[Fiction] The light majestic

 Up upon the mountainside, on Sunday nights at six pm, a beacon blinks.

In the township far below, no one notices it but me. I wonder at this fact: how can it be that so bright a thing does not attract attention from my fellow scattered citizens? I asked Samson about it once, and Missus Warner, too, dragged them away from their weekend’s revelry or reverie to point out the blinking light, but they claimed they could not see it. It is always there, week in, weak weather, punctual and piercing through the mist and rain and fog that gathers in woolly clumps upon the mountainside. The only thing that ever changes is the color of its light: red in January, green in June, and violet in December, a slow soft seasonal cycle through the colors of the rainbow. Each week, a new hue greets me and I have grown attuned to its motion over seventeen years of my life. I anticipate its minute shifts in shade.

Since I am the only one who can see the beacon, I consider it to be mine with the instinctive certainty of a lover. We have formed a relationship, it and I, one that has developed from the casual detached interest of new acquaintances into the intimate unstressed silence of old friends. It forgives me my absences when I am not there to see it blink, though it never misses an appointment of its own; I allow it leeway when its hue seems strained or overbright. Though we have never met in person, remained pen pals from afar, I feel like I understand the beacon and its steady weekly pulse. I know it understands me, too, despite never having received my inept responses. Some Sunday nights in early May I will take my chair and book outside and read carefully in its amber glow, scanning yellowed text that is rife with revelations quite invisible by daylight. Is not all information light?

This year, something changed. It was late December, and all month the beacon had been building up to the brilliant violet hue it used to celebrate the festive season and the coming end of the year. At 5:30 pm I shrugged on my coat, wished my mother goodnight, and strolled down to our customary meeting spot, a deserted park down by the old aluminium factory strewn with reflective scraps of metal. It was a clear night — unusual for this time of year — and I could see easily up to where the beacon would shortly begin to shine. Feeling like I should make the effort in this giving season, and because I had some time to spare, I arranged the sheets of jagged metal into a more pleasing aesthetic, stopping only when I sliced my finger open in the dark. Sucking on my injured digit, I nonetheless surveyed my work with pride: the beacon’s light would feel welcome, find purchase on reflective surfaces, and suffuse my little space with its farflung luminescence. I sat down, hugged my knees against the cold, and waited.

And waited. I frowned and checked my watch. I had just this week been given a flashy new one by my mother, the first digital timepiece I’d ever owned. 6:03 pm, it read, and I felt panic rise within me. I glanced back up at the mountainside, sure that I had missed it, overlooked it somehow, but there was nothing. There was no reassuring glint or hint of glow upon that barren sloping landscape. The beacon had never been late to show in all the time I’d known it. I glanced back at my watch anxiously — perhaps it was running fast? But no, the watch was state-of-the-art, a modern technological marvel that would lose less than a second in a hundred years, and I had only set it this morning. So caught up in my timepiece was I that I almost didn’t notice the brief flash of purple that reflected off one of the metal sheets in the corner of my eye.

My heart was in my mouth as I looked up sharply, staring straight at where the beacon should, had to be, but only darkness greeted me. Wait! There! A single desultory flash, like the petulant darting glance of a lover ignored. I shouted out to it, desperate to know what was wrong, and though it could not have possibly heard my cry over the interminable distance between us, it responded. One flash, another, then a string of shifting colors more rapid than any before that felt like it was reprimanding me. I was in agony — the beacon’s reassuring presence had helped me through more tough times than I could recall. What have I done? I entreated it, and it blinked once more, an angry unseasonal red, then fell still. But that final flash was directed — it glanced cleanly off my watch’s face but not one of the metal surfaces around me, and I understood.

The beacon was jealous. I tore off my gleaming metal watch and flung it away, its expensive red display vanishing in darkness, and waited, breathless, begging for forgiveness. And then, after a few seconds that stretched out to an eternity — a pulse, a hint of purple on the mountainside. I sank to my knees in relief as the beacon beat like a heart made whole, as if nothing had ever come between us. Somewhere in the dark, my watch kept track of time that passed in brief purple sparks and breathing.

Image © Paul Conrad/Pablo Conrad

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