"The Loneliness of Light" by Katie Vickers

It was raining the day they moved in. The neighbors secretly watched from their windows, thinking that hiding behind the flowery curtains of the living room was more tactful than standing out on the front lawn and shamelessly inspecting the new neighbors.

Lydia Holmes sprang from the station wagon and stood in the rain, letting it soak into her clothes and frizz out her short curly hair. "Come on, kids. Get out. Take a look around." Her thin lips parted, exposing her crooked front teeth, and she smiled at her three children.

"Mom, it's raining. Why don't you get your umbrella?" Helena, the oldest daughter, said as she emerged from the car and opened her own umbrella. She disgustedly inspected the tiny water droplets that sprinkled her faded yellow Sex Pistols shirt. "We should've just stayed in a motel tonight. Moved in tomorrow morning."

Lydia sighed and studied her daughter's face. "I really wish you'd get rid of that nose ring. You're such a pretty girl. And your hair . . . "

"I like my hair," Helena said, running her fingers through her bright red bob.

Lydia continued as thought Helena had never spoken. "Oscar, remember how pretty Helena's hair was when she was a child? Blonde, like mine, but thick and straight, like yours."

"German princess, we called her," Oscar said as he went to the back of the station wagon and unlocked the trunk. "We'll just haul in the essentials tonight. Come on, kids. Grab a box and a suitcase. We'll have to bring in a few things out of the U-Haul too." Oscar adjusted the horn-rimmed glasses that sat upon his small, beaklike nose, then pulled the hood of his raincoat down further over his face.

Olivia jumped out of the backseat and skipped to her father, her purple raincoat engulfing her jittery nine-year-old frame. "Daddy, can we let Melody out of her pet carrier yet?"

Oscar sighed and strained as he lifted a crate out of the trunk. "Just bring him in inside the carrier."

"It's a her!" Olivia said.

"Well, leave her in there for right now," Oscar said as he handed two suitcases to Helena. "Tell your brother to bring her carrier out of the car."

Olivia bounded around to the open car door, her Raggedy Ann doll dangling from one hand. She opened her mouth to speak, but Lucas emerged from the car, an umbrella in one hand and the pet carrier in the other.

"I've got it, Olivia," he spoke in a deep husky voice. He struggled to open the umbrella with one hand, but he finally managed and held it over his head, shielding his pale lanky body from the rain.

The Holmes family filed up the front walkway to the door loaded down with boxes and suitcases. Lucas glanced at the house next door and thought he saw a woman at one of the windows, but as he locked eyes with her, she disappeared and the green curtain fell back into place.

Lydia sat down the brown suitcase she was holding on the shabby welcome mat that sat in front of the white door. She fumbled around in her purse for the key, the rest of the family waiting patiently behind her, their arms full of boxes and suitcases.

Melody let out a disgruntled meow as Lucas plunked her cage down on the porch. He ran his fingers over the faded, chipping gray exterior of his new home. His thumb caught on a loose piece of gray paint, and he peeled it off, leaving a long strip of beige wood peeking out. He examined the strip of dried paint for a moment before letting it slip between his open fingers and flutter to a resting place beside the pet carrier.

"Here they are," Lydia said smiling at Helena, then her husband as she held up the house key for everyone to see. She slid it into the brass lock and seconds later the front door swung open, and Lydia stepped inside, the rest of the family following her.

Each step the Holmes family made resonated through the dark empty house. Tiny drops of rain dripped off the hems of their clothes and fell to the floor, making a soft pit-pat noise. Lucas looked to his left and saw a tall mahogany staircase, which seemed to be leading up to a black hole.

"Don't sit all of that stuff down right inside the door," Oscar said sternly, as the three kids attempted to unload their arms. "Just wait a minute. Check the labels and see where each box goes. Put it down in the right room."

Helena glanced down at the two boxes she was holding. "Kitchen," she announced. Lydia motioned to the second door on the right, and Helena disappeared behind the door.

"I think these are both mine," Lydia said, looking down at the suitcases. "Did anyone get the bag that had all the bathroom things in it?" When no one spoke immediately, she wandered off to the second door on the right.

"Someone will have to go back out and get it," Oscar said.

"This is all my stuff," Olivia said.

"Well, go upstairs and pick one out," Oscar said, as he started off toward the kitchen. Olivia bounced up the stairs, her small suitcase banging into her leg as she hopped up each step.

Lucas remained motionless just inside the doorway, the rain still beating down behind him, Melody meowing from the pet carrier that he held in his left hand. No one had given him any orders, and he suddenly began to feel crowded, pressed, closed in, although nothing was in the space except his own body. Lucas closed his eyes momentarily, then opened them again.

