Halloween Story – The Foreshore Light – Part 3

Part 3.

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.

The End.

Halloween Story – The Foreshore Light – Part 2

Part 2

(You can find Part 1 here)

One rainy afternoon in spring I was walking home from school and something rather unusual happened. It wouldn’t be something that would stick in my mind, but for the fact that it was so out of place. In the rainy light, which flattened everything and was like a great grey curtain pulled across my view, I trudged my way up the muddy path.

My father had spent the morning mending the gate and replacing the rotten timber with some new beams. It swung closed behind me as I made my way up the road. The thin rain seemed to run down my neck and infiltrate my collar. East coast rain gets everywhere.

Now and then a flash of lightning would light up the house, and in one bright flash I caught sight of a figure outlined against the frame of the huge window in the light room. Standing there, suddenly revealed by the flash of lightning was a tall and statuesque lady, as still as if she’d been cast in stone.

She wore a long black dress, and her hair tumbled over her shoulders. For a moment I thought it could almost have been my mother, but this woman was taller. I was transfixed, but the lightning vanished and with it her silhouette, as though it had never been there at all.

I continued to stare at the big windows, but from this distance and in the sheets of rain, it was impossible to see who the visitor was. I tried to keep sight of her, but as I walked along the road the rain intensified. I knew she could not have missed me, though. The view from there was uninterrupted, and she’d likely be telling my father I was walking up the road. He’d put on the kettle and have a hot chocolate waiting for me., whoever she was.

I hurried along through the rain and by the time I reached the front door sure enough, my father was there with a towel in one hand and a hot chocolate for me in the other.

“Dry your hair,” he said.  “Where’s your hat? I’ve told you, you’ll get sick if you don’t wear it.”

“I’m sorry,” I said.  “Who did I see up in the light room?”

“Oh, that was just Mrs. Grady, from across the bay. She wanted to talk about the dock.”

Father had been talking about building a new dock, so that some of the bigger vessels could land easily.

“She’ll have a wet trip home,” I said as I went to my room and began changing into dry clothes. By the time I came back to the kitchen the rain had become a full on downpour.

I glanced out of the window, and said, “I don’t see a boat.”

“No, she came around on foot. It’s too unpredictable to row over in this.”

I pulled my homework from my bag and laid it out on the kitchen table, as I did every day.

“That’s odd,” I said absently. “I didn’t see her.” I then got on with my studies. Yes, it was a small incident, but I’d never seen Mrs. Grady before.  Come to that, other than Mrs. Worsely, I’d never seen any visitor to the Foreshore lighthouse before.

+++

Winter meanders slowly into springtime in The Maritimes. In the little towns the warm lights of a bar room spill into the street and in the windows are friendly faces talking to one another, staving off the chill north Atlantic wind. In the empty windows of the old foreshore lighthouse no such cheer was to be found.

Some mornings the sea was slate like, grey and flat. A lifeless image in monotone, with just the occasional fishing boat moving out with the dawn.

That last morning was no exception. The radio playing, a voice reading the news. Porridge, some hot chocolate, and the thick cut sandwiches my father made for my lunch, and then out the door with my school books in my satchel. A twenty five minute walk through the dank air to the village school, and as much as I try to hang on to that last day all that was remarkable about it, was how unremarkable it was.

Sometimes, however much you want something to be special, all you are left with is ‘ordinary’. And that’s what that last day was.

+++

The concluding part of The Foreshore Light will be published tomorrow (Halloween) at 6 pm EST.

Halloween Story – The Foreshore Light – Part 1

I can tell this story now, after all these years. Most of the family are long dead, and I’ve never been blessed with children of my own. What little family I have that are still alive are long estranged from me. The events I am going to relate took place sixty years ago, so I know you’ll appreciate that I am not breaking any confidences. However, to a young twelve year old the episode remains one I have struggled with for decades, but perhaps I am getting ahead of myself.

That winter was a cold one, and my mother fell ill with bronchial pneumonia.

The Foreshore Light.

The Atlantic gales would rip in off the Grand Banks and chill us to the bone. Mother was a slight woman, and one day she simply started coughing. Who would think that so quickly she could slide into first exhaustion, and then a swift descent to a wheezing fever. And quite suddenly she was gone, like a candle extinguished in a gust of wind.

At first I was sent to live down the coast with my aunt, but within a couple of months my father managed to get assigned to a lighthouse on the coast, and transferred from a ship board posting, to a land based one, and returned to shore. That was long after the funeral, of course. Mother had been buried with just my aunt, her husband and I at her graveside one rainy fall afternoon.

