The previous night’s wind blew the grey clouds away and for the first time in weeks there is a sun in the sky, even if it is still Baltic out. The harbour is a clutter of workmen and manic gulls. Blood from gutted fish stains the boards and it smells of salt and guts. “About fucking time you turned up, you lazy bastard” Grenn shouts from the hull of the small rowboat, as Fergal finally rears into view, rubbing his head. “Listen, would you please just shut your mouth for a minute, please. My head is banging.” Grenn laughs with an almost inappropriate amount of joy. “Your head? Aw you poor sod! Well maybe if you could handle your drink better, son, you wouldn’t be in such a state and you could’ve been able to get up and help me with all this shit. What type of Irishman are you anyway?” Looking uneasy on his feet Fergal takes his time getting into the boat, which sways slightly as he stumbles in. “The type of Irishman who fucked someone last night while you were in bed sucking your thumb, you bollocks. That’s who.” Blushing, Grenn turns with vigour, shouting “fuck off!” The Irishman clutches his ears in an instance and lowers his head, “for the love of Christ would you please keep your voice down.” Grenn chuckles to himself but nevertheless quiets down while Fergal leans back in the boat and closes his eyes, which promptly sets Grenn off again. “Oh no you fucking don’t lad, you’ve had hours more kip than me. We’re all good to go, so get us fucking going.” “You’re a prick,” sighs Fergal. With a big huff and a face fading to green, he heaves himself up with great effort, unties the boat from the dock and begins rowing them out to the lonely, empty rock on which stands the lighthouse.
Before long they are out of the relative cover of the cove and brisk, icy winds engulf them. The swell of the uneasy sea rocking the boat. “I’m gonna throw up, fucking hell, could the sea not just be calm for one bastard morning?” Asks Fergal, whose rowing grows more and more lethargic by the minute. “Seems not sonny boy, I just hope she was worth it,” replies a lounging Grenn. “She wasn’t bad like, considering it’s the only thing I’ll be getting my end away with for a few months it wasn’t bad at all. How come you didn’t go on the hunt?” “As you well know Fergal, I’m a happily married man.” “So fucking what!” Fergal shouts, then realises his head is still pounding. He begins again somewhat quieter, “it’s not like you’re gonna get caught and a man has needs. It’s just nature.” Sitting up and growing frustrated, Grenn says, “I’m not gonna betray my wife for some random tavern drunk for meaningless satisfaction. Fucking someone doesn’t keep yourself warm, you know?” “Well I was sure as fuck warm last night, I’ll tell ya that.” Grenn rolls his eyes and turns to look at the destination jutting out of the waves. “If you put your back into it we’ll be there by noon, then we can get set up and have something to eat.” “Fuck that, first thing I’m doing is getting my head down and sleeping this headache off.” “No you’re not, you’re helping me unpack this boat, getting all this shit to the lighthouse and then setting the place up. Then, maybe, I’ll let you have an hour,” says Grenn, with an air of smug superiority. Exasperated, unable to feel his frozen hands, Fergal decides not to press the issue – for once. “Why’ve you got that rope around ya shoulder?” Fergal asks. “I always carry extra rope, you never know when it’ll come in handy.”
They reach the sharp, rocky Island, just about navigating the rough foam crashing against the rocks and pull the boat ashore. The Island is grey and lifeless. Empty. Apart from the small shack that stands on flimsy stilts, with the beacon on top. They climb inside. It is but a single room with a bed on each side, a table in the middle with a single lantern sat atop it, a stove in one corner and a bucket in the other. Outside the shack there’s a balcony that leads up to the light. Inside it’s dark and musty, dusty with cobwebs.
“Is this fucking it?” Exclaims Fergal, allowing the supplies he was carrying to crash to the floor. “Aye! Best get used to it laddy,” Grenn inhales deeply through this nostrils, “ah, home sweet home.” Fergal looks around the shack, which doesn’t take long, with disgust etched on his face as he rubs a thick layer of dust off the table. “There’s no fucking way I’m living here with you for four months, I’ll go mad!” Obviously enjoying the idea, Grenn laughs, “this is what you signed up for boyo, best get settled in.”
Hours later the darkness is setting in and the wind has picked up. The pair are seeing to the beacon. “Would you fucking pay attention please? it’ll be your turn to do this tomorrow.” Grenn shouts as he fiddles with pouring oil into the light. “I’m watching, sweet Mary of Nazareth.” Lies Fergal. “What you need to do is fill the container with the oil up to here,” Grenn explains, while pointing to a line on the container, “this way it it’ll burn throughout the night but it’s just enough to go out when the sun’s up, so we don’t waste… ARE YOU FUCKING LISTENING?” Fergal startles but repeats the instructions just close enough to get away with paying more attention to a seagull fishing in the waves.
After a dull supper of tinned beans and sausages and Grenn’s valiant efforts to teach Fergal chess, the pair retreat to their own beds. The light shines through the cracks of the shack and the window every four seconds. Without fail. Like clockwork. One. Two. Three. LIGHT. One. Two. Three. LIGHT. One. Two. Three. LIGHT. Grenn is used to this, he’s been here before. Fergal hasn’t. He spends his first night of many staring at the ceiling. Listening to the wind.