He sat the pet carrier down at the bottom of the staircase, then bent down and unlatched the door of the carrier. Melody hissed, bit Lucas on the thumb, and shot up the stairs, her thick paws thumping against the wood.

Lucas rubbed his wounded thumb with his index finger for a moment before resting his hand on the smooth stair railing. After several seconds, he finally placed his left foot on the first step, and began climbing the stairs.

Olivia had turned on the upstairs hall light, so the staircase was no longer leading to a black hole, but instead to a dingy white halllway. He stepped gingerly onto the second-floor landing and could hear his little sister giggling in one of the rooms. There were two doors to his left, three to his right, and one narrow door at the very end of the hall.

Olivia's head popped out of the last door on the left. "This room is the biggest, but I don't want it. I want the one over by the bathroom. Melody and I already picked it out."

"I want the biggest room," Helena said, appearing behind Lucas.

Lucas looked back and forth between his sisters before shrugging his shoulders. "That's fine. I don't care."

Olivia pointed to the last door on the right. "That one's the smallest."

Lucas nodded slowly. "I guess I'll take this one," he motioned to the first door on the left.

The next hour and half consisted of hauling in more boxes and suitcases and unloading them. The "essentials" turned out to be over half of their belongings. The rain had on slacked up slightly, but Lucas and Oscar were doused with rain by the time the last box made it inside.

Olivia wasted no time in turning her room into a princess haven. Within twenty minutes, she had lined her porcelain dolls along the sill of the two windows in her room, and strategically placed her other toys in various corners around the room.

"Daddy!" Olivia yelled down the stairs. "Come and nail up my pictures!"

Oscar appeared at the bottom of the stairs. "Oh, honey, I've got ten thousand things to do right now."

"Daddy! I won't sleep good unless my pictures are in order!" Olivia's face turned a shade of red that matched Raggedy Ann's yarn hair. "You know that!"

Lucas, who was in his room, heard his father call his name. He pulled his hands out of a box, crossed the room, and peered down stairway at his father. "Yeah?"

"I'm bringing up the hammer. I want you to nail your sister's pictures on her walls." Oscar walked toward the kitchen.

Lucas looked across the hall at his sister, who was standing in the doorway of her own room. She made eye contact with him for a moment, then fixed her eyes upon the staircase, her face still red from her outburst.

Oscar climbed the stairs and plopped a hammer and a few nails into Lucas's hands. He turned to look at Olivia, and he smiled at her, patted her on the head, and descended the stairs without a word.

Lucas looked down at the hammer and nails, then up at Olivia. She had her arms folded across her chest. He sighed and walked into Olivia's room. "Which ones do you want to hang up?"

Olivia had regained her composure, and she threw her Raggedy Ann doll on the floor. "I want the big one to go right over my bed, and the two smallest ones on either side of it, just like my old room." She picked up a large picture of a unicorn and placed it on her bed.

Lucas climbed onto the bed and placed the picture against the wall. "Right here?"

"Higher," Olivia commanded.

Lucas lifted the picture up a bit, then glanced down at his younger sister.


Lucas moved it lower, and after he got a satisfied nod from Olivia, he began hammering a nail into the wall. He continued this same routine with Olivia until all seven of her pictures were on the wall in their correct spaces.

"That one's a bit crooked, Lucas," she said, pointing to a portrait of a dove.

Lucas straightened the slightly askew painting, then looked back at Olivia. "Am I done? Do you need anything else, your majesty?"

"Don't talk to me like that!" Olivia shouted. "I'll tell Mom on you!"

"Tell away," Lucas muttered as he brushed past his sister and walked back into his room.

Lucas shut the door to his room quietly and turned his attention back to unpacking his own belongings. His room in the old house had been very cold and bland; the walls had been a drab gray color, left completely blank except for a small collage of comic book super heroes that he kept beside his bed. His bedspread had been the color of eggshells, and the floor was covered with bristly black carpet. The only two windows had been small round stained-glass windows on either side of his bed. Only a minimal amount of sunlight came in, and the stained glass brought the room its only color.

This room was strikingly different. Lydia had decided that the move to the new house should be celebrated with the buying of new things. Lucas barely remembered following his mother around the home furnishings warehouse while she picked out things she thought would "make his new room warm and cozy." Lucas sat down on his bed and brushed one hand over the quilted blue fabric of his bedspread. The blue paint on the walls matched the spread, and Lydia had thought the blue made the room pleasant and inviting. To Lucas, it felt cold and dark, as uninviting as the bottom of the ocean.

