This is another old story that went through a lot of different edits (and submissions) before finally being published in Paragon V (April 2012). Paragon Press is a small literary magazine run by students and staff of Memorial University’s English Department, and the collections they publish are usually a great mix of new and established writers, prose and poetry.
By Keith Collier
Sitting at the kitchen table, almost in pitch dark, he watched the lighthouse out on the point, the light arcing out across the water and swinging back toward him, moving with a quickness like a living animal. It swung in a smooth circle, never speeding up, never slowing. But from his point of view the light was different. Streaking out to sea, the white beam would pause, waver, and dash back to him, moving like a great glowing pendulum. But the light circled steadily, cutting the fog at a constant speed, moving evenly and easily across the water and the land. The wind rattled the house, the rain ran against the window, and he thought the boys out there on the point must be having a rough time of it tonight.
The light showed white against his face, throwing running shadows across his weathered forehead and cheeks where it passed through the drops and rivulets on the window pane. For an instant, just before the light swung away again, a spot of shimmering gold flashed on his chest as the light refracted through a glass of rum on the table. Or was it whisky? He couldn’t remember. He remembered the taste, the shape of the bottle and the colour of the label, but he couldn’t remember if it was rum or whisky, that bit of knowledge fading away with the evening light.
Taking a mouthful of his drink, he held it in his mouth for a moment and swallowed. He thought too hard about it, and decided that it was whisky he had in front of him.
The morning had been clear, the fog coming in later. He had gone down to the waterfront early in the day, because he felt he had to, because he needed the company of the young men he knew would be down there, working on the wharf. They liked him, liked his jokes and his tall tales, liked telling him their stories of their latest trips on the water and hearing his stories about his working days, about his trips across the sea as a young man and about the girl with the golden red hair who worked in a restaurant in another town.
They were chatting, laughing, smoking cigarettes. He was telling them a story when someone approached and started listening, someone he didn’t recognize. When he asked the young man’s name, everybody went quiet.
Come on now, the young man said, you know me. The old man got nervous, and when the young man said it’s me, it’s your nephew, come on now, you remember me, the old man said yes, of course, he was only joking, only carrying on.
The young men were heading out to check the automated equipment, the batteries and the lamps at the lighthouse on the point, contract work for the Coast Guard, and the old man headed for home. There were chores that needed doing, he said, and went off down the road.
He was still walking for home when a neighbour came out of her house. He had known her for sixty years and she came out to walk with him. She chatted with him in a familiar way, and he did not even realize that she walked him in a circle, turned him around and got him back to his house which he had passed alone fifteen minutes earlier, lost in himself.
At the table in the dark, the pendulum swing of the great light illuminated the rows of photographs on the wall, little model boats made during off watches, porcelain plates from Asia and souvenir spoons from Europe that hung from a rack next to a shelf with a radio. The light passed over a lifetime’s worth of memories in an instant, leaving them in the shadows.
Many of the pictures were of relatives long dead, in front of houses long gone. The descending line of four photographs on the wall to the right of the shelf showed four happy graduates, his children, now scattered about the world like his thoughts. In the middle of the mantle, a pretty woman with beautiful golden red hair looked at him, and he could feel the sense of familiarity that accompanied such things.
The light swept again across the model boats, the souvenir spoons and the radio. It fell across the photographs, and the pretty smiling face of the golden red haired woman who looked so familiar to him. He looked at the picture and he could not remember her name. He knew the colour of her eyes and could remember the curve of her back as she lay in bed, but her name he could not recall. He took another drink, too quickly, and drops of liquor ran down the outside of the glass and fell onto his shirt, darkening the golden shimmering spot on his chest where the beam from the lighthouse passed through his glass of whisky. Or was it rum? The spilled liquor darkened the yellow dancing point to a reddish gold, almost the same colour of the woman’s hair in the photograph, the beautiful woman whose name he could not remember.
Whisky, he thought. It’s definitely whisky. Rum doesn’t have that colour.
© Copyright Keith Collier 2013.
Originally published in Paragon V, April 2012.