A Secret

In the bathroom of the house I grew up in, there was a peculiar light fixture. Four or five lightbulbs were mounted on a brass backboard, above the sink and mirror where I saw my reflection each morning. Long glass poles hovered around the lightbulbs like window blinds, stretching across them horizontally and scattering the light across the room.

Look closely enough at a familiar object, and you will uncover something entirely new. I must have been fourteen or fifteen when I climbed up onto the granite counter one day and got my first real look at these lights. Three brass discs jutted out perpendicular from the rectangular metal base, slicing up and down on the left, on the right, and in the middle. The lightbulbs rested in between, divided into their separate sections. Each disc—not quite a full circle, but more than a semicircle—had a smattering of holes around the edges, where the glass poles stuck through. Sliding a pole all the way into place, through the matching hole in each disc, would hold it secure. The result was a floating cloud of glass poles, which encased the bulbs in a lengthwise half-cylinder. Looking closer, I saw that the glass poles had a raised circle 1/5th of the way in, close to the edge. The raised rings were too thick to pass through the holes in the vertical brass discs; this provided some stability, preventing them from sliding out against the wall. Perched on top of the black counter, straddling the sink, I carefully pulled one pole out. Balancing the left side over the top of the sliding shower door, I guided it through each hole: one, two, three, and then it was free in my hands. The pole was about three feet long, and because of the location of the bump, I couldn’t help thinking it looked like a sword.

Later that night, I held the pole in front of the mirror in my walk-in closet. I had a two-part room, and the big closet was my private domain. I made a resolution: this is where, late at night, I would practice my swordplay. If anyone was suspicious, I could slide it right back into the light fixture, and they would be none the wiser. Maybe they had noticed the missing pole, the highest one around the back, or maybe the minute observation was just a figment of their imagination. Maybe it wasn’t there to begin with; they had just never looked close enough.

I took my shirt off with a serious look, and gave myself an inspection. I would learn how to fence; I would become strong. It would be just like The Count of Monte Cristo. Grabbing behind the bump, on the “handle” at the base of the sword, I turned the weapon over and felt its weight, gently twisting it through the air. I exhaled, making my first slash at the mirror. As I jerked it back up, preparing for another strike, the weight of the pole promptly caused it to snap clean off at the handle. It clanged against my mirror and fell to the floor. I had been a warrior for all of ten seconds.

Embarrassed (but not too embarrassed), I stooped to pick it up, and stowed it back in the furthest recesses of my closet shelf, behind my berimbau and my old shoeboxes. Nobody noticed the one missing pole, the highest one in the back around the top, and the broken glass rested quietly in my closet until I moved out of the house, years later. As my mom pulled things down from my closet, she saw it, and I laughed and told her the story. It wasn’t even a big deal, but it had been my secret.

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