A Spare Light Bulb

by Kasey Chuang
Art by Amanda Dai
Issue: Kalopsia (Spring 2017)

When I pulled the door open, my face was bombarded with intense light. It took a few seconds for my eyes to adjust to the sheer whiteness of the grand, empty room. The walls were completely hidden behind large mirrors, creating the illusion of infinite space. Every direction I could look, I saw myself standing in the room with my gray shirt—which was decorated with stains I hadn’t bothered to wash out—and old sweatpants that I had been wearing for years. Both pieces of clothing stood out against the white marble floor and a very familiar piece of furniture.

He was sitting on his favorite white chair, holding the same newspaper that my mother had been crying over that dreadful morning. Words lay bleeding black on the front page and the newspaper was torn and crumpled, but my dad didn’t seem to notice or care. It was probably half desperation and half anger that made life burst from my feet, and in a second, I jumped in his arms. I made sure to knock that terrible newspaper out of his hands. Despite the date being smeared to the point it was unreadable, I knew the day, month, and year by heart. Just the thought made me want to crush its thin pages in my grip and tear them into pieces so small that they would somehow cease to exist. But instead I squeezed my father tightly in my arms until the thoughts slowly faded away. This wasn’t the place for those kinds of feelings.

He told me that I should be more careful, before wrapping his strong arms around me and pulling me into a hug. Although he nagged, his voice wove its way through my ears and found my sealed-off heart, allowing a small smile to escape and spread across my face. After a little while he let go and asked me how I was doing in school. It was a seemingly harmless question, a typical conversation starter, but it cut deep. As quickly as it had come, my smile left and the usual tenant took the opportunity to claim the vacated spot. I told him that things could be better, but I didn’t dare elaborate. I had learned it was much better to say nothing at all, because words were dangerous little things. Truth by itself was a deadly poison and I didn’t want my relationship with my dad to become the dying form of what was left of my connection with my mother.

I didn’t say anything else, but as if he knew everything, my dad gave me a reassuring smile, which offered me more comfort than anything else had done in the past few weeks. It gave me a spark of courage to finally address the reason I had come to see him. I felt like a child in her parent’s room after a nightmare as I asked my dad if I could stay there with him tonight. Back through the door were the backstabbers, the incessant whispers, the rage of my mother, and the strangling depression that wouldn’t let go no matter how much I kicked, screamed, and cried.

My room is too dark, Daddy, I said desperately. I’m scared of the shadows.

As soon as the words left my mouth, I regretted them. Instantly, my words drained life from my dad’s face. His cheeks sagged, wrinkles creased on his forehead, and his joyful smile fell just like the newspaper had moments before, leaving a horribly ugly look of worry.

I shouldn’t have said anything.

Abruptly, he told me that I had to leave because I didn’t belong in there with him. It was a simple statement, but he said it in a harsh tone that reminded me of my mother’s.

If my mother doesn’t want me there and you don’t want me here, where am I supposed to go? What am I supposed to do with myself? I cried out in anguish. Why can’t I stay?

Tears clawed their way out of my eyes and I felt so empty that it felt like I was collapsing from the inside. The utter whiteness of the room blinded me, as if it agreed with my dad that I didn’t belong there. As I slowly drifted away into the depths of my dark thoughts, my dad pulled on my arm gently and pointed at the mirror on the wall directly in front of us. Softly, he told me that I needed to take a good look at myself and the potential that I had. He said that I only see the shadows because I have my back to the light and my future.

I stared at the girl that stood in the mirror in front of me. She had dark circles under her eyes, her mascara was sloppy and smeared, she wore dirty black sweatpants and a gray shirt, and only memories from the past year swam in her eyes. The image repulsed me. Unable to look at her any longer, I started to turn back around to face my father, but he told me not to look back. He said the light was in front of me, and that I just had to turn it on to escape the darkness.

I shook my head violently. My light stopped working a year ago!

He told me to replace the lightbulb and that there were spare ones in the room at the end of the hall.

I didn’t want to leave, but my dad’s instructions gave me a sudden sense of purpose. It was simple and achievable—a single step up the looming mountain of problems that blocked the sun from shining down. I hugged him one last time and then got off the chair. A beautiful, pristine white door had appeared, and just like the walls, it had a large mirror across its surface. Fear gripped my arm as I reached towards the silver door handle. Out of reflex, my eyes quickly went to my dad’s reflection in the mirror for help. Sitting in his chair, he was back to reading the tattered newspaper. I wanted to call to him for some courage, but I noticed a small smile on his lips as he did what he had always loved—reading. He looked years younger and without a worry in the world. Seeing his happiness warmed my heart so much that I didn’t even care about that awful newspaper. I didn’t want to bother him anymore, so I mustered up the courage to grab the doorknob, twist it, and push.

