Read Nightlight Online

Authors: The Harvard Lampoon


BOOK: Nightlight
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The first volume of the
Harvard Lampoon
appeared in February, 1876. Written by seven undergraduates and modeled on
, the British humor magazine, the debut issue took the Harvard campus by storm. U.S. President Ulysses S. Grant was advised not to read the magazine, as he would be too much “in stitches” to run the government.














windowsill where my bare, pallid arm dangled shamelessly. My mom and I were both going to the airport, but only I had a ticket waiting for me, and that ticket was one-way.

I had a dejected, brooding expression on my face, and I could tell from the reflection in the window that it was also an intriguing expression. It seemed out of place, coming from a girl in a sleeveless, lacy top and bell-bottom jeans (stars on the back pockets). But I was that kind of girl—out of place. Then I shifted from that place on the dashboard to a normal position in the seat. Much better.

I was exiling myself from my mom’s home in Phoenix to my dad’s home in Switchblade. As a self-exiled exile, I would know the pain of Diaspora and the pleasure of imposing it, callously disregarding my own pleas to say one last good-bye
to the potted fungus I was cultivating. I had to coarsen my skin if I was going to be a refugee in Switchblade, a town in northwest Oregon that no one knows about. Don’t try to look it up on a map—it’s not
enough for
to care about. And don’t even think about looking me up on that map—apparently, I’m not important enough either.

“Belle,” my mom pouted in the terminal. I felt a pang of guilt, leaving her to fend for herself in this huge, friendless airport. But, as the pediatrician said, I couldn’t let her separation anxiety prevent me from getting out of the house for eight or so years.

I got down on my knees and held her hands. “Belle is only going to be gone for
the rest of high school
, okay? You’re going to have a lot of fun with Bill, right Bill?”

Bill nodded. He was my new stepdad and the only other person available to take care of her while I was gone. I can’t say I trusted him, but he was cheaper than a sitter.

I straightened up and crossed my arms. It was time to cut the crap. “The emergency numbers are above the phone in the kitchen,” I told him. “If she gets hurt, skip the first two—they’re your cell phone and Domino’s. I’ve cooked enough meals to last you both the first month if you split one-third of a Stouffer’s Lasagna a day.”

My mom smiled at the thought of lasagna.

“You don’t have to go, Belle,” said Bill. “Sure, my street-hockey team is going on tour, but only around the neighborhood. There’s plenty of space in the car for you, your mom and me to live.”

“It’s no big deal. I want to go. I want to leave all of my friends and the sunlight for a small, rainy town. Making you happy makes me happy.”

“Please stay—who will pay the bills when you leave?”

I could hear my boarding number being called. “I bet Bill can run faster than Mom to the nice Jamba Juice man!”

“I am the fastest!” my mom shouted. As they ran off, Bill pulling her shirt to get ahead, I slowly backed away into the gate, through the jet bridge, and onto the plane. None of us were very good at saying good-bye. For some reason, it always came out good-BUH.

I was nervous about reuniting with my dad. He could be distant. Twenty-seven years of being the only window-wiper in Switchblade had forced him to distance himself from others by at least a windowpane. I recall my mom breaking down crying on the sofa after one of their rows and him just watching her stoically, right outside the window, wiping in powerful, circular motions.

When I saw him waiting for me outside the terminal, I walked towards him shyly, tripping over a toddler and soaring into a keychain display. Embarrassed, I straightened up and fell down the escalator, somersaulting over the roller luggage inconsiderately placed on the left side. I get my lack of coordination from my dad, who always used to push me down when I was learning how to walk.

“Are you all right?” my dad laughed, steadying me as I
got off. “That’s my clumsy old Belle!” he added, pointing to another girl.

“It’s me! I’m your Belle,” I cried, covering my face with my hair like I normally wear it.

“Oh! Hello! It’s good to see you, Belle.” He gave me a firm, gripping hug.

“It’s good to see you, too,
How strange it felt to use that moniker. At home in Phoenix, I called him Jim and my mom called him Dad.

“You’ve grown so big—I didn’t recognize you without the umbilical cord, I suppose.”

Had it really been that long? Had I really not seen my dad since I was thirteen and going through my pet umbilical cord phase? I realized we had a lot of catching up to do.

I hadn’t brought all of my clothes from Phoenix, so I only had twelve bags. My dad and I took them in shifts to his Viper.

“Before you start making jabs about me being divorced, middle-aged, and going through a midlife crisis,” he said as we put on our seat belts, ankle straps, and helmets, “allow me to explain that I
a very aerodynamic car as a window-wiper. My customers are judgmental people—if I don’t drag race to those windows, they’re going to question whether I’m the right kind of guy to hang off of their roofs. Push that button, hon—it raises the giant snake head.”

I hoped he wasn’t thinking of driving me to school in that car. Every other kid probably rode a donkey.

“I got you your own car,” my dad said, after I counted
down and said “blast off!” He started the car after turning the key in the ignition several times.

“What kind of car?” My Dad really loved me, so I was pretty sure it was an airplane-car.

“A truck car. A U-HAUL, to be exact. I got it pretty cheap. Free, to be exact.”

“Where did you get it from?” I asked, hoping he wouldn’t say the dump.

“The street.”

Phew. “Who sold it to you?”

