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The Museum of Light
by Tom Spencer

Watch your step. I know. Everything’s black before we hit the exhibits. The whole museum contains no uncurated light.


Now. The first few rooms contain what we call biographical light. First, daylight rising in an unfamiliar place: the school parking lot when you board the coach that leaves on the field trip at dawn, the light hitting the top of the school roof, which looks for a second like a crown.


Here’s the sad light your realtor said “poured in” through the windows of your first place.


Here, the light from the apartment in a skyscraper you saw across the city at 3am soothing your baby and wondered, Why are they up?


The yellow light in your neighborhood in the moments before a storm. We’re segueing into more abstract territory here.


Over here, the winter light of an East Anglian church. Here we have cheated a little – this room contains extra motes of slow dust. We find it promotes serenity.


A blend of Mediterranean lights. No, drink it in. The curators wanted to capture the unique magic of Mediterranean coastal light, but found that, alone, that light irritates the eyes. So we took rays from Monaco and Santorini and blended them with some garden-variety Italian. This takes the brightness down to manageable levels while retaining, as you can see, that trademark clarity.


This one’s called The Transfiguration. No, not that one. More like the transfiguration of a building site at night by halogen worklamps. More like that than the face of a singer transfigured by the spotlight, though we thought about doing that too.


A surprise sunset as you round the bend. All the colors of a bruise!


Now – over here – this last room is special. A selection of extremely rare bottled lights: St Peter’s Square, 1981, the day the Pope was shot; the Lorraine Motel, Memphis, 1968; Lower Manhattan, September 2001; Robben Island, 1964; Six feet below Wilhelmstraße, Berlin, 1945. Bliss it was in that dawn, etc. Well, no, not bliss. Dread, horror, and whatnot, mostly. But in the museum of light, you can see it too and by seeing, feel.


Tom Spencer is an expat Londoner currently living and working in Montgomery, Alabama. He has published creative work in various journals, including a story nominated for a Pushcart Prize and another shortlisted for the Galley Beggar Press Prize. He is the author of an academic book on twentieth-century fiction, as well as having written for the New York Times, the Times Literary Supplement, and elsewhere.

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