In your house, the lights turn on and off in different directions. Some switches flip up to turn on, others flip down to turn on. There’s a bank of five switches in the living room: to turn on the lamp by the couch, the lights in the ceiling, the spotlight in the display case, the fixture above the table, and the hall light. Although the switches point in different directions, there is a logic to them. They create a map of the lights in the room. I didn’t realize this until much later.
Before you start up the stairs to the first floor, you can switch on the hall light upstairs. And when you get to the first floor, you can switch off the hall light on the ground floor. Light switches guide you through the house. One on, the next off, so that you’re never standing in the dark. We’ve never met in darkness.
There was this year when we had thirty straight days of rain in November, and we never saw the sun. Or the moon. Afterwards, you climbed the roof and installed a ten-meter pole with a globe lamp attached to it. It hangs above your little garden, and sometimes you go out to look at it in the middle of the night.
On those nights, the neighbourhood seems unusually quiet, and the outline of my window becomes a picture frame.
We are sitting outside, even though the chairs are damp. I wrap the blanket around me a little tighter.
“Good thing is, there are two more minutes of daylight every day,” I say.
“Oh! What is that, like the length of time it takes to make a sandwich?”
I think for a moment. “Or brush your teeth,” I say.
“It’s just long enough to look around and smile,” you say.
With your hands in your pockets, you’re doing just that.
“What are you so smiley about?” I ask.
You shrug. “I’m having a good hair day.”
“That is something to be happy about.”
“And it’s almost your birthday,” you say.
By then, we could be surrounded by snow. The night sky will take on a purple hue, and the city will come to a standstill. On your birthday, the tulips were out. It was warm enough to ride your bike without a jacket.
Tonight, there are two moons. One is full. The other is not. One temporarily hides behind a cloud. The other remains radiant. We stay here just long enough to see one moon float past the other.
One always knows where the other is in the house. Your bedroom’s on the second floor, but I can hear you cough when I sit with a cup of tea in the living room. You hear me on the phone with my sister. You ask me later how she’s doing.
At first I searched for a lock on the bathroom door, but realized there is none because you can always tell if there’s someone inside by the light coming through the frosted glass.
It’s like living in a house without walls. I think of you standing in the grass and remember we have met once in the dark. Once, when I blindly flicked switches and plunged us into darkness momentarily. In the dark, you were an afterimage burned on my retina, and you seemed doubled, as I saw you a split-second later in the light.
“I’ve been noticing time go by really fast lately,” I say.
“But there’s plenty of it,” you reply.
“Yeah, I forget that sometimes.”
We’re sitting outside. You’ve recently put out the garden furniture again. The soil seems ready to grow things.
On most mornings, I look at a weather cam image from back home. There is a new photo every fifteen minutes until the sun goes down. At sundown, it is the middle of rush hour. Headlights line the bridge. It is the last photo of the previous day and the image I often wake up to because of the time difference. And so it seems that yesterday stretches into today. That night stretches into day. That the lights dotting the horizon there continue to burn as the sun scales the sky here.
I imagine someone like you, climbing the roof to clean the lens on a fine spring day.
You glance at your watch. “Like there’s still a hundred and eighty minutes left of today – give or take.”
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen you wear a watch.”
“It’s new. See how useful it is? It even lights up.” You hold up your wrist.
“Nice. I’m a fan of anything that makes life easier. Life is hard, don’t you think?”
You look at me sideways. “Only a little.”
“I knew you’d say that.”
You are walking around in a T-shirt like it’s the middle of summer.
“Well, I guess you’re on easy street when your birthday’s tomorrow.”
“Tomorrow? That’s still ages away.”
“And what are you going to do with all that time?”
“Oh, I dunno… Whip up a gourmet meal. Alphabetize my books. Maybe dye my hair a fun colour.”
I laugh. “I guess the possibilities are endless.”
The morning is slightly overcast. I count one, two, three patches of blue sky. The day is just about to begin.
“Is there something you really want but don’t have yet?” I ask.
You are leaning against the railing, looking out across the water. Your T-shirt flaps in the wind.
