Twilight was always the best time of the day. In summer it fell late; hung suspended a full hour after dinner was over, waited patiently for the neighborhood to venture outside to enjoy it. And when the dishes were cleaned up and put away, while the fathers were leisurely perusing their evening papers and peacefully puffing on their cigars, the mothers would escape from housework for a time and come out to relax on their peeling painted front porches in the darkening light, relishing the cool breeze which would waft away the sweat of kitchen life. They would sit, two or three or maybe four of them at a time, and talk abstractedly together and watch their children play, allowing them even to stay out past dark, because their mothers were sitting right there watching them, making sure they were safe.
It was only on nights like these that she got to see the streetlights turning on, waking one by one for their night’s work. She loved that. How simple a thing each day to create, after a nearly-imperceptible sunset occurring beyond the hills around the town, this half an hour of silent electrical beauty. The lamps nestled amongst the trees would brighten first, scattering the evening that grew dimmest fastest in their natural shadows. And as dusk settled in, as if lit in roundabout succession by a dazed firefly which drifted distractedly from the trees to the sidewalk to the road, each in turn blinked tranquilly, almost naturally, into an evening of life.
Their street was lined with trees of all kinds, though she couldn’t identify any of them but the maples, which littered the gutters and sidewalks with helicopter seeds in the spring. But the unnamed foliage which merely shaded the street during the day enchanted it at night. There was one particularly magical section of road just a block up from her house, where one of the electrical light-poles was isolated from the others. In summer, when the coat of leaves arraying the occupants of the tree-belt was thick and full, it stood like a lonely sentinel earnest in its duty, casting its beam in the center of a vast shadow the other streetlights could not or would not penetrate, describing a near-perfect circle of yellowish brightness on the asphalt.
She would strap on her tag-sale roller-skates and head for that spot, telling her mother only that she wouldn’t go far, knowing that she would be hidden from view by the hedge lining the neighbor’s yard and that idiosyncratic bend in the road. She was a good child, and worthy of trust. But if her behavior was open, her thoughts were kept secret. Private dreams and imaginings were her own.
With a thrill of apprehension, she would approach that spotlit stage, pausing with trepidation in the shadows at its edge before daring to expose herself to the circle of light. Then, abruptly, it would happen; she would be drawn irresistibly into it. Skating shyly at first, in simple ovals, and, when she had gathered her nerve, daring to progress to figure eights. Wise she felt, tracing infinity with the motions of her body, wise enough even to pretend that her surface was smooth, her steps inaudible, her very presence undetectable. And when at last she had forgotten the fathers, and the mothers, and the neighbors, and was aware only of the dark, and the light, and the street, then it would come, the highlight of her performance: right leg extended in a slow perpendicular, erect in what she imagined was a perfect arabesque, maintained until her momentum bore her resolutely into the shadows. It was the only move she knew, but it was the only one she needed. For she was strong, she was beautiful, she was graceful. Even if it was only in twilight that it showed.
Then her mother’s familiar shrill tongue-whistle would sound, and she would hurry back home, the scarred rubber wheels rolling roughly and noisily across the worn asphalt, the memory of her performance still replaying itself before her eyes. She would sleep well that night.
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“Twilight” is one of the pieces featured in my autobiographical short story and essay collection Stories from My Memory-Shelf: Fiction and Essays from My Past (only $0.99 Kindle, $5.99 paperback). To learn more about it, please visit the book’s webpage or subscribe to my newsletter.