An island barely attached to the mainland, like a loose tooth on a thread, is called a peninsula. On this small peninsula, there is a lighthouse, a tall gray one that swings its light at night over the small town by the sea. It stops ships from smashing into the rock that is so awkwardly positioned in the middle of the bay. It makes the night a little less dark, and the vast landscape and the wide ocean a little less vast and wide.
In the house beside the tower, Augustus the lighthouse keeper lives with his daughter. They have a small garden and a little rocky beach, where something or other is always washing ashore. They often used to sit there all evening, with the light turning in circles far above their heads. Augustus would make a fire, and small boats sailed up from the harbor, carrying a crew of pirates. They came to sit around the fire and eat grilled fish and sing all night long. They would sing drinking and eating songs, sad songs and longing songs, and terrifying songs too, songs about the Secrets of the Sea, which made the girl both happy and scared, and so she would usually climb up onto her mother’s lap.
But no pirates come sailing along anymore, and her father has stopped making fires.
By the time dusk falls, the lamp must be lit. It is always the girl who lights it. Every night, she climbs the sixty-one steps, opens the rusty little door that covers the lens, lights the wick, winds up the mechanism that turns the lamp, shuts the door, and the job is done.
It was hard work when she was younger, but now her arms have grown strong and her legs can easily climb up and down the steps twice a day. Three times if she forgets the matches. That happens sometimes, and then her father always grumbles at her.
“It’s almost dark and the lamp’s not lit! What if a ship is lost, child? What if it runs aground on the rocks and it’s all my fault? No—all your fault! Hurry up! Climb those stairs! Or should I just do it myself? I’m going to…” He’s already getting up out of his chair.
“I’m on my way,” the girl mutters, taking the matches from the drawer. The box rattles quietly. There’s only one match left.
Must buy more matches tomorrow, she thinks. Don’t forget.
The girl knows, though, that remembering can be difficult. She always has so much inside her head: songs, stories, things she has to learn, things she wants to forget but that keep coming back. When she needs to remember something, she often forgets it, but she always remembers whatever she wants to forget.
As she climbs the stairs, she comes up with a little trick. What was it she wanted to remember? Oh yes. In her mind, she picks up a matchbox and then places it on a table in the middle of her head—with a little lamp shining onto the box, so that it will be the first thing she sees when she wakes up tomorrow morning. Or so she hopes. What kind of lamp? One with a shade of green enamel with a worn golden edge. Her mother used to have a lamp like that by her bedside. But that is one of the things she would prefer to forget.
Think of another lamp, Lampie, she tells herself.
Because that’s her name. Lampie.
Her real name is Emilia. But that had been her mother’s name too. And her father had always found it annoying when two people looked up as he called out the name, and then, later, he never wanted to hear that name again. So he calls her Lampie instead.
“You’re not the brightest of lights though, are you, Lampie?” he always says whenever she forgets something or trips over her feet, usually when she is carrying something like hot soup.
Lampie climbs upstairs with the last match. She has to be very careful. It must not go out before the lamp is lit, because then…Shipwrecks and an angry father. She is not sure which would be worse.
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