Death · Family · Writing

The Reading Lamp

[Today’s writing prompt is to take something mundane and make it interesting. Give it a back story, or use it as a catalyst for change in a character’s life.]

For twenty-seven years, the lamp sat unassuming behind the faded old chair. Over time, the light bulb has burnt out, or the room has been moved, but always the chair and lamp have remained a pair, inseparable, regardless of the room’s aesthetic metamorphoses. After a time, the chair has become old, and a little ratty, but still the lamp shines on, just over the righthand shoulder.

The lamp appeared, as many lamps do, with necessity. The professor’s eyes had gotten worse, and rather than listen to him complain about his inability to read properly, his wife had purchased the lamp for him at the local department store during a weekday outing. That weekend her son came by for dinner and set the lamp up properly – without a hammer, perthe professor’s suggestion – and by the next week, the professor was reading without difficulty again, spending hours absorbed in newspapers and books, sometimes even editing pieces of his own.

Time went on. The son brought home a girlfriend, who quickly became his wife. Not long after, the chair was occupied not only by the professor, but by the newest member of the family who occupied the professor’s lap. She would climb up from the silk carpet onto his lap, where he would bounce her and spoil her until she reached up above his head for the glittering circle of light behind him. Worried parents would try to pull her hands away, worried about small fingers and small mouths and small light bulbs and sockets, but the professor shush’d them, claiming the child too clever to let something like that happen, and the professor was right.

The lamp played a part in many a puppet show over the years, proving a valuable asset to any theatrical production as a spotlight. It assisted in board games on rainy days, or in added ambiance at night. Mostly, though, it sat quietly in its corner, unobtrusive. Unlike the large, fashionable table lamps that demanded space on otherwise useful surfaces, the reading lamp kept to its corner behind the chair, ready and waiting for the professor.

By the time the switch in the lamp wasn’t working quite so well anymore, the professor’s time was spent more in bed than in his chair. He would come downstairs, though, when his grandchildren appeared, which seemed to happen less and less often now. His eldest would come with her parents, telling him about books she’d read, or things she’d learned at school. He would listen, and give advice where he could. She reminded him of himself, sometimes. So bright and bookish. He hoped he would be able to see her educated and successful. Happy. That was his greatest wish.

A few days after the eldest grandchild had told him her plans to study abroad, the professor found his lamp would not turn on anymore. He remarked to his wife to please get their son to fix it, for his hands were not steady enough now to change such a small bulb. It took her a few days to call her son, but when she did, it was not to ask for him to come change the light bulb.

The professor’s family gathered around him beneath different lights that night. Some of them blinked. Some of them beep’d. They were not overly bright, but they were not dim, either. Except for the sounds of the monitors, there was little noise in the room until one of the machines told them he would never need his reading lamp again.

The lamp has not moved, but it was eventually fixed. It sits behind the well-worn chair, waiting for nimble fingers to turn it on. Sometimes the wife uses it, while she sits in the professor’s chair. She likes to remember him like this. Sitting comfortably, speaking about their children and grandchildren, or about his latest book. The smell of his cigarettes, once repulsive, is comforting to her. The professor’s eldest granddaughter cannot bring herself to sit beneath the lamp, though it has hosted her father and, as time passed, her husband.

Time seems to be slowing now. The lamp looks on, waiting for another small new member of the family to find the lamp’s sparkle intriguing, or to perform puppet shows, or illuminate new knowledge – or revisit old friends. One day, the wife will join the professor, and the lamp will be packed away, or disposed of, but it knows no fear of that. It has accompanied the professor on many journeys. One day, it will have to take its own, but until then it will keep watch over the well-worn chair, and wait other fingers and other eyes have need of it.

2 thoughts on “The Reading Lamp

  1. Wow, this was actually very good and skillful. Making something as mundane as a desk lamp sound so interesting is definitely not easy. Great post!


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