She was clearheaded in a crisis, and had organized the rescue of many a wayward sailor. However, it was her habit in the boring hours to engineer small crises herself. A twitching filament on the reserve lantern was occasion for much shouting; cleaning the fog signals air compressor meant at least three separate fits of panic. It was thus the curse of her men to wish on every shift for an actual disaster. Since no one could live comfortably at the station for more than a week, the four keeper families passed much of their lives in cottage- style duplexes on the coast, on the dunes justabove the shoreline. Husbands and wives and children were eternally, twice a day, with the waxing and waning tides, handing off hot meals and kissing each other goodbye.
Eight miles from shore, the station boat now settled into place on the leeward side of the lighthouse, which made a wedge- shaped windscreen, a small pool of calm. The men in the boat flashed their tiny lantern, and in response there was a groan from the crane housing overhead, and a winch dropped down a cargo net, into which Sergeant Wheeler stepped. Another exchange of lights, and then the crane withdrew, bringing her aloft. It was during the long moments when she swung in the wind, and the spray of the sea managed to slap at her face and neck, that she most enjoyed her job at the very edge of the map. I am the westernmost woman in the country an idea she extinguished when the cargo net placed her on granite. Trouble.
Leland, her assistant, helped her unbuckle the harness and step out of the cargo net. We have a problem, Mom.
Leland was always on duty at the same time she was, less a personal choice than a request of the other families. He was twenty- four years old, talk at the lighthouse had deemed him unfairly handsome, and he had wrecked two surreys on the dunes near the cottages while impressing girls. Further, he had a propensity for mail- ordering sheet music from San Francisco, jazz rags, which he insisted on playing on the clarinet most afternoons, and he was known to visit the picture show three consecutive days to memorize the details of photoplays rather than stay at home and help his grandmother, who had the vapors. It was hoped Sergeant Wheeler would provide discipline.
Craft adrift. About a mile west- northwest.
Anyone on it?
Leland hesitated. He was generally quick with a quip, which melted Emilys heart too much and prevented any actual discipline from occurring. So now she looked at him not just as a sergeant, but as a worried mother. Finally, he said, You should come see. They passed through the portico into the engine room and took the elevator to the cramped observation chamber just below the lantern room. It shared common glass with the lightbox one story above. There were two men already present, a father and a son of the Field family, pushing each other away from their only telescope worth a damn, the Alvan Clark with a two- inch lens. While Emily removed her slicker, and polished the wet from her glasses, two more assistants came into the room, having heard excitement was brewing.
Wheres the craft? Emily asked.
Its ten oclock, a mile out, answered the elder Field.
And its manned?
Field looked to his son, who looked to Leland, who nodded.
Is it the invasion? For this had been a topic of discussion, at first hypothetically and of late a grim certainty.
No, its just one man. Alone.
Frowning, Emily pulled the phone from the wall and called to the lantern room, asking them to fix the lens so that it shone at ten oclock, and to send up the code flags, prepare for a series of two- flag signals, and notify all surrounding vessels via radio telephony that a rescue was in progress. The engine ground down with the easing of a clock spring, and the white light went steady upon the churning seas. The fog, which most days was a woolen overcoat, this morning was but a beaded mist easily torn through, and even without the telescope, Emily could see a small boat bobbing in the swells.
Excerpted from Sunnyside by Glen David Gold Copyright © 2009 by Glen David Gold. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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