Keeper of the Light

“The light,” he explains, “is visible 19 miles out to sea.”  A group of tourists, myself included, has just finished climbing the 114 steep and narrow steps ascending to the lantern room, to find him waiting for us. A young man dressed in the dark blue wool uniform of a 19th century lighthouse keeper.  An unexpected touch of authenticity.  The reek of fish in the small space is overpowering.

He continues his well-rehearsed narration.  “It’s a French-made First-order Fixed Fresnel lens, manufactured in 1868, and fueled by whale oil.  Dangerous stuff, whale oil. Not only flammable, but let me tell you, lugging it up those stairs is a daunting task.”  I’m sure I am not alone in my admiration for him-his performance is entirely convincing.

Fog is starting to roll in off the ocean.

“Isn’t the light powered by electricity these days?”  I ask, playing devil’s advocate to his flawlessly sketched character.

My question genuinely seems to confound him.

“Yes indeed,”  he exclaims.  “Those steps can be mighty tricky to navigate.  A broken neck just waiting to happen if you aren’t careful.”

From where I stand, 93 feet off the ground, the familiar world below me no longer exists, shrouded as it is now, in mist. Sheltered inside the old lighthouse, I can almost believe that present day has ceased to exist as well, and a chilling thought gnaws at the back of my neck.

Maybe he doesn’t really exist either

Or hasn’t-for a long, long time.

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