He glanced out the window and saw that it had stopped raining. Even though the sky was still overcast, the light streaming in from the three tall windows made Lucas throw a hand over his brow and squint his eyes. He got up and shut the curtains, and he listened to the echo his shoes made on the brown hardwood floor.

The clock on his night stand read 5:45. Lydia would be up soon telling him that it was time for dinner. He wanted to crawl into bed and sleep until she came to get him, but he decided to finish unpacking one more box instead. He sat a box marked "Lucas: Personals" on the bed and ripped the duct tape off the top. His super hero collage was right on top, and he tacked it up on the wall to the left of his night stand. A stack of science fiction paperbacks were next, and since Lucas didn't have a bookshelf up yet, he stacked them up next to his closet door.

The last thing in the box was an eight by ten picture frame. He lifted it slowly out of the box and sat down on the bed next to the box, turning the picture over in his hands. It was an old family portrait that Lydia has insisted on getting after Olivia had been born. Oscar and Lydia sat in the middle balancing a tiny Olivia on the edge of their laps. Helena stood to the right of Oscar, her blonde hair in pigtails, her smile revealing two missing teeth. Lucas stood to the left of Lydia wearing an uncomfortable smile and an even more uncomfortable-looking suit and tie. Lucas looked at the face of another boy standing behind his parents, peering through the space in between Lydia and Oscar. He was an older boy, sixteen or seventeen perhaps. His dark hair was parted on the side and slicked down with gel and hair spray. His lips were curved slightly up in the faintest of smiles. His face was long but pudgy, much like Lucas's own face looked now. And he did look happy. Of course he looked happy. This picture was taken before. Before.

"You all settled in, honey?" Lydia's voice startled Lucas so much that he jumped, knocking the cardboard box off the bed. He sat the picture on his night stand and quickly rose to his feet.

"Yeah, Mom," he said, hunching his shoulders a bit and sliding a hand into the pocket of his jeans.

"Helena and I are making turkey sandwiches," Lydia said as she stepped into the room. "Do you want ketchup or mustard or anything?"

"Mayonnaise," Lucas answered, although he was concentrating more on hiding the family picture from his mother.

"We don't have any mayonnaise," she answered back, bending down to glance over the superhero collage.

"Mustard's fine," Lucas answered. His hands felt moist as Lydia's eyes roamed closer to the picture.

"Okay," Lydia started for the door, then turned around abruptly. "Want kind of chips do you want? Barbecue or. . .what's this?"

Lucas closed his eyes for a moment as his mother rested an unsteady hand on the top of the picture frame. He watched her as she turned it around and glared down at the picture.

Lucas's voice was high and shaky. "It's um--"

"I know what it is, Lucas," Lydia cut him off, now taking the picture into both hands and staring down at it with frigid eyes, her lips set in a thin hard line. "Where'd you get it?"

"I-I found it when we were cleaning out the old house, and I just thought--"

"Get rid of it." Lydia's grip tightened around the frame, and the picture vibrated slightly as her hands began to shake more. "You know how your father and I feel about this. . .that situation. Just put this away. I don't want to look at it."

"But, Mom, what harm is it gonna--"

"Get rid of it, Lucas!" Lydia slammed the picture onto the floor. The glass cracked and scattered into the cracks and underneath Lucas's bed.

"Mom?" Olivia's questioning voice drifted from across the hall.

"It's all right, sweetheart," Lydia's voice sounded so sweet and caring that Lucas almost believed it. "I just dropped something." As the last syllable left her mouth, Lydia's lips sank down into a frown, and she stared into the eyes of her son. "That's no longer a part of us. I don't want it staring me in the face, reminding me. Put it away."

Lucas didn't move until he heard her tennis shoes hit the first floor. Then, he took one step away from the picture and heard a piece of glass crunch beneath his shoe. He lifted his foot up gingerly and placed it down where there wasn't any glass.

The faces from the family portrait stared up at Lucas, their faces cracked and distorted from the broken shards of glass. Their smiles, once comforting, now seemed freakish and grotesque as the glass magnified certain features. He reached down and lifted the picture frame off the floor being careful not to touch any glass. After sitting the portrait on the nightstand, he opened the drawer and put his fingers back on the edges of the picture. Lucas silently slid the smiling Holmes family, now cracked, now shattered, into the drawer and closed it silently.

Lucas moved to his bedroom door and flipped the light switch off. He walked toward the staircase, closing his door behind him.