You live in a lighthouse. Once it had been new and shiny, with red stripes swirling up its white column like it’d been crafted from sugar like the old-new ice cream shoppe before that went out of business too. Now it’s dusted over with dirt and warped for sale signs and other grunge.  

Salt crusts the lighthouse’s sides and dirt grits the peeling white paint, tossed from the ocean as it storms against that crust of land you’re always afraid is gonna drop into the water. 

You think you should wash it but you live by the ocean and you think it should be clean, it should always be clean because what kind of world was it where water dashed over the lip of land and sea made things dirtier instead of cleaner? 

So you don’t wash it. You plant a hardy vegetable garden that struggles through the rocks. You have a shitty internet connection. You think you could probably turn the light on to warn sailors away from the rocky coast but you don’t. You’re not allowed to. You could get fined because water ships don’t need the light these days. 

Hell, most of the water-ships don’t need captains anymore or sailors or crew of any kind. 

Ships always knew their way home. It’s in their brains in a way that’s not in yours.  

You’ve been living in the lighthouse for a few years, but about half your crap is still in boxes. Before that, it was in a studio over a bar. Before that, it was with a girlfriend that didn’t pan out. Before that it was in a college dorm. Before that, with your parents. 

You haven’t seen them for years. 

You go right up to the edge of the cliff. If it can support a lighthouse it can support you. You try not to imagine you in your thick motorcycle boots slipping on the rocks and pitching you in the waters below. 

You know how to swim, but you’d never get to swim in those waters. Too shallow, too rocky. You’d bash your head before you’d even have a chance to take a deep breath and dive. 

There’s something in the water that you think at first is just kelp raked up by the current and the tides. But when the water pulls back, it’s still moving and it’s not from the wind, moving in the wrong direction, and you lean even closer until your eyes seep tears from the sting of the wind and you chew new holes into your lip as you think about losing your balance and falling to your death but what is that thing moving in the rocks below? 

You think you see some kind of limb and you rush back and you’re afraid because the person down there at the bottom could have been you. 

You think about how cold it is, how it’s not summer any more and it was barely warm even then, and you think about your oversized sweater that used to be your mom’s and how you’re still cold even when you’re nestled deep inside of that, and you think about your blue feet and your purple nails and with shaking hands you swing your leg over your rusty bicycle and, wobbling a little, you push your way down the dirt path that leads to the coast.  

You use your boot heels to drag against the dirt because your brakes are broke and you don’t want to risk gaining too much speed and going head over heels.  

You make it to the coast and you’re fine your boot soles are scraped up and the water makes them slick and slippery, but you wade in the rocky, salty water and look for the person at the bottom. 

After a few minutes, you find her. Her fish body’s caught in a net, one of the old nets that must have been digged up by a storm because they don’t use those nets anymore, and it’s caught in the rocks. Her flukes are caught up against her body and she looks up at you like maybe you can help. 

But your fingers are too stiff and numb from the cold, and you can’t make heads or tails of the knots. Besides, the tide’s coming in, water’s already sloshing into your boots, soaking your woolen socks, and soon this whole thing’s going to be under water and maybe she could survive that, but you can’t.  

You gesture towards the lighthouse, and mime carrying her up to it.  

It takes a long moment but she nods her head. Yeah, sure. So you shoulder her over your back and you leave the bike behind. Maybe the ocean will be kind and leave it for you but you can’t be sure. She’s heavy, but you know she needs to get in the water so you hurry and your back hurts from her weight and your weakness, but you make it to the lighthouse and you fill the tub with water, with warm water, and then you gently lay her down. 

You go to the kitchen to pick up the pair of scissors you can use to cut the net from her and to make two cups of tea from lemon and ginger because you’re cold and you need to warm up and you’re thirsty as hell. 

She holds the cup in her hands, breathing in the steam with something like a smile, while her flukes splash in the water, and you smile back at her.