A Well-Lit Room

By Jules Alder

About an hour short of the deadline, I sent in "A Well-Lit Room" with only one minor edit.* What follows is that story with a brief cover letter preceding it:


Dear npr and Mz. Patchett:

The following story is the product of the collaborative efforts of multiple writers of hitrecord.org. While the collaboration had one writer and editor with final style, content and execution choices, it would be unethical not to point out that this work is the sole product of many voices, and not just one. We realize that this challenges conventional media attitudes concerning authorship even in the age of Jonathon Lethem and may jeopardize our eligibility for the contest, but we also hope that you recognize the whimsical spirit generated by such collaboration. It is unlike any other. Moreover, we hope you like it. Whatever you decide, npr, thank you for being you.

* * * *

Up and out winds the threaded needle, always stopping at a point on an invisible orbit which always diminishes in turn, independent of thought. Buttons line the working table's edge in a dainty row, and the seamstress plunders them absently, without giving any back. Lace comes and goes; but, more often than not, it hangs around on hooks reflecting inconstant light.

These are the daily perceptions of a small, china dromedary, whose view from the sewing room window sill--of suggestive mirrors in a compact, west-facing room; of camera obscura daydreams on white brick walls--always denies him the sky. "Up and out, the threaded needle went," the porcelain camel figurine's memoirs will begin, "up and out and right back through the cloth again."

Such were the finite musings of a washboard whose off duty position in the corner had become perhaps too cozy, cooled less often by running water while in retirement than she was warmed by sunset, shadow, and the laziest of the dust. Yet she had been out to see the world at least, past the steepled skyline that she and the burnished armoire shared, all the way to the riverbank. In those ancient moments alone with her mistress and the demure cloth, she had listened to the earth underneath the water's breath and brought the echoes back with her for the whole room to still hear.

Every once in a while the armoire yawned open to embrace or relinquish more clothing, blotting the washboard from the mind's eye in the close quarters; every once in a while, the washboard didn't mind. This evening while the armoire stretched open her arms to take her petty, static revenge, a boy wandered in, transfixed by a wonderful sight.

"You made that for me!" he cried as the seamstress ordered him to her side.

"Your mouth was so dirty this morning, Cairn, that your tongue went and sprouted weeds," she said. "Let's see if you've cultivated a more befitting plant for the room." He would not be cautioned to put on his coat like a good boy. He could never be told the hour was too late for questions. But she held him, and the tear skimming down his cheek spoke volumes in the human silence.

Was it a trick of the light then that made the city look suddenly beautiful, that awoke a keening dog to a greater sense of self? "When was the last time," the city demanded, "that you did something for the first time? When was the last time you remembered to live?"

Compassion swept the room; the mother followed in its wake, setting her thread and needle and buttons aside and upsetting for a moment the tableau. "Let's see how you like the wings," she said as Cairn leapt and bounced and ricocheted against her, raising his arms and lifting his chin for his mother to slip the fabric over his head and down to his feet. He squirmed and arched his back to make his new appendages settle in between his thin shoulder blades, and she knelt down to hug and smooth his new pajamas into place.

"Tonight I'll dream of thirsty oceans that want to drink me up!" His mother nodded, encouraging him. "I'll meet monsters who want to eat me before we've even said, 'Hello!'" At this, his mother laughed. "I'll see the boys from school who make me cross the gym during recess, and they'll throw things at me and grab me and throw me into a pile of darkness. But this time," Cairn smiled, "I'll be able to fly!"

* * * * * * * * * *

*A detailed explanation can be given for this if need be, but I'd rather not bore anyone with it unless they ask for it :)

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A Well-Lit Room

Created: Apr 11, 2010

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