After school I walked home, at first with my friend Tom Silver and his little sister, Jennifer. I left them at their house on the outskirts of the village and then continued on toward the light alone. This was quite usual.
I remember Mrs. Worsely seeing me coming up from the gate and hurrying up to meet me. I knew something was wrong immediately.
“You can’t go in there,” she said firmly. “You just wait outside here with me.”
“What am I waiting for?” I asked.
“You’re waiting for your aunt. She’s coming to get you.”
“But where’s father?” I demanded.
Mrs Worsely looked ashen. “You just wait with me out here.”
Knowing something terrible had happened I easily ducked under Mrs. Worsely’s outstretched arm. I ran the last few steps to the house and then burst through front door. That’s when I saw my father’s lifeless body hanging from the top of the stairs up to the Light room.
He had attached a rope to the bannister and his body was suspended high in the empty hallway. It was a grotesque sight, and one I will never be able to remove from my memory. I have thought about it many times since, and in a strange way it seemed almost like a piece of performance art suspended there, for an audience below that did not exist.
By the time Mrs. Worsely caught up with me and tried to hustle me away to the kitchen, I was transfixed.
“He didn’t want you to find him like this,” she kept saying. “He knew I’d be here. I was late this morning, and the police haven’t got here yet. They’re on their way.”
She was very calm really. I later learned that she suspected something like this may happen.
Time seemed frozen, and all I really remember after that was my aunt’s car arriving at the gate. Mrs. Worsely made a huge pot of tea for me, and the three policemen that were trying to ‘sort things out’ on the landing. Retrieving a body is not as simple as you might assume.
Soon I was bundled out of the house and into the car, where I sat in the back seat, along with my aunt’s collie. The dog seemed indifferent to the confusion and excitement outside. I waited in the car as first Mrs. Worsely and then the policemen spoke to my aunt.
Then we were driving, the soft slap slap of the windscreen wipers and the dim headlights, and then her house. A warm bed, and the emptiness of being alone.
In the coming months I tried to picture what my father had experienced. What had led him to this?
He was not a bad person, after all. He was certainly not selfish, as some have said of those that commit suicide. He was simply disappointed.
Eventually there came a day, months later, when it was time to clear my last few belongings from the old house. Mrs Worsely had packed up most of the things into old tea chests and cardboard boxes. My aunt and I picked up a couple of men from the village who had agreed to help load things into a van my aunt had hired. The driver was to take it and put it in storage near my aunt’s house.
I sat on the dock once my room was clear. I didn’t want to spend a moment longer in the place. One or two locals had come up to talk to my aunt, the local lawyer and someone from the school. It was hardly a festive crowd, but there was more activity at the Foreshore Light than there had been in all the previous months combined.
Wanting to be away from people I sat on the dock alone, and watched as a small launch motored over from the cottage across the bay. Turning, I looked back at the light house. To my surprise I thought I glimpsed someone up in the Light room. By the huge windows I recognized for a moment the form of the woman in black, her hair just as I’d seen it that rainy night months ago. I think she was watching me, intruding on my solitude.
In that moment, I can remember thinking how much I resented that. ‘Just give me some space,’ I thought silently to myself, and turned back to watch the launch.
As it drew closer I could make out a single man in it. I guessed that must be Mr. Grady, probably coming to pick up his wife.
I remember that moment well, because there was an overwhelming sense of grief that broke over me like a wave. We’d had just the one visitor in all those months. How had I not seen that as a warning sign? I now realise that those who remain behind always indulge themselves with blame.
As the little launch tied up at the dock a spritely man stepped of the boat and walked in my direction.
“I’m sorry about what happened, young man,” he said and held out his hand for me to shake.
“Yeah,” I said. “Me too.” It all sounded hollow, but what else can you say. I shook his hand, which seemed very adult.
“I’m Jeff Grady,” he said. “I live over there,” and he pointed across the bay.
“Yes,” I replied. “My father mentioned you and your wife.”
“Oh, I don’t think so. I’ve never been married,” he replied, and then added as an after thought, “and thank heaven for that.”
“Oh,” I said puzzled. “I must have misunderstood.”
“Well, not to worry. I just have to wrap up some business with Mrs. Grady. I am very sorry for your loss.”
He walked off, and I turned to watch. The window up at the light was now quite empty.
Soon I was back in my aunt’s car leaving the village. There were no goodbyes, and no lingering last look at the Foreshore Light receding behind the car. Only a feeling that I was pleased to leave the place.
It was late summer when I decided to go through my father’s chest of things. My aunt was out. She’d been reluctant to allow me to go through his belongings, thinking me too young to be exposed to things that might affect me badly. I knew she was trying to be kind, and so when she was out of the house one afternoon I went to the basement, found a screwdriver and began to work at the lock.
Perhaps you can imagine the scene. My father’s sea chest, the empty garage, and me, barely thirteen years old under the single bulb that lit up the room. It didn’t take much work to level the lock off the chest.
I opened up the chest, revealing a tray of papers. I could see there were some old charts, a log book and a journal. I lifted out the tray, and found a collection of uniforms and clothes beneath. There, neatly folded and placed with care was a black dress.
I lifted it out. It was silky and beautiful. Holding it against my young form, I could see it was for someone much bigger than I. I glanced back into the chest, and there revealed beneath the dress was a carefully combed black wig. I suddenly realised I’d seen this dress before, on that rain soaked afternoon walking home from school.
I felt a chill as I recollected the form in the window that day as I stood on the dock, and the house was being cleared. So, my father had returned for one last look at his son. And he’d returned in that sinister form most befitting of the moment, though I’d not realised it at the time.
Beneath the dress, in a small bag, was a some lipstick, some blush and some foundation. A pearl handled comb, and mirror completed the collection. It could almost have been my mothers. And in that moment I could see that my fathers strange exploration was somehow related to lover he felt for his wife. Perhaps, in his own strange way he was honoring her with this unusual manifestation.
So, here in the chest lay ‘Mrs. Grady’, the one and only visitor to The Foreshore Light. She would never be acknowledged, never buried. Though, in some remote and strange way, I felt sure that now she could rest in peace.