by Louis Gallo

The young lovers across the street have spent their whole day stringing lights across every inch of their house, beating us, who’ve had it planned for quite a while but never found sufficient energy or time. And then there’s that voice inside both of us, that perverse imp, the one we rarely speak of, the one we detest: ‘What’s the point. It’s all meaningless. Before we know it, Christmas will be over. Why bother?’ A voice like black ice. Our lights are still in the Walmart bag, still wound on cardboard cylinders in their pristine, shrink-wrapped packages. We’ve never decorated the house before, but it seemed a good idea on impulse that night we took the kids to see the wreathes and ornaments all over town. ‘Yeaaaah,’ they cried, ‘we like lights! We want lots of lights!’

Their enthusiasm was infectious. Cathy must have sensed my second thoughts as I pulled the packages out for the cashier to scan. Why else nudge me gently in the ribs? ‘We’re putting up those lights, hear me?’ she said. I thought of the ladder, hammer, hooks, nails, how cold it would be – and unpleasant. That voice again, rising ponderously from the depths like a sunken tombstone. ‘Why bother? Blink your eyes, it’s over. Who will even remember? Do you remember if your parents decorated the house with lights?’ And however hard I tried, I couldn’t remember. ‘Lights are for other people. Forget the kids, even if they do remember, they won’t care.’

On the drive home I must have slumped more than usual. ‘You’re thinking about them, aren’t you?’ she said. ‘So am I. It’s like rotating the tires. Let them rotate themselves. Just another thing to do. Or sewing on a button. Cleaning out the fridge. Watering the lawn.’ We took our exit onto streets swirling with darkness. The kids had fallen asleep in their car seats. ‘We’ll string those lights this weekend,’ I said. Saturday, Sunday, neither of us mentioned the lights. And now the neighbors have put us to shame. We could not stop glancing from behind curtains to watch as she reached up with each loop and he on the ladder, received them to tack into place.

And tonight their house looks so cozy, festive. We’re envious that they made it all look so simple. ‘Nothing is simple or easy or worth the price,’ whispers our disaffected, morose little nemesis. Oh, we’ll get them up all right . . . soon. And the kids will screech and yelp with joy. We’ll pat ourselves on the back, feel more moral. Right now, though, that bag is still stashed in the back of our closet. Only in our dreams do they flicker madly, flare, short-circuit.

Louis Gallo’s work has appeared or will shortly appear in Wide Awake in the Pelican State (LSU anthology), Southern Literary Review, Fiction Fix, Glimmer Train, Hollins Critic, Rattle, Southern Quarterly, Litro, New Orleans Review, Xavier Review, Glass: A Journal of Poetry, Missouri Review, Berkeley Fiction Review, Mississippi Review, Texas Review, Baltimore Review, Pennsylvania Literary Journal, The Ledge, storySouth,  Houston Literary Review, Tampa Review, Raving Dove, The Journal (Ohio), Greensboro Review, and many others. Chapbooks include The Truth Changes, The Abomination of Fascination, Status Updates and The Ten Most Important Questions. He is the founding editor of the now defunct journals, The Barataria Review and Books: A New Orleans Review. He was awarded an NEA fellowship for fiction. He teaches at Radford University in Radford, Virginia.