It was the kitchen light switch that had ended John’s marriage to Agnes.
The concept was so simple, he just couldn’t understand why she didn’t understand it.
Flip the switch up to turn the light on. Flip the switch down to turn the light off.
Tidy, logical, and unfuckupable.
Except that Agnes always did manage to fuck it up. Or maybe she had just been fucking with John.
None of the other switches in the house had caused the couple a problem, but that was probably because they offered no choice. If you installed the damn things the right way, it was always up for ‘On’ and down for ‘Off.’
The issue with the kitchen switch was that it wasn’t the only kitchen switch.
First, there was the one by the back door that was the middle of three switches in the panel. The one on the left turned on the light outside the garage, so you could see what was happening in the driveway if you heard a noise in the night or decided to shoot some baskets after dark.
The one on the right turned on the light inside the garage.
Neither one of those switches bothered John because, as in the rest of the house, they were the only options to control those particular lights.
Then, there was the single switch on the wall near the fridge, on the doorfacing that led from the kitchen into the living room. That was the one that helped muck everything up.
John used both kitchen switches as he needed them, but he always made sure to use the same one for turning the lights on AND off during any visit to the kitchen.
If he came in from the garage, for example, he flipped up the toggle in the three-switch panel, did his business, and then flipped down the same switch before exiting.
It kept things in order and left a definitive indicator of whether the kitchen was in use or not.
But Agnes couldn’t be bothered with details or rules of any sort.
Many a night, John had come home from working long hours only to find that both kitchen levers were “up” but that the lights were off. The first time it happened was on a summer evening when he could see both toggles in the sunlight, and he thought that the electricity must have been out or that Agnes had had some sort of emergency, flipping switches indiscriminately in a panic. Then he realized that the TV was on in the living room and, when he stepped around the corner, Agnes was on the couch, glazed and watching.
When he asked her how the switches had gotten out of sync, she just shrugged and told him to be quiet so she could hear her show.
They had argued violently that evening, but in the end, Agnes had acknowledged that she understood how the kitchen switches should work, and that she’d be more careful in the future.
She was, too, for a little while, but it wasn’t long before John found the light switches out of whack again. And even though they fought, hard, again, Agnes never really seemed to try from that point forward.
And then other problems started to creep into their marriage, too.
There were plenty of times when Agnes served dinner cold, and John thought that his white clothes were looking dingier and dingier as the weeks and months passed. One night, Agnes wasn’t even home when John pulled into the driveway, and when she showed up 15 minutes later, she said she had been stuck in traffic on her commute from work.
John didn’t believe her story, and they tiffed again, but he knew it was getting late, anyway. Late for them, and late for Agnes.
It really was the damn light switch, though, that had finally driven John to end it. Every time Agnes fouled up the controls, that flipped-up middle toggle felt like Agnes was flipping her middle finger at him, and he couldn’t abide that.
All of this went through John’s mind when he stepped into his dark house one stormy night in January and reached around the wall to turn on the kitchen light. His hand found the panel, and then he stopped, inhaling sharply as his heart slammed against his rib cage.
The middle switch was up, but the kitchen was pitch-black.
Agnes was back.
John didn’t want to give his wife the satisfaction of knowing she had rattled him, but he was afraid of what he might find when he flipped down the switch to turn on the light.
Would Agnes be standing there in front of him with a wine bottle held high over her head, ready to strike him down in a fit of retribution?
Or would there be muddy footprints on the floor, where Agnes had dragged her own dead and rotting corpse across the linoleum to hide in some unknown corner of the house, waiting to grab at him?
Or, worst of all, what if he flipped the switch down but the lights didn’t come on at all?
John wanted nothing more than to slip his arm out of the kitchen, close the door behind him, and drive off to some hotel for the night. Darkness wouldn’t be a problem in the light of morning.
But he couldn’t leave his kitchen in such disarray. He was compelled to put things back in their proper order, and that started with flicking down the toggle by the back door.
And so, John closed his eyes and pushed his hand tighter against the wall control, then turned on the light switch.