The Lighthouse

the lighthouse

13 February 2017

The List

This is my response to the first prompt in the Writer's Write 12 short stories in 12 months challenge. I was to write a short story (1,400 words) inspired by "The List". I'm not sure if I'm allowed to share the story outside of the challenge, but here it is anyway.

Revised from the version I first posted on Feb. 13.

At the end of a hallway in an old wooden house, there was a grey-painted room with wide-planked creaky floors. The room was inhabited by a long crowded table, overflowing bookshelves, and the scent of creative endeavour. In it, a woman squinched her eyes at a drawing propped in front of her. She was muttering under her breath about uncooperative rabbits and stubborn trees, but as she was a polite sort of person, brought up to be careful of her words, nothing she said would have been unprintable in the children’s story the drawing was meant to become.

Deep in thought, Carol patted the loose papers on her desk. A solid lump under one brought a look of interest to her face, but when she uncovered the box of matches she admonished it, “You belong in the kitchen, you do. How did you end up here?” The fog of absentmindedness cleared only slightly, overwritten by the scene so vivid in her mind of woodland creatures at a birthday party nestled in the nook of a large tree. Unmindful of the ink-laden brush in her hand, she scrunched her pockets only to be disappointed in their emptiness. “Glasses… glasses…” she muttered again, as if speaking their name would cause them to appear. Still grumbling to herself Carol peered in desk drawers, stood on tiptoe to see the upper reaches of the bookcase, and swept pots of ink and jars of brushes from one end of a shelf to the other.

From the doorway, Rachel watched the frazzled woman move around the room, tails of the overlarge shirt drifting behind her in time with the grey-sprinkled braid hanging down her back. She recognized this ritual.

“Mama,” she called out softly.  “Your glasses are on your head.”

Carol whirled around, startled at the sound of the voice so suddenly intruding on the birthday party, one hand going to the top of her head where, indeed, were perched the missing spectacles. Unfortunately that hand was the one also holding the wet brush.

“Blast!” Carol said with irritation, feeling a drop of ink seeping into an eyebrow. Rachel laughed, waiting for the words she knew would come next: “How did they end up there?”

“Don’t worry Mama… it’s just Old Timer’s.”

“Oh ha ha, smarty pants.  You’re not too old for me to ground you, you know.”

“I know.  I’m sorry, mom.”  Kiss to the cheek. “Go back to your work.  I’m heading out to meet the girls for a movie, so there’s nobody home until late tonight, ok?” This was to let her mother know there would be no demands for maternal attention from any of her three children and she could happily get lost in the world she had created for her latest children’s book.

Rachel waited in the doorway a moment longer, but Carol was already contemplating her landscape, glasses now properly perched on her nose.  About to turn back down the creaky hallway, Rachel noticed the glint of a ring of keys amid a bundle of pussy willows. Smiling affectionately, she carefully hung the keys from a hook beside the front door on her way out.


Many hours later Carol stood at the kitchen sink scraping ink and charcoal from under her fingernails. It had been a satisfactory session, all in all. The story had been plotted out long ago but the illustrations had taken longer this time. It seemed more difficult of late to concentrate, so tonight had been a breakthrough, actually, and she had industriously completed two full spreads and roughed out a third. Something was niggling, though, tugging at the very edges of her brain.  What was it?  It was something Rachel had said to her.

Rachel.  The thought of her youngest daughter reminded Carol of the movie theatre, and thinking of the movie theatre made her think of the shopping mall. It was last week sometime, wasn’t it? Wednesday, maybe. She couldn’t find the car. It had been a lovely morning of window shopping and a nice cup of tea with a new magazine. Then she left the mall, walked down the row where she had parked, and couldn’t find her car. She didn’t panic right away; after all, this happens, right? Doesn’t everyone have at least one story about that hilarious incident of wandering the rows of a parking lot trying to find their particular minivan among hundreds just like it? But after twenty-five minutes of wandering and increasing frustration, she went back inside to ask for help from mall security.

It was as two of the men were traversing the rows of the second lot with an eye out for a black vehicle with her registration number that Carol’s phone rang. “Hey, mom, I’m running a few minutes late ‘cause I forgot to get gas earlier.  I’ll be at the door in about 10, ok?” It was her youngest boy calling from the car he’d borrowed for the morning in exchange for which he dropped his mom at the mall. The same car two perfect strangers were at this moment helping her find.

The security team assured her it happened to enough other people that she had no reason to be embarrassed, but she just knew they would be sharing this story with the rest of their crew and that she would never be stepping foot in that mall ever again. And that night her family teased her yet again about Old Timer’s creeping up on her.

Hadn’t she always been forgetful though, a little less hemmed in by organization and schedules than most people? Carol used to pride herself on being free spirited -  interestingly artistic was how one friend described her. Her concept of time had never been tied to an actual clock, and her grasp on the details of plans or events were invariably fuzzy. But what if, instead of being creatively carefree she was actually losing her connection to the world around her? Maybe the fact that she kept calling the dog Ben when his name was Felix was a warning light of incipient large scale memory malfunction.

