Tell A Tale in 500 Words

The Incredible Electric Light By Beth Jellicoe

The day the electric streetlamps came to our town there was a grand switching-on, with the mayor and corporation showing up to flick the switch and illuminate all the roads in the town… Well, not all of them. Not the back streets, not the side streets, not the streets in the Alleys where nobody wanted to send their kids on an errand after five in the afternoon, and not the strip by the factories where the tall ladies stood around.

Since there wasn’t enough money to light everybody’s way, all those places would continue in darkness or gas-light, as usual.

But all the good respectable streets in the town would be lit. We had seen aerial pictures of London and New York, and marvelled at the golden towns embroidered on the black cloth of the earth. Now it was our turn for a flick of a switch to send rivers of gold running north to south, east to west, here, in our own town.

A crowd of faces surged up around the podium in Victoria Square, a brass band played, and the mayor gave a speech about how we should cheer till our chests ached for the workers who had put the lamps up and the great men who had brought change and light.

The six o’clock sky faded from peach pink to a thin gold behind the dome of the library and the chimney of the post office. The mayor said he declared… and there was a pause while we all waited for the real lamps. The electric lamps. The unshakeable modern light.

Swaying on my dad’s shoulders, I waited for the whole town to explode in a burst of white-gold sparks, for new lamps so bright we’d be blinded. One day we’d all have electric lamps in our homes. Imagine, a steady light all through the evenings: no more strained eyes, no more tottering candles, no more of the odd smell of gas or the shifting shadows in the corners of rooms. I closed my eyes, preparing them for the blistering future.

My dad said, “Look,” and pointed to the row of new streetlamps at the edge of the square, slender like winter trees. They opened like a row of eyes as the bulbs flickered on, one by one. Now the lights suspended in darkness: now a string of round, pale moons. There was a soft murmur. Nothing was blinding me. There wasn’t much to see. The more I stared, the softer they became. I un-focused my eyes and the lamps became a string of blank faces.

On the way home I said, “I didn’t like it. I thought it would be better.”

My father picked me up again and pointed down our unlit street, towards the row of trees at the bottom. “See this?” he said. “One day we’ll have them here, and our whole street will shine.”

And we walked on home, through the dark. And the years went by.


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