Back in the coal-grey grim fathoms of November my kitchen light started to play up, flickering, being temperamental and then just not bothering to come on at all. At first I thought it was “a sign”. Like many of us in this new world I’m always on the look out for something symbolic, some other worldliness cutting through. Like the collection of feathers that have built up on my windowsill over the months. I now have nearly enough for my very own pidgeon. Or the bizarre tickling on my upper arm that wouldn’t go away. It distracted me from my typing, puzzled, annoyed and finally irritated me so much that I had to investigate. But when I freed my arm from the sleeve, something dropped. I located it on the floor and it turned out to be, not a sign at all, but some creature that would make an entomologists day, way too green and more appendages than I had time to count. For a sluggish and disappointed widow I still managed to move like stink.
Meanwhile back in the kitchen, the light that wouldn’t light became symbolic of my new world. I would think about getting it fixed but it wasn’t high up enough on my list. A helpful friend sent me a new starter motor to save me scuttling around hardware shops not really knowing what I was doing and another friend hauled himself away from toddlers tea time, arriving with his best sullen electrician face to reach up and mend the problem.
But it made no difference, the motor wasn’t the problem, so I ventured out to buy a new tube. I somehow bought it on the same day as we were making the Christmas lanterns (as in the earlier post Lighting the Way) and slapsticked ourselves onto the bus; one tired child, two delicate willow constructions, one delicate overbrimming grief and a 6 foot fluorescent bulb. Earlier friend returned with similar jokes to find the new shoe didn’t fit and I was not going to the ball under any circumstances.
I gave up for a while, it was too difficult. I had to find an electrician who could A. do the job, B. be prepared to do the job, C. not rip me off and D. not make any reference to my husband. The first three proved tricky enough and I knew even if I got that far that D was a given and would be my undoing.
It was all too hard as I unravelled towards Christmas so I continued to give up. It was a solution in itself. It was too complicated to think about so I simply didn’t think about it. Ten months into widowhood I’d grown accustomed to darkness and part of me felt very at home struggling around in the lack of light. It became a game with myself. Just how long could I last before I was provoked into finally fixing it? I factored in health and safety issues, of course, and anything that needed to be peeled, sliced or diced was done in the late afternoon daylight. Not that there’s been much food preparation going on. A good day then was finding a well stocked freezer, or at least one that wasn’t so iced up that I couldn’t get to the ubiquitous fish fingers. So none of my own fingers were cut or hacked off in the making of this blog but the days ticked into weeks and I was still slothing around as the festive circus descended around me.
Our friend helpfully pointed out that until a kitchen floor has its own eco system you really have nothing to worry about hygiene-wise. Crumbs never hurts anyone, the odd insect can amuse a bored child but it’s not until the insect becomes the prey that you are really pushed into finding the dustpan and brush and summoning up help from Mr Muscle.
And through the dingy evenings I continued to count the tiles over the cooker. There are twenty. I learned this during the experience of marking days and then weeks as I warmed myself against the appliance, staring at the wall, mentally ticking off time, out of some misplaced survivalist instinct. The tiles became my prison wall, invisibly etched crossings as the hours moved past me and now in the shadows the squares become months and I’m over half way up them. So I peer at the tiles and remember when they were lit but it doesn’t seem to matter anymore. So I count and I cross and I cook in darkness.
And so it continued, every day late afternoon dropped on us and my light was stripped away just like the ripping out last February. I stubbornly carried on cooking by the vagueness of the hall light and by Christmas had the added gaiety of my son’s fairy lights around the serving hatch. Little balls of white reflected in my black bottles of red. I challenged myself to secure the services of some suitable tradesman before the New Year announced itself. It felt fitting and a symbolic start to what would be, for others in the old world, a brand new place.
But the days weighted me down and squashed me into the floor along with my party-sized snack rolls. Movement was imperceptible. Gradually even I was getting bored with the gloom but my inner gloom continued to have the more dominant voice. And so the grimness was part of my evening routine until the approaching First Year Anniversary gave me a final shove towards motivation.
So, with teeth gritted at the start of Year Two, I entrusted the process to the chirpy chatty twosome I’d found in the local paper.
They arrived late. My anxiety swirling and creeping higher as the minutes cluncked by until they rolled up.
I kept well out of the way as they took the old light down and avoided looking at it while I paid. I switched it on privately after they’d left and looked up. The shiny halogen beaming out highlighted the dark corners of everything and underneath the brushed steel newness remained the ripped out shape of where the old light had been. An empty chasm in the shape of what was once there, marking its space, its well deserved territory, showing up the edges of the paint, the time coloured ceiling and the naked wood beneath.
I appreciated the contrast. The simple plain long strip under the showy shiny chrome prima dona. The separate movable bulbs, variable, flexible, changing the direction they light. Being what they are, turned necessarily outwards, doing the same but job in a different way, an antithesis to the sturdy trusty simple fluorescent.
I cry in the brightness, I miss the fluorescence and the life it illuminated but I’m under a new light now, in a new world. The old fixture is by the door heading for the garage but the space it filled is still there. And one day the ceiling may be repainted but the memory of the fitting will stay, as will the family it lit and although the shape has changed, having vitally evolved into a new way, it still transmits its force. The electricity that served the old bulb still powers the new ones and though on the surface it looks very different, at heart it is still Light over me and our son, in our kitchen, in our home, surging through the wires, pulsing through the foundation, up through the fittings and out to shine over our life.
There is change, there is constancy,
there is energy, there is force around us.
I raise a glass to my new light.
For the first time in months I can see what I’m doing.