The Stoplight

The Stoplight

by Matt Jones 

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It must have been a sign of progress once. After all, before Archer City, Texas, was a one-stoplight town, it was a no-stoplight town. There must have been some kind of ceremony about it — a crowd, a ribbon-cutting, a speech. The potential in the air must’ve been palpable. Most locals probably celebrated the town’s growth. A minority distrusted the new technology, wistful for simpler times.

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Most stoplights flash red, yellow, and green. This one flashes red and red, a glorified four-way stop. The lights flash back and forth, one cycle a second. That’s 60 cycles a minute, 3,600 an hour, 86,400 a day, 31,536,000 a year, longer than anyone in town can remember.

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It’s been blinking since some city worker brought it to life with the flip of a switch like it was the Empire State Building. Around it, the town has expanded and contracted again. Whatever the population, whatever businesses open and close, however much traffic passes through the dusty intersection, the stoplight blinks. It’s an absolute, a certainty, a constant.

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The number of blinks is uncountable but not infinite. It’s a unique and singular combination of Arabic digits, ticking up, one by one by one by one. It’d be possible to pinpoint it, if only we knew exactly when it started or how many times power failures have stilled it.

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It’ll stop blinking one day. Maybe a different city worker will cut the power, conscious or not of what his flip of the switch means. Maybe a storm will blow through town, topple one of the posts, drop the mechanism to the pavement, shatter it as definitively as a laptop off a balcony. Or maybe the bulbs will burn out, one by one, and no one will replace them because no one’s there to notice.

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