- Coulehan, Jack
- Date of entry: May-27-2003
- Last revised: Aug-31-2006
A doctor is riding through the desolate steppe at twilight and loses his way. He comes to a hut along the new railroad where two men, an engineer and his young assistant, are spending the night. After they all have a few drinks, the engineer marvels over the beauty of lights in the distance, while the young man says the lights remind him "of something long dead, that lived thousands of years ago." (p. 607) He sees no point in human love or accomplishment because, after all, we all have the same fate--death. This encourages the old engineer to tell a tale of his youth.
Once, when visiting his hometown on business, he had come across a childhood friend, a woman who was unhappily married. He looked forward to having a brief affair with her, but she considered him her savior. She desperately wanted him to take her away. The engineer agreed, but then callously abandoned her.
Later, he realized that "I had committed a crime as bad as murder." (p. 635) He went back and "besought Kisotchka’s forgiveness like a naughty boy and wept with her . . . " (p. 639) At the end of "Lights," the doctor rides off at sunrise toward home. All around him nature seems to be saying, "Yes, there’s no understanding anything in the world!"
Early Short Stories 1883-1888
Random House: The Modern Library