Loredano Cafaro

The Lighthouse Keeper

Today Andrea comes home crying. When his father and mother hear what his friend has told him, they understand that the day they have feared for a long time has come— the moment when they will have to start crushing his dreams. They speak to him; tell him I do not exist. But they are wrong.

I dream, therefore I am.

It is different every time. Andrea’s dreams are lights that illuminate the rooms of a castle and filter through the glass in the dark night. One of the windows disappears from view: the first light has been turned off; my nemesis is already at work. I must hurry before nothing remains of the castle but a dark ruin. I move the wooden portal with the curved top of the crosier and enter.

I am the gleam in the eyes, I am the smile at dusk; I am the back that stands up again.

I have been doing this for so long that my life seems to have always been this way. Yet I was a man once. When children in my village disappeared, I hunted and tracked down the culprit: our bishop, who aimed to gain his innocence back by feeding on them, on the eyes with which they looked at the world. I fought him and lost. He killed me. He stripped my clothes, pierced me with the crosier, and flung me from the top of the bell tower. A man, red with his own blood, on the roof of the church: it is curious how the legends are born. He killed me, but I did not die. Not for a divine gift, not for an outside event; I did not die because, until my last breath, I did not stop believing that I could save those children. And I still do. I still believe in dreams. And I watch over mortals to protect those dreams, from the first breath to the last sigh.

I am the happy ending; I am the first love; I am the beyond.

The lights are going out, one by one. I advance in the darkness; in every room, I glimpse a sharply cut candle. I find him in an empty chamber, empty but for the echo of happy laughter. On the wall, the smiling shadow of a child leans safely into his mother’s arms. In Andrea’s fantasy, my opponent is glabrous, white eyes, bony body wrapped in a dark costume, on his chest a symbol that I cannot decipher; he seems to have come out of a cartoon. He holds a double-bladed ax in his hand, dangerously close to the candle in the middle of the room. He notices me, tilts his head to the side, and stares at me for a moment with his lifeless eyes. Then he forcefully throws the ax, which begins to twirl. Instinctively I hoist the crosier in midair. I manage to deflect the ax, but one blade grazes my left cheek, dying my white beard red. I do not know what other weapons, skills, or powers he might have in Andrea’s imagination, but I have no intention of finding out. I snap forward, and with the crosier’s tip. I hit him in the forehead, just above the eyes. Then I watch him dissolve into ashes.

I am the dream, the hope, the trust. I am the eyes of a child.

I sense someone behind me. I turn around, already knowing who it is.

“Are you a superhero?” Andrea asks me.

I do not know what I am, but I like how Andrea sees me— yes, I am a superhero. Beyond the window, the figure rides a broomstick, contoured by the moonlight, reminding me that I am not the only one. But to each their own story.

I squat down in front of Andrea, look him in the eye, and smile. Then I take him by the hand, and we start walking slowly, going room by room. We scratch off some wax, and we light what is left of the candles. Some have been cut higher, others lower: some more, some less, but they will all keep burning for a while longer.

There is only one missing, the first one that went out. It is in a room full of gifts wrapped in colored paper and curly bows. There’s a drawing that might look a little like me under the decorated tree if only the red of the costume were darker. There is nothing to do; the blade cut too low and left so little. This candle cannot be lit again.

Andrea gives me a sad look and indulges in a hug.

“I won’t forget you,” he whispers in my ear.

Yes, Andrea, you will forget me. I will become the smoke from a candle that goes out. But it does not matter. What matters is that you can always see a light in the dark.

I am the lighthouse keeper.

Translated from the Italian by Sabrina Beretta
Edited by Kate Seger

Loredano Cafaro lives in the hills of Turin, Italy, with his wife and two children. He is basically a man of few words.