ISSN 1556-4975

OffCourse Literary Journal

A journal for poetry, criticism, reviews, stories and essays published by Ricardo and Isabel Nirenberg since 1998


"The Streetlight," a story by Lea Peterson


She kept walking through her shivers. She walked aimlessly, meandering through familiar blocks with a little, barking dog that wasn’t even hers, and a fall coat even though it was the beginning of January. She should have grabbed that flannel when he told her to. Damn.

In the past two years they had walked the five blocks between their houses what felt like millions of times. That first night, hazy from smoke and starlight, neither one of them could have know that the path they were walking would become the most important journey of their adolescence.

They had set out in chilly November weather, and the world seemed peaceful. Everything was quiet, and by 12:30 at night, all of suburbia was tucked safely beneath the covers with late night TVs flickering on sleep timers in the background. The stretch of civilization ahead of them had seemed like an entire world in which they were the only inhabitants. Every streetlight was illuminating a little patch of sidewalk just to ensure their safe passage. A perfect line of light. Well, almost perfect. There was one bulb that was out, and as they walked in a cozy silence below it, it meekly popped on. “That streetlight bulb has been going out forever. It always flickers at night. You’d think it would’ve died by now,” she had said, looking at all the other lights that shone constantly, never blinking.

“I think it’s on a motion sensor,” he replied.

She laughed out loud at the thought and took no hesitation in telling him that his idea was stupid. He argued, and she defended her side, more eloquently and intelligently, as would become tradition. Their friendship solidified as the nights passed, and every time they stepped under that streetlight, they bickered about its mechanics. As weeks turned into months, which felt like years, the bulb became a constant topic of conversation. They argued with the comfort and ease of two long-time lovers, neither one ever conceding to the other. He insisted it was on a motion sensor, and she knew that it was simply a near-dead bulb. The realist versus the idealist. Pragmatism versus optimism. She was practical. He liked to dream big. Somehow, it had always worked.

The sound of a car horn swiftly brought her back to reality. So far from that first walk, she felt the pain in her chest return. She realized that she had gravitated towards his house, as if by instinct, and she swung open the eternally unlocked front door. She put Gracie in her crate, not even bothering to take her leash off, and walked down the hall with its stained carpet comfortable under her bare feet. She heard a familiar blend of noise coming from behind his door, and she found it unbelievable, yet not at all surprising, that he had friends over. She walked into the room and looked around. “Hey guys, can you excuse us for a second? Thanks.” They all filed out and headed towards the basement while she threw her coat on the ground and slowly swiveled down into his desk chair.

What happened then was an exhausting battle of insults, fright, and tears. Paintings were crumpled, books were thrown, and drawings were ripped. The most vulnerable, the most loving, the most antagonistic words they had ever uttered flew around his tiny room, bouncing off black lights and punk rock posters. It was exhasuting, and when the end finally came, neither one of them had the strength to actually end it. In the silence that remained she looked around at everything in his bedroom. The old computer she had given him for his last birthday. The canvas that they had painted together the week before. The shelf that he had put up after her pile of clothes and books got too high to sit on the floor last summer. The last thing left to look at was the wall directly behind her. She turned around and saw what she had known was there but was afraid to look at. It was a snapple wrapper, ripped off the bottle, and turned over to the blank white side. She had written all over it in big red marker as they had sat on his floor doing homework the spring before. “I will leave a mark on everything in your room.” She remembered watching him struggle over his geometry worksheet that day, slowly falling in love with him as she scribbled that sentence. Their eyes were looking at the same wrapper, pinned up on the wall, and he whispered, “You did. You left a mark on everything.” His whisper sounded like a scream in her mind, and her whole face hurt from holding back tears. She grabbed her bag and coat, and she rushed out of that room, that house, into the cold air waiting outside. Then she was alone.

For the first time she stood at the corner and faced that black ocean of pavement without anyone by her side. The calm of suburbia seemed to mock her on this night as she walked home, freezing and sobbing, missing the familiar smell of Old Spice and cigarette smoke floating next to her. She thought she could see his empty footprints in the sidewalk next to her, but it was just asphalt. She strained her ears, desperately hoping to hear the sound of wheels rolling over pavement behind her, telling her that he had changed his mind and he was coming to take her home, but it was just silence. That overgrown, dirty, white house on the corner was not her home anymore. Through blurred eyes she looked ahead struggling to see her own house, but all she saw was one spot of darkness a block away where the yellow fluorescence of streetlights suddenly became blackness. There was no smell of cologne, no sound of a skateboard, just her feet slapping the asphalt and a dark spot ahead. As she reached the spot, she was suddenly illuminated by a dusty spot light. The streetlight had turned on … as if operated by a motion sensor.



Lea Peterson tells us: I just graduated from Chase Collegiate preparatory high school. I received a Gold Medal, a Silver Medal, and 2 Honorable Mentions in the Scholastic Arts and Writing Awards & won the English Award at my school, and I will be studying theatre and music at Skidmore College this coming fall. I am primarily a singer and an actress.

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