How Many Mad Scientists Does it Take to Change a Light Bulb?

The question twisted my guts, triggering an uncontrollable urge to pee.

10,000 applicants for one scholarship to the world’s most prestigious university.  If not me, a life mining coal like dad, both granddads, four great granddads.  Grades made the first cut.  Board scores the second.  Extra-curriculars the third.  Interview, the fourth.  Now the essay.  100 finalists.  One winner.  No runners up, no honorable mentions.  99 losers.  Other scholarships?  Too much coal dust under my fingernails, in my lungs, in my DNA.

My bladder felt like a pressure cooker without a safety valve.

Found an answer online: One to map the bulb to Euclidian space, one to compute the covariant.  99 other laptops glowed with the same answer.  Fiendish, allowing us to use our laptops.  I wracked my brain.

None because we don’t have electricity.  Too third worldish.

My bladder felt volcanic, lava ready to spew forth.

An infinite number to debate whether light bulbs existed.  Too philosophical.

I hailed the proctor.  I begged.

No bathroom breaks.

I cursed.

Four, one to propose to change the bulb, one to obstruct the change, two to debate whether it needed changing.  Too Congressional.

I Googled Edison.  Light bulb jokes hadn’t been invented yet.

Two, one to change the bulb, one to replace it with the original bulb for reasons of editorial clarity.  Too New Yorkerish.

I squeezed my legs together, squirming in agony.

A dude closed his laptop, handed in his blue book, departed with middle finger raised in triumph.

Two, one to change the bulb, one to write a song of nostalgia about the original bulb.  Too folklorish.

A second person, a third, a dozen, the room emptied.  My bladder wished it could as well.  I loosened my belt to lessen the pressure.  A minute or two of relief.

Buridan’s Ass, the philosophy anecdote from college days.  Unable to decide whether to change the bulb or not, the mule stood paralyzed in the dark.  Too paradoxical.

I was alone with the proctor who tapped his wristwatch with impatience.  My underpants dampened.  In pain, I scrawled words in my blue book, hurled it at the proctor, raced to the men’s room, my pee arcing into the distant urinal, a perfect one color rainbow.

None, I had scribbled.  Light bulbs don’t wear diapers.

I won the scholarship.


Frederic Liss

Liss whose first novel was published in July, 2020 is a multiple Pushcart Prize nominee, a nominee for the storySouth Million Writers Award, and a finalist for the Flannery O’Connor Short Fiction Prize sponsored by University of Georgia Press, the St. Lawrence Book Award sponsored by Black Lawrence Press, and the Bakeless Prize sponsored by Breadloaf Writers’ Conference and Middlebury College. He has published more than 50 short stories. He has received numerous awards and other forms of recognition for individual short stories including The Florida Review Editor’s Award for Fiction; James Still Prize for Short Fiction sponsored by Wind; Midnight Sun Award for Fiction sponsored by Permafrost; Third prize in the Arthur Edelstein Prize for Short Fiction; Finalist for the Raymond Carver Award for Short Fiction sponsored by Carve Magazine; and Honorable Mention in the New Letters Literary Award for Fiction and the Glimmer Train June, 2014 Fiction Open. Liss has also been published in The Saturday Evening Post, Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, The South Dakota Review, The South Carolina Review, Dogwood, The Worcester Review, Fifth Wednesday Journal. He earned a BA from Amherst College, Amherst, MA; a JD from Columbia University School of Law, New York, NY; and an MFA from Emerson College, Boston, MA. He was the recipient of a Grant-in-Aid in Literature from the St. Botolph Club Foundation, Boston, MA where he leads a workshop in writing fiction.

Seojin Moon



Seojin Moon

Taylor Moon is a sixteen-year-old high school junior living in New York City. She is currently attending the Chapin School located on the Upper East Side. Taylor has built her foundation of drawing and painting skills at a young age. Taylor has experience in working with different mediums such as pencil, charcoal, oil paint, watercolor, acrylics, pastels, and silverpoint. Additionally, Taylor is currently taking architecture and graphic design classes in the city in order to expand her range as an artist. Several of Taylor’s works have won recognition in the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards. Taylor’s works have been featured in the Teen NK Magazine, 2020 Botanical Art Exhibition, Las Laguna Gallery, and Eris and Eros.


I slow the car when I spot the wind turbines, their majestic arms swooping in circles, chopping the unrelenting summer heat. Miles of blades work at smooth paces, but a few sit unmoving, broken or tired. You enjoyed this stretch of the drive best.

It’s 7 o’clock in the morning when I leave Chicago after this dream I have about you, or maybe it’s a memory. We were on our second date, drinking mugs of beer at the Rathskeller. You told me your middle name was Lee, your grandfather’s name— my middle name too, spelled the same. We joked it would be our firstborn’s too. How old were we? Almost 30, because I felt my life was just a pile of the same shit, and I loathed being older. I didn’t tell you that I had been darkening my hair since I was 20 to cover the gray.

“Thirty’s not old,” you said. “A hundred is old, and most of them are happier than us.”

“Doesn’t mean they aren’t disappointed about something.”

“Sure,” you said, raising your glass, a smirk reaching your mouth. “Here’s to disappointments.” The look in your eye was clear— you would be the optimistic one.

I must have made the three-hour drive down I-65 ten times before you graduated and moved into my studio apartment on Hermitage. You approved of the exposed brick wall and free laundry in the basement and complained about the faulty windows that allowed that chill into our space. I hated the glow from the television when you stayed up late, and you made fun of me for leaving empty beer cans upside down in the sink when the recycling bin was in the cabinet underneath.

“I never do anything right.”

“You picked me,” you said.

That was our life for eight months.

I go to Noblesville, where your parents still live, my nerves uneven because it’s been a while. The sun hides behind the one big cloud in the sky when I park the car, my hands cool when I remove them from the steering wheel.

It had happened fast, faster, when I allow myself to remember correctly. Within three months, one whole season, your face changed from oval to triangle, skin covering bones. The leaves of the oak trees were already orange and yellow that day at the lake when we saw all those well-dressed people, a handsome group, celebrating. We guessed a wedding or a memorial.

“Or maybe they’re just happy,” you said, recognizing it. Pops of light, vessels that held meaning, moved upward, closer to something we hadn’t discussed yet.

The newly-cut grass stuffs my nose when I sit next to the headstone. The fake flower wreath, one I’m sure your mom left, is limp.

I say out loud: “You asked, ‘You think people get married in heaven?’”

Yes, I thought, knowing that’s what I should have told you.


Lesley Stanley

Lesley Stanley is a writer living and working in Grand Rapids, Michigan. She received her M.A. in Creative Writing from Wayne State University in Detroit in 2016.

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