The day the train went off the rails and killed twelve people outside our city, whole blocks of town went dark. The sun shone everywhere but there. The streetlights stayed on twenty-four seven.
If you picked your spot right and counted the minutes, you could stand with your arms spread, one hand cupping noon, the other clutching midnight. I have photos.
In some neighborhoods, it was easy to guess why: the dead had lived there, or their mothers, or their best friends. Other areas were mysterious and led to speculation: Mistresses? Sugar daddies? Illegitimate children? Nobody conducted a door-to-door poll to find out.
My street went black for no obvious reason. I couldn’t be sure, but I suspected it might be my fault; my colleague, Sally Peters, had been on that train. I hardly knew Sally, but she’d had the office next to mine. When she disappeared, I missed hearing her Lady Gaga CDs through the wall. I missed eating microwaved noodles with her in the lunchroom. I missed asking her for advice about how much to tip the janitor at Christmas.
For a few days after the crash, her office exerted a gravitational pull on our staff. We drank coffee outside her closed door in the morning while we commiserated about the day’s coming challenges. We rapped on her door before we left for home at night though we knew there was nobody inside to hear. But soon the others drifted away. It was awkward lurking in the hallway alone, so I sat in my office and pressed my ear against the wall Sally and I used to share. Silence.
The local newspaper reported on the darkness, inviting readers to send in theories. Some blamed ghosts for looming around and blotting out the sun, but I thought another commenter had it right: “People have to let go,” he wrote. “We’ve tethered these dead folk overhead like dirigibles because we’re afraid we’ll forget them.”
The day after I read that, I sat at my window watching an elderly neighbor try to pluck her tomatoes in the dark and decided to do what I could to light my little neighborhood back up. I conjured my memories of Sally, which were surprisingly many, despite our short acquaintance: Sally, discussing her son’s stuffed penguin, her mother’s dream of traveling to China, her neighbor’s love of fish and chips.
My first day on the job, Sally had given me a little notebook and told me to write down every client’s sidelong request for information. At the time, I assumed this was for self-protection; nobody wants to be caught failing to provide requested goods. Later, I realized it was simpler than that: Sally knew that the details that slip away most easily often reveal what’s really needed.
It’s all so mundane. Too small even to matter, you’d think. But as I take out my notebook and start writing down everything I remember about Sally, the sun begins to rise above my street.