Counting the seconds.
Weeks go by and the storms grow wilder. The waves tower higher. The wind howls louder. The sea is so violet and temperamental that supply boats can’t reach them, for fear of being dashed to pieces on the jagged rocks in the cove. Fresh water and food is starting to dwindle. They try to fish but have no bait to get a bite. Desperate rocks are thrown at gulls but are blown off target by the gale. There is one thing not in short supply though: The oil. Together they keep themselves busy in the long dark days by taking turns keeping the light lit so sailors can still make their way to port. Fergal even gets the hand of chess.
“It’s your turn to do the light,” Grenn tells Fergal, as he reads a book for the fourth time. Fergal abandons his game of solitaire and turns to Grenn, “errr, no, it’s your go, I did it last time.” Grenn sighs and slowly puts down his book and sits up on his bed. “No you fucking didn’t. I did. So get off your fucking arse and go put oil in the bastard lamp!” Fergal doesn’t respond, he just turns back to his cards. Grenn, seething, “you little fucking shit” jumps from his bed and walks with speed. Then he stifles, grabs for his chest and slumps to the ground.
“What the fuck!” shouts Fergal, he looks down at Grenn’s stiff, still body. “Grenn… Grenn!” He sends the cards flying as he stands and crouches over Grenn, turning him around only to see his glassy eyes. “No, no, no, no, no, no don’t you fucking dare die on me. Don’t you fucking dare leave me here alone.” Grenn offers no reply. “Shit! Shit! For fu… For fuck sake Grenn, you fucking eejit!”
Then the realisation sets in, like waking up from a nightmare only to remember your life is actually worse. He can’t just throw Grenn into the sea. Everyone back on land knows they hate each other, they will think that they finally came to blows and that he got the killing strike. No, they have to know he died naturally. Fergal looks at the lifeless Grenn, “you’ve even got to fuck me over in death, you cunt.”
He struggles lifting Grenn’s rigid corpse into its bed, but finally manages to and covers him with a blanket. He tries to return to his game of cards, but he can’t get over the ominous shape of the corpse under the quilt. “Fuck this.”
It takes time and effort, but Fergal manages to rip enough spare planks of wood and nails from the shack to fashion a makeshift coffin for Grenn. It takes even longer to get him inside and then carry it to the balcony. He secures the coffin to the railings. “You were right; you do never know when rope will come in handy.”
A week goes by and the supplies are even lower. Fergal is rationing himself miniscule portions of tough, salted beef and a thimble of water a day. He’s pale and thin, but still the light keeps burning. Even if every turn is his turn now. As he endures yet another sleepless night a giant wave rocks the shack and he can hear wood splintering and creaking. Too tired to move, he waits until morning to inspect the damage.
He wakes from his pathetic excuse of a sleep by knocking on the window. Tap. Tap. Tap. He slowly pulls back the covers. Tap. Tap. Tap. Climbs out of bed. Tap. Tap. Tap. Stumbles to the window. Tap. Tap. Tap.
He’s met by the rotting, soggy face of Grenn. His arm outstretched, almost as if he’s waving as he taps on the window. His body is tangled in rope and wood on the railing. Even though the wave smashed the coffin to bits, Grenn remains.
“No, no, no. Fuck this.” Fergal grabs a knife and goes out to the balcony. He’s just about to cut the ropes and sink Grenn to a watery grave when he stops. “I can’t” he says to Grenn’s decaying body, “they’ll think it was me.”
He returns back inside. Tap. Tap. Tap. Crawls back into bed. Tap. Tap. Tap. Slowly pulls up the covers. Tap. Tap. Tap. Grabs his knees up to his chest. Tap. Tap. Tap. And begins to gently rock himself back and forth.
Tap. Tap. Tap.
Seventy-one days later.
“Come on lads quick!” shouts the leader of the crew. They disembark from the boat and make their way with haste up to the shack. “They’ll be sure glad to finally see someone else, won’t they Captain?” “Absolutely Tom, they must be sick of the sight of each other by now!”
The captain is the first to enter the cabin. The first thing he sees is Fergal. He looks like a skeleton. His face is gaunt, his hair thinned, his eyes dark. He’s sat at the table with a game of chess in front of him. He doesn’t as much as look up when he enters. “Fergal, son, where’s Grenn?” He doesn’t respond. He doesn’t need to.
Tap. Tap. Tap.
The Captain turns and sees the green, wet, maggot infested face of what was once Grenn and gasps. “Boys! Boys! Get this poor lad out of here and back home!” Two men take Fergal around their shoulders. Fergal offers no resistance or words, he just follows. A ghost ship, still sailing on despite no one being left aboard.
A disturbed Tom turns to the captain with troubled eyes. “Speak, boy.” Tom jitters out his words, “Sir, we turned back each time we tried to get here.” The Captain puts an arm on Tom’s shoulder, “I know, son.” Despite the comforting touch, Tom bursts into tears.
“We turned back because we thought he was waving at us!”