Tuesday, December 8, 2015

The Light

“Shit, I stubbed my toe again,” Megan said to her husband Tom.
“You and that bed corner are not friends,” said Tom teasing her.
“I know, it’s just… hey, look, it’s that light again.”
“What light?”
“That light in that building across the park. Look, it’s flashing again.”
Tom peered into the dark night at the apartment building across the darkened park between their buildings. “I still don’t see it, babe. I think you’re just making it up at this point,” and he went back to staring at his laptop screen at his desk, continue working.
“I’m not! I swear I am not making this up, Tom. Wait… look! Look now!”
Tom slowly pulled his attention away from his work and looked back across the darkness. “Which window is it? I don’t see it.”
“There! There! It’s like four floors down from the top of the building. Don’t you see it? It’s so bright and flashes randomly. Look!”
“Oh, yeah, there it is. What is that?”
“I have no idea.”
“I honestly thought you were making it up and kept it going as a joke at this point.”
“Did you really think I would keep going for three weeks about a light in a building as a joke? It’s not even funny.”
“True. It’s not funny, but it is strange. Look at that… wait, where’d it go?”
“I dunno. It’s just like that. It goes on and off for a while, and then just goes off. Sometimes it’s on for a few minutes and then off for a long time, and sometimes it only waits a few seconds before starting again.”
“Is there some kind of pattern?”
“I was thinking maybe it was Morse Code or something but I can’t figure out what, if anything. It really just seems random.”
“You’re kinda random, babe.”
“Oh, shut up, you.” Megan said as she playfully hit Tom on the arm.

Tom went back to the work waiting for him on his side of the laptop screen and Megan started to walk out of the room, but took one last look at the building across the way just to see if that light started up again. It didn’t, so she left Tom to his diligent typing on his laptop.

Megan had been thinking about this light for the last few weeks. Ever since she first noticed it she felt drawn to understanding what was its source and why it blinked in the seemingly random way that it did. It was so unpredictable she couldn’t seem to guess when it would be on or off. It had a life of its own. In someone else’s apartment, across the darkened park, there was a light with its own sensibilities. Thinking about the light as if it was alive was a curious thing for the very reasonable and realistic Megan to think. Most of the time, she enjoyed coming up with ideas for why things that didn’t have any obvious explanation were the way they were but this had her stumped. She couldn’t even decide on a single reason why it would work the way it did. Was there a short? Then it wouldn’t be going on for so long. It would blow itself out at some point, and she had noticed it for weeks now. Every night, just going on and off of its own accord.

Maybe it was Morse Code? But it wasn’t any pattern she recognized and she had spent a good portion of the summer after third grade teaching herself Morse Code. That spring she had a memorable ninth birthday party where the lights went out during a spring lightening storm, and received a pair of gray walkie talkies with the Morse Code patterns printed on the front.

Megan decided to leave it alone and consider what to do tomorrow. A full three weeks later, and countless nights staring out the window, Tom finally says, “Megan. Please! Go to the building’s lobby and just ask the doorman who lives there. You have to stop talking about this and doing nothing about it.”
“But I don’t even know which apartment I’d be asking about. And this is ridiculous. I mean, why would a doorman tell a complete stranger anything about someone’s apartment. Even if he could figure out which one I meant.” Megan retorted.
“Listen, which floor is it?” Tom asked.
“Well, let me see. If I count up from the bottom and start with the second floor as the first that looks like it has apartments on it, then it’s… three, four, five… seven. It’s the seventh floor.”
“Okay, so go ask about the seventh floor apartment on the corner.”
“Oh, but Tom! There are probably a bunch of apartments, and maybe four corner units. How am I going to know which one to ask about?”
“Which corner is it?”
“Um, well, this is north,” Megan says pointing to her right while still looking intently at the building across the park. “So it’s got to be the north… north east corner.”
“Go ask the doorman about the north east corner apartment on the seventh floor.”
“Tom, now be serious. If they even have a doorman, he’s going to think I’m some kind of creepy stalker.”
“Megan, you hardly look like a creepy stalker. You’re a lovely, girl from Minneapolis. Lovely girls from the midwest aren’t stalkers.”
“So says you.”
“Look, go give it a try one afternoon. What do you have to lose?”
“I suppose you’re right. I could ask. I won’t be any less ‘in the know’ than I am now.”
“Good. Now stop staring out that window.”

