by Céline Poulin-Lape
This is it. It’s dark enough to wake the yellowish light which is rising as a sick sun on a rainy morning. Like a big, dead, stripped tree, the electric pole’s hungry light watches the gloomy street that leads to the parish cemetery. Its lamp is aiming at the fire hydrant as if to interrogate a spy. It’s a long walk up to the cemetery. It’s not the pallor of the light that is torturing the street; it is its indifference.
From time to time, dogs on a leash walking their masters stop there to relieve themselves. From her kitchen window, Elizabeth witnesses, every night at the same time, another kind of animal who relieves himself, not on the hydrant, but in the bushes; a jackal feeding on a little girl’s curiosity.
A few houses down, a mighty cedar hedge stands guard over the shelter that houses the Beast. The Beast, who had always watched and some day would come. It would show up at the end of the hedge, darker than night, to take away the little girl who is playing by herself in the sand in a confined fenced yard.
It’s a recurrent nightmare. Emerging from the cedars, the Beast progresses on the sidewalk toward her house, not running, but growing larger at each step. It seems so light for a gorilla. But the child always wakes before it’s too late.
Actually, there was a real Beast on that street. Not a gorilla. Just a patient monster waiting for the right moment.
Five years later, the pale light, which could never tell the unspeakable stories of that street, was still automatically lighting between dusk and dawn. Every night, the light was the signal for Elizabeth to go back home. It was her Mom’s rule; to come back before the darkness triggers the city lights.
Hurry, Elizabeth, before all the cats become gray. You don’t have the fenced yard any more to keep away the animals.
It is at that time that the Beast revealed itself. Elizabeth did not recognize him for what he was. Most of the time he was wearing a plaid shirt, jeans and a cowboy hat. Always smiling, he was almost whispering instead of talking, like he was scared to speak aloud his dark soul. And he loved children. So much. He never had a child of his own, he would never. God forbid. However, he could treat and “spoil” the neighbors’ children, starting by his wife’s sister who was living with them.
His porcine eyes would not reflect the daylight; they absorbed it like a black hole. To look directly in his eyes was like diving into an abyss. His eyes and his smile were tentacles, pulling you toward the darkness. I remember, I felt uncomfortable, just by looking into his eyes. Now, I know it was shame. I was ashamed for him. He looked so much like he was hiding something.
His eyes did not dart about and he spoke slowly, like as if he was living in a sluggish dimension. Today, I understand. He was delaying his answer or speech to think about his past or future lie, thinking about the answer he should give. It was a vicious slowness. A mean one, miserly.
However, how generous he was with all the children, generous of his affection and gifts. The Beast in him was luring all of the neighborhood children. He raised chickens, had a little pony, a swing that could toss more than one child with him. He was quite creative, inventing a new trick each week or bringing a new attraction or God knows what else.
He also had a little caravan where he used to meet with his friend, the Wolf. The Beast had a stepdaughter and the Wolf, a preteen sister. So they sharpened their claws and teeth at home, in the vacuum of their family, until they felt they could expand their hunting predatory activities on the public place, in the full light of the day.
Everybody knew, more or less, that something was wrong, but nobody would speak. This was a time when many families were hiding a Beast in their homes, in their neighborhood, in the parish. They could not point to the other families’ beasts since they were covering for their own predators. The community thread was holding tight that secret.
Elizabeth’s mother suspected something off. She forbade Elizabeth to go there to play with the Beast’s stepdaughter. But it was no good. Elizabeth was lonely and had no other friends. One day, the Mom confronted the Beast and requested that he would not welcome Elizabeth into his house, or else. But this hunter was viciously clever. He threatened to denounce her husband to the local painter’s union. Elizabeth’s dad had a painting side job under the table to make the ends meet, but he was not educated enough to pass the exam to get a license.
Nothing had changed in five years. The paralyzing light pole was still aiming at the black hole. But now, it was Beauty who was going to the Beast. Elizabeth was ready to pay the price to be pampered by the animal. But she did not know that it would be a loan for life.
When she visited her friend, the Beast started to drool even before the street light turns on. He was anticipating that moment, when he would walk her outside, but lock himself with her in the covered porch. During a few minutes, she was staring at the pole light to distance herself from a proximity that she could not understand. It was a silent agreement. She would endure a few minutes, would not talk, so she could come back to play with her friends and get all the monster’s goodies.
The worst was when the full moon was hatching just over the eternal city light pole. The moon and the light over-shadowed the Wolf and the Beast, perfectly aligned for a break in. They could not wait anymore. And it finally happened. Not in the caravan, but in the Beast’s basement, where a pole was holding the first floor structure and a weak bulb was barely creating shadows. That’s where the new attraction was, a homemade swing, just two ropes holding an old wood plank. Elizabeth went for it. Both the Beast and the Wolf greeted her.
There was so little blood for such an infinite stabbing of a soul. The soul who could not scream, the soul who could not fight back, even 40 years later. The soul who is still terrorized by the memory of the smile of the Beast who was waiting for her every day after school in his living room’s window, showing too much of himself.
Forty years later, she does not live in that city anymore. But the Beast does. She still does not have the strength to drag the Beast and the Wolf through the legal mud. There were other children like her. But Elizabeth believes they would not come out with her to expose the whole story in day light. Because they still live there and would have to deal with years of disbeliefs and rejections. She would be alone again, under the dead light, her silent witness.
Three hundred miles away, four decades later, my husband and I bought a townhouse. In a preppy community. Sure enough, there is an electric pole just at the end of our driveway. As for the hydrant, it’s not under the light anymore. It’s across the street.
So the light is not watching the hydrant anymore, it’s watching my house. It’s begging me, every night, to tell Elizabeth’s story. Tonight, the full moon is aligned with the light pole. The light seems closer to my house. I hear you Elizabeth. Your dream is to put the Beast in its grave and bury his dead soul with the black light.
The Beast died during a winter moonless night. Looking through the window, a second before his black soul was carried down into the monstrous obscurity by the demoniac shadows he has served all his life, his last word was “Sun”. What he saw before he goes was not the sun but the city pole light.
Is that light coming closer to our house? Did it follow me?
May be it did and will be always, everywhere, until somebody sees it for what it is and breaks the silence of the dead light.
You are free my sis.