Nightlight by James Claffey

Summertime, long days when the sun doesn’t go down until nearly eleven o’clock at night and the extended daylight hours lead me into dangerous neighborhoods. I often steal out at night wearing a pink nylon leotard and a walnut-colored wig from Mam’s closet. At dusk, as I walk down the avenue, her low-heeled shoes too small for my feet, I stutter and limp into thin air. I need to push the old man’s boundaries, the arch-Catholic rules he imposes on the house with his pounding fists.

Once my quavering heart slows to a steady beat I crawl into the small grove of trees at the top of the lane, next door to the plant-hire yard. There, my unclenched hand works overtime, my eyes shut, the snowy image of Lieutenant Uhuru dancing naked in front of me brings my jerking off to an end. She’s exotic. Unlike any Irish girl, or woman I know. I imagine her, the color of Cadbury’s Dairy Cream chocolate; all powdered skin and coconut-scented.

After the event I lay in a heap in the roots of the trees, the leotard soiled, my soul cast to the fires below. The Old Man says I’d burn in hellfire. Fear forces me to attempt salvation, of course. I sneak back to the house, climb the back shed drainpipe and drop to the floor of my bedroom, before I strip the leotard off and bury it deep in my laundry basket. My waist is still damp when I get into bed.

Sleep arrives in daylight. Stupid birds sing outside my window wake me finally. At confession, ever the chicken, I spill my guts out to Father McCarthy. I know he is deaf, so whatever I say is safe. He makes the sign of the cross behind the metal grid and says, “In nomine Spiritus…”

I walk briskly to the altar to say my penance. On my knees, prayers cascade from my lips, salvation near at hand.


James Claffey is an Irish-born writer and educator who lives on an avocado ranch in Carpinteria, CA, with his wife, the writer and artist, Maureen Foley, and their Australian cattle-dog, Rua. His writing has appeared in various publications including the Drum Literary Magazine, the Molotov Cocktail, Everydayotherthings, the Toronto Quarterly, Shadyside Review, and the Cobalt Review. More is forthcoming in the New Orleans Review, Connotation Press, Artichoke Haircut, and Palooka Journal.