Megan gave a vaguely affirmative answer in the form of a low “hmmm” and walked away, clearly still thinking over how to go about asking for more information about the mysterious apartment light.

A few days later, Megan found herself working from home, staring at the ceiling, contemplating a work problem that needed to be solved via email when she’d really rather pick up the phone and tell the other person where to shove his idea for her new marketing campaign. When suddenly the phone rang, and without checking Caller ID first, she carelessly clicked on the phone and said, “Hello?”
“Good afternoon, may I speak to the owner of the home?”
Immediately she mentally recoiled from the voice on the other end of the line and regretted answering. Considering if she should just hang up while the man’s lightly Indian-accented English tumbled around in her mind and listening to a dissonant chorus of background voices in the room from where the call initiated, something told her to entertain this, so she responded, “What are you selling?”
“Ma’am, I’m calling from Central Solar Panel and I’d like to speak with the owner of your home.”
“Well, that’s me, but I don’t see how you can help me. I live in a big apartment building, so there’s no sense in trying to sell me solar panels for my roof.”
“May I inform you that today is your lucky day. For only…” and as he proceeded to read from his script, clearly ignoring the blatant fact that he wasn’t going to make a sale, Megan’s mind wandered from the point when he said it was her lucky day. Maybe this was a sign. Maybe today is lucky and she should finally walk over to that building across the park and see what she could find out.
The man on the other end of the line was still reading his script, “...so for only two-fifty a month…”
“Let me stop you there. Unless you’re expecting to install solar panels on top of the 23rd floor of this building, after getting management, board, and city approval you’re wasting your time with me.” at which point she pushed the Off button on her phone and set it back in its cradle.

Megan promptly walked toward the front door of her apartment, bent down to grab her shoes and put them on -- a habit she picked up from her year abroad while living in Seoul. Taking her shoes off when she came home. The thing she missed most from Seoul, besides the street food and night markets, was the heated floors. Nothing made you instantly feel cozy and home like warm socked feet in the winter.

She lifted her purse from its hook, removed her keys from her purse, opened and closed the door while swiveling into the hallway, and then locked it. As she was striding down the hallway toward the elevators, she started thinking confidently about what she would say to introduce herself to the doorman and considered what things he might say so she would be ready with something in response.

Once in the lobby of her own building, she scanned it quickly to see if there was anyone she recognized. Oddly, the two doormen were both outside helping with packages and a wheelchair, while the rest of the lobby was empty except for the Super and a resident she didn’t know well talking in the corner near the entrance to the maintenance break room. Usually the lobby was buzzing with conversations and people coming and going at this time of day. She shrugged it off and continued out the front revolving door and headed to the left toward the street.

