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Everyone remembers Uncle Ben for the great power, great responsibility line, but I remember him for the light bulb he changed, forty soft-glowing watts, voilà. The Lord said let there be light, and there was light.

I have a hard time getting past him changing the bulb with the switch on, but the mistake, even if it is from the plant's most senior electrician, is worth it. It gives us the glow of those watts on his palm, an illuminate balm the color of fresh popcorn. It gives us a moment with his neck craned back, mouth agape as Aunt May tells him God will be thrilled. He takes this in as he stares into the shade he's placed over the light, maybe wonders how he'll raise his nephew, take care of his wife now that his plant's laid him off after three decades, put him on his ass, as he says.

It took me twenty years to notice these things. They're easy to overlook when you're hung up on a switch.

I think about Uncle Ben when the light goes out in my own kitchen. I don't have a single forty-watt like he does, but a handful arranged in a fixture, one forty-watt gap in the middle. A slick, grey sphere that has no light but reflects that of those around it. Despite the difference, the process is the same. Carry the step stool from the closet. Climb it. Unscrew the bulb and replace it with a fresh one. I've done these things, returned the step stool to the closet and walked back to the switch. I know better. I turned it off before making the swap. I am not the plant's senior electrician, do not have three decades' experience in anything, but I know to turn off the lights before switching the bulb. I don't know why I know this or if it's even correct, but it's there, wedged into my conscience like Sinbad's Shazaam.

The kitchen illuminates in its full glow once I flip it, the empty hole a smidge brighter than its weathered compatriots. The Lord said let there be light, I mutter, craning my own neck, but the fixture flickers, a flutter of on-again, off-again like the furious blinking of eyes. They all go out as one. I flip the switch down, then back up, but the cluster remains dead.

I get the step stool, climb it, unscrew the bulb and replace it with a fresh one, flip the switch. Nothing. I climb the stool again, rearrange the bulbs in a game of musical chairs. Nothing. I stare up at the dull fixture, flip the switch a couple times more, picture my young daughter spinning in circles, giggling and chasing her shadow in its light. I wonder what my wife will say of the drop-off from one dead bulb to five, our kitchen's light now limited to the small window overlooking our backyard. God will not be thrilled.

I call the electrician, picture someone like Uncle Ben walking in, plaid shirt rolled to the elbows, a black vest draped over it, pocket protector, pens, the whole get-up. I go to flip the switch off for him, only I can't remember what's off at all. It's an old one that's not labeled, where off is up or down depending on whether the switch by the garage was last flipped. I flip it down, hope for the best.

I'm on my ass, I think as I wait for his arrival. I am on my ass.


Adam Shaw is the author of the novel The Jackals and the memoir Sportsman's Paradise. He lives with his wife and daughter in Louisville, Kentucky and holds an MFA in fiction writing from Concordia University, St. Paul. His short fiction and essays on relationships, pop culture, and nostalgia have appeared in Taco Bell Quarterly, The Daily Drunk, Sledgehammer Lit, and elsewhere.

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