A Trick of Light main image



A Trick of Light:



Books by their covers


Just loafing, sunning himself in the Tuilleries Gardens, Joseph watched children float their tiny boats in one of the fountains; parents or guardians loitered nearby, none of them lifting their eyes. When the boats got caught up in the whirlpool of the fountain, one freckled, red-headed boy would rescue the wayward craft with a hook attached to a long pole. All the children wore blase expressions and seemed to be doing what they did every day at that hour.

The sunlight converted the orderly garden into a glary picture window. Because of the heat, Joseph, a shy American tourist, wished some adult would take off their shoes and soak their feet for relief from the swelter, and then he would follow their lead. Joseph waited and waited, but they all had too much dignity to remove their shoes in a public garden.

He finally coaxed up the energy necessary to wander over to the Ferris wheel overlooking the rue de Rivoli. He sat himself down on a shaded bench and mopped his perspiring brow with his limp handkerchief.

There was a six-year-old girl who had the ride all to herself. When she reached the top and the operator stopped the ride so she could have a splendid view of the city, she screamed as if the devil would take her.

There was no one besides Joseph around so, naturally, the ride operator appealed to him for help as to what to do with the unhappy child bawling above. Joseph threw up his hands in his best Don't look at me gesture. The operator was saying in French many things Joseph couldn't understand; the poor man was obviously frustrated.

Joseph made a circular motion with his finger, indicating to the operator that he should start up the machine again so that the little girl would progress on her rotation down to the ground, where she would certainly cease her crying. But there was the problem: the machine was jammed.

What with the frantic shrieking by the little girl from on high and the zealous cursing by the operator at the controls down below, the din was becoming too much for Joseph to bear. He was no longer able to look at the howling child, so he turned his attention to her shadow on the ground near the wheel.

The girl's shadow was very animated, and Joseph could see that she was wildly waving her arms. Then the shadow--the girl--began to climb out of the gondola!

In terror, Joseph glanced back up at the wheel. To his relief he saw that it had only been a trick of light, the whim of illumination and shadow; the girl was still safe in her seat, clinging to the safety bar. Up to that point, the girl had only been screaming; now, in English, she cried, 'Daddy! Daddy!'

The operator was all frustrated action. And as his frustration grew, so grew the size of the tool with which he tried to restart his balky machine: where he had begun by using his tiniest of screwdrivers, he had graduated to a crow-black crowbar, an ancient heirloom left to him by his grandfather, and he was gouging with it the machine's most delicate parts. He appealed once again to Joseph. But Joseph could stand no more; this scene was greatly disturbing to him, and he wasn't comfortable with this idea distilling in his mind about having some stake in the girl's well-being, or even taking some action to rescue her. Being one of those people who think the best life is one in which no personal responsibility is demanded, Joseph rose from the bench and left that place at a good clip. Passing a nearby snack stand, he jostled a man carrying two ice cream cones; the man was occupied with doing his best to keep the melting mess from oozing down to his hands. Joseph hoped the man was the girl's father, but he didn't hang around to find out.
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