“I’d say there are things that I look forward to, like travelling and owning a farm… Having a family… Being old.”
“Yeah, like all the life experiences I would have. All that wisdom.”
When you turn your face, your voice almost disappears in the sound of the engine. It’s been almost half an hour since we left the harbor.
“Do you feel like you’re getting wiser?” I ask.
“I wish I could feel it on a day-to-day basis, but sometimes, it hits you suddenly. Like I’ll look back and see that I’ve changed a lot.” You scratch your shoulder. “You?”
“I realize how unwise I actually am, and it’s like I was just too naïve to notice before.” I wiggle my toes in my shoes. “I’ve never looked forward to being old.”
The wind has turned your hair into a cloud above your head.
“Like imagine being seventy-seven, and realizing that this might be the last time you’re here in this very spot. It’s been really fun but also exhausting, and you don’t think you’ll have the energy for it – ever again. And I’m talking about the conscious understanding of that because lots of things could be your last time without you knowing it.” I press my eyes with my palms. They burn.
We left in the semi-darkness to make it to the ferry on time. You unlocked the car, and your door slammed shut before mine. The sky grew bright over the mountains as we drove. Even at that early hour, it was noticeably cooler in the shade than in the light. The windows on both sides were open.
“What would you say if you knew this was the last conversation we were ever going to have?” I ask.
“That’s a tough one.” You rest your chin on your hand.
Last night, you wanted to stay up until the sun came up. You suggested it like it was the best idea you’d ever had.
“Maybe we would just reminisce about the old times,” you say.
“Like a summary of all the important things?” I quickly try to think of all the important things. “I guess it would be too late for anything new.”
The patches of blue sky are slowly shifting, and the forecast for rain seems to be fading.
“I just hate that feeling of knowing that something is your last time,” I say.
“There need to be endings so that new things can start.”
“I’m trying to sort through all my junk.” I pull on my hood. “I started having this funny feeling that I’m blind to my surroundings. Like if I think about what’s under my bed, I have no idea.”
“I can relate to that.”
I turn towards you. “It makes your whole space smaller, don’t you think?”
“But I like it, going through old boxes and being surprised. It’s like finding something you forgot you lost.” Your voice is as bright as your eyes.
“Or like being a fish who thinks he’s swimming in an endless ocean, when really, his memory resets every time he makes the next round in the tank.”
“Is that sad or lucky?”
“I think it’s both.” I bend down and grab a granola bar from my backpack. I took too long in the shower this morning and only had time for a small breakfast. Half-awake, I felt like I was standing in a lagoon under a pounding waterfall. I might have heard birds.
“Do you want a snack?” I ask.
I take a bite.
“Sometimes I’m tempted to throw everything away without going through any of it,” you say. “To just set it all out on the curb. Wouldn’t that feel good?”
You would break a sweat carrying all your stuff up the driveway. I imagine you coming home in the evening to find it all gone. I think about my drafts of letters, maps people have drawn me, lists, clippings, ticket stubs – all making my drawers difficult to open.
“I probably wouldn’t miss most of it since I only look at it when I’m cleaning,” I say. “But oh, I don’t think I could ever just get rid of it all.”
“Just in case?”
“Just in case.”
The ocean is nearly the same colour until the horizon. We might see whales.
“So what about you? What do you want?” you ask.
“I’ve been thinking about that, and I can’t come up with anything.”
“I mean, how can you know you want something if you’ve never had it before?” I wave my granola bar around for emphasis. “So maybe I want more of what I already have. Like I want my good friends to become better friends. Keep working on my own stuff. Keep travelling. Go farther. And have new things come out of that.” I shrug.
“So it means you’re happy with what you have. That’s good,” you say. “But I think we often want what we’ve never had before. Probably a gift and a curse at the same time.”
“Sometimes I feel too easily influenced. Like I just want what the cool kids have.”
“I think we’re all susceptible to that. Weren’t you one of the cool kids in school?”
“Are you kidding?” I frown. “I was a goody two-shoes.”
You try to hide a smile. “I think you probably just wanted to do your best.”
