jar first with a scouring paid, and though I couldn’t fit my whole hand in I used two fingers, wanting to make sure the color of the light wouldn’t be contaminated by any extra pickle flavor. I stood next to the house on the first cold crisp day of winter when the air was brisk enough to turn my nose red. Instead of holding the jar up I swept it next to me, scooping up the light. In the jar the light looked white, though it was as clear as the sky. I was stronger this time, and sneakier, and before the light knew what was happening the lid was on tight. It wasn’t as much light as I had in the mayonnaise jar, but in the summer I don’t need as much of the winter light, so it should last me.

By spring we had moved, and the light I wanted to capture wasn’t available at our new place. I had early fall, and the first day of winter, but I wanted the spring of where we used to live, not the flat spring of where we were living. The spring air where we used to live was full of promises, the dreams drifting down close enough to touch before they spun away again, light as gossamer, as fragile as a soap bubble. But where we were now, there were no dreams floating by, just a flat blankness of space, with no color to the light at all. It was as if the color was gone, replaced with fallen dreams that crumbled to grey ash in the harsh spring days.

I didn’t try to save any of it. I wanted no reminders of that spring, and I scuttled through the days with my eyes half-closed. Sometimes, but only rarely, I would open the Hellman’s jar a tiny bit, just to get an idea of fall or winter. This would last an hour or two before fading away again.

And that summer was the summer I left home, packing up my jars and my memories, and heading out of town, walking down the two-lane highway away from everyone I had ever known. When I couldn’t walk anymore I stopped, and I sat on a boulder twice the size of me, and I put my two jars next to me, their colors out-of-place in the heat of the summer. These were cool clear colors, not the dry desert colors of where I was now, and I resolved to return to those colors.

The next day they found me though, pulling up alongside me in the wood paneled station wagon, calling to me. “Annie, come get in the car.”

I kept walking, foolishly hoping they would think I was someone else.

The car stopped then, and my father, a short man with a smile of regret and an air of having been done wrong, got out of the car. This was what I had feared the most, that he would find me and take me back. But I stopped, and turned, and looked at him.

What I saw on his face was not happiness, but it wasn’t sadness either. “Annie, you have to come home now.”

“I can’t see the color of the air there,” I told him, knowing he wouldn’t understand. She would, if she would get out of the car, but she wouldn’t.

“Foolishness.” He scratched his chin, overgrown with a few days’ of stubble, and he stood with his legs slightly apart, ready to run after me if I should take to running. Just in case. It had happened before, me deciding to run, but I’d learned that no matter how hard I tried, he’d always catch up to me, grab my arm, and pull me back towards him so hard I’d probably fall, and he wouldn’t catch me.

“Air doesn’t have a color. Just get in the car.”

My mother peered out the side window at me, her brow furrowed. She never understood why I ran off, though she knew what I meant about the color of the air. Sweat glistened on her upper lip, and on her forehead, and I walked to the car, thinking of how beautiful she was even as she was determined to return me to my prison.

Towards the end of summer I took an empty jar, this one having held salsa, and I scrubbed it clean with the scrub brush my mother kept for the potatoes, and when I’d done that I scrubbed the label off, and then I scrubbed off all the glue. I wanted it perfect, one perfect jar for the end of summer light.

I walked out at twilight, past the end of the street where there was nothing but desert, and I held my jar high, willing in the still desert air. The twilight air had more color to it than the daytime air, and the briefest glimmer of hope that sparkled like a worn bit of metal that has just the slightest bit of life left to it.

Once the lid was on, keeping in the twilight air so it couldn’t get out, I took it home, and I placed it on the shelf next to the fall and the first day of winter, and they glimmered together, far off dreams and the present, telling me to hold on, that spring would come again, and that next time perhaps I could capture it. Next time perhaps I would want to capture it, the spring of a new start, the dampness of spring soil waiting for seeds.

The color of the air glimmering on my shelves, telling me to hold on, that new colors were on their way.

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