Green Light, Red Light

“Lindsey, can I tell you something kind of… strange?”

Todd asked the question as I was sipping my second beer. I didn’t have much time to think before I put it down and turned to look at my Todd for a hint of what that could mean.

I scanned his face, suspicious, and saw that his expression was completely serious. 

But the question just felt odd. I had hoped he was joking or being intentionally dramatic. Because a boy asking if they can tell you  something strange is usually what happens right before they say something really inappropriate or embarrassing — like drunkenly admitting they think “you’re really fucking hot” or that you appeared in a sex dream they can’t stop thinking about. That, of course,  goes double for when they’ve been drinking.

“Go for it,” I said with a touch of reservation.

Todd glanced down into his half-drank beer mug. The foam was layered in rings down the side, which is how you know a glass at a bar has been properly cleaned. His eyes were glimmering and his lips were a millimeter apart.

“Something happened to me last week, Lindsey.”

“Mhm,” I said and sipped my beer. It was gonna be a sex dream confession, wasn’t it?

He breathed deeply and then continued, apprehensive. “It happened at the light near the liquor store on Sweet Hollow Road. At the intersection,” he forced out of his mouth.

“Okay,” I said, now completely baffled. “Well what happened?”

He pulled the brim of his beat up trucker hat further down his forehead as he talked. He was a scrawny guy, six-foot-one with only 150 pounds on his slim body. But he filled out his frame with baggy jeans and a thick, rugged Carhardt jacket he kept pulled high up on his shoulders.

“I was sitting there, right?” he started. “I was just in my car, listening to the radio or some shit. I remember, because I had just switched the station because that shitty Beatles song came on. The one that I hate, The Walrus, or whatever.”

He continued, “I was sitting there, and I had just turned the dial, and I looked out in front of me, down the road towards the treeline where Sweet Hollow Road heads into the woods and wraps down towards the river. It’s the road that leads out of town. And in the clumps of trees way far down the road on my right, maybe nine hundred yards away, I saw this blue light.”

“A blue light?” I asked.

“Yeah, like a laser pointer, ya know? Small and circular, like a pin point. But from how big it looked and how far away it seemed to be, it must have been the size of a fucking minivan. At least, that’s how I remember it. And it was moving just like a laser pointer when you’re teasing a cat. Kind of erratically, but also smoothly, ya know? Like a lopsided figure eight pattern. But irregular and weird. Like someone was moving it about haphazardly to catch attention.”

“Well what was it?” I asked. 

There were beads of sweat accumulating on Todd’s forehead now.

“I, I don’t know, to be totally honest. I tried to get a good look at it, I really did, and I remember sitting there thinking, ‘Once this light turns, I’ll go home down Sugar Hollow road instead of the normal way so I can get a better look.”

He gulped. “But the light didn’t change. I sat there for minutes, just staring at that fucking street light, looking back down the treeline to the blue light, then back to the street light. But the blue moving light wasn’t going away, and the street light wasn’t changing.”

He gulped another swallow of beer.

“It seemed so long. I was convinced that I must not have really been paying attention, and that the street light had changed to go and back to stop again while I was looking away.”

Todd rested his forehead on the bridge of his hands and stared down at the counter-top. The bartender glanced over at us, probably concerned that he was sick or about to vomit, but I waved her away. She smiled and shook her head in some sort of silent sisterhood and headed into the back kitchen. I turned back to Todd and listened to him finish.

“Suddenly, I don’t know what happened, but after what felt like ten whole fucking minutes at that street light, the blue flash on the treeline just sort of…”

I leaned in.

He looked up at me and I could see the terror in his eyes. “Exploded,” he said. 

And then the words poured out of his mouth like a facet.

“The whole sky and everything in front of my car just… exploded into this sky blue light, and I couldn’t see anything outside of my car. Light was pouring in from my windshield. I couldn’t look up, it was so intense. I had to cover my eyes with my hands. I didn’t even have time to react or think about what was happening.”

Todd fumbled with his glass of beer and took a long gulp. He put it back down and he twitched like a shiver had run down his back. His story was picking up pace and volume as he continued.

“I don’t know what happened next. It’s all just a big blank spot in my memory. But what I remember is waking up. And it wasn’t just a doze off or losing my head for a second. I felt like I was waking up hungover from a twelve hour sleep. My joints were sore and my eyes were dried out to hell.”

