Stop calling them that.” Lil says, setting her Star Trek coffee mug on the only spot of the kitchen table not covered by a photograph. When heated, the mug magically teleports Captain Picard into a world of steamy invisibility. Right now, his bald head is half-faded, somewhere in between the porcelain surface of the mug and an imagined alien world. I look up from the table and repeat myself.
“Sky lights.” I say, “That’s what they are.”
“A ‘sky light’ is a hole in the ceiling of your house,” she says, “These are stadium lights.”
“Whatever they’re called, they’re very obviously inanimate objects.”
“You’re wrong,” she says firmly, picking up her coffee and slurping from it loudly. “They’re moving.”
The photographs covering our kitchen table all share a singular theme; they’re portraits of the various stadium lights which surround the perimeter of McCarren Park on the edge of Greenpoint. Lil has been taking photos of the lights every single day for six months. Sometimes in the morning, sometimes in the middle of the afternoon, often at night. She’s done beautifully framed portraits, clearly showing the long poles extending into the metal bushels of lights on top. She’s also snapped the pictures from far away with an extreme zoom resulting in a grotesque picture of a single bulb. She’s laid on her back too, getting right below the things, like those paparazzi who hide underneath Lindsay Lohan’s limo, waiting for the money shot. I’ve been fuzzy on the purpose of this project, but now she’s telling me there’s been a method to her madness all along. Presently, she produces a magnifying glass from a pocket in her cardigan, uses it to inspect one of the pictures, and then begins motioning with it wildly.
“I should always trust my intuition!” she says, “I knew there was a reason I became obsessed with these stadium lights, and now I have proof. There’s a migration underway. It’s happening a centimeter at a time, but it’s very, very real. Either these things are alive, or they’re being moved by something else!”
“Since when do you carry a magnifying glass?” I say, “What are you, like the artsy Agent Scully now?”
“I found the magnifying glass in the park.” Lil says indignantly, “Which I think is a HUGE clue.”
“Wait,” I say, putting both hands on the kitchen table, lowering my head like a runner at the start of a race. “How is finding a magnifying glass in the park a ‘clue’?”
“Somebody else was investigating this,” she says, holding up the magnifying glass to the side of her face while staring at it suspiciously. “And I think they got too close!”
“So, you think some kind of conspiratorial entity, who is behind the migration of the sky lights–”
“Right. Those. You think whoever is behind that, killed a detective who was working on the case before you came along?”
“Lil,” I say, “I love you, but I think you’re crazy. Not to mention, it’s almost four thirty and I’m starving. Can we discuss this over some food?”
Minutes later, we’re on our bicycles, pedaling down Manhattan Avenue towards, Five Leaves, a restaurant we favor located right off a corner of the park. Lil gives me the silent treatment as we ride, either because she’s focusing on the traffic, or profoundly offended at my skepticism. In the past, she’s been irritated by my pig-headedness regarding the legitimacy of her endeavors. For instance, the mere mention of a certain piece of performance art she once participated in has the immediate effect of turning my pallor to a shade of deep maroon and sending jets of cartoon-like steam out of her ears. What can I say? I didn’t find the panda-suits in that particular interpretive dance to be all that convincing, and she found my lack of support to be positively horrific.
To be fair, that thing with the panda suit dance was one of those essential “how to manage our relationship” moments. Lil realized I wouldn’t always believe in the things she was excited about, while I found out if I didn’t at least accept those things, I stood the chance of losing her. When you’re sleeping together, teasing can get personal real fast if you’re not careful.
In the restaurant, we’re shown to a table by the window, and I’m trying to remind myself of these truths, doing the emotional version of breathing exercises practiced by deep-sea divers. With the stadium lights from McCarren Park clearly visible from our vantage point, I know it’s only a matter of time before our conversation heads back towards Lil’s kooky migration theories. But for now, the battle over the plausibility of giant metal structures having sentience or being involved in a conspiracy is temporarily delayed by the consumption of amazing grass fed burgers slathered with unbelievable home-made mayonnaise. The greatest thing about this restaurant is they already know what the two of us are going to order before we even hit the door. I like to think our regular waitress can see us coming down the street on our bikes and instructs the chef to throw a couple patties on grill in anticipation of our arrival. Our burgers come out that fast.
