The Light House

The place glows, like a lit candle in a dark room. All those big bay windows leaking out light and illuminating (somewhat) everything in the neighborhood people would like to forget--cracked sidewalks, sagging houses, peeling paint, weed-wracked lawns, worn-down dreams. That's how he's seeing it, anyway.

It's dusk, darker than usual because of the storm. He's been chewed out by his boss today; and he's on his way home from work, stalling for time. From here, standing outside, pelted by rain, the place looks like an oasis, a source of sustenance and warmth, a clean, gleaming house of light, which, coincidentally, is what it's called: The Light House, open 24 hours a day.

A strange name for a neighborhood bar, even stranger hours for its working-class clientele. And a strange policy for such an establishment: keeping the lights on while people drink. But people come; so who is he to wonder why.

He moves out of the rain and into the doorway of a beauty salon, which sits kitty-corner from the bar. He continues to watch and wonder about his next move, looking in, licking his lips, his throat parched, his heart pounding. Hands in pockets, his fingers jab at nickels and dimes, pennies, quarters. He listens to the jingle, feels the metallic nature of each coin, can almost taste it. He caresses each one, wears it down, waits. He avoids the biggest coin of all, the thick, weighty one, the unwieldy, onerous lump of metal that is making his pocket sag. Well, that's what it feels like. Something too heavy. Something that isn't fitting his life right now.

He received it two nights ago--amid some gush and hullabaloo. Thirty days of sobriety, it says. "Good job! Good for you!" They clapped; they cheered; they shook his hand. This medallion, they said in solemn tones, is a milestone. Then came more pats on the back. Hugs from the ladies. Coffee and cake.

At home, Katie picked it up, looked down at it, turned it over, looked up at him, then snorted. "Thirty days? You haven't changed. You're still a drunk. Show me something after 30 years!"

Truer words were never spoken. Twenty-two years of marriage, three kids. She knows him better than anyone.

Inside The Light House, faces are loosening up, coming to life; customers are starting to smile, getting ready for fun, getting ready to get started. A woman and man, sitting on stools, lean into each other, shoulders touching, forming an inverted vee. The bartender, a bald, apple-shaped man, moves from person-to-person, wiping glasses, washing tables, pouring drinks, telling jokes, keeping things going. The customers--roofers, mechanics, clerks, pipefitters, truck drivers, barbers, beauticians, the salt of the earth--sit, slumped over, waiting for that something to kick in (he knows the feeling). Some will go home soon. Some will close the place down. Some haven't even arrived yet.

He, himself, can almost taste the thing they're feeling--that unfathomable need-that-has-no-name--that brings them here in the first place. Call it hunger, longing, the abyss. Call it the devil himself. Whatever it is, it's making him salivate right now. It won't let go. It can't be satisfied. It makes him powerless--which makes him a failure. That's right, they tell him. You are powerless. And that's what it's all about. So accept and surrender.

Bull shit.

He'll wait here until the rain stops. It's coming down harder. The gutters, roiling with rain water and debris, are tumbling downward into city drains, like mini-rivers seeking the lowest level.

He's getting impatient. His hands dance around his pocket, re-finding and re-fingering each coin over and over again. He sways sideways, taps each foot, leans forward on his toes, backward on his heels--like a guard on duty needing to pee. He can't remember a downpour lasting this long. The storm is gathering momentum. Cars are crawling through ankle-deep water. The gutters are beginning to overflow. The wind has shifted, spritzing rain in his face. If he makes a run for the bar, he'll arrive soaked to the skin. If he doesn't, he might be standing here for hours.

He curses God and his god-damned luck. Nothing ever goes his way.

He sees a small shape under a pine tree across the street. It's a duck, having found shelter from the rain, a little bird soldiering the storm on its own. The duck is looking at him, has been watching him, he's sure of it, even in this dim light--this little creature, calm and nestled into itself, like some blissed-out Buddha, sitting Zen-like, quiet, hunkered down deep into some duck-like moment. Enduring.

He finds the medallion in his pocket, feels its heft, fingers the raised 30, lets it go, hears it clink against the other coins. He sees a taxi approaching and steps out of the darkened doorway into the street. He lands in the gutter, staggers a bit, and feels the raging water wash into his shoes.

The chill shocks him awake, alerting him to the possibilities of another day. Turning his back on the light, he hails the taxi, is swallowed up and carried away.

About the author:

For 25 years, Kathleen Lindstrom sold her soul to corporate America as an award-winning writer in communications and PR departments. Three years ago, she decided to "follow her bliss" by delving into the world of creative fiction and hoping Joseph Campbell knew what he was talking about. Since then, she has won the Arthur Edelstein Prize for Short Fiction; and her stories have been published in 11 literary anthologies and e-zines. In 2007, her poem "Shrapnel" won first place in the Talking Stick competition.