Daylight Come by Amy Hempel, 1990
The magic trick:
Hinting at profound sadness but never explaining it
This story is a little bit of a lockbox, and yesterday’s Hempel feature, “Rapture Of The Deep” is the key. Both appear in the At The Gates Of The Animal Kingdom collection. “Daylight Come” is the first story. It demonstrates Hempel’s peculiar gift for making the reader unbearably sad while delivering what on the surface appears to be light and comedic fare.
Oh, were you laughing about the dog eating lizards on the beach? Yeah, sorry, Hempel is going to keep you pulling you back to miserable with reminders like, “Ruth was the one who told us that the flowers lived only one day.”
The thing is you never really know what you’re sad about. Everything here seems so close to being good but that happiness is just out of reach somehow. So what is it?
The mystery appears to unlock three stories later in the collection with “Rapture Of The Deep,” wherein the protagonist reckons with the death of her boyfriend in a scuba diving accident. It floored me and sent me flipping back 20 pages to read the last paragraph of “Daylight Come.”
Whether you think “Rapture” relates or not, it’s a haunting close to the story. “Daylight Come” has been hinting at tragedy throughout the text but never truly goes there. In the final paragraph, we get even closer to downright broaching the subject. Tantalizing close. But still no real explanation. Maybe it’s death. Maybe it’s only a breakup. Either way, the lack of explicit revelation only makes it all the sadder. And that’s quite a trick on Hempel’s part.
Of course, the Wellers offered to take our picture. It was kind of them; it was expected. We gave them our camera, and while Bing got the feel of it, we ran into the water. We surfaced, arms around each other, and turned to face the Wellers.
In the picture it appears that I am being helped to stand. I am not looking at the Wellers. I am looking down, where the lost wedding rings are invisible, now the color of the sand or of the sea or of the flesh.
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