Arts & Culture

The Lighthouse Keeper

by Jessilyn Rich

Darkness had already consumed the sky above North Cliff road when Elle Bennington finally stepped on to the porch of her cottage. Why this always seemed to give her such a sense of shock she wasn’t sure, after eleven years you would think she would have grown used to arriving in darkness.  Elle rattled the metal handle of the door as she worked her key in the lock. The lock was old and had been on the cottage door longer than Elle had been alive. The salt in the sea air had worked its magic over years to turn the lock into a stubborn old mule. It really needed replacing, but who had the time to complete such a task, there were just never enough hours in the day. The tumblers in the lock finally released with a groan and a clunk to let it’s owner in. Relieved to have won the battle, Elle entered the kitchen, kicking off her smelly boots and throwing her keys on the table. Elroy, Elle’s tabby cat meandered into the kitchen stretching and yawning his way across the hardwood floor to his bowl, letting out a lazy meow as he laid down next to it.

    “Useless old goat.” Elle mumbled as she scooped a large heap of cat food into the little cats bowl. It spilled over the edges, but Elroy didn’t seem to mind.

    “How nice it must be to laze around the cottage all day waiting for someone to make you dinner.“ She told the cat as he began to eat his dinner, he didn’t seem to take much offense to her grumbles. After all these years he knew as well as she did that they would both be desperately lonely without the other.

    Elle left the tabby to his dinner while she searched for her own. Inside the fridge she found a pot of stew from the other night, which night she couldn’t be sure, evenings seemed to blend together, but it wasn’t long enough ago for the stew to run rancid. She placed the pot on the grate of the old cast iron stove and dug for her matches. The flame of the match flickered, threatening to go out before its job was completed. One of these days she would finally remember to get the new parts to fix the pilot light while she’s on the mainland. It was a frustrating battle each evening to fight with the matches, but not frustrating enough to want to return to the mainland for it. Most of what she needed could be found at the various stores on the island, and that was just the way she liked it.

The flame erupted into a bright blue that wrapped itself around the base of the cold pot. Relieved, Elle turned her attention to the half empty bottle of whiskey on the counter top. The amber contents splashing side to side as she turned the bottle over, pouring some into an old coffee mug. The horn of the final ferry leaving for the mainland interpreted the silence of the night. Each night when the final whistle blew, two different feelings filled the owner of the little cottage on the shore; one of annoyance for the intrusion on the silence of the waves, and one of comfort that the crazy tourists were all finally gone for the night. Elle knew it probably seemed very unfriendly to view visitors in this manner, but then again, most people who lived year round on the island viewed them in a very similar way. Starting in May each year tourists flocked from the big cities of the mainland to the island off the coast. They claimed a desire for peace and quiet, a chance to unplug and unwind, but very few made much effort for such things. They loaded themselves, their children and bags of things onto the ferry for island life. Very few ever ventured off the beaches, to them that is all an island was. They covered the sand with their picnic blankets, sand toys, boomboxes and oversized sun hats surrounded by so much noise you couldn’t even hear the waves. Their music blared, voices shouted and smart phones pinged all throughout the day. They burned their cheeks, took their pictures and made their noise before piling back onto the evening ferries for the mainland, leaving behind their trash, stray sand pails and forgotten sunglasses for those that live and love the island to clean up.

    Most tourists were gone by the final ferry, as the only place on the island to stay was an Inn on the opposite shore, but its antique decor and small rooms were usually only a draw for elderly couples and rich newlyweds looking for an escape from the crazy technology of the world that surround them back in the city. The families with their oversized beach bags, tiny children and noise were gone by the final whistle. Everyone talked about wanting to escape to real island life, but few ever really tried.

     Elle shook her head at the thought of them all piled on the ship, headed back to the world she was desperate to stay away from. She watched the ferry lights get smaller and smaller through the window above the kitchen sink. Her attention was jolted back to the kitchen as her unattended stew pot began to bubble over, hissing as the contents dripped down the sides of the pot and onto the stove. A charred stench turned her stomach as she ripped the pot from the burner, slamming it down on the edge of the stone sink.

    “What a mess” She thought to herself. Pouring what was left of her boiled over stew into a bowl, she dragged herself into the oversized arm chair in the corner of the living room. Tonight was not the night to fight with the stove, it could wait until the morning. Setting her cup and bowl on the table beside the chair, she decided it best to get a fire going before the cool air could suffocate the house. Even in late May with the bright hot air of the day, the nights could be very cold. The stone of the fireplace felt like ice beneath her knee caps as she went to work building the fire.

    The wood in the walls cracked and creaked as the fire began to warm the room. Elle could feel a cold breeze on the back of her neck, she eyed the room for its source. She had left the window by the book case open that morning for some fresh air, and it was now blowing a cool wind through the house. She tried to force the window shut, the old rough wood of the window protesting the entire way down, its panes rattling threateningly. Elle waited for them to break but they stayed in their place. Her thumb aching as she forces the rusted lock into place, an extra unnecessary step unless raccoons learn to open old stubborn windows but old habits die hard.

    The dancing flicking flames catch her eye as she makes her way back to her chair. Her stew had grown cold on the coffee table by now, but it didn’t matter. Elle was more tired than hungry at this point. Some nights she wondered why she even bothered to heat up food at all, as most nights it had turned to ice before she got around to eating it anyway. Elle had been a wonderful cook before moving to the island, but now found she rarely had the time nor desire to do more than heat up what she found in the fridge. The older women of the community had taken Elle on almost as a project it might seem, leaving casseroles, lasagnas and stews in her fridge or on her doorstep during the day while she was gone. Her neighbor Thelma was most often the culprit, a fact Elle knew only because she was the only other person with a key to her cottage. She wondered some evenings if the appearing casseroles were in gratitude for the help Elle offered to her neighbors gardens and the care she took of the island landmarks, or perhaps if it was in pity for the strange young woman that lived in the cottage on the island shore, at the end of a dead end road. 

 

Categories: Arts & Culture

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