seven | article | stories | .

waiting for the light to turn
posted on 27-Dec-1999 by mr. stein
"E.," my mother said looking down at me. "Mom's going to close her eyes. Tell me when the light turns green, OK?"

I looked up at the traffic light, its red-glow circle inside a black silhouette square. It was bright and red, and we were stopped behind several other cars. "OK." I mumbled, trying to count the cars in front of me. One, two, three. A couple of cars, I said to myself, remembering to distinguish between two and three, between 'a few' and 'a couple.' 'A few' is two, I told myself, inventing information from some uncertain rime. So 'a couple' has to be more than two because there wouldn't be two words for the same thing. "A few is two," I remembered telling my mother when she put me down for a nap.

"No, a few's not just two," she had said. "It can be more, usually at least three. A couple is two." Now I remember, I thought in simple clarity. She had said that I must take a nap for a few hours, and I had said, "Oh good, just two." But 'a couple' is two, I remembered, 'a few' can be more than two. And I thought about the number two in my mind, the big colored block letters above the school blackboard. OneTwoThreeFourFive. I'm only four years old ("But I'll be five in December," I would anxiously inform my five-year-old friends.) and the number '4' is red. Why's that? I suddenly asked myself. Just because the number '4' is like the color red, I suppose; I don't know why. I can't get past the number four, I mused in sadness. It feels like I'll be four forever. Four forever, Four Ever; four for ever.

There were a few cars in front of us, also waiting for the light to turn green. I wondered when we would get in front of these three cars. I thought that if we ever got in the front of the line, we would be right beneath the red light, and when the light turned green we could just go and be in front, not stopping. But now we were still behind a few cars, and we had been at this light when it turned green the first time. It's just that this summer, I thought, sometimes the light turns green and you can't go through it because there are too many cars waiting. I guessed that sort of thing happens all the time, not just summertime. My mother said that summertime is all year here. She likes it, but Papa doesn't; My mother said its like her home, but Papa always replied that he wants snow. He's told me about snow: its cold--almost like ice. I noticed that it's what they sing about at Christmas; a 'White Christmas.' If we move like Papa says I'll finally get to see a white Christmas, maybe before I turn five. I had decided that I couldn't wait.

I turned around and began to count the cars that lined up behind me; I couldn't see beyond six, so I stopped and sat down again. The light's not green yet, and I'm bored. I didn't want to wait for the light to turn green more than twice. "A couple of green lights," I said.

"What?" my mother asked, opening her eyes with some blinking. "Oh, I thought you said it was green, J."

"No." I said, looking down at my feet. "The light's still red. I'm just thinking just talking to myself."

"OK, well just tell me when it's green." She closed her eyes. She was tired again, yet I couldn't imagine being tired like that. When I get tired I don't want to close my eyes, I thought, I just want to keep them open. I don't want to go to sleep because that's not any fun. I looked up at the traffic light, bored. I turned to my right and peered over the cracked, beige edge of the door. The outside of the door is navy blue, dark deep blue, not so unlike midnight blue. I had colored Batman in midnight blue because he's a creature of the night. Midnight blue is dark like midnight (a fabled hour I had never seen), but just a little green.

Through the window I looked at the neighboring car and ignored the driver. Then I watched the glass of the window that I was now touching. I stared at the glass and went into one of my trances, my eyes fixed on the empty solid of the glass. This wall that I couldn't see, I stared at. Then I remembered those word games that I would make up, those games that would drive me crazy when I really got into them. I decided to try and make myself go crazy with one of those word games, just to see if I could do it whenever I wanted to. Thinking of a word to use, I decided just to use the one that first came to my head. 'Houston' popped up and I listened to the sound of the word. But then I changed my mind: You can't use names, I mumbled in my head, names are too easy; they don't count. 'Because' is a good word, though, I thought as I stared at the glass. I said 'because' out loud just once, making sure that the word made sense to me right then before I started.

So then I made a sentence with the word 'because.' I am bored because I have to wait for the light to turn green and there's nothing fun in the car. Because. Because . . . Because. I began my game. Because because because because because because because. Because Because Because Because Because. BeCAUSE beCAUSE BEcause BECause BeCause BeCause. BECAUSE because BECAUSE BECAUSE because because Because Because becuz becuz becuz because because because. Because.

"Because." I said aloud, then to myself: Not there yet. Because because because because because because because because because. Because Because Because Because Because Because Because. BECAUSE BECAUSE BECAUSE BECAUSE. BeCause BeCause BeCause BeCause BeCause BeCause. Because because BeCause BECAUSE becausebecausebecause. Because because because. BECAUSE BECAUSE because because beCAUSe because because because BEcause beCAUSE. Because because BeCause be cause because be cause be cause because because because because because. "Because." I whispered, and I was there. In my little dark cranium the word 'because' had become independent and dumb, just sounds. Twisted and cold like celery, it was suddenly sounds without meaning, and I let them turn over in my crazed, empty head. Because. Wow, I awed at the word. Because. The word 'because' doesn't mean anything; it's stupid, I thought. Because. I almost giggled, it sounded so silly. I had done it, just (I very nearly giggled 'because' didn't work anymore as a word) I wanted to.

Now, I thought, you should let it be. Leave 'because' alone so it doesn't stay that way. I figured that I would probably need that word pretty soon, so I came up with something to do to distract me. I thought about remembering what I saw there inside the car. I'm going to remember this right now, I stated to myself. I looked at everything carefully, starting with the beige door with its window handle covered with chipping silver paint-stuff. I looked at the little cracks on the soft, spongy surface of the door; I pushed them with two fingers, watching the cracks grow like an earthquake. I imagined an earthquake in the middle of Texas, pretending that the beige door was the desert, cracking and opening up to the center of the Earth, all the cars falling in to their dark and spongy doom. But the earth doesn't really crack like that in an earthquake, I reminded myself. Only in movies does it really crack open.

Then I looked up at the ceiling and saw a "L" shaped tear on the ceiling. Underneath that torn, beige fabric I could see blackness coming through. I glanced at the red light three cars ahead and above us, then I looked at my feet which barely stuck out past the edge of the seat. I wiggled them up and down and watched the grey scuffed parts of the white leather blur as I shook them. I pulled my hands out from under my legs and felt blood rush into them. They had little lines back and forth on the skin, red and yellowish of my skin. So I looked at the designs and stripes on the navy blue seat cover, and rubbed it with my skin. I rubbed my hand against its rough texture for a while so that my fingers felt nice and numb. Then I noticed the smell of the car, the stale scent of sun-dried fabric and summer air. I looked at my mother; she seemed to be asleep, but I knew she was just resting. I looked at the traffic light which hung up above the few cars in front of us. Staring at its glowing red circle inside its black silhouette square I waited for the light to turn until it did.

"Green." I said, and smiled at my mother. She opened her eyes and started to drive the car forward. 'Green' is a good word too, and I watched the green-glow circle until we passed behind it, thinking also of the Earth passing around the sun. The sun doesn't set like they always say; why do they say that? I thought, and definitely wrinkled my brow. We turn around the sun instead. But the word 'green,' I reminded myself. I could use that word. Yet immediately I reproved the idea: No, I concluded as I watched the setting sun glint on the neighbor cars' windshields. Don't use 'green' because I bet that would be too easy.

 
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