Under the Light - By Laura Whitcomb


Thanks to my family, especially Cyn for Binny-sitting and Binny for being such a good sport; my essential and overlapping circles of friends (WSG, Chez, SRS, Revels, and my supernatural tea partyers); my fabulous agent, Ann Rittenberg; and my awesome partner in lit, editor Kate O’Sullivan.

For my son, Robinson David, my Binny. My spirit is made young, my heart full, my world new.

Oh, the cleverness of you.

Under the Light, yet under,

Under the Grass and the Dirt,

Under the Beetle’s Cellar

Under the Clover’s Root,

Further than Arm could stretch

Were it Giant long,

Further than Sunshine could

Were the Day Year long,

Over the Light, yet over,

Over the Arc of the Bird—

Over the Comet’s chimney—

Over the Cubit’s Head,

Further than Guess can gallop

Further than Riddle ride—

Oh for a Disc to the Distance

Between Ourselves and the Dead!

Emily Dickinson




I USED TO PRACTICE LEAVING MY BODY. Closing my eyes in the shower, letting the spray beat on my forehead, forcing my pulse to drop. I’d breathe in the steam as slowly as possible. I’d pretend to drift out of my flesh and over the top of the shower curtain, slip out the open window.

The first day that it actually worked, it lasted only a few seconds. I was in bed, in the dark, too restless to sleep. I imagined I was a shooting star falling backwards away from earth, and the next moment I wasn’t under the covers anymore. I opened my eyes to find myself cocooned between silver foil and cotton-candy-pink insulation, planted halfway in my bedroom wall. I could lean down and look out through the wallpaper. At first it felt normal. My body lay below like a crash dummy, pale and too stupid to save itself. Is that what a dead body looks like? Then the idea of being dead made my spirit zip into my flesh again so fast, the mattress shook.

But the second time, when it really worked, I wasn’t thinking about leaving my body at all. I didn’t even realize what was happening until it was too late. Some part of me decided to escape without needing permission from my brain.

For the first fifteen years of my life, I had survived lots of bad days and never once ran away from home. Like the afternoon my parents discovered the photos I’d taken of myself—I never saw that camera again. I should have stashed the pictures in a better place. I thought I’d been more clever about hiding my diary. Still, on the day I left my body, I came home from school and found my father was holding it in his hands.

For such a small book it held an enormous weight—the most disturbing things my father could imagine, I guess: my true thoughts and feelings, things about me he had no control over.

My parents had been giving me a hard time that week because I didn’t get straight-As on my midterms. They couldn’t understand that I wasn’t slacking off—I was sick. I couldn’t sleep for more than ten minutes at a time. Light bothered my eyes. Sudden sounds made me jump and want to cry.

According to my father, the problem was that I was failing to live up to my potential. He reminded me that the devil tempts us with idle distractions.

I was in trouble so often, I’d gotten in the habit of pretending not to understand that my faults were sins, then acting grateful when my parents taught me the right way to behave. That worked for the little stuff: failing to excuse myself from a sex education lecture at school, talking to a strange man in the grocery store parking lot who wanted directions, walking to the park without asking permission. But this was serious, worse than the photos of myself that my father fed into the shredder.

Now, with my secret writing in his hands, my father looked victorious. I knew you were wicked, his eyes told me. And you’ve proven me right with your own words.

The Prayer Corner, at one end of our family room, was just three chairs used for family Bible study, prayer, and punishment. My mother and I sat down in our usual seats, but my father wouldn’t sit.

“Is this a true reflection of your soul?” he asked me.

Why hadn’t I kept it in my school locker?

“You may answer,” he said, as if I was waiting for permission to speak.

“I don’t know.” In my mind I ran through what I’d recorded on those pages. What was the worst thing?

“Your mother and I live our lives before you as