The Teensy Lantern
“Miniatures, huh?” people in the office ask. “You know that they’re closing the Hobby Lobby down, right?”
“Fuck the Hobby Lobby,” I say. “Those guys are dicks.”
Sometimes people ask if the tiny lantern on my desk is a nightlight or if it’s a novelty item that’s turned on with an iPhone app. If they say ask in a nice way, I tell them it came from the office white elephant party and that just now I’m hard at work on a report.
When they leave, I place a bit of Kit Kat next to the little lantern, but behind the stapler and the small guitar, which actually IS the thing I got from the office white elephant party. The guitar plays “Purple Haze” when you press a button and has “Excuse Me While I Kiss This Guy” written across it next to a graphic of a wet lipstick kiss.
I don’t go to those parties anymore. These days the little lantern burns so bright that it blocks out everything, or to be more precise, everyone beyond it.
It’s the craziest thing that brought me to the lantern. It was back when just about everyone who was trying to change the world was living on a commune and I was too. We’d just given up the search party for the guru when I decided that the best way to be shown the path was to follow my own heart center, so I ambled up and up our shared slope of Sierra into silver country.
I was sweating a lot that day, I do remember, and this was eons before everyone wore workout gear even to workout in much less yoga pants just to go to the co-op for bee pollen or what have you. And it’s hot in the July sun when you’re wearing a corduroy muumuu or a felted apron. Not sure which one it was particularly, except that it probably came from the cast off box at the commune. I never wore adult clothing back then. Not “adult” as in xxx, just clothing that might not be as practical as yoga pants. Maybe it was a pair of prairie dungarees. The point is, no matter what I was wearing, I was so hot that I had to cool down, so I ducked into the entrance of an abandoned mine.
Down through the tunnel I went, the black air smelling like strained yerba mate and chocolate when it’s been left in the compost bin a day or two.
And then the voice of a prospecting coot said, “Dark enough in here fer yer?”
I could see all around the mine shaft then, the timber support beams and the root ends twisting out of the dirt and into the tunnel like frozen tadpoles, and my mind likes to think that I could see because he was holding the lantern then, but I can’t actually be certain that he was. What I do remember clearly is thinking that the other commune had put LSD in our well again because this guy was so minuscule. Not just pre-vitamin supplement or stunted from malnourishment, but about a fourth of a size of a normal old man. He looked like Popeye’s Pappy with one scrinchy eye, scrinched for the purpose of keeping his pipe in, and he had a beard so wiry and coated in suet and grime, you’d think Country Joe and the Fish had used it as a crash pad for a while keeping their old socks and hash inside the tangled gnarls.
I’d heard some stories from Lou-Ann Krenwinckle while digging radishes on the commune about how she’d pulled her car over one time on the highway near there and a little guy with a beard had hopped out of the forest and jumped on the bumper of her van, smiled, simultaneously waiving his hand while kicking out a jaunty heel in a vaudeville type encore pose, before running back into the woods. Well, we all knew her van had an exhaust leak.
So this little coot comes up to me and maybe that sounds creepy, being in the mine alone and everything, but I just felt this peaceful energy wash over me, like when you get out of a sweat lodge and jump into a stream and then wrap yourself up in an afghan.
“Ain’t no silver down here,” the little man said, putting his pipe back into the front pocket of his gnomey Osh-Koshes. “But I can tell that’s not what brought ya down here.”
And at that moment he stretched up on tippy toes towards me and I bent down and he put his hands that looked like old potatoes sprouting eyes of hair onto my heart chakra. “You’ve come here for a reason,” he said. “We’re alright down in this mine, but out there? Well, that there is Unicorn Country. Some of the last. You gotta protect it.”
Next thing I know I’m outta the mine and laying on some warm stones next to the river with Rusk Buckwood, or maybe it was Mama Eagle Feather, and there was the lantern, right next to me. It was little, the lantern, and looked old-fashioned and gas style. No place for batteries.
Took me a little while to figure out what to do about the Unicorns. I hitchhiked a few times to County meetings protesting new mobile home developments and logging, and when I did it, the lantern would burn bright for me at night. That was the only time it went on. When I was justice warrioring. I had to be a Unicorn hero.
But then the commune broke up. Mama Eagle Feather fell in with some bikers, and there were enough fights about running the free store that everyone just fell away until the barn was empty.
I moved back in with my mom for a while in Sacramento, borrowed some clothes, found a job with a nonprofit that was working to preserve open space. Couldn’t make the lantern turn on. I was just so busy frog-squatting it into pantyhose every morning, answering phones and ordering more toilet paper for the office.
Then, filing, I began seeing paperwork on an emergency injunction that the office had filed opposing a dam, right there by the Unicorns. I made photocopies of the paperwork and slipped them into my purse. That night the lantern glowed very bright.
I needed extra money to get outta my mom’s house, so on the weekends I’d go up to Trinity, or maybe it was Santa Cruz, and I was trimming larfers when I met Garth and Tucker and we started talking about all the poison in the water and the land and the food and then we began taking trips around, cutting lines to bulldozers, mailing bombs to logging companies, that type of thing.
And then it was time for the dam. It had been mostly built by then and Tucker had been in the army in Vietnam and he knew a lot about explosives, and while he was gathering the stuff, we burned down a few more big ass mansions that had been anal-raped into the woods. Those house are like Kool-Whip, fake, plopped down, smothering everything.
I took a sick day from my job and we headed out that night. They had one guy doing security near the front road, so easy peasy to go around back. We set the charges, and BOOM. We were back eating Cracklin Oat Bran around my mom’s table by 6:00 a.m. with my glowing little lantern as the centerpiece.
I think I’m actually going to go to this year’s office party. I picked up a piece of the dam rubble as we hightailed it outta there I’m gonna play it off like it’s a moon rock.
Allison Muir is a San Franciscan writer, artist, and interior designer. During her varied career she has designed D.I.Y. projects for ReadyMade magazine, coordinated postproduction for clients such as Industrial Light and Magic, Dreamworks and Pixar, and produced and written for Al Gore’s Current TV. Her fiction has appeared in The Murmur House literary magazine, and her recent video installation “Talkin’ Down to Trump” was recently featured at the O’Hanlon Center for the Arts in Mill Valley, California. She likes restaurants with themes and gimmicks.