I could hear the familiar electronic beat of that song on the car radio: the first piece of that accursed recital that was followed by the crashing, the shattering of glass, the screaming, and my wailing along with the sirens. Once again my dad disappeared. Fighting back tears, I opened my eyes to a dark ceiling. The room was pitch-black, but my eyes adjusted quickly. As clearly asI heard everything else, I remembered what my dad had told me moments before. Quickly, I pushed open the door to my room and crept out into the dark hallway, which was dimly lit by light leaking out from under the always-closed door of my mother’s study. I tiptoed by, not wanting to disturb the working monster within. Shadows lay across the hallway and harsh words, jeers, and cruel laughter started to ring in my head. Remembering my dad’s words and the simple task at hand, I took a deep breath to clear my mind and kept walking.

I came to the room at the end of the hall and slowly pushed the door open. As I stepped inside, I realized that I hadn’t been in it for a while. It seemed unfamiliar, but I recognized the closet in the very corner that possibly held spare light bulbs. I tried desperately to make no noise, but the floorboards betrayed me by letting out the smallest of groans. In panic I threw open the closet door and shuffled through some towels and soap bottles when—

“Thea?” asked a little male voice.

I froze, my hand stretching towards a box.

“What are you doing?”

I said nothing. With a small click, a soft light flowed into the room.

“Are you still afraid of the dark?”

I didn’t answer.

“Um…you can have Leo if you’re scared.”

My mind told me to ignore him, find the lightbulb and leave, but my heart faltered. Half of me didn’t want to show such a pitiful self to my brother. He was smart, he had friends that actually cared, he talked to my mother more than I did, and he was doing well considering that our dad passed away a year ago. I didn’t want to ruin his life with my problems, and it wasn’t like he could help me anyway. But the other half of me was telling me that I had to face him—not because he could magically get rid of my problems, but because he was one person who understood.

Eventually, I turned around to see my little brother sitting up in bed holding out his stuffed lion he called Leo. It was ripped in places, dirty, missing an eye, and not to mention had such a painfully uncreative name, but despite all that it was still my brother’s favorite stuffed animal. He was smiling with uncertainty, not sure how I would respond to his offer. I stared at the lion and then into his eyes, which I hadn’t done in a very long time. In their reflection lay myself and a deep sadness and pain that wasn’t mine. Before I knew it, I was hugging him. In my pain, sadness, and perhaps jealousy and bitterness, I had failed to see him in the darkness with me. His current life was the outcome of his strength to fight against the pain, which is what I needed to do too.

My brother’s body stiffened at the unfamiliar action, but a second later, he was playfully trying to push me off.

“Cooties! Cooties!” he screamed as he laughed.

“I’m your sister, stupid. We have the same cooties,” I said as I laughed out pain, desperation, anger, and sadness.

I hugged him as he half-heartedly tried to push me away, and we talked to each other more than we had in the past year. Footsteps sounded outside the doorway, but I was too happy to worry about them. We talked in the warm glow of his bedside lamp until my eyes stopped on the clock in the room that flashed 1:21 A.M.

“Okay, I need to leave now. It’s getting late.” I told him sternly as I got on my feet.

He held out the stuffed lion to me. “Do you still want Leo?”

“No, I’m okay now,” I said as I reached for the door.

“You don’t want to stay?” he asked, his voice wavering slightly and his eyes finding a sudden interest on the floor.

“I only came to look for a lightbulb. I’ll come back another time, don’t worry,” I told him as I stopped at the door, my hand on the doorknob. “I’ll be here if you need me.” Before I could open the door, he tugged on my sleeve. “You forgot the light bulb. They’re on the top shelf.”

I looked back at him and grinned slightly. “I already found one. Go back to sleep. I’ll make you breakfast in the morning.”


“Yes, I promise.”

With that, he crawled back into bed and turned off the lamp as I left. Empty-handed, I walked down the hall past the shadows that lined the walls. The study room’s door stood strangely ajar, so I peeked in as I tiptoed by. Sitting in a chair before a computer, I saw the familiar hunched form of the monster that often yelled and lashed out in rages that left countless newspapers tattered in its wake. Yet, for a split second, instead of a monster, I saw the thin figure of a woman who had been beaten down by life and in her own, though perhaps not the best, way was trying to fight back. But when I blinked the insensible monster I had grown to loathe was back.

My room was still cold and dark. Shadows stretched across the walls to trap me, but my heart glowed with the memory of my brother’s laughter. With a small skip in my step, I jumped onto my bed and eventually fell asleep in the darkness. After that night, I didn’t dream of my father.