The Lighthouse and the Searchlight
There was a searchlight in the deep night, seeking something under the weeping sky. And from my little lighthouse on the Massachusetts shore, I could not tell whether it was looking to find or be found. My orange galoshes sloshed across the sea-soaked concrete as my lighthouse and I pulled another all-nighter. I would have closed the windows against the ferocious waves, but I had a commission to fulfill, and I couldn’t let that lonely ship’s searching beam out of my sight. Up here with the warning lights, I can never see much of the world, but I can save some of it. “Turn back,” said my thoughts over and over again, as if hoping to telepathically reach that rolling vessel miles away. “I don’t know what you’re seeking, but unless it’s instant death, you’d better turn back.”
Maybe the ship was scanning the merciless waves for her sister, whose radio suddenly cut out 45 minutes before. No news is bad news out at sea.
Or maybe one of the crew had been inspecting the guard-rails when the first inopportune wave of the storm swept him off his feet and into the darkening swirl of foam, and the captain, personally acquainted with the young man’s mother, refused to leave the spot of the disaster until the sea had calmed and he could see for himself that all hope was lost.
Perhaps, again, the captain was suffering from a slight mental disturbance after a bout with dysentery back in the East Indies, and the sound of the wind in the wires suddenly undid him, so that he stubbornly ordered the ship’s company to search the smashing waves for a wristwatch he had treasured as a boy and lost in a pond in Vermont at the age of fourteen.
I knew (and my chest felt like something iron and ruthless was squeezing it), that if this searching ship came any nearer to my little lighthouse that was now flashing for dear life, all hope of escape would be futile and she would be shattered on the hidden rocks, underwater fangs polished to a perfect lethal sharpness by the ocean in her alternatively friendly and fiendish ablutions. “Turn back,” I shouted silently, and my thoughts were nearly hoarse with desperation. It was the duel of the lighthouse and the searchlight; a duel of defiance; not a fight to the death, but a fight for life.
And suddenly, the searchlight switched off.
I blinked against the salt spray as I strained my eyes into the precarious night, my chest tight as a spring wound to burst. I could barely see… but my lights shone on devotedly, and by their light I saw at last, with a blissful release of breath, that we had won the duel. The ship was pulling away from us; the jagged fang-rocks had lost their prey.
Maybe the ship had regained radio connection with her sister, and sailed away with good news at last.
Maybe the poor young man had been recovered. Or maybe he had been given up for lost.
Perhaps the captain was soothed by reading an old diary entry from his childhood in Vermont, and remembered, at last, who and where he was.
I can never discover facts during my nighttime vigils, only maybes. I dragged a mop across the concrete floor as the grim clouds began to grow pink and were pulled away, one by one, as if by invisible puppet strings. Up here with the warning lights, I can’t see much of the world, but at least… at least I can save some of it.