For a time, we manage to talk shit about the other couples in the restaurant, focusing on the parade of fashion choices which we either tragically envy or vehemently despise. Eventually, Lil is finished with her meal, and filching french-fries off my plate when it all comes back to the lights.
“I’m not the only one who thinks this way,” she says.
“Hmmm?” I say, trying to pretend like I don’t know what we’re talking about.
“There are a few other people in the park who agree with me.”
“Do these people happen to live in the park?” This causes a pair of lasers to shoot from Lil’s eyes, inciting a staring contest I have no hope of winning. “I’m sorry,” I say, “Okay, who else thinks the stadium lights are on the move?”
“A guy who works for the city parks.”
“Somebody who cleans the bathroom?”
“Not that it would matter, but no. He’s one of those people who drive the little truck around and take care of excess leaves or too much litter.”
“Great,” I say, while making that bizarre hand signal to our waitress, letting her know I want the check. “What did he say?”
“Well. Not only did he let me borrow his tape measure, but when I asked him if he thought there was a possibility that the stadium lights were slowly all moving in a specific direction, he said he’s seen it happen with his own eyes.”
“Do you recall what you were wearing on this particular day? A short skirt perhaps? No bra?” And with that, I’ve done it. I’ve gone too far, crossed a line. I’ve brought something else into my disbelief of Lil’s mobile stadium lights other than just skepticism. And she isn’t happy about it.
Lil is out of her seat, on her bike and peddling toward McCarren Park, on a collision course with the closest stadium light before I even manage to pay the bill. I stumble out onto the street, struggling with my bike lock as her outline rapidly recedes into the landscape of the park. Though it seems like hours, soon I’m on my own bike, ratcheting it up to a higher gear, pedaling furiously, in pursuit of my equally furious girlfriend.
It’s dusk now, and as I look up at the stadium lights, I can just begin to make out the faint glow of the individual bulbs slowly fading on. I’ve managed to cut the distance between Lil and me to only about 20 feet, so by the time she gets where she’s going, I’m almost there.
Arriving at the base of one of the stadium lights, she unexpectedly jumps off her bike, and sends it rolling along ahead of her, like a ghost version of Lil is still pedaling for a few extra seconds. She takes out her magnifying glass and inspects a large square indentation in the grass just a few inches away from the base of the light. I dismount my bike now, feigning calmness, wanting to apologize, wanting everything to be okay. No matter how many fights we get in because of stupid things I’ve said, I’m always scared.
“LOOK!” Lil says pointing at the indentation on the ground. “This is where it was six months ago!” I walk towards her carefully and cast my eyes downward at the indentation. The grass is flattened and yellowed, reminding me of the patches of land underneath old broken-down cars. It looks like one of those photos of Siberia where an asteroid impact knocked down a bunch of trees, only these trees are individual blades of grass. From the look of it, something large and heavy occupied this perfectly square space for long enough to mess up the grass pretty seriously. A part of me wants to keep fighting with Lil, but the evidence is pretty convincing.
“Okay, okay.” I say, “Maybe the stadium lights are moving. What are we going to do about it?”
“We have to sit and wait,” she says, “We have to see them move.”
“What if we end up like your theoretical detective?”
“I have to see it myself.” Lil says, “Will you sit and wait with me?” I look up at the stadium light, and the metal pole of the thing seems like the tree trunk of a redwood or a pine. In spite of myself, I do see something organic about it.
“Yeah,” I say, “Let’s get comfortable.”
The sun is setting as we sit down on the pulverized grass. At first there are several inches between us, but after a little while that space disappears.
And then we wait.
Image by Gabriela Vainsencher
Read more of Ryan’s stories here. Ryan’s writing has also been published with Nerve, Mr. Beller’s Neighborhood, Opium and Clarkesworld. He has performed stories on stage with The Liar Show, The Moth, Stripped Stories and Heeb. Ryan’s plays have enjoyed staged readings and full productions in New York City with Collective Unconscious, The Longest Lunch Theatre Company and The Tank. From 2008-2009 he wrote a short story every day and posted them to his blog called “Side Affects.”