Light Above the Stove
creative nonfiction by Paige N Price
Light Above the Stove
There’s a tiny yellow lightbulb above the stove at my parent’s house. A dim, miniscule thing that blends into the sunshine during the day. My mom told me she can’t sleep when it’s left on at night. That it reminds her of when my dad was sick. Restless legs and insomnia would kick in at wee hours, and he’d pop on the kitchen light, pace around the house or watch middle-of-the-night reruns. She always knew that Dad was awake and suffering somehow, struggling with some offset symptom of his cancer. Just by the light in the kitchen.
Mom didn’t tell me until two years after Dad died that it interrupted her sleep. I’ve been in her bedroom, and it’s not that one can see the illuminated kitchen. It’s as if she can just sense it. Some disturbance in the 800-square-foot piece of domesticity that we charaded around in, searching for normalcy while missing a key ingredient. In the quiet aftermath of Dad losing his fight with leukemia, my mom’s excuse was absent. “Just turn off the light before you go to bed,” she’d scold. As if retiring to my room as a seventeen-year-old whose dad just died was actually me sleeping. Like I wasn’t awake, catatonic, wondering whywhywhy to a silent ceiling until my eyelids sunk with the weight of exhaustion, or the Benadryl I often took to put me to sleep did its gracious work.
I’ve almost always slept with my door closed. The stove light never once bothered me.
After Mom told me why, I made it into habit. Log off the computer, turn off the TV, lock the deadbolt on the front door, shut off the stove light.
Four years after my dad died, I turned twenty-one. The dark morning skies of that summer witnessed my return to my mother’s house after nights of drinking cheap booze with my best friend, barely beating the rising sun. I’d trail behind garbage trucks on their nightly routes, engulfed in the first throes of a hangover. Mom would leave the stove light on for me, bathing the otherwise black house in a soft yellow glow. Still, I’d down an icy glass of water, maybe eat a couple crackers, and flip off the light.
Now, six years after my dad’s death, I work full-time for not enough money, and live two hours’ drive from where I grew up. It’s a rare moment that my beat-up Buick finds itself in front of the house where I took my first steps, taught myself to read, and learned to parallel park that green monster. The memories of a time both before and after my father walked this place with us snap to life, floodlights illuminating cruel shadows that are often ignored. Home isn’t just sad. Home is full of laughter and pizza sauce messes and playing female-fronted video games on the living room floor. It’s Mom and me falling asleep during different parts of superhero movies and toasting mimosas and Bloody Marys on Christmas morning. Sure, there’s the memory of my mother face-down in bed, trying to silence tears the day after we were told Dad’s cancer was back—and terminal. There’s the coffee cup Mom threw at me one day while lost in a haze of grief and turmoil, shattered at the feet of a scared and stubborn teenage daughter. But, there’s also the three of us, giggling and scream-singing along to Queen’s Greatest Hits in our living room for the last time, mere days before my dad died.
Memories flicker in and out like the lights on the back of a garbage truck at four in the morning, like the accidental twinkle of a lightbulb not quite screwed in on a cheap lamp. Sometimes the soft yellow glow bounces off the walls, like the rhythmic snores I can hear from my mother’s room. They’re always there. Sometimes we flip the switch. Sometimes, someone does it for us.
Paige N Price
Paige N Price is a creative nonfiction writer in Indianapolis, Indiana. She holds a Bachelors degree in Creative Writing from Ball State University. She served as the Lead Prose Editor for The Broken Plate literary magazine from August 2017 to May 2018, and currently serves as Prose Editor for Turnpike Magazine. Her written work can be found in The Broken Plate and L'Ephemere Review. She enjoys coffee, pop-punk music, and the Irish countryside. Catch her on Twitter @nicoleyelyah