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Yellow Light

Janelle Ward | Terri Kelleher

David was born with a yellow light on top of his head. At first it was very dim. No one really noticed because he entered the world with twists and twirls of blond hair. His mother kissed his forehead one hundred times in the first minutes of his life. She saw the light, but the buttery glow made sense. She thought he was an angel.

Around age three, the light started to pulsate. It gained in wattage. At preschool the other kids would eat their orange slices and ask probing questions that made the teachers wince. The teachers brought up the teasing to mom. David’s mother brushed aside their concern. She thought he was perfect the way he was.

When David was eleven the light grew brighter. It emitted transient bursts. On movie days he had to be excused from the darkened classroom. The giggles made educational film viewing impossible. The next year he switched schools, and started wearing a thick black baseball cap to cover the beacon. One day, a bully pulled David’s hat off in the locker room. Once incredulousness faded the boys spent an eternity pretending David was a traffic signal. He wasn’t allowed to move, but they did. They relocated around him at right angles, giddy in their mockery, determined to punish his difference.

Homeschooling ensued.

David didn’t go out much during his high school years. There were exceptions. Around the age of 18 a chat room friend invited him to a party. A costume party. He dressed as a private in the United States Army during World War II. He got drunk and lost his virginity to a kind but inebriated girl he’d met an hour before. She seemed to enjoy the lovemaking but when his helmet slipped — it was made of steel and quite hard to keep in place — she screamed, picked herself up off the floor of the walk-in closet, and left. The light turned lazy circles like a disco ball, illuminating the ceiling and the party host’s dress shirts and ties. David sat back and watched them spin.

For a while, a couple years, even, David didn’t leave the house, even with the helmet on. He immersed himself in his Second Life avatar: a bald, muscled man with attitude. The longer he stayed inside, virtual world intertwining with physical reality, a brazen persona overtaking his real world timidity, he noticed something else: the yellow light was fading. Each day, it seemed, the light grew dimmer and its circular path slowed. One day, it went out completely.

He tried again. He ventured into the real world. One day he ordered a coffee and made eye contact with a longhaired brunette. There was a spark. A cautious date. Another, followed by a kiss goodnight. Another, and they clung to each other on a narrow couch. I used to have this flashing yellow light on top of my head, David said. He didn’t look at her as he confessed. It came and went my whole life, but I’ve found a way to extinguish it now. It won’t be back to bother us.

She smoothed his hair. Her lips trembled. Her connection to him was awash in oxytocin. Her hand traveled to the top of his head, where thick, blond curls rested. She couldn’t picture a yellow light there, much less a flashing one. She probably wouldn’t like it, but in the early stages of love she thought she could live with any imperfection.

About Janelle Ward

Janelle Ward is a Minnesota native and has spent the last 12 years in the Netherlands, evolving from carnivorous student to vegetarian mama. Her day job is in political communication. She's published a bunch of academic stuff but is most passionate about fiction writing. Her work has been published by The Molotov Cocktail, Litro, and Pure Slush.

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