She looked across the field of lights. It should have been a neighborhood by now.

“Guys look,” Jake pointed to the east as the sky lit up like dawn. A molten saffron dart shot up into the night.

A FIELD OF LIGHTS BY JOSHUA DULL 34THPARALLEL MAGAZINE ISSUE 35

Sarah Mansfield drove into the heart of what was supposed to be a subdivision called Gatsby Villages. Lanterns lined the asphalt, casting sequential pools of white light along the black roads, curving through expansive fields of grass. When she was younger she remembered riding by this place on her way to Path of Light Lutheran Church with her parents and feeling sad because backhoes and bulldozers had ravaged the forest of pines that once stood in its place. Sarah drove to the west end of the street, turned left and parked. She opened the trunk and pulled out a garden spade and the first of ten violet chrysanthemums. Sarah walked each of the ten plants into the middle of the field, between the street and a tan wall about 200 yards away, arranging them in a circle. She looked across the expanse, streetlamps glowing among the surrounding shadows—a field of lights. It should have been a neighborhood by now. Stars glittered between thin clouds.

Before her mom was diagnosed, her parents had even talked about moving here once it was developed. Her mom had gotten a raise at the School Board and the new gated community seemed like a promising upgrade from their two-bedroom home in Rockledge. Then people started losing their jobs. Banks started foreclosing on homes. Places like this were abandoned. She remembered saying goodbye to her friend Lavender whose mom had been laid off from Lockheed Martin. They had to move in with her grandma in Cocoa Beach.

Having planted the flowers, Sarah tossed the garden spade into the trunk and brushed dirt off her leather pants. She sat on the grass against the car, taking in the emptiness. She’d seen her mom at the hospital that day, but she’d been too weak to smile. Her father was drying tears when she came to him in the waiting room. Sarah hoped her mom would make it long enough for her to graduate High School next year, but seeing her today that wish evaporated. Sarah knew she was tired of holding on.

The future without her mom was bleak and uncertain. Her mom often talked about the garden she would plant in their new house here, when everything seemed bright and promising. Sarah hoped maybe she could see this small garden on her way to the afterlife. Red lights blinked from distant aerials in the west. A star fell near Orion’s constellation like a cosmic teardrop.

After the hospital bills, burial costs, and the loss of her mom’s income following her death, Sarah and her father could no longer afford their house in Rockledge. They found a smaller house in Merritt Island, near the 520 causeway. Sarah didn’t go to the field of lights any more. There was no reason to drive by it on the way to church and she spent more time in her room. She read Poe and Lovecraft and painted a crooked haunted house tree on her pale blue walls. The silhouette of a girl sat at the base of the tree clutching her knees, lines from songs and poems spiraled from her head and turned into bats. “You’re painting back over that if we move,” her father told her.

On nights she couldn’t sleep, Sarah found herself drawn to the Georgiana settlement on Crooked Mile, further south from her house. A Methodist church stood watch on a corner and behind it lay the oldest cemetery in the county. She liked to walk among the weathered stones and tendrils of Spanish moss. She wondered about a stone with the name of three girls who all died the same day in the early 1900s. The gnarled, overreaching live oaks made her tremble, but she loved the solitude of this place for the dead. She wished her mom could’ve been buried here, but her ashes rested in a columbarium at Path of Light, essentially an ornately decorated filing cabinet for human remains.

The trees thinned out in the rear of the cemetery and the moon covered her in a comforting blue light. The copse of trees at the front of the cemetery took on an ethereal silver sheen, hearkening to some deeply repressed childhood memory of which she couldn’t recall, only the ineffable longing it conjured within her. It became a ritual for her to pass through her fear, then meet with her sadness.

The cemetery refreshed her sorrow into something sublime, keeping it from decaying into cynicism. Then one night she saw a dark figure standing on a stump at the back of the graveyard. She hid in the shadows and watched him. He stood as still as the stones around him. She never went back at night again.

A year later, her first year at Brevard Community College, she returned to the field of lights with her friends Justin and Jake. She and Justin had taken an advanced biology class together at Ridgewood High in Merritt Island. She didn’t think she would’ve passed without his help. Jake was Justin’s best friend since third grade, when the field of lights had been a forest and their church was under construction. Heat lightning revealed billowing blue clouds in the west. The boys cracked open cans of Guinness Jake bought using his fake ID and they followed her out of the streetlights to her garden.

One plant had died. Another plant sprouted violet flowers, but semicircles were missing from its leaves, eaten by bugs. Another plant’s flowers had been picked, telling her others had found this place too. The remaining flowers grew in profusion. She wondered if they’d had a caretaker while she was gone. Jake poured beer at the base of the dead one. Justin walked with Sarah into the midst of the flowers. In their center, a single red flower sprawled from the ground like a starfish among violet coral.

“What’s this one?” Justin asked.

“I don’t know, I didn’t plant it,” she said, kneeling down and touching one of the long crimson petals. “Maybe it’s the amaranth. In mythology it’s the flower that never dies.”

Justin stroked his beard with his thumb and forefinger, staring at the plant. “It doesn’t look like any amaranth species I know of,” Justin said, “they usually have longer clusters of smaller flowers.”

“I choose to believe it’s an amaranth,” said Sarah. It reminded her of the Asiatic lilies her mom used to plant beneath her window. She’d started planting them after Sarah learned that all living things die, including everyone she loved. Her mom told her about the amaranth, and how souls live on, even after the bodies containing them die.

“Guys look,” Jake pointed to the east as the sky lit up like dawn. A molten saffron dart shot up into the night.

“Terrorists?” said Jake.

“Shuttle launch, dumbass,” said Justin, “Atlantis.”

“Didn’t another one blow up or something awhile back?” said Jake.

“Yeah, Columbia, back in 2003.”

“I’m surprised they’re still having shuttle launches after that,” said Sarah.

The three of them stood among the flowers watching the glowing spacecraft until it became as dim as a star in the ambient light of Brevard County.

JOSHUA DULL

I wrote this story in an attempt to capture the overall sentiments of stagnation, broken promises, and disillusionment that hung over my home in Brevard County, Florida, and the feelings my friends and I had come to know in those times. Loss was prevalent all over the county and an uncertainty of the future hovered before me and many of my friends who didn’t immediately find their way into college or the military. In this story, I wanted to symbolize that loss and uncertainty in the empty field that was supposed to be something greater—based on an actual subdivision in the city of Viera where my friends and I used to hang out. Among all of it, I wanted to render some glimmer of hope. I interpreted the collapse around me to mean that existence is present and eternal behind all the things we create to distract ourselves from it. When it all falls away we find ourselves still alive, and so we continue.