Alone – a short story

Aiden O’Rourke

The following is a short story written by Aiden O’Rourke.

The waves drift quietly onto the island, depositing their cargo carried over unimaginably vast ocean, the sea itself is inviting, its waters calm enough for normal people to tread over as easily as supernatural being. I find it calms me, the therapeutic effect not so far from the feeling of relaxation that washes over me as I prepare myself for my evening bath. It’s mild today, the sun has fought the clouds in the sky since it brought me from my midnight imaginings. It’s suffered a bloody nose so far but I have no doubt it can suffer well a blow or two, it is after all a mighty figure. With the exception of the dog, currently busying itself fussing over which rock it would have me throw, I am completely alone on this beach, as I have and perhaps always will be. The dog bounds up to me, were it not for the choice stone locked tight in its muzzle its smile would rip the sea apart, revealing slippery companions hidden away in its folds. 

Absentmindedly I take the stone and send my friend once more on his merry way, my thoughts drifting on. I take in my surroundings as my bare feet leave their mark on the sandy floor. To my right, the empty sea; to my left, rising woods race up grassy hills, dirt pathways weave upwards towards the peak of the tallest hill, crowned with the jewel and reason behind my presence in this place. The bright white of the lighthouse. It’s rusty iron stairways enfold its exterior in loving embrace, its interior provides me with the resting place I have made use of these last ten years or so. My gaze returns to my feet as my friend has returned, it seems he’s been circling me impatiently, but he hasn’t yet resorted to jumping up to get my attention – a bad habit of his he still indulges in occasionally – I smile in recognition of this good behaviour and send him off on the next phase of his happy task. 

It occurs to me that I haven’t had the need to speak aloud since I last had the chance to speak with another human being at the start of the week. Harold the fisherman is one of my only links to the mainland, and I am grateful to him for providing me with supplies every month. I won’t see him again for sometime, and I feel it’s high time that I express myself. I start off with some gentle humming as I continue my morning walk, and then, becoming more sure of myself, I graduate to some soft singing. My throat is dry from the exercise, and it takes me a couple of tries to attune myself to the task. After a while, some birds fly overheard, drawn by this rare performance, and add their voices to my own. The dog gets excited by this unexpected phenomenon and rushes to join in, jumping up, he takes me by surprise and we both crash to the floor. 

I rise slowly, rubbing my back a bit after a bad landing, with great skill the dog has managed to cover my face with his big tongue in this short window, and I ruefully send him on his way with another toss of his prized stones; this time I launch it a small way into the sea, he doesn’t seem to notice my revenge as he plunges in and hurries back, having transformed into a ridiculously large hedgehog. I’ve been out here for an hour or so enjoying myself and I notice that I’m starting to feel a bit hungry, so I decide to head back home. The ascent is usually easy enough, but the trek has tired me out a bit, and I feel the reward of my work deep in my leg muscles. Thinking of the comfy chair and next part of my book waiting for me at the top I push onwards. The view atop the lighthouse on a clear day is one of my greatest joys, and I shall describe it for you in good time, but for now I think it might be best if I present you with a picture of my humble abode. 

There are three levels to my home, upon entering, one sees my living area. Looking right, you see a winding staircase that leads up to the second level. In the present room, I have a couch, chair and small table in the middle, the circular walls are made up of unfurnished copper brown brick which flecks off at the touch. The ceiling for the first two levels is made of sturdy wood that wouldn’t look out of place on one of the great pirate hunting ships of the previous century. That said, when the wind howls at night the wood creaks proudly in reply. The fireplace sits to the left of my seats, its chimney stretches up the height of the tower and gives release to the smoke. 

In winter, there are days where one must constantly tend to the flames lest the fire’s crucial warmth shrink away from the elements clutches. Black layers of soot and dust encase the structure, there are times I count myself lucky that I do not receive visitors, as dull and boring as my life can be here, bringing relief to this feeling by gutting out a fireplace that will just as soon be dirty again is not a task I’m particularly keen to lose my energy in. Across this level’s stone floor I have placed big shaggy rugs. I’m not keen on their use, but on colder nights I’m wont to use the previous owner’s furs to better keep the heat. On the walls I’ve put up posters of theatre performances, this was one of my better ideas, when the loneliness of my job bites, I find respite being reminded of Marc Antony’s masterful speech outside the senate house from Julius Caesar, or in seeing the longing in Cosette’s eyes; a feeling I have come to know all too well these last years of my life. Adjacent to the stairway is the kitchen, a great deal of my cooking is done over the fireplace, but occasionally I’ll use the wood fire stove provided as a reminder of the creature comforts of my youth. 

At this time of the month I’m well provisioned with assortments of tinned fruit, meat and veg which I keep to the end of the month, as well as the fresh fruit and meat which is the highlight of my meetings with Harold. If I’m feeling generous I’ll share some of this treasure with the dog, but begging is a habit in pets that I dislike, and so more often than not I’ll try to ensure he isn’t spoiled and sticks to his own food. This can sometimes be hard, he is after all my only genuine companion here on this island fortress, and the affection and love he shows me is a bulwark without which I dread to think where I would be; he may be getting on in years, but he is as funny and dependable as he’s ever been. 

