The Flame’s Out in the Lighthouse

It was always the best part of his day, the only part that mattered really. He never thought 90 seconds could make the difference between heaven and hell, but it did. For the last five years Eric put up with almost anything at work just for that brief time when at the end of it all, he mattered. It was a ritual that started by accident and continued deliberately, it was their tradition.

Eric had studied drama at the New School and had hoped to become a world class actor one day. However, after a ten year loosing struggle, he finally gave it up to pursue more realistic dreams, which for him meant trying to find work that paid above minimum wage. He had no applicable skills of any kind and the only thing that his acting background got him was more gigs in the service industry. After working his way through school and then trying to hold down an audition schedule for several years, the only work experience he had was being a waiter. At first it was a means to an end, then it became an end in and of itself. It didn’t matter much to him, he accepted the fact that he chose an impossible life. He embraced his failure and vowed never to give up on his passion for the craft, regardless of the level of success he achieved. Then she came along.

Amy was everything that he never knew he wanted. She was kind, gentle, and beautiful; and she adored him. They met while he was waiting tables and she was with her friends having dinner. After flirting throughout the course of the evening, her best friend decided to take Amy’s number and shove it in with the signed credit card receipt for dinner. After a series of texts and a night out they both realized that there was no one else they’d rather spend time with. Six months later they were married.

Amy encouraged Eric to keep going on auditions, telling him that even if he didn’t make it, the mere process of trying made him infinitely more interesting. She wanted him to exist for something more than the ordinary, whether or not he had a shot at anything. Ironically, this made him happy enough to not need anything else. His dreams of the stage were replaced with dreams of coming home to her after a grueling ten hour shift waiting on people and kissing their asses.

She would wait up for him, or at least try to. She had to be up early for her corporate job, but she always made an effort to stay awake long enough to greet him at the door. He felt the surge of love as he unlocked the deadbolt and her arms wrapped so tightly around him that sometimes he couldn’t even reach back to shut the door behind him. Other nights she’d be asleep on the couch and he would tiptoe into the living room, caress her face, and gently pick her up and take her to bed.

Either way, the light was always on. He would see it immediately after he’d turn the corner, two blocks from his subway stop. The building at the end of the street, the apartment on third floor, the third window from the left. It was his beacon home. The walk from one end of the block to the other was all that he needed to shed the misery of the day. Every step closer to the light was a step closer to perfection. He savored it all, taking his time and taking in every nuance of the event. Whether she was awake or asleep it didn’t matter, she loved him enough to try. That told him everything he needed to know about happiness.

But something happened along the way that made everything different. She started talking of things that never came up before; about how she wanted a life, not just an existence. She wanted to do more, to be more, to have more. It crept up like a fog in the night and lingered there, changing on a whim, but never fully receding. He tried to take her back to the beginning, when everything she spoke of had to do with being more, not wanting more. But she refused to listen. Something had corrupted her and now his world was falling apart.

He got out of work early that night. He turned the corner and didn’t see the light. He had a feeling it wouldn’t be there. He took his steps just as slowly and methodically, but instead of savoring every moment, he did so because he was afraid to arrive at his destination. He thought about wandering around the neighborhood for a little while. Maybe he was home too soon, maybe the light didn’t go on until much later, when she knew he’d be coming around the corner.

It was a delusion that quickly faded as soon as he caught a hint of his own stupidity. When was the last time he’d gone after a part? Had it been weeks, months, years? When did he rehearse lines or study technique? When was the last time he took her to the theatre to watch the good ones, the ones that knew the art so well that he sat there in awe until it was over and then after, overcome with the urge to talk about it all, they both sat up all night as she listened to him go on about the nuances that only a trained eye could see. He was showing her his world, the one she couldn’t see before they met. This is all that she wanted — this was her 90 second walk home. He took that away from her, yet she stayed and kept the light on; until tonight.