By Jessilyn Rich
My heart lurched in my chest as the blast of the horn pierced the night and ripped me from my sleep. My startled arm sent my teacup flying from the end table, smashed into the floor, sending the cold contents all around. I had fallen asleep in my arm chair, a common occurrence in this house, as I waited each night, hoping, praying it would never come. The sounds of the bells from the lighthouse bounced off the shoreline of the bay, clouding the quiet and clear night air. I paused for just a moment, my hand pressed securely over my mouth, trying to silence the pounding of my heart as I listened closely. Could tonight really be the night, was it happening again?
The screams of the rescue boat as it took off into the darkness, sliced through the night with such accuracy that I believe my heart stopped beating altogether. I scrambled from my chair, dumping an oblivious old tabby from my lap. He paid little care to the world outside the window, unless it was to taunt a bird on a nearby branch; part of me envied his ignorance. The night air struck my face like freezing rain as I threw the window open. The window that I didn’t remember closing or latching in the first place. The wind of the sea, threatened to pull me out of the frame and dump me onto the ground far below. I regained my balance as I continued to lean over the edge, squinting into the darkness, a light fog now setting in as I listened for another whistle to blow. I could see the red lights of the rescue boat disappearing into the fog, their flashing red fading into a pool of gray. I held my breath, chipped paint tearing into my skin as I gripped the window frame. A whistle sounded before the cannon of the flare struck the night air, lighting the night sky like a firework that no one had wanted to see.
Fishermen ripped from their beds, poured down the docks in disheveled clothes that had been hastily thrown on their backs. They raced for their boats, shouting to one another a chorus of planning and prayers as they pulled the vessels from their slips. Groups of women wrapped in blankets and house coats, gathered on the wooden planks at the water’s edge- some crying, other praying, they all suspected the same thing. It was happening again. Oh dear god it was happening again.
I pulled myself from the window, slipping in the spilled tea as I ran for the door. My feet pounding like horses hooves on cobblestone, descending the stairs in rapid succession. My trembling fingers fought with the lock on the backdoor. I pleaded with the old damn house to let me out, I needed to be on the docks. Oh dear lord, it’s happening again, why is it happening again? The house finally released me and I tumbled through the screen door, my knees colliding with the wooden slats of the back porch. I looked towards the water, my eyes trying to adjust to the bitter darkness. The troop of boats tore out of the bay, all of them headed towards where the fireball had disappeared into the night. My aching knees pulled me upright, moving me closer to the growing crowd. I listened from a distance as the hurried whispers became their own hum against the waves, before silence fell on the crowd. The voice of the Harbormaster’s wife broke through the night like a rock through a window. “Herbert said it was a child’s voice on the radio call” she stammered, staring out toward where the troop of boats had disappeared. No one spoke for a long while after that, for at that moment we all knew. It was happening again.
Categories: Arts & Culture