The building in question was only a block away, so in less than five minutes she was walking up to the entrance of the mystery apartment. Standing outside the entrance was a middle aged man smoking a cigarette, wearing a black jacket and matching black pants. She breezed past him, eyes on the door, when he casually said with the gravely voice of a man who has spent most of his life smoking cigarettes, “Can I help you, dear?”
Startled, Megan turned around to face him, waved some stray smoke away from her face, and responded, “Yes. No. I mean, yes. Wait. Who are you?”
“I’m Stan, the doorman,” he replied while pointing to the name badge on his slightly faded black jacket. “And who might you be?” he asked while squinting up at her. His salt and pepper hair highlighted by the sunlight streaming through the tree he was leaning against.
“I’m. I. I just had a question about one of the apartments.”
“Well, there’s a broker who takes care of showing apartments that are available.”
“Oh, no. I’m not interested in buying an apartment. I have a ques… I live up the road on Milford Avenue. Right on the corner of Main Street. I actually, maybe you can help me. I have a question about one of the apartments. There’s one on the corner of the seventh floor. It’s the one on the northeast corner.”
“Well I can’t tell you anything about the people who live here. Like I said, there’s a broker who…”
“No, sorry,” she said as she cut him off. “I really just want to know what’s going on with the lights in that apartment.”
“The lights?”
“Yes, the lights. Specifically lights that face toward the park at night.”
“What exactly do you mean, dear?” he said suspiciously as he leaned closer toward her.
“Well, you see. Look, I know this sounds crazy, but,” she said as she took a deep breath to help collect her thoughts. “But, I live in that building across the park from this one. My apartment faces the park and there are some nights when there is a bright light coming from the apartment on the seventh floor and it blinks.”
“Yes, it blinks. It seems random. I can’t tell if it’s random or not, really. And I’ve been seeing it for months now. All the lights are on in the apartment at night, but there’s this one, closest to the window, that blinks. It’s... I’m just really curious what kind of light it is and who lives there. Like, what kind of person has a light pointed toward outside, going off throughout the night but not turn it off? It seems like a very strong, exposed light bulb or a bright flashlight. Not like a lamp. Do you… do you have any idea about that?”
“About the light?”
“Nope. Can’t say I do.”
“Hmmm… that’s what I figured.” she said dejectedly as she started to turn to walk away. Just before she completed a turn, she heard, “But I could take a guess.”
Megan turned to face Stan and looked directly at him with the expectation of someone about to learn a secret truth.
“If I had to guess, I’d say that was the Crimsby apartment. An older couple. Keep to themselves. Mrs. Crimsby isn’t particularly tidy and might just not notice that a light fell and there could be a short.”
“She should be careful, you know. It’s not safe to have a dodgy light laying on the carpet like that. Could start a fire.” he said, and for emphasis, blew his exhaled smoke directly at Megan.
“I see. Yes. I hadn’t thought of that. I suppose that’s not safe. Are you sure she’s alright? Maybe you could check up on her?”
“I’ll see what I can do. But Mrs. Crimsby, she keeps to herself, like I said. She doesn’t much like people interfering with her home. But I’ll mention it.” said in the least interested but still reassuring way possible.
“Thanks.” she paused to look at her hand, and then away to watch a car turn the corner in front of where they were standing. “Do you… never mind. Thanks. Thank you for your help. I guess I have my mystery solved.”
“Suppose you do, Miss.”
“Well, thanks again. I’ll be going.” she said as she started to take a step back to walk away, and she noticed Stan took the lit butt out of his mouth and threw it to the ground just by his foot and as he began to swivel his toes over the cigarette, she turned to walk away. Quickly turning back once more, she caught his eyes and noticed they were an ashy gray. Dark under his doorman’s cap. More like a shadow than eyes. She gave half a smile and continued to walk home.

Feeling strange about her encounter but also satisfied she had an explanation for what she’d been watching, she picked up her stride as she crossed the street and reached her hand in her back pocket for her cell phone. Flipping it open and mindlessly using her thumb to press the digits for Tom’s number at work, she put the phone to her ear and strained to hear the ringing as a dump truck drove past her in the opposite direction on busy Main Street.

Faintly able to make out Tom’s voice and the ringing stopped, she said too loudly, “Tom? Are you there? It’s me.”
“Yes, I can hear you.” she heard as she paused from walking and moved to the edge of the sidewalk to let a young mother pushing a pram to pass by.
“Tom, I found out what that light is.”
“Did you finally go to investigate? Did you get into the apartment?”
“Nooo. I met the doorman and he knew whose apartment it is and said it must be a lamp that fell over and has a short, so that’s why it blinks.”
“But why doesn’t anyone fix it? And why just leave it on the floor like that?”
“You know, I’m not sure. I..” she trailed off as she heard an ambulance approaching. “Hang on, Tom. There’s an ambulance.” The siren was getting louder, so Megan waited for it to come by and pass. As the ambulance made its way down Main Street it swiftly stopped at the corner of the apartment building she just left. Feeling strange about this, Megan held the phone closer to her ear and said quickly, “Tom. I gotta go. I’ll call you right back.”