I don’t remember much about my father’s arrival ashore. There are still vague images of loading up the car, an old Landrover, and leaving aunties house to drive down the coast. Then entering a broken down gate, and driving up a muddy unmade road to the Foreshore Lighthouse.

I quickly learned that all the local people called the building The Foreshore Light. It had been built before the nearby village and was constructed as a remote and self contained lighthouse some hundred years before. The stone and wood construction creaked in the winds, like the ships it had been built to save, and was now close to being decommissioned as the new automated lighthouses were becoming more common place. It was more like a museum than a functional government building.

The wind would whistle through the exposed structure and make sounds like a giant flute for the amusement of the gods. Father and I unpacked, and made the place as comfortable as we could. I can remember trying to find dry kindling from the leaky shed at the end of the overgrown garden, and setting the fire in the hearth.

The Foreshore Light was one of the last of the old lighthouses to be manned, and in retrospect I think the authorities positioned my father there thinking it would help him get over the loss of his wife. He’d worked for the marine authorities since the end of the war, when he was demobbed from the navy. He had many friends in the service, and I suspect it was something of a sympathy posting.

My father had longed for retirement with his wife, while still quite young he was what was once described as ‘world weary’. For the love of his life to be so cruelly snatched away by fate was a blow he struggled to recover from. Yet we did our best to create our new life there, minding the light, with me going down to the village school each day and beginning to make new friends.

It was a remote life, though. I played alone on the rocky shore most days after school, the light from across the bay, a remote house, the only visible neighbour. My father was quite adamant that I should hurry home after school, which I later realised was likely because he was afraid to lose his last remaining close family.

He  would mind the light, manage the radio calls, and maintain the building. He was often in the workshop, the chatter of marine traffic on the radio in the background. We’d gather the weather readings from met instruments twice a day and radio them in, but other than that the work was undemanding.

There were many empty rooms in the old lighthouse, from the days when it had been manned by a staff of four. There was no point heating the whole place, so we lived simply in the kitchen, two bedrooms and the workshop. I would sometimes explore the dusty old rooms, many of which hadn’t been used in thirty years. A few books remained on a bookshelf, and handwritten notes speckled the margins of some. Way back the Foreshore Light had been used as a training location for a trade that was now a fast disappearing lifestyle.

My father wasn’t a very sociable individual. Perhaps he once had been, but the loss of my mother was written all over his face and I now realise he was a severely depressed man. The time I was at home was spent generally alone, except for mealtimes, when father would eat in silence.

I don’t want to paint a sad picture here. I was actually quite happy, but for the fact I missed my mother. I am able to amuse myself perfectly well, and even at that age I realised my father was going through a difficult time. In the village he was known to be a little bit of a recluse, though no one was unkind about it.  At school the other kids would ask me about him, but never unkindly. People considered him a mystery, and somehow that was translated by the local rumour mill into a shadowy past including some heroic, though dark, exploits during the war. I don’t think any of that was true, but I really don’t know. Perhaps it was. No one can tell from this great distance.

Left largely to ourselves, the only regular visitor was Mrs. Worsely, who would walk up from the village daily and cook and clean for father. I can remember thinking her so old that she’d probably been around when the foundations of the old building were laid, but that sort of talk would get me a sharp clip round the ear from my father, and a stiff talking to about showing respect to those older than myself.

I would sit and eat dinner with father, Mrs. Worsely’s form framed in the window as she walked back down the muddy road toward the village in the failing light. It’s strange how those images stay with us over the years. It’s almost as if I can see her before me now, shambling away down the path.

Most evenings I’d be in bed by 7.30, father sitting up in the light room at the top of the house, and listening to the radio. The huge windows of the light room afforded an uninterrupted view of the night sky, and the surrounding sea. He’d have a brandy, though not too much, and his memories. He seemed consumed by the memory of my mother. He didn’t say much, but sometimes I’d find one of our old photo albums up there, or her letters beside an easy chair, where he’d fallen asleep and they’d fallen from his hand. He’d sit there and snore till he woke with the dawn.

At night I’d sometimes wake and climb the stairs to the light room, and see him asleep, the empty glass in his lap. I don’t think he ever saw me there, and as much as I wanted to toss a blanket over him, I felt I shouldn’t let him know I’d seen him like this. He still had his dignity, if not his wife. I wouldn’t take that form him.

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The second episode of this three part series will be released tomorrow night.