Digest>Archives> May/Jun 2019

The Mark

By Karin Murray-Bergquist


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The last day that I was to tend the lighthouse, the weather was clear and fair; hardly a wisp of cloud in the summer sky, and that seemed fitting, after twelve years of storm, strife, and shipwreck. Not that there had been many of these – I was proud of the job I had done. I had made this place safe, and given others little cause to notice my existence. It was “The Mark” of a good light-keeper, one might say.

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I had packed up everything, save for the manuscript. I had used my quiet isolation well, tending to the light and performing what few lifeboat and life-ring rescues I had to, but devoting the rest of my energies to this, the memoir of an entire career which would soon be obsolete. I had recorded every detail, from the weather and shipping conditions right down to the frolicking of my cat on the hearth-rug. It was an odd patchwork of a life. It was mine, but I was well aware, even as I walked the little chamber one last time, that I was one of the last who would live it.

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There was only one thing left to do: write my own name down. Yet I was strangely reluctant to do any such thing. Twelve years I had spent there, writing every night of my life, refusing to leave the house, writing this above all things. And sooner or later the rest of the world had simply accepted that I was an eccentric, married to the light, something of a monomaniac, but necessary. For twelve years, I had been necessary.

Perhaps that was what made me hesitate – the thought that I would soon no longer be required, the knowledge that I was giving whatever I had to give to a generation of whose reception I could not be sure. It was not that I lacked faith in them, for the government agents who had called had treated me with the sort of respect one would usually see reserved for someone twice my age. But I suppose I seemed older to them, being an artifact of sorts already.

The spiders had already started in on the windows, the bold creatures. I could imagine their disappointment when the National Park Service would clear them out. It wouldn’t be long, now, before the tourists started coming in, and filling the house with their excited chatter. The emptiness that echoed around the tower now was of a rare kind, perhaps growing rarer, the desolation of near-complete solitude. It was a frigid feeling, but unavoidable.

The book was still on the sill before me. I could fling it out, if it pleased me to do so – cast it to the winds in a symbolic gesture of defiance and ultimate powerlessness in the face of fate. I could leave my mark on the world, if only briefly, if only in a jumble of pages tumbling along the shore. If I had been given to dramatics, or even to sentiment, this would have been too tempting to resist.

I considered. The wind was rising, and the sky, though still nearly clear, had a pallid sheen that I knew to be a sign of coming weather. If there was a storm coming, or a fog off the Sound, I’d be able to get away with it. The movers weren’t coming until afternoon. No one would know but me, and that at least would be something to keep, a souvenir of the highest order. I had not packed away anything but my own possessions, preferring to leave unburdened. But this desire struck me as only the worst ideas can. Leave the book behind with the rest of my lighthouse-keeping days – forget about it, leave it just a whisper on the wind.

Its weight was what you would expect from a book of twelve years’ effort. I could lift it yet, but I had always been strong - constant rowing in cases of rescues will do that. It was loose, handwritten; the ink would blot quickly in the rain, or the spray of the sea. I had decided to write by hand when I first decided to keep such a record. There were official records, and then there were these miscellanies and notes. One has value; the other is either worthless or priceless, depending.

The wind lifted a scurrying of sand, flinging it at the window. I dropped the book, looking out again, wondering. Whatever I did now, I’d be remembered for it by whoever cared to remember me at all. I could see the copies in the bookshop that was to go in downstairs, Memoirs of a Lighthouse-Keeper or perhaps, Last of the Lighthouse-Keepers, or A Lighthouse-Keeper’s Memoirs. That made me laugh – the idea of sticking a pseudonym on the front and letting others draw their conclusions about the identity of the author, that last mark of the fading few.

Time was running out, slowly still, but perceptibly, and impossible to ignore. I took the manuscript from the windowsill, and with a piece of tattered cloth that had lain amongst the oddments of the room, bound it round. Then I laid it in the alcove beside the head of the stairs. Whether someone found it or not, it was out of my hands. I replaced the cap on my pen, looked once more at the horizon that was, for the moment, all my own, and left the lighthouse tower.

This story appeared in the May/Jun 2019 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.

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