At dusk, the lamplighter emerged onto the village streets, bundled under a heavy cloak, his lantern held aloft in his left hand. He mostly went unnoticed – the kind of public servant whose work is only seen once accomplished – and that suited him well. Between his cloak, the evening shadows, and the careful way he moved, if the lamplighter had his way, he would have been invisible.
He was severely misformed. Body twisted, limbs and fingers gnarled, back hunched, and much of his skin knotted into angry swirls, there was only one little part of him – the left side of his face – that appeared in any way normal. Human. Beautiful, even, if beheld alone. It was as if Aphrodite herself had reached out to him at the time of his forming, and her hand could only cover so much space. So he carried his lantern in his left hand, hoping that if anyone were to notice him in the evening, illuminated in this positioned glow, they would see him as they expected him to be.
Still, he preferred to remain invisible. To all of the village, save one.
Miss Arabella Trilling served tea at the Wildflower Cafe in the center of town, and after locking up went home for the day near dusk, just as the lamplighter was emerging from his attic apartment. Night after night, he had noticed her – her delicate features, the vibrancy in her youthful face, the elegance of her dress. And he had watched her, keeping up with her street by street at a distance. Though later in the night, he would light the lamps outside her own home, the route she took paralleled his own, one block south; had she taken his street, he would have altered his route by a block.
It was not her beauty alone that had captured his attention. It was the downcast way that she moved, that she existed. Eyes on the ground, head bowed though her posture was perfect. If sadness could exist within such radiant beauty, he thought, then perhaps beauty could emerge from sadness. Perhaps beauty with its smudge of sadness could match his darkness with its single point of light.
His evening routine, the lamplighter has planned out in such a way that he circles back to Miss Trilling’s street after dark, at the end of his route, where he can slow down and wait a few minutes before retiring home. Each night, he pauses on the street just across from her windows and watches for her, hoping that a light will come on, that she will appear there in the window, look out, and see him; if she does, she will see that handprint of beauty on his face, alone, illuminated. Perhaps then he would be noticed; perhaps in that way he could be loved.
Tonight as he waits, watches, her front room lights blink on, her silhouette shadows the window curtains, and his late-night meal of bread and cheese catches in his throat. The lantern is in place, hung beside him on its pole as he sits with his supper; he can feel the light’s heat against the smooth normalcy of his left-hand face. Watching with held breath as Miss Trilling reaches up to draw the curtain aside, the lamplighter turns the whole of his face into the light, briefly to blow out the flame, and is comforted again in darkness.
And she, beautiful and sad even in silhouette, withdraws from the window, and a moment later that light, too, is gone.
by Matthew Brennan