The Light That Failed
by Kathryn Kulpa

One Christmas — I might have been four or five — I became obsessed with a particular light on the tree. These were old-school Christmas lights, teardrop-shaped, nightlight-sized, and this bulb was the perfect color: a deep amber, not quite yellow, not quite orange, the shade of turmeric or saffron or a fat ginger cat. Only one bulb seemed to be that color. Maybe it was left over from an older light set; maybe it was a design flaw. Whatever the reason, it was my light. And I reminded my parents, as they were putting the tree up, to make sure my light was in the front, where I could see it.

I was banished during the tree assembly. It was dark when I was invited back. The tree was lit, decorated, ready for tinsel. But my light — the glowing amber beacon of my all my vague aesthetic longing — faced the back wall. I wailed at the unfairness.

The lights fit together a certain way, my mother said. It was too late to unplug them all and start again. The tree sparkled, red and blue and green and ordinary yellow. I sat on the floor behind the tree, back to the wall, gazing up at the light — my light — like Gatsby watching Daisy’s green light at the end of some impossible dock.

I’m not sure if my amber light strike lasted days or an hour. I only know that the next time I saw the tree, there my light was, out in front, blazing down on me in all its saffron-turmeric glory, glowing like fool’s gold, like a promise that, for the rest of my life, the world would rearrange itself to please me.

AUTHOR’S PHOTO CAPTION: In this photo, I look about five, and from the rapt expression on my face, I’m guessing that the Christmas tree light I’m focused on is THE light.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: This would not be my last artistic obsession, but it’s probably the first, or at least the first I remember.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Kathryn Kulpa was a recent winner in the Paper Nautilus Vella Chapbook Contest, and her flash collection Girls on Film will be published in 2016. She is also a contributor to Smokelong Quarterly, KYSO Flash, Literary Orphans, and The Great Gatsby Anthology from Silver Birch Press. You can read more of her work at kathrynkulpa.com.