Simeon’s bed was a charming thing — one of those plastic, primary color-blocked beds that looks like a steam train, with a little electric light on the nose that can be turned on to ignite the boy’s imagination with ideas of chugging through a dimly lit tunnel. Perfect for a mere toddler. Simeon’s favorite books had, naturally, come to be Reverend Wilbert Awdry’s adventures following Thomas the Train. At night, his mother would turn on the bed light; read to Simeon of a tank engine foray; then turn the light off, bidding him to rest with a kiss on the forehead.
In the mornings, Simeon had developed a separate ritual that embraced not train light, but sunlight; he would watch those thin lines that pierced the cheap, crème-vinyl blinds over his window slowly stretch across the floor, refusing to budge from beneath his sheets until they had caught the wall on the other side of the room. He often wondered how much brighter his room could be if the blinds were open, but he was only three and not very tall; his tip-toes weren’t enough yet for him to fully grasp the string that would draw the blinds up and away. He was thus left clueless to the feeling of being bathed in sunlight, left instead to sink into the bubble baths his mother ran for him every other night. (Simeon, annoyed, would frown for their entirety.)
Six months later, and things had changed for Simeon. Notably, he now had a wooden loft-style bed; the fancy sleeping quarters featured a fort-like tent over the top, with a white slide down to the floor. Proficient at eating his vegetables, Simeon had grown enough to justify the new bed and the adventures that came with. Circles of climbing up the ladder, sliding down the slide, and climbing back up the ladder messed up the nicely made sheets (courtesy of his mother) as much as they wore him out just before bed time. Adventures on pirate ships and runaway railway cars required all the energy an evening snack of Cheerios could muster. When he was tuckered out, he would still read a little Thomas, though more and more in conjunction with his mother; he was a speedy learner well on track with his vocabulary.
Something changed about Simeon’s morning ritual, too. The boy could, with the help of his tip-toes, grasp the string to the blinds. Upon realizing this, Simeon came close to letting the sun’s full force enter the room several times; but he always paused, timid. As much as he liked his indoor adventures, he teetered on the thought of letting in the outside world without his mother there accompanying him. How hot would it be? How bright? Could it hurt him?
He watched the lines stream in between the blinds. Engaging his feet, Simeon barely — just barely — stuck his big toe in the sun rays’ path, quickly coming around to its warmth. And so he reached up, snatched the string, and pulled.
For the entirety of a week, Marlene Goldsberry-Morrow had watched her son dance with the sunlight — shyly at first, and now like a squirrel discovering a new kind of nut. Other times, he would sit politely and watch the sun move in an arch across the sky; at different times of the day, he would mark with crayons where the light-streams were on the carpet by lying them there, where they turned into a child’s waxy rainbow by the time the sunset. The purple one melted on accident. No matter.
On an evening run to Target, Ms. Morrow and her son stumbled across an end-cap with assorted clearance items. Between the off-brand duct tape and unwanted dog bones hung a few packs of window markers — bright pinks and greens, mostly. One pack had a mix of the two, with a bonus purple marker.
“Simeon, what do you think?” He nodded his head with a child’s zeal.
When they arrived home, Simeon dashed to the plastic sacks on the floor to retrieve the clearance treasure, running upstairs with it and tearing the markers from the package. When Ms. Morrow got the eggs put safely away — the highest shelf on the fridge, to be sure — she went to find her son and see what was boggling his little mind now. When she found him, he had gotten as far as getting the markers out; but he had realized the window itself was slightly out of reach. He would not be doing window art until he was older.
Ms. Morrow bent down and gently took the purple marker from his hand, his eyes following his mother with a look of innocent question. What would she draw?
“Simeon, where is the sunlight right now?” He pointed to the streak at his left, caught tightly in the thousands of woven carpet loops. “Good, hun. Now go stand in it.”
He stood and did as he was told, squinting when he accidentally looked right out the window where that orange ball of flame was perched. He covered his eyes while his mother asked, “what direction is the sunlight coming from?” With a forearm over his face, he pointed.
“Good. Now don’t look.” After a couple of minutes or so, he heard the blinds close with a brief whoosh. When he opened his eyes, créme vinyl blinds blandly greeted him. It was time to head downstairs for dinner.
Simeon awoke the next morning with a renewed curiosity. The same traces of light he was used to were teasing the room as he inched toward the window, ready to pull the blinds. Something must be up there waiting; his mother surely wasn’t tricking him? He reached up, snatched the string, and pulled.
What appeared before his eyes was marvelous; “masterpiece” might have described it, though that word was not yet in his vocabulary. His jaw dropped as he absorbed the sunlight streaming through and in-between a web of circles and lines, numbers and signs; the window was nearly half-covered in the lavender tint of the purple window marker. What did his mother do to the window?
All day long, Simeon sat cross-legged and incredulous on the floor, his mouth a gaping cave of wonder. At hourly increments, the sun shone perfectly through purple circles that were drawn in a fixed arch across the window. Above and below the diagram, numbers with straight lines and dots stacked on top of and below each other were mixed with letters and other funny looking things. He was not even trying to understand; he just liked the way the big ball of flame fit perfectly in those shapes. It felt correct to him, and he began to wonder what other things adults could do that he could not.