Caught between the dread of knowing and fear of the unknown, Carol began a discreet campaign of reading articles about dementia and early onset Alzheimer’s. She hated that word, couldn’t bring herself to say it out loud, but she’d read enough to convince herself the word now belonged to her. It was an unspeakable word to be carrying around in her mouth, nearly falling out during conversations about summer plans. It was like an explosive device. She imagined that if she poked at the word too aggressively it would go off, flinging loss and forgetfulness into every corner of her mind.

Not yet. She wasn’t ready to own it yet. She couldn’t bring herself to see a doctor let alone talk about these fears with her family. Saying the word out loud to another person would make it real. Would turn benign forgetfulness into a ravening creature feasting on her memories.

She tried to imagine disappearing from her life. Slipping away from her babies. Sure, they were grown now - the oldest was out of the house - but things were starting to get good with them now that she didn’t have to ‘mom’ them anymore. She was looking forward to watching what they would become. She wanted to see their own families grow, hold grandbabies, travel to Peru with her husband like they’d always talked about.  How could she experience the joy of watching Rachel walk down the aisle if she couldn’t remember who Rachel was?

Months ago, when the dreadful thoughts first took hold, she feverishly wrote down all the things she wanted her people to know. “I love you.” How to say it in such a way that the truth of it stuck? Was it possible to wrap a hug in words on a page? Line after line of a notebook quickly filled with all the deeply heartfelt messages from mother to child, from wife to husband, to friends so close they were her heart’s family.

Once the emotional lightening bolts had been recorded, she took to adding random thoughts and words of wisdom as they wandered into her mind.
Keep spare keys by the front door.
Look after your teeth.
If you find the perfect jeans, buy a second pair.
Celebrate each other’s birthdays.
Have chocolate. Always.
Uncle Martin gets farty with potatoes, so stick to squash at Thanksgiving.
Remember how Mrs Garber stepped off her porch and broke her left leg and hip. They had to cut off her trousers and she was mortified. Always wear good underwear.
Rachel is to have the original woodland sketches.
Pay attention, even to the little things.

Back in her room at the end of the creaky hallway, Carol stood in dimness, head bowed and hands folded over her notebook as if in prayer. After a few quiet moments she tucked it safely into a drawer, then closed the door as she left the room.

04 January 2017

The invitation of raindrops.

Little elves I cannot see are playing double dutch outside my window. Their footprints dance in the puddles as it rains.


In the hotel across the square from me a little light burns. It warms a solitary room as all the others are dark or curtained against this grey and misty day. The keeper of that light is a kindred spirit, for it is days like today that I like to watch, too. Rain or snow, mist or fog, draw me to sit in the window to think of deep thoughts or of nothing at all.

On days like today, fairy tales are born.

14 December 2016

Of clumsy birds and line dancing pigeons.

There is a line of pigeons dancing in the square.  Line dancing birds! They step quickly, left and right, shrugging shoulders to fluff their feathers. They slalom between clumps of snow that punctuate the cobblestones before breaking formation, scattering to dance their own choreography.

The next time I see them, they are in a line once more, this time on a roof ledge looking down on us. I watch one turn in circles, tapping his beak at something that must be food. Two others strut away, heads rocking forward and back with each step. They trade places and I wonder, was it planned? Did I miss the signal? It's fun to watch them lean into a fall over the ledge, then catch a current to sail down to the ground.

Are there clumsy birds? Is there one in the flock that fumbles for the branch as he attempts a landing or misjudges the distance to a wire? (Does he get teased for being the goof of the group?) Do they ever clip the wings of another bird in flight, or misunderstand directions only to wait alone in the park by the beach while the rest of the gang is feasting in the parking lot of the Beach Street Mall?

I would feel better about myself when I manage to catch the pocket of my sweater on a door knob (for the second time this morning) if I knew there were clumsy birds.