“When I was little, I had to look perfect before I left the house. Like my braids had to be smooth and even, my shirt had to be tucked in just right, and my socks had to be pulled up properly.”
You laugh. “I just got a mental image of a little you standing in front of the mirror.”
When I look at old photos of myself, I feel like I haven’t changed as much as my sister has. Sometimes I like that. Sometimes I don’t.
“What happened if everything wasn’t perfect?” you ask.
“It would be a bad start to the day and I’d feel uncomfortable.” My scarf unfurls in the wind. “I bet your socks didn’t even match.”
“I won’t deny it. Maybe a shirt without a button.”
“And look at you now, a free spirit,” I say.
“And what are you?”
“That’s a good question.”
The sun appears like the moon through the clouds. I look at it directly. “After a while, I realized that getting ready made me really anxious, so I started having ‘imperfect days’ where I’d just throw on my clothes and comb my hair really fast,” I say.
“And did you feel better after that?”
“It bothered me at first, but I eventually got used to it and I did feel better, so I started having more imperfect days until all my days were that way.”
You lean back and put your hands in your pockets. You look at the ground. “You know, there’s only one of you so you’re fine the way you are.”
“Chaplin once won third prize in a Charlie-Chaplin look-alike contest.”
You shake your head. “Poor guy.”
It occurs to me that I’m only minorly happy that we didn’t stay up all night.
“When we were talking about getting old, I forgot to say that I hope I know you for a really long time,” I say.
“Maybe there will be so many fun times we won’t be able to remember them all.”
“I’ll help you remember,” you say.
I watch a propeller at the top of the ferry turn steadily. I point to it. “What is that?”
“Radar. To detect other boats and objects in the water.”
“Oh! And to signal its own location, I guess.”
“Yeah. Seeing is to be seen,” you say. The sky behind it is blue.
The sun breaks through the clouds, and the ferry casts a shadow on the water. It ripples over the surface in cobalt blue. On the deck, there are two small figures. I wave and the silhouette waves back. As I continue to watch, I get the impression that the shadow is actually a vessel underwater, travelling at the same speed as us. On board, its two passengers are also pointing, wondering – marveling at an entirely different world to theirs.
My sister has a small projector that shines constellations around her room. She got it as a birthday present, and I always wanted one of my own. The stars turn slowly, and it’s as if the earth has somehow speeded up. It came with a book that explained the star systems, and we used to study it carefully with a flashlight.
My sister is very good at recognizing constellations in the night sky, whereas I am not. In the real sky, there are so many more stars than were projected on her ceiling.
Back at the house, there are still fewer visible stars. It never really gets dark in the city. I wonder if my sister still has that projector. I’ve gotten you one for your birthday.
When you turn it on, the universe shrinks to the size of your bedroom. All four seasons pass in one evening. On sleepless nights, it seems that the earth is turning faster, that day will come sooner, and you, just another star among millions, are floating towards the sun.
“I think I may have chosen the wrong day to do this,” you say. There is only one tree in the yard and you are sitting in it, untangling a string of Christmas lights. The wind has been picking up steadily in the last hour, and you are bobbing up and down on a branch as if you were moored to a buoy. I slide the door closed behind me as I step outside. Your hair whips in the breeze.
“Maybe you should come down before you get seasick,” I say.
“Almost… Got it!” you say, as the last few lights unravel. You secure the end to the tree, and I hold the ladder as you climb down.
“Wait, we can’t go in until we see the fruits of my labour,” you say. You pick up the plug and hold it to the socket. “Ready?”
“Unleash the magic!” I say.
The lights only illuminate the bottom half of the tree and burn against the blue-gray sky. Your face lights up. Clouds skim the sky.
“I think today was the perfect day to hang them,” I say.
The lights sway to and fro, open, upwards, ready to catch whatever may tumble down towards us.
Originally from Vancouver, Emi Kodama is a visual artist who has been living in Ghent, Belgium since 2008. She has an MFA from the Frank Mohr Institute in Groningen (NL). Her first collection of short stories and drawings “If I Were You” was published by MER. Paper Kunsthalle in 2012.
Photo by Neil Bryan