The Fisherman's Beacon This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

The day before my life turned upside down, my grandparents came into town. They both looked more tired than usual, as if their pleasant, sunny-day cruise had suddenly turned into a turbulent, deadly storm. Still, even in their disgruntled state, they continued the tradition of taking me to the zoo, Science Center, and City Museum. Perhaps their energy was transferred to me because I had the insatiable urge, only attainable by eight-year old boys, to traverse every single inch of everywhere we went. To my grandparents’ obvious relief, I was exhausted by five in the afternoon. My grandfather carried me, a lap dog that refused to budge in the middle of a half-mile trek, out of the magical wonderland that is the City Museum to the car and then drove us back home.

Drained, my grandparents assumed their usual positions: my grandfather on his extra-comfy, black and white striped chair and my grandmother milling around in the kitchen. Having slept during the 30-minute journey back home, I was bored and looking for entertainment.

“Tell me one of your stories, grandpa!” I whined incessantly.

“Okay, okay,” he sighed. “I’ll tell you one I’ve never told you before. This is the story of a fisherman, his wife, and their lighthouse.” I waited in giddy anticipation for the treat that was a new tale.

He began his story: “There once was a fisherman who lived in a lighthouse with his beautiful wife, and he was very happy. But, he would have to be away from her for months at a time because he needed to catch enough fish to sell at the market. He was concerned that his wife would not remain faithful to him. He reasoned that a woman as beautiful as she would catch the eye of every man in town, and she would eventually fall to someone else’s advances. He talked to his wife about this, and even though she promised to remain faithful to him, he was still worried. So his wife decided to comfort him with a sign to show she still loved him and only him. Whenever the fisherman was out at sea, she would keep the lighthouse beacon on, day and night. This would show the fisherman that his wife remained faithful to him because if she was with another man, she would forget to keep the beacon on. So as long as the beacon remained on, the fisherman could be sure that his wife stayed true to him.”

“The fisherman was very happy with his wife’s idea, so she kept the beacon on the next time he went to sea. This worked extremely well the first time, and the second time, and the third time, and then suddenly, three years had gone by. The fisherman was just coming home from a very long trip, but all he could think about was his beautiful wife waiting for him at home. Then out of nowhere, a violent storm erupted around his ship. Waves were practicing summersaults around him; the wind was attempting to pick his boat up and escort it to the heavens. The fisherman could sense that he was nearing the shore, but he couldn’t see five feet in front of his ship, much less the lighthouse’s beacon to direct him to his wife. He stood still in the middle of the boat when—“

“Time to go to bed, Tommy,” my mom rudely interrupted.

“But-but I don’t know what happened to the fisherman!” I cried. Despite my continued pleas to the contrary, at this point I was fully aware that I would never know if the lighthouse beacon was on or off.

I pleaded to my grandfather, but he just nodded and explained, “I’ll tell you the ending some other day. Your mom’s right, it’s time to go to sleep now. Tomorrow is going to be a big day.” I sulked up the stairs, my mom’s hand a snake around my shoulder. I was so wrapped up in my grandfather’s accidental cliffhanger that I didn’t notice my mom’s makeup washed down her face, giving her an “evil clown”-like appearance, nor did I notice the fact that my dad didn’t tuck me into bed, a nightly ritual at my house.


After dreams full of turbulent seas and broken-down lighthouses and a school day filled with the wonders of the order of operations and the downfall of the Roman Empire, I strolled to my mom’s car, finally set free from my personal brig. My sister was already in the car, which was unusual because she would usually just stay at home with my dad while my mom would pick me up. I ran through the possibilities explaining her presence. Had I done anything wrong recently? Not that I could think of. Does she have an activity that starts soon? A possibility, but I hadn’t heard anything. Is something special happening? Maybe we’ll get ice cream. Yeah, that’s what it is! We’re getting ice cream!

My mom put the car in “Drive” and started going. She was silent as a gentle breeze, something unusual for her because she would always ask me the relentless question to inquire on the quality of my day. An ocean liner would have difficulty wading through the thick tension that was in the car that day, so I simply remained quiet. After driving for what seemed like a couple hours, we pulled into the parking lot of Schnucks, a local grocery store. This day was just turning stranger and stranger. My mom ushered my sister and me through the familiar automatic doors into the store.

“There’s-there’s going to be some changes at our house, guys,” she started off cautiously as soon as we were safely into an aisle and out of earshot of everyone else in the store. “Your father decided it would be best if he lived in a hotel for a while.” I stared at her, unable or unwilling to comprehend what she was telling me.

In retrospect, it should have been fairly obvious what was happening. Between my mom starting to sleep on the couch every night to the sudden absence of family trips to finally the lack of interaction between my parents, the signs were all right in front of me, but I just didn’t want to admit to myself that something would be happening at my house. That those Sunday morning breakfasts I had grown to love would never happen again. That those intense games of Monopoly or Risk with the entire family would never happen again. That the trips down to Orlando or Daytona Beach would never happen again. That the times I saw my parents laughing, having fun, or even being together would never happen again.

“But, so wha-“ I tried to plead.

“Please don’t ask me any questions right now. I’m not sure what’s going to happen any more than you do. But all you need to remember is that your father and I both love you very much and will love you forever,” my mom solemnly explained as we continued walking down the aisle. A million thoughts were going through my head at once. Will I just live with my mom from now on? What will my sister think? Who will play catch with me now? Will I ever see my dad again? I wandered through the store like a zombie, gripping my mom’s hand as if I was drowning, and it was the lifesaver tossed out to save me. We purchased our groceries, stumbled back to the car, and then drove home.

Even though I never heard the ending of the story of the fisherman, his wife, and their lighthouse, ever since that day I have known what really happened. I know that, in the end, it didn’t matter if the lighthouse beacon was on or off, because the fisherman never returned home.





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