The Keeper

Mallory Harbison was about to be blown off the island. She’d been through many a gale in her twenty-two years of living on this rock, but never, never ever before had the winds pulled on her very soul as they did this day. “You cannot have me!” she yelled with all her might through gritted teeth, as the wind whipped her hair into her mouth and stole her words before they left her lips. She bent lower toward the ground, holding with the ends of her strength and her fingernails onto the final fencepost in the row that led to the doorway, and braced herself to make one final push toward the door handle that would give her safety, if only she could open the door against the wind. Soaked to the bone with salt, hail and rain, she lunged forward, two heaving steps through gravelly mud, wrenched the handle downward with both hands, and as the door edged open she stuck her shoe in the crack, then her hip, then her torso, then she fell in an exhausted heap onto the floor as the wind slammed the door shut behind her.

This was not the first time Mallory’s life had been saved by the lighthouse. She’d never known any other place as home, having been born here, the second of five children to her mother, Evelyn and her father, Herman, who’d been the lighthouse keeper until he died just under a year ago. Now it was all up to Mallory – – keeping the light on – the light that looked after her so steadfastly – – as well as looking after her two little brothers, the three of them all that was left of the family that had thrived and played and loved so well together until a storm ten years ago had taken her older brother. Her mother had died giving birth to her younger, and her sister didn’t survive her own birth either, and then Papa gave his own life to save three sailors, the only crew to survive last year’s shipwreck off the south cove. The lighthouse was meant to prevent such tragedies, of course, but the nor’wester of last January had rendered the lighthouse nearly useless to the trawler that had taken too long to notice the building waves and tried too late to return to harbor, unable to see the light because of fog and driving rain.

Until now Mallory had never questioned her birthright, her duty to her brothers, to the lighthouse, or all whom it was meant to protect. This storm, though, was different. It nudged something inside her, as if a boulder had been pushed away from a hidden cave entrance. “No, don’t go in there!” Mallory cried as she lay on the cold, wet floor, still dazed by the effort of having gotten herself inside.

“Mallory, are you alright?” someone said, as a small hand pushed the hair away from her eyes. “Yes, Georgie, dearest, I’m ok, just wet and a bit cold,” she told her brother.

“Mal, I’ve kept the fire going, can you crawl over to the fireplace to get warm? I’ve brought you a blanket, and Danny made some cinnamon tea – – c’mon over here and get it, ok?”

Mallory could see the fright and worry in her brother’s eyes and her heart went soft for the care he took of her, toking the fire even though he was only 6 years old.

“The light, I must tend to the light,” she said, trying to remember when she’d last trimmed the wick or rubbed the lenses clean, but her mind wasn’t working quite right yet.

“No, Mal, it’s all taken care of,” came the newly-deepened and ringing, baritone voice of Danny, whose 14-year birthday cake sat unfinished on the kitchen table.

“Danny! You didn’t?”

“Yes, Mal, come on, I’ve been watching you tend the light for the last ten years, including while Papa was teaching you, give me some credit, ok?”

Two months later the lighthouse inspector came for his annual visit, his first time to the rock since a year ago, when Papa had still been here. Mallory, Danny and Georgie had repainted the living quarters and newly cleaned and polished the light – – of course – – plus planted what greenery they could, given the extended winter on top of the damage done by the storm. Danny had even baked fresh cinnamon buns, knowing the inspector was a fan of good pastry.

“What do you mean, your Papa’s dead?!” the inspector had bellowed. “Women don’t keep lighthouses!”

“I do,” said Mallory.

Photo courtesy of Tina Rolf on Unsplash

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  1. I guess I must share my own ‘lighthouse keeping’ done in the last several years in the San Juan Islands of Patos (most northern USA point) and Stuart (most west). I have had quite lovely and unusual adventures on both!
    Let’s do another brunch and share the stories!!

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