Sensing something pulling her, she decided to walk back toward the apartment building to see what was happening.

Walking quickly, she passed in front of the parked ambulance and jogged the rest of the short way across the street and on to the entrance. She scanned the front area to see if she could find Stan, but he wasn’t outside. There were a number of residents waiting by the front door, while the EMTs were already through the doors with the wheeled gurney. Realizing she had no reason to be there except as a nosey bystander, she succumbed to her curiosity and approached one of the others standing by her.
“Excuse me,” she said in her most polite and half loud voice.
One of the older women turned to her and smiled.
“Excuse me, I was just here a little while ago talking to the doorman. Do you know who the ambulance is here for?”
“Might be one of the older residents. We have an ambulance come pretty often since there are a number of elderly folks here.”
“I see.” she said and then stammered, “Do you happen to know where Stan is? I was just talking with him and I…”
The woman’s expression turned a little flat and her color seemed to drain from her face, she cut off Megan and asked, “Dear, did you say you were just talking with someone named Stan?”
In reaction to the change in the woman’s demeanor, Megan frowned and quickly sucked some air into her mouth and cautiously said, “Yes. The doorman. Stan. I was just talking with him a few minutes about about a Mrs…”
The woman leaned in and lowered her voice, “Dear. That’s not possible. I’ve lived here for 25 years. Stan Crimsby hasn’t been a doorman for ten years. Are you sure you spoke to a Stan?”
“Yes,” Megan said while feeling less and less sure of herself, hesitating she continued, “His name was Stan. I saw it on a name badge on his black uniform.”
“Well, I can tell you they haven’t had black uniforms for a few years now,” the woman said as she pointed to a man nearby in a long blue jacket. “They wear these doorman jackets now. The blue ones. And they don’t have their names on badges anymore, either.”
“I don’t know what to say. I… I just…” and as she stammered to continue, the woman leaned toward her and gently touched her arm while looking at the entrance doors opening up.
The woman covered her mouth with her other hand in surprise and quietly said to Megan, “Miss, that’s Mrs. Crimsby. She used to be married to Stan. He’s been passed away these ten years.”
“Oh, I hope she’s alri… Wait. What? He’s dead? Then how did I…” Megan could barely get the words out with the swift realization that this woman was suggesting she’d been talking to a ghost.
“Dear, I don’t know what you saw, but that’s Mrs. Crimsby right there going into the ambulance and her husband, Stan, who used to be a doorman here, has been dead for ten years.”
“Oh.” Megan said in a quiet shaky voice. She took a step backward and moved her arm away from the woman’s hand. “I... I don’t know what to say, but I should go.” she said while watching the EMTs close the doors of the ambulance. “Thank you.” she said almost as a question.

The woman took a step toward Megan and leaned forward as if to impart a secret, “I don’t know what you saw either, but if you did see Stan. I hope he’s watching over her.” pointing to the ambulance pulling away. “She’s been sick for a long time, and never right since he died. Maybe if she finally passes, they can be together. That would be nice.” she said with a weak smile, looking up at Megan.

“I guess that would be nice. I hope she’s alright, either way.” Megan looked away, and then as if struck by a forgotten memory, turned back and said, “I don’t know why, but I feel like I should thank you. So, thank you.”
“That’s alright, dear. You have yourself a good day.”
“Thanks. You, too.” she said and turned around to leave. After taking a few steps, toward the curb, she quickly turned around and noticed the woman wasn’t there anymore. Most of the residents were filing into the front entrance.

After crossing the street, and finding her stride, she took a few deep breaths and fingered her phone to call Tom. She kept her hand wrapped around her phone, unsure what to say and not sure what just happened. Not only was the mystery about the light solved, but a new mystery was opened. Feeling unsettled, Megan decided that this was a mystery she didn’t need an answer to. There are some things better left alone.

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