Winner of the 2005 SNHU Fiction Contest
Light of Hope
by Susan Kennedy
Might as well get this over with.
Rachel took a deep breath and yanked the door open. A set of steep, narrow stairs rose in the darkness before her. She slid her hand along the wall, searching for a light switch. She found it and flipped the lever. A single light bulb suspended from the ceiling by a wire sputtered to life, giving off a dim, yellowish glow. She began to climb the stairs.
The old hardwood steps creaked under her white running shoes as she made her way to the landing at the top. She stepped off the last stair and up into the small space that served as an attic. Boxes of every shape and size filled the room.
Rachel stood, surveying her surroundings. She was tempted to give up before beginning It would be so easy to put off cleaning out the attic in her great aunt’s lighthouse. But then, she would have to face it again another day, and she would continue to think about it until then.
Gathering every bit of resolve she had left, Rachel pulled the lid off the box closest to her and began to sift through the contents, some old photographs. On the top of the pile was a photo of Rachel herself at the age of about four, sitting in her great aunt Rebecca’s lap. They were in a folding chair on the front lawn with the lighthouse in the background. Rachel picked the picture up to examine it. The place hadn’t changed much over the years. It was still painted the same cream color, the sloping path down to the beach still existed, as well as the gravel driveway. Near the top of the photo was the attic window beside which she now stood. She could look out the window and down on the spot where the picture had been taken. Her mind’s eye superimposed shadows from the past on the green lawn. Her great aunt and uncle welcoming everyone as they spilled out of their cars as they arrived for a visit. She dashing about with her cousins as they played children’s games while their parents lounged in folding chairs. Fireworks exploding overhead, painting the night sky red, blue and gold Cook-outs, picnics, makeshift tents for slumber parties. All that seemed so long ago. No one came to spend the summer anymore. No one had come for several years. Life had become too busy for such idle pleasures. And now, no one could come, even if they found time. Her great aunt Rebecca and uncle Jake had both passed away. They had left everything to Rachel, the only one of the children who had stayed in touch. Their will even deeded the lighthouse to her, but the town council of Pebble Cove had other ideas.
Her gaze shifted to the ocean beyond the light tower. Her great aunt and uncle’s home had always been one filled with smiles and laughter, wisdom and serenity. It was a haven from the crazy world. And now Bill MacFarlen was going to take it away. The lighthouse had originally belonged to the town, as Pebble Cove had funded its construction. Jake had been the light keeper for close to twenty years. When he passed away, Rebecca had assumed his duties. As the years wore on, her arthritis had worsened, finally making the long climb up the spiral staircase in the light tower impossible. At that point MacFarlen had been assigned to tend the light, but Rebecca continued to live in the house adjacent to the tower. About two years before Rebecca died, a new lighthouse had been built and Rebecca’s ceased operation. MacFarlen went on to other work and the Pebble Cove agreed to sell Rebecca the house. Several members of the town council had resisted the idea, knowing more money could be made by selling it to a contractor who would put a commercial development on the spot. Respect by the general population of the town for Rebecca won out and she bought the property. A few days before her death, a fire had destroyed many of the town’s records, including the filed copy of the deed. Rebecca had intended to have another copy made, but never did. No one knew where she kept her copy, so Rachel had no way of proving the lighthouse had ever belonged to Rebecca at all. Without that proof, the lighthouse still belonged to the town. MacFarlen had returned, checkbook in hand, with an offer to buy the property. His plan was to tear it down and build condominiums. Rachel fought MacFarlen in and out of court for two years, but without a copy of the deed, she did not have much legal backing for her appeals. The court finally granted the land and buildings to MacFarlen, but honored the rest of the will and gave the contents of the home to Rachel. Small comfort, but better than loosing everything.
Rachel looked back down at the photo in her hands. So many memories. With a sigh, she lowered herself to the dusty floor and pulled more photos from the open box. This was going to take awhile.
Several hours later, Rachel stood up and dusted off her jeans. Time for a break. She looked around, pleased that she was about half done. Near the stairs, a couple of large black trash bags leaned up against the wall, full of junk that was ready for the trash collector. The boxes she had gone through were separated into three groups. One group contained things she wanted to keep, while another contained items for the local chapter of the Salvation Army. A couple of boxes under the window were destined for Pebble Cove’s Historical Society. They were filled with items such as pictures of the oil lamp in the light tower before it was replaced by electricity and journals kept by her great uncle Jake during his years as light keeper. They detailed the weather conditions each day and like information. Rachel had little use for such items but was sure the town historian, Caleb, would want them for the society’s library.
While surveying her progress, she noticed a small cardboard box tucked into the far corner under the eaves. She glanced at her watch. There was just enough time to go through that little one before MacFarlen and his lawyer came to tour the property.
