A Theory on Lampposts
Lily fell backwards as the tree she was resting against disappeared into thin air; she rubbed her shoulder and squinted as she searched for a new spot in the park to escape the harsh sunlight. But, one by one, the trees in the park were disappearing, and in each one's place grew a lamppost, illuminated brightly despite the sunny day. Though it didn’t actually make the park any brighter, the replacement of shade with more light—not to mention excessively bright light that was harsh and painful to look at—was particularly irritating to Lily, who had left her sunglasses at home and was to meet with a boy on the other side of the park in just seventeen minutes, according to her watch.
She wondered how she would look when she met him, face scrunched up like she was sucking on a lemon, and she felt embarrassed. Should she call him and tell him not to come? Should she tell him that she was feeling sick?
But no, surely he would see her at school the next day in perfectly good health and assume she had stood him up. Lily sighed. Boys were so stupid, as she knew. This particular boy, Jason Harrowitz, had been positively fixated on her, but, as Lily’s friends had gathered from Jason’s friends, just as positively terrified to talk to her. Short of asking him out herself, Lily had walked up to Jason while he was in the middle of a conversation with two boys on the baseball team and one boy on the lacrosse team. Jason didn’t play any sports anymore himself—he got very good grades in school. She had grabbed his hand and pressed it against her own cheek without saying a word, staring directly into his small brown eyes with her wide hazel gaze. His three friends had left immediately. And here they were, to be meeting on a Saturday afternoon in a shadeless park in exactly three minutes and thirty-seven seconds.
Lily hated to be kept waiting, so she was most delighted when Jason arrived twenty-six seconds early.
“Hey,” he said. His hair was dark brown, and he was muscular.
“Hi,” said Lily. “Let’s get ice cream. This light is killing me.”
It was no surprise that the creamery was dimly lit. The overhead lighting had been replaced by small oak trees, fully grown like bonsai trees, hanging upside-down. Lily ordered bubble gum ice cream in a cup, no toppings. Jason ordered cookies ‘n cream, also in a cup but with hot fudge and Oreo cookie crumbs, which baffled Lily as the cookies in the ice cream were also Oreos, but she said nothing.
They sat down. Jason kept glancing up at the trees on the ceiling. They didn’t bother Lily so much. It was summer, so the leaves didn’t fall into the ice cream and alter its flavor. The creamery still smelled deliciously and overwhelmingly of waffle cones, not a forest, so she didn’t see the problem. They felt familiar to her, the trees, and she liked to see them in place of where the lamps usually were.
Lily wished Jason would pay more attention to her and not the stupid trees.
“I hate bubble gum ice cream,” she declared, spooning a bite daintily into her mouth.
“Then why get it?” said Jason.
“I like the idea of it.”
“You like pink?”
“No, stupid,” she said, not unkindly. “I like the idea of eating ice cream that tastes bad, not for the sake of pleasure, but for the sake of eating ice cream.”
“Oh,” he said.
“It’s that ice cream is a dessert,” she explained. “So its sole purpose is pleasure. When you choose a disgusting flavor, like bubble gum, you’re giving yourself over to the idea of pleasure, but you’re not experiencing the pleasure itself.”
"So you don’t like pink?”
“Not at all. And I don’t play with dolls. Jesus Christ, Jason, I’m not a little girl. Do you pick things that are blue because you like the color blue, because they painted your nursery blue when you were a boy?”
“Let me ask you something. And be honest with me. Do you like pink? Even a little?”
Their minutes turned to hours, and the hours turned to years. Lily published several books. Her first book, A Theory on Lampposts, was translated into French, Russian, Spanish, German, Hebrew, Portuguese, Catalan, Arabic, Mandarin, and Japanese, and it was considered a great success. An international bestseller, in fact. She had six children by Jason Harrowitz, two pairs of twins bookended by a girl (the oldest) and a boy (the youngest). She was editor-in-chief for The Paris Review. The tree hanging from the ceiling in her office was a cherry blossom. There was a lamppost at her window.
Everything was just as efficient, what with the trees and the lampposts switching. This is what Lily had posited in her first book. A lamp in the corner on a table, hanging from the wall—a lamp where a plant should be, in other words—gave light just as well to a room, and a tree hanging from the ceiling was just as aesthetically pleasing as a potted tree next to the living room couch. The shadows cast were all different, she had written, but everything, ultimately, was the same once you adjusted your eyes to the light.
Jason made periodic visits to her so she could breastfeed the babies in her office. They had both thought it best for the babies to be breastfed from their own mother. Plus, Lily welcomed the break from her work and the opportunity to make small talk, or large talk, with her husband. He was a good listener. He would stand there in the springtime as her cherry blossom tree dusted the office with pink-tinted petals and listen as she told him about her favorite submissions for the upcoming issue, about the weather on her way to work, about whether he thought Jupiter was really as big as they said it was. Every time he left, he was covered in the pink of her cherry blossom tree and made no attempt to brush it off.
The lamppost at her window drank in the sunlight idly, and Lily never changed her last name.
Jacob Budenz is a writer, performing artist, and occasional witch living in Baltimore. He keeps a small journalistic art blog at afflatusarts.tumblr.com.