He went to his desk — a small corner piece, tucked into the rear of the room near the closet — and pulled out a piece of paper. He looked for the purple crayon, then remembered its fatal day beneath the sun. He went with the next best thing, tucking red and blue crayons in the grooves between his fingers and going to work, trying to replicate his mother’s purple window-smarts. But he could hardly make an attractive number “3,” let alone that weird thing with two little lines and a squiggly on top. He set the crayons down and looked at his hands, where some of the wax had left the insides of his fingers colorful; he rubbed them together, enjoying the soft, gliding feeling of the crayon stuff.
And then he realized he felt tired (exhausted, truly). His face was still warm from bathing in the sun and his mother’s writing on the window. His eyelids were giving out, failing to bear the weight of a day-long venture into the tangled, purple unknown. With a yawn, Simeon crawled up into his imaginary fortress, said “thanks, Mom,” and fell right to sleep, not bothering to crawl beneath the sheets.
In the doorway, Ms. Morrow leaned against the stained-oak trim and watched her son’s eyes stare up and outward. Following their gaze, she also admired the work she had done; the formulas and calculations had rattled off her fingertips in second-nature fashion. She enjoyed shocking her son with strange things like math and science and window markers; for her, it was far from the hardest part of being the parent — quite the opposite, really. These strange things were why she felt she had to be a parent; she was compelled to act for the future. So she named the future Simeon and bought it window markers and drew fancy things to glaze its eyes the world over.
She watched as he ran — shuffled — over to his desk and tried to replicate her science. His attention span was usually very impressive, but this time he gave up rather quickly when drooping eyelids began sneaking up on him, disrupting his concentration. Ms. Morrow stepped over to the bed as her son slowly climbed the ladder and plopped right down on top of the newly laid sheets. She kissed him on the forehead, said “I love you,” and closed the blinds so he could nap.
Many years later, Simeon was reaching up to the top shelf of the closet in what used to be his room. A man of just-below-average height, he managed to reach the cardboard boxes full of various and sundry things — though just barely, often calf-raising his way to his tip-toes to get there.
The room was essentially void of furniture; he had taken his queen bed for his apartment years ago, and the loft bed — which had sat disassembled and collecting dust for a decade in the closet — was now reassembled at his place, playing host to his young daughter’s daily escapades. What had been left — an old corner desk, some shelves, and one of those kids’ lamps with a ceramic soccer ball as its base (and a dorky sports-themed lampshade to match) — had been sold in last weekend’s garage sale. What was left in the room was bound for thrift stores or the dump.
Reaching up for the box in the far corner, Simeon could only nudge the bottom of it with his fingers. With a couple little jumps, he tried to shimmy it far enough toward him to grab it with two hands; instead, with an over-eager clumsiness particular to him, he sort of tossed the box off the shelf and down to the floor, where it toppled over and promptly disposed of its contents. “Dammit,” he mumbled to himself. But when he looked down, he froze.
For some people, memories begin forming early; pictures and videos of their earliest days in the world store themselves for replay within months of breathing stuffy hospital air. Simeon’s mind had not jogged itself quite that quickly; his earliest memory was somewhere around age three. His mother, Marlene Goldsberry-Morrow, had read one of Reverend Wilbert Awdry’s Thomas the Train books to him as he laid down in his plastic train-bed. Before reading, she turned on the bed’s cheeky light, placed on the front as if the bed was a train huffing through a dimly-lit tunnel. And when the story concluded, she clicked the light off; kissed Simeon goodnight; and they slept.
At Simeon’s feet lay that very light — a small and circular battery-powered device with an arbitrary “3” printed on the front of it.
He bent down and picked it up, turning it over in his hands a few times with the reflective interest of a grown-up. Becoming curious, he flipped the switch on the back. The light shone very quietly; the batteries had next to nothing left in them. They were probably leaking acid. He wondered if whoever bought the bed all those years ago was still looking for the light that went with it? Eh. No matter.
Behind Simeon, the room’s window was bright, the sun streaming through in droves, its gushes revealing clouds of dust hanging in the air. It looked to Simeon as though the dust was frozen; he felt he could reach out and rearrange each speck, one-by-one, into perfect and scientific proportions. If creative thinking could become reality, he wanted to know how to make it so; but he had been a grown-up for a while now and — with a certain resignation — realized that wasn’t even something grown-ups could do.
He strolled over to the window and traced his fingers in shapes and equations on the glass. His sister had done a fine job cleaning the room, and the window was no exception; it was crystal clear, minus the few dust specks that had already settled back in their spots. But he swore he could still see wondrous streaks of purple that he didn’t understand, circles catching the sun in its stride and casting a warm, intelligent glow upon his cheeks.
He reached down, pinched the string, and pulled, keeping some tension on it as he slowly let the blinds down until they rested on the window’s mantle. He turned the electric train light off and tossed it back in the closet, its plastic cover cracking into little chips as Simeon shut the door behind him.