“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.