I didn’t say anything to my husband about the light in Brett’s window at first. I thought it was a reflection or my imagination. Why would Brett’s lamp be lit when he’d been gone for two years? Just in case, when I returned from walking our old mutt Stanley that night, I walked upstairs to our son’s bedroom on the empty second floor. Sure enough, it was dark and cold as a tomb. However, the next two nights when I took Stanley out to do his business, there was that damn light, taunting me through the cowboy curtains I picked out for Brett when he was five. But when I trekked upstairs to a chilly room smelling of stale Axe deodorant and weed, the lamp was off.
I confronted my husband in his easy chair in front of the eleven o’clock news, where he sat, night after night, after a long day of being retired. “Very funny, but that’s enough. And it’s kind of cruel.”
“What are you on about, Lola?” Bud didn’t look away from the screen, where the weather gal was getting excited about our first winter storm.
I stood in front of the television, blocking Bud’s view. “I’m talking about turning on the light in Brett’s room every night while I’m walking Stanley and then turning it off before I come in.”
“That’s a ridiculous accusation,” he said. I didn’t believe him. He denied it and denied it and we both went to bed angry. Bud grabbed his CPAP machine like a drowning man.
The electrician, a smart-aleck younger than Brett, was equally unsympathetic. He examined the fixture, a plain flush mount ceiling light with a glass dome. “There’s no short, no loose wiring, Mrs. Mindo. Perfect working order. You turn the switch on, light comes on; you turn it off, light goes off.” He demonstrated this several times, like I was an idiot, and charged me ninety dollars.
Bud agreed to walk with me and Stanley, to see for himself, if that would keep me quiet. Stanley and Bud don’t get along, ever since Bud called him the world’s ugliest dog after I brought him home from the shelter. Stanley does look like someone put him together from a kit of mismatched parts, but I’m on his side. We stick together.
The predicted storm had arrived on schedule, dumping three inches of wet snow, and coating the sidewalks with ice. Our brick Tudor-style house looked forlorn and gloomy, except for that warm glow in the upstairs window. I tried to conceal my triumph, but I felt vindicated, since I don’t win too many arguments with Bud, who used to be an engineer and is good with facts and numbers.
We tramped up to Brett’s room, Stanley bringing up the rear, where it was Bud’s turn to gloat when the overhead light was still on.
“You sneaked upstairs to turn it on before we left, just to prove you were right, but you couldn’t figure out a way to sneak back in ahead of me,” he said.
“Bud, it was off when we left the house, we checked it together, and I swear I didn’t turn it on.”
“Then who did?” Bud looked around at the sad wreck of our son’s room, as if searching for the culprit in the broken bed and sagging mattress, the gouges Brett had put in the wall in his knife-throwing phase, the strange symbols and diagrams he’d drawn on the pale blue paint with permanent markers, the burns in the carpet, the piles of mysterious junk in the corners. I kept meaning to clean up in here, maybe make it into a sewing room, but I couldn’t seem to find the time. Only Brett’s model rockets, so painstakingly assembled and placed on their shelves, sleek and white, had escaped destruction. Once we thought he might be an engineer, like his father.
“Some problems have no solution,” Bud said and stomped down the stairs and back to his TV. When Bud comes up against something he can’t explain, he just moves on. Life’s too short, he says, I don’t wallow.
I didn’t mean to tell my hairdresser Louise about what I was going through, but it popped out in one of those relaxing, intimate moments when she had my hair all sudsed up and was rubbing my scalp with her hard fingers.
“I’ll bet it’s a message, these things usually are,” she said. “Has anyone close to you died recently?”
I jerked and almost sat upright, but she held me down. “Let me get you rinsed, honey.”
All I could think was Brett, Brett, Brett, what if Brett were dead? Would anyone call us from that alternative living community he’d gone to in Montana? I only knew he was there because his friend Petey, a sweet kid, took pity on us and told us against Brett’s wishes.
I called Petey, begging him to tell me how to get in touch with Brett. He told me the community didn’t believe in twentieth century technology, but he might be able to reach out in another way. He wouldn’t tell me anything else, like I was the enemy. Meanwhile, here’s Petey making his parents proud: a wife, a good job with State Farm, a nice house. It just makes me mad sometimes.
I talked to the light that night, standing out in the street, the snow falling softly, “Brett, if this is a message from you, tell me what you need, I’m listening.”
Brett called a week later on the land line, while I was making spaghetti.
“Mom, I just wanted you to know I’m okay. More than okay.”
I couldn’t believe I was hearing his voice. The words clogged in my throat because there was so much I wanted to say. He sounded breathless, excited, like he had when he was a little boy, running in to show me some new discovery, a wiggling worm, or a blue feather.
“Brett is dead,” he went on. “I spent four days alone, without food or water, and I had a vision of what I could be. We call it an illumination.” He paused, and said, “I want you to know my new name is Pluto.”
“Oh, Brett,” I said. “Isn’t that funny? That’s the name of that cute little beagle puppy you had when you were four, the one that got run over by the mail truck. You named it yourself, you were so proud of knowing all the planets.”
“Pluto is no longer a planet, Mom,” he said. “Look it up.” We were both silent then. I could hear him breathing and I just wanted to listen to that sound, over all those miles of stony ground and cold, dark woods.
“I’ve got to go. You’d better get that light fixed; it might cause a fire.”
“Brett, don’t go yet, I have so much to tell you…” But he’d already hung up.
The light’s still on and I’ll keep replacing that bulb until I have no breath left.
Bonnie Brewer-Kraus grew up in Ann Arbor, Michigan and attended an alternative college in Florida, before getting a Bachelor of Architecture at Kent State and moving to Cleveland Heights. As an architect, she worked on recreational and municipal projects, including a fire station, which gave her a behind-the-scenes peek at the secret lives of firemen and women. Although an avid reader and closet writer since childhood, it is only in the last few years that she has tackled the discipline and craft of writing through classes at Lit Cleveland. She loves taking a journey with a story and never knowing where she’ll end up.