Grade: 12th grade
Age: 17

The Lighthouse Across The Street

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From far away, the house might have been charming to the eye of an unknowing onlooker. A smudge of velvet green on canvas, the couple’s quaint house seemed to brighten the colorless neighborhood, welcoming neighbors with open arms and a glossy-eyed smile. Its artificial smile was plastered over the house’s windows, blinding watchful eyes the way that clouds conceal the sky during a storm, the way that paths of rain blot out glass windows.
Below the shuttered windows were the overgrown plants that were no longer cared for, overwhelmed by thorny weeds and infiltrated by dandelions. Grey petals scattered the ground like smudged tears.
Sometimes, the couple’s only son strummed his guitar and hummed drunkenly, his broken lyrics spilling out into the dusk. The cold blue light from his computer filled his bedroom. It was the only light in the house.
Sometimes, the incessant pounding of his basketball against the pavement and the howling laughter from his friends drifted through an open window at night. His crumpled, slashed beer cans littered the street, clanging hollowly as they hit the ground and rolled to the edges of the sidewalk. He didn’t see his friends very often; they were away at college, and he had dropped out years ago.
Sometimes, his girlfriend smoked with him, sleeping in the shotgun seat of his ramshackle car. She always wore a black crop top with black jean shorts and black cut-off boots, all to match her short black hair, black eyes, and black eyeliner, all of which were startling against her pale, almost porcelain skin. Her dull eyes never smiled with her mouth, and her high-pitched tittering laugh was lifeless.
Sometimes, his cigarette smoke drifted down the dim street. Clouds swirled inside of his car, wisps escaping through cracks in the windshield like dandelion seeds lost in the wind, outcasts meandering down the street in search of a new home. The bitter, heavy smoke lingered on his tongue, eventually crawling down his throat and sweetly suffocating his lungs. He fell asleep in his car, dreaming of lurid smoke. He lived in it.
His parents were home at night, but the house felt empty. Ashes from the son’s cigarettes filled the air, and he lived behind closed doors. So did his parents.
The little girl who lived across the street from him didn’t notice any of this. She saw her own parents — loving, caring — and was certain that everyone had parents like hers. She happily played in her front yard, arranging chipped tea cups on the cut grass and singing to her stuffed animals while reading Nancy Drew books. She had a home.
From the comfort of her front yard, she lightheartedly waved at the man across the street while he nodded at her wearily. She returned home at the end of the day, and he returned to his house at the end of the night.
She first met him face-to-face at her neighborhood’s block party in July. She squinted against the hypnotizing heatwave on the horizon, sipping the Sprite that her dad had brought from the cooler. Adults roamed around the backyard with drinks in hand, buzzing with small talk about the hot weather or sports or their work or vacations or their kids. She half-smiled at her neighbors naively, trying to remember their names but trying even harder to avoid socializing. There were rarely any kids her age at these parties.
Underneath one of the picnic tables with tacky Fourth of July decorations was a golden retriever, sleek under the sun, panting heavily but happily. Excited for the first time at the monotonous party, the girl approached the dog with a hand outstretched gingerly. (“Let a dog sniff your hand first, so they know you’re friendly,” her mother always said.)
Someone came behind her, extending a hand to the retriever. She turned, surprised to find herself looking up at the couples’ son. He nodded a quiet hello to her, continuing to pet the dog. After years of waving to him across the street, she had never seen him smile like that before. His parents and girlfriend weren’t at the party.
She went home later, thinking. She knew he smoked, and she thought that was bad. He seemed nice, though. He was always at his house or in his car. Sometimes he had a beard, and sometimes he didn’t. He didn’t seem to like his girlfriend very much, and she didn’t seem to like him, so she didn’t understand why they were together. He was okay at basketball and playing guitar. And he always looked tired.
The girl slept peacefully. Every night was quiet.
As summer nights passed, the girl wasn’t carrying Nancy Drew books anymore. She grew her hair out. She needed a new pair of glasses every August. Friends replaced stuffed animals. She studied more.
She began to notice things that she hadn’t noticed before — not just at school but also in her neighborhood. When she went outside to take the garbage out, there was rarely a car in the driveway. When she had a day off school, she kicked broken glass off the sidewalk. When she left her window open at night, she heard shouting. She knew what house it came from. All the neighbors did.
She opened her blinds, staring out at the black sea before her. No one ever seemed to sleep in that house. Dim lights from the house flared in the darkness, like the lights of a lighthouse. They were warnings in the night. She blinked, and headlights flickered on the driveway, two ghostly streaks bleeding into the night. She blinked again, only to find herself alone in darkness. The car roared in the distance. He was gone.
As she lowered her blinds, the voices quieted. Among the waves, the lighthouse winked its goodbye, extinguished like a flame turned to smoke, like a dead star.
She turned off her bedroom light, returning to the comfort of her covers as the sea swallowed the lighthouse whole.

One thought on “The Lighthouse Across The Street

  1. A good but not great story for me. Seems a cut below what we’d publish. The writer had several images I really liked: a) “the way that paths of rain blot out glass windows.” b)”The cold blue light from his computer filled his bedroom. It was the only light in the house.” c) “wisps escaping through cracks in the windshield like dandelion seeds lost in the wind, outcasts meandering down the street in search of a new home.” and the last line d) as the sea swallowed the lighthouse whole.

    But the strength in imagery was offset by weaknesses in developing the relationship between the two main characters. The girl always observed, but their one encounter never led to anything despite hints/expectations that it might. Also, the ending doesn’t add much. We knew that house was bad news from the get-go, so there wasn’t any insights I read from the ending.

    Also, had some questions that distracted from the story: 1) why would he sleep in the car if he had a home?
    2) how come girl sees what narrator doesn’t: “He didn’t seem to like his girlfriend very much, and she didn’t seem to like him, so she didn’t understand why they were together.”

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