New York Tyrant

The Dark
by Ben Loory

Jordan Castro

The Dark <br>by Ben Loory</br>

                                                                                                                                    

A man comes home from work one night to find that his wife is crying. 
     She's sitting in the living room. 
     She's been to the doctor. 
     It turns out she's going blind.

     Months go by. The man’s wife goes blind. One night he comes home from work, and finds her crying in the living room again. 
     I'm so afraid, she says. 
     The man sits beside her. He holds her in his arms.
     It'll all be okay, he says.
     But a few days later, he gets a call at work. 
     His wife is dead.
     She's committed suicide.

     On the day of the funeral, the man doesn't go. He sits in his car in the garage. Then he gets out and walks away, off down the street.
     He goes into a bar and drinks. 
     The man thinks of his wife being lowered into the ground. He thinks about her killing herself.
     How could she have done such a thing? he thinks.
     She was afraid of the dark, he says.

     The man goes home and turns off all the lights. He stands in the darkness in the living room. But after a while, his eyes adjust, and then it's like the lights are all on again. 
     The man goes to the kitchen, opens the door to the basement, and then takes two or three steps down. He closes the door and stands there, waiting. 
     But his eyes don't adjust-- it's too dark. 

     He feels for the banister; he finds it with his hand. He walks carefully down the rest of the stairs. He has some trouble with the very last step-- it seems to come a little too fast. 
     The man stands there in the basement.
     It's absolutely black. 
     But it's just the dark, the man thinks. There's nothing here to be afraid of at all. 
     He starts to move about the room. 

     The man takes small steps; he walks with his arms out. He finds a standing lamp, then an old armoire. He finds a bicycle, a suitcase, some boxes, a chair. 
     Eventually, he finds the far wall. 
     There's nothing to be afraid of, the man says out loud. It's all the same, it's just you can't see.
     But then, with a start, the man suddenly notices-- his eyes have adjusted to the light.

     The very next weekend, the man takes a trip. He goes to the country to see a cave. He takes a guided tour. He's surrounded by other people-- tourists, friends, families, lovers. 
     Halfway through the tour, the guide turns off the light. 
     Now this is complete darkness, the guide says.
     The man looks around. He can't see anything at all, just a rich, thick, velvety black.
     Nobody's eyes ever adjust to this, the guard says. No matter how long they stay down here.
     And when the guide finally turns the light back on, the man notices the other people look relieved. 
     They're all afraid of the dark, the man thinks. All these people are afraid of the dark.

     The man becomes an explorer of caves. In the beginning, he goes with other people. But the other people bring flashlights, wear lamps on their helmets. The man doesn't like them-- they're amateurs.
     So the man starts going to explore caves on his own-- all alone. And he doesn't bring any lights. 
     The dark is just that-- darkness, he thinks. It can't hurt you. It doesn't even exist. 

     The man journeys deeper and deeper into the earth, always exploring completely without lights. He explores all the caves other people consider dangerous. 
     And the man is never afraid. 
     He knows how do it-- how to move slowly, how to think and feel his way through. He knows to always focus on exactly what he’s doing, where he’s been, where he's trying to get to. 
     The man's in good shape. He never slips up. He never makes a single mistake.
     And he never feels any fear-- he's never afraid.
     And he's especially not afraid of the dark.

     But then one night the man has an accident. He's been careless; his foot slips, he falls. He feels something snap-- he's broken a bone.
     He lies there quietly in the dark. 

     The man feels the pain, but still, no fear. In his mind, the man sees the cave. He sees all the branches laid out like a map. He knows exactly how to get out. 
     The man doesn't scream or cry for help. Instead, he crawls from the cave. He drags himself, inch by inch, slowly, on his belly. It takes him hours, but he makes it to the road. 
     The man is found there and taken to the hospital.
     He becomes a minor celebrity. A reporter interviews him. It's shown on television. 
     Everywhere, people treat him like a hero. 
     There's nothing heroic about me, the man says. All I did was crawl like a child.
     But wasn't it dark in the cave? the reporter says.
     Of course, the man says. That's what it's about.

     The years go by. The man grows old-- very old, too old to explore caves. He finds his bones hurt. He sometimes gets dizzy. His heart flutters, and his hands often shake. 
     And then one morning, the man gets out of bed and slowly plods into the hall. He stands as usual at the top of the stairs, but can't bring himself to start down.
     The man grips the railing and envisions that first step; he tells himself to move his foot forward. 
     But, no matter what, the man can't do it.
     He finally sits on the top step.
     And suddenly, out of nowhere, the man thinks about his wife. He sees her face in his mind. It's right before him, hovering there. 
     He thinks about holding her in his arms.
     He remembers how he held her in the living room that night when she found out she was going blind. He remembers how angry he felt when she told him-- angry at everything, at God.
     And as he remembers, the man starts to cry; he'd always loved his wife so much.
     And he looks down the staircase, and suddenly understands.
     It wasn't the dark she was afraid of.

 

 

***

Ben Loory is the author of the collection Stories for Nighttime and Some for the Day. His fables and tales have appeared in The New Yorker, Tin House, Wigleaf, and the Antioch Review, and been heard on This American Life and Selected Shorts. His second collection, Tales of Falling and Flying, is coming from Penguin in September.

1 comment

  • Brilliant.

    Mark Budman

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