Home before dark. It was a clear, simple way to impose discipline. She could run the neighborhood. Play pickle in the street. Ride bikes up and down the empty terraced lots yet to be built on, across the plywood boards that had been placed over the drainage ditches in between. The loud rumble as the bikes passed had been thrilling, making the journey seem somehow dangerous. Always warm evenings in memory, but in truth, many must have been fog-chilled, the wind blowing ocean-damp inland. And without thinking about it, she kept calculus on the shifting light, the angle, the glow, so she could time her return home to be just right, having salvaged as much freedom as possible, but before it was so dark as to require reprimand.
How intense the feeling returns every fall. Has done for forty years and more. Stepping out of the car to go into the market to pick up dinner, a sick feeling in the pit of her stomach freezes her. “It’s too late. I’ll never buy the pork chops and salad makings and make it home in time.”
The feeling contains other layers, too. Not just of the threat of disapproval arriving home after the last of twilight had melted, but of the first days, first weeks of school. The constant, anxious acid about meeting new teachers, making new friends, finding new classrooms. The start of school aligned with the shortening of days, so that the dreaded moment, that second when the calculus said: “Home. You must go home. Now, before it’s too late.” came earlier and earlier, crowding in so it came, not late in the evening long after dinner, but before dinner, while the kids were still trying to steal a few moments of fun, breaths of air, loops of the neighborhood. Just getting started really, and it was time. The grace period of twilight compresses as fall advances. No longer the “Oh, the light is changing, but I can still make it to the cul-de-sac and back.” Instead, dark happens one moment to the next. Instead, there is time then there is none.
Here it is late in October, she’s standing in the hastening dark, keys in hand, about to enter her new apartment. She’s forty seven, sick to her stomach and about to cry. Six months previous she had set herself adrift from her home, her life, her relationship, the predictability and security ensconced there. She had started pulling at the thread of alcoholism, and everything unraveled. Through it all, she kept a finger caressing the soft knap of belief that a better future was ahead, that the past that was disintegrating was only a ragged sweater of complacency, that she could knit a warm, new life together. Only to have this childhood edict reach up and yank, hard, at the first few, uneven rows of comfort she had created.
The voice screams, pushing forcefully at her chest. “Go home! It’s almost too late! You can still make it if you don’t take another step!”
She stands in front of the new door, rigid. Would it be so bad to give in to the command? Get back in the car, drive across town, be waiting on the porch when he pulls into the driveway? The voice echoes: “Who knows what demons linger in the dark, what dangers are hiding along the road? Go home.”
She reasons with the voice: “There are not always wolves lurking in the shadows. Trolls do not live beneath every bridge.”
There is only one known demon: the liquid one. She squares her shoulders, banishes the voice from her mind, reaches up and turns the key in the lock. The door swings open, she steps inside. She is home before dark.