Todd’s voice was cracking and his face was growing more pale with every word. I put my hand on his back, unsure of what I could do.

“Can we smoke in here?” I called out to the bartender in the back room.

She peeked out, slightly annoyed, and looked around the bar — we were the only ones here at 1:00am on a Tuesday night. She shrugged. “Normally we tell people no but we have this place vented and I won’t tell anyone if you don’t,” she said flatly and put a plastic cup on the counter between us with just a centimeter of water at the bottom. Then she returned to the back.

I pulled out the pack of Camels I kept in my purse and gave one to Todd. He put it in his mouth, unlit, and it dangled out limply between his lips. I flicked my cheap lighter and brought it up to his face. He held the cigarette close to the flame, and I saw the fire flicker in his soft, green eyes. They were watery and uncertain.

He took a drag and exhaled slowly. Finally, he continued the story.

“There were no other cars around and I was alone in my truck. I felt so shocked and scared about whatever had just happened, I just wanted to get out of there. I looked up to see if the light was green and… it was. But not in the normal way.”

He fidgeted with the ball cap on his head again. I lit my own cigarette without looking away from him.

“The top light — the light you are supposed to stop for, the one that was normally red, was green.”

I tilted my head, confused. “What do you mean? So what was wrong?” I asked.

He laughed and shook his head. “I knew you wouldn’t get it. Nobody gets it.”

“I just don’t get what you mean,” I said, trying my best to sound supportive. “So what was weird? What was the problem?”

Todd pulled his cap off his head and his chin-length crop of blonde hair fell down the sides of his face. He pulled his bangs back from over his eyes and stared at the wall behind the bar. The cigarette was still gripped between his fingers as he rested his hands on top of his head.

“For my entire life until last week, stop lights have had the red on the top and the green on the bottom. Red means stop, green means go. That is how it has always worked for me. For everyone! Red means stop, green means go!”

I smiled with awkward uncertainty. “I mean, stop signs are red, if that’s what you mean, but–”

“NO!” he suddenly shouted and pounded his fists on the counter. The bartender poked her head out from the back room again with wide eyes but I waved her away casually. He sighed, annoyed and returned once again to the back.

“Red. Red stop lights,” Todd said with a sharp hiss. “Red means stop. Always. Green means go. Always.”

I saw the way his body shook as he talked and wished to God he had just wanted to tell me about a sex dream like I had thought.

“I- uh” I started. “I don’t know, Todd. Have you gone to the doctor? Maybe whatever happened or flashed or whatever on the tree line that night messed up your vision. You know, my friend’s sister married a guy who became color blind after–”

Todd looked at me, his brow furrowed and his lips curled into an unspeakable frown. 

“What color is that door?” he spat as he pointed to the entrance to the bar.

“Red.” I said.

“Yeah. It is for me too. What color is this bill?” he asked as he pulled a dollar out of his wallet and held it up like evidence in a trial.

“Green,” I said, my voice cracking from the stress.

“Yeah, it is.”

He dropped the dollar on the grody floor and slumped over the bar with his head buried in his arms. “What color means ‘stop’ at a stoplight?” he moaned.

I didn’t answer.

He asked again with desperation, his voice muffled in the thick sleeves of his work jacket, “What color tells you to stop when you’re at a stoplight? What’s the light at the top?”

“Green,” I said in a low tone.

He began to sob softly there on the stool next to me. I crushed out my cigarette and got up from my seat to hug his slouched, shaky mass as he cried. “It’s okay, Todd. It’s okay. You’re just –”

But he kept crying for several minutes. The bartender stomped out of the back this time. I lied and told her that he was going through a break up and not to worry, but her face contorted into a scowl. She told us they were closing and we had to leave soon.

Through struggling sniffles and sobs, Todd picked his head up off the counter and pulled money out of his wallet to pay his tab. I tried to protest and tell him that I’d cover it, but he silently removed the bills from his wallet and stood up..

His face flushed with emotion and his nose running, he turned to me.

“What happened to me, Lindsey?”

Our eyes met, and he gave one last sob. “What’s wrong with me?”

My throat tightened as I saw the whites of his eyes contrast against the brilliant scarlet ring around his pupil.

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