A Theory of Light by A. R. Frederiksen

I first learned about my father when I dyed my hair blonde and it came out fluorescent. And not fluorescent as in the brightest of blondes, lemme tell you that, but fluorescent as in a xylaphor blast all the way to our neighboring galaxy.

Which was, incidentally, where my father lived.

“You have to understand,” my mother told me back then, stirring her tea in perfect eights, perfect infinities as smooth as her face, “that this was before the government shut down interplanetary travel for civilians. Before the accident, remember? You were quite young, though, so maybe you don’t.”

In other words, there was no way for me to get to my father now, nor was there any way for my mother to get to him. Even so, my heart poked angry fingers through the empty spaces between my ribs, desperate to be heard and seen.

I watched my mother’s spoon as it circled the rim of the teacup. Nudging the table with my foot, the spoon slipped out of her hand and clinked against the side. She gave me a pained look. It’s the look I so often see on the back of my eyelids when I go to sleep at night. Even now, so many years later.

  The next time we talked about my father was when I was old enough to get a tattoo. The very same tattoo that propelled us into discussing my father once more.

“It was supposed to be black.” I ripped my sleeve down my shoulder until my mother’s face was ablaze with that hideous fluorescent glow. “But I lit up the parlor like a damn glowstick after the first stroke. I had no idea what to tell them, save that I’d eaten something bad. Eaten something bad, mom. As if that would make the insides of my body glow. You have to tell me more. First it was my hair, and now it’s my flesh. Will my blood start to glow one day? I’d love to know that before my periods start shining through my pants.”

My mother drew in a slow breath, her eyes fixed on the tattoo. It was nothing more than a pitiful single line, seeing how the session had ground to an immediate halt after that first needle stroke and the subsequent glowstick effect.

My mother finally exhaled, saying, “You are your father on the inside, and you are me on the outside.”

I shook my head, heart thundering. “That’s not good enough. Not anymore.”

My mother tugged my sleeve back up my shoulder in a touch that was so featherlight I feared she’d take flight herself any minute now. Or maybe I was projecting. My heart was lead, but my body was light. Quite literally, apparently. If my mother’s word was to be trusted, anyway.

“Your father is…” My mother paused, her eyes searching for the words as if she could pluck them from the air. “He is the sun incarnate.”

I stared. “You can’t expect me to believe that.”

“Not our sun,” she explained with a faint smile. “Their sun.”

My fingertips buzzed, ready to pop and splatter with how wildly my every organ was protesting at the absurdity of whatever this was. “How does that even work?”

My mother’s brow crinkled, eyes going to my shoulder. “It doesn’t, evidently. I thought that was implied.”

Clenching my hands into fists, I forced the ridiculous word past my lips when I finally asked, “My father is some form of weird-ass god, then? That’s what you’re telling me?”

“Don’t be silly.” A pause. Fragile like dew on a summer’s morning. “Godhood is a human invention, after all.”

My pulse snagged in my throat.  “And my father isn’t human, you mean?”

My mother’s gaze lingered on my face, slow and careful, as if painting it in her mind’s eye. It made me want to move. Just to make sure that I wouldn’t disappear any moment now, contrary to what her eyes were telling me.

Could light disappear?

My father had disappeared.

“He is your father,” my mother said with finality, eyes spilling past me, seeing through me. “And he lives on in you.”

The righteous anger within me waned. She was no longer talking to me, but to herself, and so I let the conversation die. Coming down to it, my hair and body were smaller losses than what her loss had been. I had no desire to dig around in my mother’s entombed heart for fragments of a father I had never met and therefore couldn’t truly miss.

By the time that interplanetary travel reopened to the public, after decades of modification to the bauble network that ensured no more accidents, my mother was dead—and I was old enough that her death was par for the course. I had no reason, and therefore also all the reason, to believe that my father might still be alive, out there, away from here.

And so here I stand today, at the opening ceremony for the rebuilt lanes, as I await the first bauble that will take me to see my father.

I might look old on the outside, you see, but my mother told me I’m light on the inside, and light is meant to move.

Light never dies.

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