The Porch Light
They come at night.
With their headlights off, the cars are dark, and turn off the road into our wooded driveway. They don’t come in the snow, or when it rains, because the road gets muddy, just cool dark nights. My father shuts off the porch light and meets them. I’ve never seen
them. I just know when they come. When they come, when my dad shuts off the porch light on our old farmhouse, and my older sister takes me upstairs to her bedroom with the rickety wooden floor, we sit down and make no noise with the lights off. My sister holds my hands sometimes. I have a feeling she knows something I don’t.
They never stay too long, fifteen or twenty minutes at the longest. We used to try to play card games, but Dad yelled at us once about being quiet. My sister is always quieter thanI am. She sometimes releases a silent shush, just with her lips, no sound, no air escaping.Sometimes she’ll bring an orange up, and in her dusty room, I’ll see the spray of the skin torn open against the moonlight from the window. My sister loves citrus. It’s like she almost can’t get enough. My mom buys it by the bagful, big thick orange netted bags, pounds of grapefruit and blood oranges, and in the winter, little tiny sweet clementines. Citrus, my sister says, is a quiet fruit to eat. Sometimes, if they come in the middle of dinner, I’ll hear my father quickly scraping plates into the disposal, jamming them into the dishwasher. My sister shares her citrus then. The soft pith explodes in my mouth like a brightness, like a solar flare I saw in a movie once. Then, we hear the porch light click back on, and my mother comes upstairs, her face so pale and white like the moon, carved by gray wrinkles, and opens our bedroom door. Every time it’s longer than a few minutes, she curses it and swears Dad is done with this. That they have to be done with this, and then a few weeks later, they come back again at night.
There are always more than one of them. I hear multiple doors slam on the car outside, but I only ever hear one voice I can discern, aside from Mom and Dad. I like to call himGeorge. Dad never uses a name. Sometimes he doesn’t come, but the others do. His voice is strong and steely. You can hear the severity. He asks pointed jabbing questions, and my Dad always struggles to answer, revealing a stutter I’ve never heard before. Their words are muffled through the floorboards, but I hear certain words, like intel, like sensitive, like compromise. When they leave, when their taillights have faded away through the trees, my Dad flicks the porch light on again, and exhales into the night.
Once, between their visits, on a sunny warm Virginia Saturday morning, Dad and I drove to the big office-supply warehouse store out by the turnpike. We stopped at the grocery store first, to get some groceries Mom wanted, eggs, celery, a box of rice, and Dad got sixty dollars in cash back from the clerk. Then, we drove across town to the office supply store, and Dad bought as many flash-drive memory sticks he could carry. In the car, he jammed the plastic bag into the pocket on the seat back. He never brought it in.
My mom stands at her bedroom window at the same time every night. It’s well after we’ve all gone to bed, after my Dad’s nasally snores, but through the crack in the door they always leave open, I see her, silhouetted against the window. Just looking. Sometimes she puts her hand up, her ring with a soft click against the glass. It didn’t used to be every night. It started being once in a while, rarely, but lately she hasn't missed a night. I know, because I sneak out of bed, and peer through the gap in the door toward the light from the window. She stands there, no matter the weather; the rain, and the snow, and bright blue lightening storms especially. She doesn’t know I see her. I wonder if she was sleepwalking.
The last night, my Dad received a phone call before dinner in his office. When he opened the doors, his eyes were wide, his face white with panic. My mother seemed to know.She looked away from his gaze. We finished dinner quickly.
Dad heard their car on the road, and clicked off the porch-light. Dad yelled to us quickly to run, and my Mom held the aluminum back door open. My sister took my hand and led me into the dark trees. The forest swayed with life. We paused for a moment at the edge of the trees, and stared back at the light from inside the farmhouse. For a minute, inside the house, I heard the tone of George’s voice. I couldn’t hear his words. He has returned.
My sister pulls my me deeper into the woods, shoving through bramble and brush, stopping every few minutes to stop and look around and listen to the noises of the forest settle around us. Then, we set off again, and she led me to the place we’d always been told to go and wait, to the white tree, a burned tree, struck by lightening years ago, dead, but still standing. We shrunk down near the white tree, and I put my hand on the strangely smooth bark. Beyond the darkness I could hear croaks and clicks of frogs in the heat.
I ask my sister if she brought any fruit this time. She shakes her head. A warm summer wind blows through the trees. The porch light is still off.
From the direction of the house we hear two gun shots.
About the Author: Nick Mancuso earned his Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from Fairfield University. Despite being a Connecticut native, he presently lives in and is learning to love Boston, Massachusetts. His work has appeared in Quail Bell Magazine, The Anthropoid Collective, and the Huffington Post among others. You can find him on Twitter or here.