“Don’t worry about it. It’s a gift.”

I couldn’t believe it. A huge truck to store all of the bottle caps I’ve always wanted to start collecting.

I turned my attention to the window, which was reflecting a flushed, pleased expression. Beyond that the rain poured hard on the green town of Switchblade. The too green town. In Phoenix, the only green things are traffic lights and alien flesh. Here, nature was green.

The house was a two-story Tudor, cream with chocolate timbering, like a miniature éclair that makes you fat for days. It was almost completely blocked from view by my truck, which had a large graphic on the side of a lumberjack sawing a tree, with “U-HAUL” written above.

“The truck is beautiful.” I breathed. I exhaled. Then I breathed again. “Beautiful.”

“I’m glad you like it, because it’s all yours.”

I looked at my huge, unwieldy truck and pictured it in the school parking lot surrounded by flashy sports cars. Then
I pictured it eating those other cars. I could not stop smiling.

I knew my dad would insist on carrying my twelve bags into the house all by himself, so I ran ahead to my room. It looked familiar. Four walls and a ceiling, just like my old room in Phoenix! Leave it to my dad to find little ways to make me feel at home.

One nice thing about my dad is, as an old person, his hearing isn’t too great. So when I closed the door to my room, unpacked, cried uncontrollably, slammed the door, and threw my clothes around my room in a fit of dejected rage, he didn’t notice. It was a relief to let some of my steam out, but I wasn’t ready to let all of it out yet. That would come later, when my dad was asleep and I was lying awake thinking about how ordinary kids my age are. If only one of them were extraordinary, then I’d be rid of this insomnia.

I picked at my breakfast the next morning. The only cereal dad had in his cupboard was fish flakes. After getting dressed, I looked in the mirror. Staring back was a sallow-cheeked girl with long, dark hair, pale skin and dark eyes. Just kidding! That would be so scary. Staring back was me. I quickly combed my hair and picked up my backpack, sighing as I shimmied up the rope into my U-HAUL. I hoped there wouldn’t be any vampires at this school.

In the school parking lot, I parked my truck in the only place it would fit: the principal’s space and the vice principal’s
space. Besides my truck, the only other car that stood out was a racecar with antennas stuck all over the top.
What kind of a human would drive such a posh vehicle?
I wondered as I walked through the heavy front doors. Not any kind of human I’d ever met.

A red-haired woman sat at the desk in the administration office. “What can I do for you?” she asked, eyeing me through her spectacles, trying to judge me by my looks. As a deeply mysterious person, however, I defy such judgments. She was pale, like me, but in a large, obese way.

“You don’t recognize me—I’m new here,” I said strategically. The last thing the mayor needed right now was for the window-wiper’s daughter to be kidnapped. But sure enough, she kept looking at me. My fame had preceded me.

“And what can I do for you?” she repeated.

I knew that she probably only wanted to help me because I was the window-wiper’s daughter, the girl everyone had been talking about since my plane got in yesterday. And I knew what they must say about me: “Belle Goose: queen, warrior, chapter-book reader.” I cleverly decided to play into their preconception.

“Salut! Comment allez-vous s’il vous plait … Oh, I’m sorry. How embarrassing. I took French at my old high school in Phoenix—sometimes I just slip into it. Anyway, to put it in English, can you direct me to my next class?”

“Sure. Let’s take a look at your schedule …”

I pulled it from my bag and released it into her pallid, chubby fingers, one of which was squeezed through a
diamond ring like a sausage through a slipknot. I smiled at her. She looked like she would make a grateful wife.

“It looks like your first class is English.”

“But I’ve already taken English. A few semesters of it, actually.”

“Don’t be smart with me, young lady.”

So, she knew I was smart. Flattered, I conceded.

“You know what?” I said. “I’ll go. What the heck, right?”

“Down the hall to your right,” she told me. “Room 201.”

“Thank you,” I said. It wasn’t even noon yet, and I’d already made a friend. Was I some kind of people-magnet? Granted, she was a middle-aged woman, but that made sense. My mom always told me I was mature for my age, especially because I
the taste of coffee with hot chocolate and sugar and milk. I sauntered maturely over to Room 201, flung open the door and peered at the students with my chin out. The whole class could tell I was friends with older people.

The teacher scanned his attendance list. “And you must be … Belle Goose.”

All of this attention was getting a little embarrassing.

“Take a seat,” he said.

Unfortunately, the class was too basic to hold my interest:
Ulysses, Gravity’s Rainbow, Oblivion
, and
Atlas Shrugged
, supplemented with the various lenses of Derrida, Foucault, Freud, Dr. Phil, Dr. Dre, and Dr. Seuss. I groaned loudly as the teacher droned on, introducing everyone’s name. I’d have to ask my mom to send me some interesting literature, like those essays I wrote last year.

When the bell rang, the boy next to me predictably turned to me and started talking.

“Excuse me,” he said, hoping I would fall in love with him or something. “Your bag is in my way.”

I knew it. He was totally the “your-bag-is-in-my-way” type.

“My name is Belle,” I said. I wondered which was the more surprising part about me—my elbows, which are naturally pointy, or my demeanor, which is apathetic to popularity, even though I’ve read all the popularity handbooks so I could be popular if I tried.” You can walk me to my next class.”

BOOK: Nightlight
3.17Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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