Rachel pulled the box out of the corner and knelt on the floor. She opened the top and pulled out a couple of books which had been Rebecca’s favorites: a collection of short stories about lighthouses and an anthology of Celia Thaxter’s poems. These Rebecca had always kept on her bedside table, along with a large King James Bible that was also in the box. Under these was a wrinkled magazine, open to a page near the back cover. Rachel pulled the magazine out and tilted it to catch the slanted rays of afternoon sunlight. “A Sea Side Tale,” her first, and only, story to ever see print. The hours she had spent as a child, and later as a teenager, dreaming up stories and crafting them, placing the words in just the right order on the page. She was never happier than when writing. Something she had not had time to do since the early days of college when she abandoned creative stories for business reports.
She set the magazine and books aside. No time for reminiscing now. But her hand lingered on the cover of the Bible, fingering the gold embossed lettering, and she finally opened it. Inside the front cover Rebecca’s name was scrawled in the dear lady’s handwriting. Rachel flipped through the pages. The Book was well worn and the margins where filled with notes written in pencil.
A legal-sized envelope fell out as Rachel flipped through the New Testament. She turned it over and slid out several pages. Her hands trembled as she unfolded them.
The deed to the property. Rebecca really had owned the property. And now Rachael had proof She could file it with the court in the morning. As soon as the case was reviewed, the lighthouse would be hers.
Hers and hers alone, to do with as she pleased. Now what exactly did she want to do with it? She had never actually decided what she would do, if she won the lighthouse She could keep it or sell it, turn it into a business or dedicate it as historical landmark, rent it out or let it stand empty. Thinking about the possibilities nearly made her dizzy.
As Rachel set the Bible aside, her gaze fell on the open pages. One verse had been underlined, Matthew 5:16, “Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your Father which is in heaven.”
Rachel stared at the words. She could almost hear Rebecca’s voice quoting that passage, as she had done many times. Rachel remembered once, as a girl of maybe ten or twelve, asking Rebecca what the words meant.
“Your ‘light’ is the best part of you, your talent, through which you share your faith,” Rebecca had explained. “By letting it ‘so shine before men’ you are not hiding your faith, but readily sharing it with those around you by using your talents.”
“But what’s my talent?” Rachel had asked.
“You’ll have to find that out for yourself,” Rebecca had answered “God gives each person a different talent, to share with the world.”
“But how will I know?”
“You’ll know, dear. Keep trying different things and eventually you’ll hit on something you like and can do well and you’ll know that is your talent.”
There was a date in the margin next to the passage. It was the day that Rachel’s story had been published. She had been in high school then. When she entered college she gave up writing, calling it a simple pastime that had no place in adult life. She had earned a degree in management and landed an internship that led to a lucrative job. She had a plush apartment in the best part of the city, an admirable career with promotions in the near future, socially respectable friends and dinner invitations every weekend. The very picture of a single, successful woman. A sense of dissatisfaction haunted her, though. Her life was an endless cycle of meetings and conference calls, last minute reports and constant problems to solve. All she seemed to have time for was work and sleep. It was a life that left no room for reflection or personal endeavor. Like writing. But her imagination had been rebelling of late. She found herself jotting down story ideas in the notepad of her PDA, or on margins of memos, or scraps of paper. She had even toyed, briefly, with the idea of working fewer hours so she would have time to write.
Rachel looked down at the Bible. Was this Rebecca’s way of nudging her great niece back to the writing she had apparently thought was the girl’s “light”? Rachel lifted the deed. In her hand she held the key. If she moved into the lighthouse, charged a small fee to let people tour the light tower and was careful, perhaps she could pursue writing full time. The idea was crazy, but it was, she realized, exactly what she had always wanted. It had never been possible before. But these few pages might change her life. Did she want them to?
Yes, she wanted to stay here. She couldn’t give up the lighthouse, or Pebble Cove at all. Not only were all her happy memories here, but this town, this house, felt like home as no other place had. She was only kidding herself, believing she would be content in the city. No other place would ever feel like home.
Downstairs, the doorbell rang. MacFarlen and his lawyer. She stood up, clutching the deed in both hands. The lighthouse was hers, MacFarlen did not have a claim to it anymore She could almost see the look of surprise on his face when he saw the paper. He would make a fuss, she was sure, accusing her of forgery and such. She descended the stairs. But it was legal alright, with the required signatures and seal, and no lawyer would dispute it. She rounded a corner and through the screen door could she see two men in suits. The lawyer carried a briefcase. Next to him stood Bill MacFarlen. She took a deep breath and started toward the door. Those two men were about to receive the shock of their lives.