I'm standing in the dark holding a flashlight for my son while he installs a new starter in his car. Bats are zipping past overhead but I hear no mosquitoes--too cool and dry. Feels like autumn finally arriving, a slight cooling and dampness in the air, and from the garden a whiff of decay.
Holding a flashlight for my son is not how I'd planned to spend my evening, but after an exhausting 11-hour day on campus, I had nothing else important to do. Holding a flashlight is a mindless task--just aim it where his hands are working, shift to the socket set then over to the manual then back to the engine where he's trying to get the new air filter tucked in correctly then moving on to the battery.
Stars start coming out overhead, a nice treat after all those dark clouds looming all afternoon. We had hoped for rain since the creek has shrunk to disconnected puddles, but the clouds moved on without releasing more than a few scattered drops. The dark surrounds us like a curtain except where the flashlight illuminates a little bit of engine.
"Over this way a little," he says, and I oblige. He's having trouble getting the battery bracket screwed down tight, too many shadows obscuring the essential bits. A few more shifts of the flashlight, a few turns of the screws, and everything is in place for a test--and the car starts right up on the first crank.
A job well done, we tell each other. He did the hard part and he has the greasy hands to show for it; I just stood there in the dark aiming the beam where it would be most helpful. But still I feel I have a stake in the purring of the engine, as if I've played an essential role in my son's movement into the future. When he was young I carried him and then I drove him around, but now I'm happy just to stand silently by and aim a beam of light where his hands need to work.