I want to tell you a story I've always wanted to write but never tried (I’m afraid I won’t tell it properly). Perhaps if I write it here -- for you -- I’ll be able to tell this story as I hope.
This is a story about a boy named Peter. He is eight years old and lives in a large farmhouse with his mother, father, and older brother. His parents are not terribly strict, nor are they terribly affectionate. He spends much of his day following his older brother around or putting together his model airplanes. He goes to school, but it is winter vacation and so school is far from his mind. Every night before he sleeps, he takes a book (usually by Dr. Seuss) from his bedside table and reads until his mother turns off his light.
Tonight Peter has had a bath and smells like his father’s musky soap. His hair is still wet and has been combed back from his face. He is wearing the blue flannel pajamas he got for Christmas (the pants are short and end above his ankles but he likes them anyway). In his hands he holds a book called “Go, Dogs. Go!” He mouths the words because he likes the way they move his lips.
“Look at the dogs go. Go, dogs. Go!” The o’s push his lips into delicious shapes.
When his mother comes to his room, he looks up as he always does but today something is different. Today something is wrong. She stands in the doorway and doesn’t enter. Her hand lingers above the lightswitch, her fingers brushing the faceplate, and she looks at him with such open sadness he thinks he feels her fingers on his heart. His skin prickles with a cold sweat, and the flannel fabric sticks to him: too hot, too close, too much.
His hands tighten on his book and the pages fold beneath his fingertips. “Don’t turn off the light,” he begs. He says the same words every night but tonight he doesn’t ask so he can read longer. If she turns the light off tonight something bad will happen. He knows it. He feels it as surely as he feels her fingers, as surely as she fingers the switch.
“You’re growing up too quickly,” she says. “Goodnight, Peter.”
He opens his mouth to protest again, to plead with her not to turn off the light, but the room is dark before his tongue can shape the words—and instead all that comes from his lips is a whimper.
His heart is in his ears. Pounding.
But now he knows that it won’t always pound. Won’t always beat. One day it will stop. One day he will be turned off, too.
Peter sits in the dark and presses the book against his chest. He sees himself in the light.