05 November 2016

Of Madeline and the lighthouse keeper

Peter LaRoche was a cranky, crabby man. He rarely said a word to anyone, which was probably a good thing because his words would likely not have been kind. 
He manned the light on a slender spit of land where harbour met the sea, and he took that work very seriously. He was meticulous in the completion of his duties. He never squandered time or money. He was methodical and precise in all things. And he was lonely. 
People in town assumed Peter was alone by choice, and cranky by nature. They never thought to listen to his story to find out where he was from or if his heart was whole. Instead, when he entered the store to carefully select his meagre rations, the women doing their own shopping would fall silent around him. The same scene would play out in the hardware store when he’d stock up on nails and kerosene. This would happen week after week. He would row away from the solitude of his lighthouse to endure the silence of aloof townsfolk. 
Until Madeline came. She was hired to take over the public library after old Mr. Robson retired. 
Madeline Smith, librarian, was going to change Rose Passage, but no one would ever expect it from the look of her.  She seemed perfectly librarian-like: quiet, organized, mostly plain, and helpful. If you looked closely, though, you would note a mischievous dimple in her cheek and a glint of red in her hair – and most tellingly of all, she wore purple-framed glasses. 
Miss Smith and Mr LaRoche first crossed paths at Stella’s – a home-style restaurant with rooms to let overhead. Peter was sitting alone for his one-meal-out-a-month that was all he allowed himself. Madeline helped herself to the seat opposite him, and with chin in hand, she twinkled at him, and proceeded to talk his ear off. (She was quiet, yet, but knew how to tell a story.) Other diners fully expected Mr LaRoche to scowl or even stomp out, but to their surprise he merely watched her and ate his meal. He didn’t say a word to her but that didn’t stop Madeline from continuing to talk to him whenever she met him at the grocer’s, or passed him in the street. 
The news was quickly shared from neighbour to neighbour the day Mr LaRoche was seen to actually speak to Miss Madeline. They were eating ices under a tree in the square, Madeline idly kicking her legs, watching the clouds while the man talked. What anyone would have given to know what was said!
Gradually, one brave soul after another would extend the lightkeeper a greeting, or offer some remark about the weather, to which Mr LaRoche would respond with a nod and a smile. More and more people registered for library cards with the desire to discover what powers Miss Smith may have, to make the mute speak and the cranky smile. Instead of magic, they discovered Madeline’s natural friendliness and kindness. Somehow they found themselves joining garden clubs and bridge parties with people they never would have spared a thought for before Madeline set them in each other’s path.
Many librarians have a gift for matching a reader to a book, but Madeline’s particular knack was for putting people together. Rose Passage became a town of friendship where not one soul was overlooked or forgotten, for Madeline saw how the quirks and corners in each person would work with those in another.
As for Mr LaRoche? Well, Madeline showed him how his quirks and corners were perfectly suited to hers. Not three months after that day under the tree he asked for her hand in marriage. She twinkled at him, and said yes, of course.

21 June 2016

In which we meet a dragonfly named Ruth

Deep in the woods where sunlight falls in leaf-shaped puddles, there runs a stream over pebbles and rocks. It tumbles over ledges in shallow waterfalls, and lends a joyful soundtrack to life in this hidden glen. To eyes that can see such things, there are signs of activity everywhere. Cleverly arranged stones and branches in the stream hint at little feet crossing the water from one bank to the other. Tidy piles of acorns alongside clusters of mushrooms and branches of dandelions tell a story of bustling, pint-sized morning markets, while toadstools under daisy umbrellas paint a picture of friends sharing lazy cups of tea and the latest news.

Most big people are too busy to notice these signs. Truth be told, few big people even trouble to visit this little village in the woods anymore. It’s too bad, because they are missing something wonderful. Believing in the impossible keeps you young, you see, for without wonder and magic in your life you can’t help but grow old.

It is a truth in life that a sad thing can also be a happy thing; and so, while it is sad that big people are unable to see what you and I know exists on the banks of the stream, for our little village in the woods it is also a good thing, for friends are able to meet under the daisies without fear of being discovered and turned into a day-trip attraction for the bored and curious.

Every village is like a tiny galaxy, with one star around which all the rest travel. The centre star of  galaxy is seldom the brightest or the largest, and the same is true of centre people. They hardly ever look like someone who is capable of keeping everyone else on track in their own orbits, but there is something about them, some deep magnetic pull that they aren't aware they have. They are the kind of person others always come to talk to about their troubles, ask advice of, rely on to fix problems, and trust will know how to solve dilemmas. In our village in the glen, that centre star is a dragonfly named Ruth.

30 May 2016

Bite sized resolve

Ok.  Who am I kidding?  The evidence lies before us in these very pages... I am not a regular contributor to the blogosphere.

Let's make a pact between us, you and me, that as comfortable friends we can pick up where we left off each time we meet as if in the middle of a long-running conversation.

And with that, let us resume,  midstream:

My quiet little corner of the world is no longer so quiet. There are large diggers and earth movers and other big and noisy machines across the road, turning a bucolic empty field into a subdivision. When I got back from holiday a few days ago, I noticed a sign a little further down the road that another empty lot is being turned into more homes.

Part of me longs for peace and isolation. That's a futile dream, isn't it?  Where can you go these days that hasn't been disrupted or is under development?  Progress! Or so they call it.  Where oh where is my lighthouse? I'd be happy to sit at a window overlooking the ocean, and feel the sturdy stones of the structure brace against the storm blowing in.

The Lighthouse is as much a state of mind as it is a longed-for place, so while I'd like to run from the world to seek out my solitude, I'm going to work on writing every day, no matter what else is going on around me.  I've realized that I've neglected the basics (being practice, discipline, and study) hoping that desire and some ability will make it all happen.

Therefore, I hereby resolve that I am going to begin with small steps:
- words on paper, daily
- find some way, either virtually or in real life, to learn and grow as a writer.

Manageable. Bite-sized, even.

Let it begin!

16 May 2016

The chase.

A shadow of shadows slips over the shrub outside the window like a blanket dragged over an unmade bed. It is a reflection of the cloud overhead that chases the sun across the sky.