Moving up to the second level, here we find our bedroom where I enjoy a relatively comfy double sized bed, a well stocked desk where I pass my downtime writing diary entries or letting my imagination run off the leash a little. My chair here is not too comfy nor sore, keeping me alert enough not to drift off when rifling through my small library collection. I have accumulated a fair amount of books over the years, but I tend to stick to the classics as timeless means of escape. This floor doubles up as my sleeping, working and exercising area; although the latter is something I have grown increasingly reticent of observing, preferring instead to take my exercise in walks or hikes. Most nights the dog will sleep at the foot of my bed, but he does have his own just next to my desk. I like to keep him close throughout the day. At night locked away in this retreat he gets the run of the place. 

There isn’t a door in between the first two levels, but on going up the stairs to the third level there is a door at the top. On entering, one is confronted as one might expect by the huge light that gives this structure its name. The walls here are essentially a glass dome, and to be within this room gives one the feeling of being contained within a snow globe. I keep this room sparse, it is free of any furniture bar the necessary radio equipment which rarely sees operation; similarly, the balcony is only armed with a small table and chair and a view of the island below and the surrounding ocean. On clear days you can make out the mainland off in the distance. 

It’s here that I have spent countless watchful nights bathing in the glow of this titan light as it provides reference to daring sailor and passer by. To have my shadow projected in immense proportions across the sea is a feeling I strongly recommend to anybody feeling particularly low, and after all these years it has never ceased to bring me delight. The dog’s squeak at seeing the effect on him is equally enjoyable. So it’s here that I sit in peace, adrift in this ocean, keeping reverent watch and ensuring safe passage to all who would call on me. 

I may not be a man of huge importance in the wider human community, but I know that by my presence here I am in some way contributing to the proper running of society. I resort to this theme whenever my thoughts carry me to the dark places and events which cast me off on this long journey and brought me to this place. Of loved ones taken too soon, of a system which lost its need for me, and of a family too caught up in the rat race for survival to see that they were fighting a lost cause. At least here, I can confidently stake my claim to purpose in life. 

On waking, my daily tasks consist of letting the dog roam loose outside as I prepare our meals and washing, making sure to get the maximum use out of the water supplies I have. I then ascend to the top of my tower and switch off the lighthouse lights, now redundant in the sun’s brightness. If I can motivate myself I then proceed to tidy the place up a bit, but usually I leave these menial tasks to the last possible second, when not a dish is ready for use, and when the dust over my bookcase and the bites keeping me awake at night cry out for action. Even then I exert as little energy as needed. I then get down to the real work, I receive the schedule for the ships expected to pass me by and I plan out when I should be sitting by the radio station in case they should need to contact me, although so far it has been many months since I’ve had this pleasure. 

When these duties are taken care of I have as much spare time as one might need, and this I put to use trying to maintain myself. I roam across the island, after so many years here I feel that I am as much a part of it as the oldest tree, but for all that I never fail to find something to capture my attention on my wanderings. In good times, my thoughts are held by the ideas stored safely away on my bookshelf. When I return to settle down for the evening I take refuge in the far away lands described there, without this treasure I should have gone quite mad a very long time ago. It is in such moments on these quiet late evenings where I would put down my thoughts in my diary, with the exception of my canine friend, this is where I would converse with and leave an account for myself. 

Allow me to show you a glimpse of this event. Classical music plays softly on the record player in the background, my eyes are forced shut to endure the pure power of the music, the experience is my most cherished, it makes me feel real and alive. The feeling overcomes me so completely that my only thought is to capture it in the minutest detail, to remind me what it was like to briefly exist without pain, to transcend to a realm of sheer pleasure and beauty. 

Brahms, that is my favourite. Many evenings of immeasurable joy were laid out before me by the wonders of that genius’s mind. In bad times, which would wash over me at my lowest ebb like the unceasing tides that surrounded me, these memories would give me the strength to endure my loneliness and longing. I can scarcely describe how utterly bereft I was as I lay in quiet darkness on the floor of the lighthouse balcony staring up at the stars. 

Today, these thoughts plague me with an increasingly heavy burden as I feel my spark flicker away quietly in the twilight. Dark thoughts haunt on these late midnight wonderings, but providence watches over me, for my faithful companion will seek me out, nuzzle into me and sleep gently at my feet; these small moments bring great relief and keep my fire burning until the sun’s rise rekindles my hope. As much as I suffer in these bitter months, I still find something to hold onto to get me through the day, and then the next one and the one after that. 

For the moment, I have reached a balance which keeps me grounded in my mania’s and afloat. Harold the boatman often seems to appear at precisely the right moment, almost like turning an hourglass on its head, he gives me ammunition in the form of news of the outside world and supplies for me to gorge on; his visits where we would sit and chat for hours are always something to look forward to. Many months pass and my life continues to go on very much as it has done. I observe my routine, and wait for what comes next.

Aiden O’Rourke

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