They called him the Lighthouse Man, when he left us—an old Mr. Marty Mason that died five eras ago—when happiness fled too far away. Mr. Mason lost his smile and moved into the town’s lighthouse in order to find himself and some contentment on the water’s way to shore. I watched him from my bedroom window, waiting for his beard to turn from stained ivory to January’s dust. Winter would come in January, and I’m afraid when the water freezes over and the boats don’t come and the lighthouse becomes unobserved, that Mr. Mason will feel like a futile foster for what he couldn’t find. I can only guess his age by his hair, because he always stands with his back to town and his face towards limitless void.
On my Sunday afternoons, I always try to run away to the bottom of the lighthouse, so that I can call up to the lost man and have him turn towards the city again. But my mother always catches me at the doorway, my upper arm in her clenched fist, and a slap across the head. “Aliza, have you got but a mind to see that the lighthouse man is a danger to you?” And she would send me back to my room, where I went to my window, elbows pressed down on the two spots of the sill where my weight has worn away the wood, and would watch Mr. Mason.
Mr. Mason had a funny habit of pacing back and forth in the top chamber of the lighthouse. When his right foot went forward, he would look down; then with his left foot forward, his eyes were back on the water. He usually paced in the morning until noontime, when he would sway in one place.
And by the evening, he would be too tired to do anything but stand. He somehow confiscated a small chair that he had up there with him and where he sits on days his mind won’t let him stand anymore. Sometimes, when he thinks for too long, I see the back of his shoulders shake. I would like to know if it is perhaps Mr. Mason’s first laugh, that he might turn back around some day, so I can see his eyes that have watched the ocean longer than anyone else. But I know it is the eighty-ninth time that he has cried. So I say my eighty-ninth prayer, begging that something lost could be found.
Mr. Mason hums sometimes. I only hear him in the early morning when the town is in a coma and the lighthouse battles with wet fog. His posture is majestic, a humble kind of confidence that broadens his body just enough to be idolised—nothing extravagant enough to be feared. I look at him and wonder what it’s like to be a god of a city that crumbled like ours did. How could he neglect us this way, only looking at the world that we were not a part of. Mr. Mason, turn around.
Mr. Mason started tying the stems of the apples he had collected into a variety of loose knots. He would eat one apple a day, pick off its stem and loop its ends, then toss it on the floor to keep track of how many days he’s been waiting in solitude. Waiting—does Mr. Mason know he is waiting? Or is he only up there because he wants to be a god?
Winter froze the ocean in just the way I had feared. The light still made its way over the water, but for no one to see but Mr. Mason’s maddening eyes. His hair blended in with the ice and snow; and during these months, Mr. Mason looked invisible—a ghost to our town that has eventually stopped talking about him. To stay warm, roof rats bravely crept through the bottom crack of the doorway and climbed the stairs of his lighthouse. On a Tuesday afternoon, past his hours of pacing, I saw Mr. Mason kill one of the rats. His back began to shake again, and he reached down and grabbed it by its neck. Holding it up to the lighthouse window he shook its shadow behind the lantern until it died. He placed it down, and this time Mr. Mason cried loud enough for me to hear. The next early evening, I wondered why Mr. Mason hadn’t felt tired enough to sit on his chair. Then I realised that he had put the dead rat on the chair instead of on the floor beside the knotted apple stems.
The winter winds blew down our screen door, making trespassers and runaways come and go unnoticed. I left my house and hiked through late January’s snow mounds piling up in patches until I got to the bottom of the lighthouse. I saw the top of his hair with the ocean in front of both of us. Picking up a piece of ice, I threw it against the high window of the lighthouse. It clinked with the glass, left a scratch, and fell downwards to the spot where I found it. I looked up at Mr. Mason who slowly turned around. For the first time I saw his eyes—they were hazel—neither the colour of the ocean nor the city. He was more lost than I had thought. But then he looked down, and in the middle of a fallen city gowned in white, he saw me.
In the process of accepting this story, our editors had an interesting debate as to the meaning, with each editor’s opinion differing. As such, we reached out to Jessica Simonetti to hear her intended interpretation. If you are as interested in hearing it as we were, we have included it below. Thanks to Jessica for sending it our way.
To me, this piece represents how hope is always present even when it goes unnoticed. Aliza is joy, and perhaps she could symbolize God or she could be this hope that the old man doesn’t recognize until the end of the story. This is a narrative about depression, as shown by the paradox that the old man exists in: he lives in solitude and yet he has an entire city behind him, he feels stuck where he is in his life and yet he overlooks an endless ocean, and he feels forgotten and defeated even though he has joy and hope watching over him right where he isn’t looking. Depression, like most mental illnesses, twists around a situation for an individual, and, like the old man, that person uncontrollably creates a tragedy that they fall victim to. The old age of the man shows how depression can wither away a person’s livelihood, and it suggests to the reader just how much a person is affected by mental illness. Mental illness forces someone to go into a battle against themselves; the old man kills a rat out of anger and yet he values it enough to put it on his own chair rather than on the ground with the apple stems. He is battling with his own good heart, and we see that in his desperation throughout the story. However, outside the realm of mental illness and outside the realm of the lighthouse, there will always be hope that that person could find joy again.