Short story: The Lighthouse, by Ella Hewison

editorial image

I have always loved lighthouses. The way they stand up so brave and so tall, in the turmoil of high seas or in the peace of quiet weather. In fact, I can tell you a story about a lighthouse, a tall story.

This lighthouse was at the end of a pier guarding the entrance to the river and the docks belonging to my own small home town. The first time I reached the lighthouse was in my mother’s arms. I had whooping cough and one of the neighbours advised:

‘Take her along the pier as far as the lighthouse, that’ll cure her or else it’ll finish her off,’ and he walked off, vastly amused by his own wit.

It did cure me and, later on, the pier became a favourite walk, though I was warned to be careful because, in bad weather, the end of the pier could be cut off by giant waves. This didn’t worry me until, one day, sitting under the shadow of the lighthouse, I saw that every now and again a wave would splash right over the pier.

Reluctantly and quite slowly, still perfectly confident, I began the mile-long walk back to the beach, but then the sky darkened, the wind rose, and the rains came, and soon I was unsure whether I was being soaked by the rain or drenched by the rising sea waves.

My uneasiness increased, soon accompanied by a rising terror, and I turned back for what seemed to be the relative safety of the lighthouse itself.

‘There must be some way in,’ I thought just as a giant wave swept me off my feet. It was dark and cold as I tried to stand up, trying desperately to see and even to breathe, and I knew then that I must reach the safety of the lighthouse and not allow myself to risk being washed into the river.

Then, all was peaceful. Somehow, I was inside the lighthouse, happy and safe. The weather was calm now and I found I was looking at a quiet sea, blue and serene, quite unlike the dark green, black and white raging waters of a few minutes before.

It was strange but somehow I knew that I had come home, this was my place, where I was meant to be. This was my lighthouse, a place of safety and I was a part of it, but no – it was more than that, it was as though the lighthouse and I had become one and stood there together, joint guardians of the sea, so brave and so tall.

And yet I had dreams, familiar dreams of my town and the people I knew. I dreamt they were searching for a lost girl, it was dark and there were men on the pier carrying lamps. But that was my dream world. In the real world, I was a lighthouse, aware of seas and wind and rain, and white seabirds and fishing boats and big ships on their way to distant oceans. I was transformed.

You don’t believe me? Well, I told you it was a tall story.

And yet, as I grow older and walk on the little beach by the mouth of the river and look at the mile-long pier with the old lighthouse still standing strong, I remember old stories about strange happenings, and haunting, and noises in the night. And I recall hearing about a missing girl and wonder if she was ever found.

But that was a long time ago and no-one remembers it now. And yet again, I sometimes have dreams of water, and waves, and drowning, and being afraid, and finding sanctuary in something much bigger than myself, something that enfolded me in its essence so that I became it and it became me. All nonsense, of course, or is it? I can’t be sure of anything anymore.

Now I am very old and have lived a lifetime of sorts in this little town at the mouth of a great river. Maybe, if I am honest, it has been something of a half life. And more and more, as the days, weeks, months and years race by, I sit here on my seat at the beach end of the pier, and look out at the lighthouse and am drawn towards its strength and security. I have strange dreams of enfolding walls from which there is no escape and yet, at the same time, I have a deep yearning (though I am not sure for what, though it sometimes feels like an overwhelming and irresistible love).

But one day – out of courage, or despair, or desire, and I cannot be sure which it will be – I shall set out on the mile-long walk to the lighthouse, and take my chance with sudden storms, and giant waves, ready to accept whatever happens. It may be death by drowning or, what I both hope and fear, an incorporation, maybe a harmonious melding into the body of the building that still stands so brave and tall at the mouth of the river.

And if you believe that, you will believe anything... and yet, who knows? Who knows?