Thursday, July 29, 2010

A Light Upstairs

A lot of people who live in my area go to bed early. I know this because I drive home from work in the dark every night, and I see a lot of dark houses. They could be empty, I suppose, but I don't think we have that many weekenders—or at least not that many weekenders who don't put their house lights on a timer.

If I'm very tired, the dark houses have a certain appeal . . . I envision everyone asleep, no one needing to do anything or be anywhere. They're all in what my mother called "Bunkyland." They went to Bunkyland, and I've got my foot on the gas pedal and my hands on the wheel. My eyes strain to see deer at the edges of the dark, winding road.

The occasional house is all lit up. I'm convinced these are happy homes. Nothing bad can happen in all that golden light. Don't tell me the lights are on because someone's being chased through the house with a baseball bat. I just know the family members are moving from room to room, offering food to one another, sharing a joke, perhaps singing a song. These are the Irish and Italian families I idealized in my youth, the ones who spent all their time with their arms draped over each other's shoulders, singing, laughing, and eating. That was my made-up version of a perfect life: singing, laughing, and eating. I guess it still is.

But the houses I'm most drawn to on my late drive home are the ones with a single light upstairs. Only one person is still awake, and he or she will soon turn off the light. Once again, it's the yellow light that pulls me in; blue lights from TV screens don't count.

Although the shades are drawn, I can tell you what those rooms look like. They are sparsely furnished, with very little in the way of decoration, but they invite sleep. A braided oval rug lies at the side of the bed. The bedclothes are always white, and the beds are always soft. The occupant may be reading in bed, or seated at a small desk, perhaps writing a letter in the fashion of Rebecca de Winter, but at night, and in far more modest surroundings.

As I get closer to home, the percentage of dark houses rises. The hour is later, of course, but also I am surrounded by farmers who get up very early in the morning. For a while I was leaving my house dark as well, using a flashlight to walk from the car to the porch and into the house. I was unwilling to face the receiving line of moths that always show up this time of year in the presence of light. But after a home invasion took place on my road last month, I've been leaving both porch lights on plus a lamp in the living room.

One of these nights, when I've closed things up and only my bedside lamp is lit, I'm going to slip down the stairs and out the door. I'll navigate the porch steps, pass the old well and the flower beds, and walk out to the road. From my position in front of the house I'll look up at the yellow glow of my bedroom window with its drawn shade and tell myself the light is mine to do with as I wish. What I will probably wish is to turn it off and go to sleep.

My sheets aren't white, by the way. But my bed is soft.

11 comments:

mm said...

I love the idea of noisy Italian or Irish families, too. I had one friend growing up who was the youngest child in a noisy Italian family. I loved being at her house, but I like the idea of the Irish family better. An Irish accent is just so damn sexy. I wonder if Irish people find Irish accents sexy. It would explain all those little Irish kids.

Susan said...

LOL Yes, I think you've nailed it, MM (so to speak).

Helen said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Helen said...

What a dreamy post Susan... (except the part about the home invasion, which was a jarring shock).

Susan said...

Thanks, Helen. Yeah, I was thinking I probably should have left that part out. It was a jarring shock to everyone on this road--especially the 90-year-old woman whose home was invaded.

Mali said...

Lovely lovely post. That yellow light is the best thing about winter - I can see the lights across the valley and imagine the warm cosiness inside.

I wrote about it here.

Indigo Bunting said...

This post makes me feel really, really good. Which probably means now is the best time to get to work. While I'm happy.

Dona said...

This was beautiful, Susan. When I was a child and my parents were driving home at night I'd look at houses with lights and think about the folks who lived in them.

The Cookbook Junkie said...

I have to admit that when I walk in the evening, after the darkness sets in, I'm always trying to sneak a peek into people's windows when I see a light on. I guess I'm nosey but I'd like to think I'm just interested in how other people live. I saw a woman ironing in the middle of her living room the other night. My mom used to do that. I haven't ironed since I bought a clothes steamer off of HSN a couple of years ago.

crystal said...

Rebecca de Winter - one of the few audio books I own.

When I was growing up with my grandma (Scotch-Irish Presbyterian) we looked askance at the Irish and Italian families because they were Catholics. Now I am one - eek! :) I did have the idea though that they were not as emotionally stunted as my waspy family.

Amanda said...

Beautiful, comfortable words.

As for singing, laughing and eating...yes, that is bliss, isn't it?