Once there was a boy who left a girl. On a sunny afternoon, he packed his things, kissed her forehead one last time and firmly handed her a tiny flashlight. “Use this,” he said. And then he walked down the front path, away, to a new home. Without her.
The girl stood in the doorway for a long time, gazing down the empty path until blackness finally settled over the yard. After some time, she shut the door and, clutching the flashlight to her chest, retreated into the silent house. She wandered from room to room, eying empty spaces on walls, opening a vacant drawer, leaning down to sniff an old burned-out candle. She turned the flashlight over in her hand, wondering what she could use it for. How odd. How inadequate. At long last, she curled into her favorite chair, flashlight against her chest, and fell asleep.
The next day, she woke early. She lie still for a long time, listening to the silence. Finally, she rose, determined to make some noise so she didn’t hear it any longer. She opened one of the vacant drawers - his drawer - gently lay the flashlight inside, and shut the drawer. Then she washed dishes, she swept, she dusted – oh, but dusting was too quiet… She pulled her books off the shelves, her treasures, because her books had always taken away the silence. She reorganized them, refiled them on the shelves. She stood before them, pondering which to read. Surely a new selection - a dramatic tale of adventure, perhaps – would make that lingering silence dissipate. But she just couldn’t choose.
She repeated this process for many days after, busying herself with chores through the morning and afternoon. In the evenings, she retrieved the flashlight from the drawer - his drawer - and held it while she slept. And so the time went by like this.
One day, some weeks later, she woke and decided she didn’t want to do chores. She didn’t want to stand before her bookshelves. She had grown tired of the routine. She fetched her favorite hat from the closet, opened the front door and inhaled the sweet morning air. Lovely. And then she decided what she really wanted was to take a walk.
And so she walked down the front path, into the park, into the meadows. She walked for hours, occasionally pausing to pick a flower, slip a smooth pebble into her pocket, watch a bird flit from branch to branch. She came across a tiny stream and sat for a long while, soaking her feet in the cold, bubbly water and running her fingers along the grass. When the sun began to set, she stood up, collected her flowers and pebbles, and walked home. Such a fine day it was.
She put the flowers in a bright orange vase and placed it on the table. She wanted to keep the pebbles in a safe place, so she opened a drawer to put them away – and realized it was his drawer, the one with the flashlight. She set the pebbles inside then picked up the flashlight. Why had he given her this? She already had plenty of lights and candles… What was she to do with it?
She clicked the flashlight on, shined it over the empty spaces on the walls, the bookshelves, the new flowers. Hmmm… She opened the closet and shined it inside. She opened another drawer and shined it inside, then another and another. She moved her wrist about, watched the light dance across the ceiling. She clicked the flashlight off. Okay, this was silly; of course he hadn’t given her the flashlight to shine around the house…
And then – she knew. She thought about how when he looked at her his eyes felt like sunlight. And how he had such a knack for finding strange ways to fix broken things around the house. And how he had handed her the flashlight with such purpose. And she just knew. She clicked the flashlight on again, slowly turned it toward her and shined it into her chest. And there, among her pale thin ribs, were tiny bits of things breaking through the surface of the dirt: little scraps of colored cloth and silky feathers and streaks of paint, the faintest etchings of poems, the teeniest wildflowers. And if she stood very still, she could hear a soft, lilting music.
A tear fell but she did not wipe her eye. She held the flashlight, gazing at the beautiful wild things growing inside her. Had he known it was all still there, waiting for the right moment to begin to bloom again?
She stood that way for some time and when she had listened to the music long enough, breathed in the scent of the flowers, colored her eyes with bright yellows and greens and blues, she clicked off the flashlight. How could she possibly have thought she was alone in the house with all these wild things tangled about her ribs? She opened the drawer, set the flashlight next to the smooth pebbles and carefully shut it.
In the following days, she added other keepsakes – a poem, a bracelet made of dandelions, a photograph of the stream. And always, at the end of the day, when the blackness had settled, she clicked the flashlight on for a moment and shined it toward her, then gently set it back inside the drawer.
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