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Image by Severin Höin

A Lantern For My Feet

(c) Linda Hutchison May 2016

“So this is retirement then,” thought the lantern to itself. It looked out over the living room from its place in prominence on the mantelpiece. The stark white floor tiles and expansive white walls, offset by the luxurious suede lounge suite, were in sharp contrast to the meagre furniture it remembered from its arrival at the family home some 100 years earlier. The lantern imagined the soft, warm glow of the open fireplace that had echoed its own light in the evenings. Now the lantern sat illuminated from overhead. No need to be lit. It sat there, withdrawn from service, a mere adornment.

The lantern’s first owner had been a farmer and they’d shared many adventures. It remembered their first storm – a raging gale that rattled the windows, whistled sinisterly through the cracks around the door, and finally blew over the massive oak tree in the house paddock. The rain pelted down as the farmer went to investigate. The lantern had been placed aloft, swinging precariously in the wind from a skyward-reaching broken branch. The farmer, with the help of the wavering light, had been able to locate a sheep caught in the tree’s branches. Thankfully, the sheep, unlike the tree, was unharmed. He freed it, and then checked for more snagged woollies. Fortunately, there were none. “Lucky we had you, my little beauty!” chuffed the farmer to the lamp as they made their way back to the warm, dry farmhouse.

After the farmer married, his wife had used the lantern for many night-time trips around the farm checking for lambs. There were happy events with safe arrivals, but also the occasional encounter with foxes who had taken the life of the lamb before it was fully born. The lantern had seen both extremes, and had also made sure that the farmer’s wife managed to avoid stepping in cow pats. “What would I do without you,” she had said softly to the lantern one evening as she sat polishing its black enamel frame.

The night their daughter arrived, the farmer had paced up and down the tiny living area, his face contorted in a mixture of concern and helplessness. The midwife emerged from the bedroom and said quietly “fetch[cas1]  the doctor”. He and the lantern almost ran the entire five miles to the doctor’s house, bringing him back in record time. The news had been good, and all worked out for the best, but the farmer had never wished to repeat the events of the evening, except the birth. “She’s a miracle alright,” said the farmer, lost in wonder as he topped up the lantern’s oil and trimmed its wick.

By the time electricity found its way to the farm, the farmer’s daughter had a beau and he had been closeted in the barn with her father for the previous hour. As she and her mother heard him approaching the house, the farmer’s wife disappeared into the kitchen, whispering “light[cas2]  the lantern,” with a conspiratorial wink. The daughter lit the flame, closed the lantern’s tiny glass door, and then turned off the electric light. Her beau stumbled into the now dimly lit room and started to mumble. The lantern did its best to ignore the rest of the encounter.

With the farmer and his wife now somewhat older and frailer, they looked forward to their grandchildren’s visits with a mixture of joy and trepidation. They remembered the spilled milk, terrorised kittens and muddy boots, as well as the amazement on their grandchildren’s faces as they watched a calf being born, or a lamb feeding from a bottle. One tradition they kept over the years was the goodnight kiss each evening, as they tucked each child in bed by the warm, soft light of the lantern. After each visit, they would carefully polish the lantern’s smooth black frame and now slightly clouded glass, and remember their tiny cottage and tucking in their daughter so many years before. During one visit, when their grandson flung a random cricket ball in the living room and broke the lantern’s glass, they decided to have it repaired and restored to its former glory. It was a significant part of their journey.

Now many years later, the lantern sat on the severe white mantelpiece contemplating the inaction of many months, apart from the occasional dust by the fastidious cleaning lady. “I’m not sure why they keep you, you messy old thing!” she would say to it, but she would nonetheless keep it spotless. The family entered the room – the great-grand daughter of the farmer waltzing in with a group of her school mates. “Hey, cool lamp!” said one of them, reaching for it. “No!” replied the family in unison, all moving to stop her touching the lantern. “Leave it be,” said the mother. “It has great sentimental value.” The lantern smiled inwardly, vindicated. That night the mother lit the lantern and carried it softly upstairs to kiss her daughter goodnight.


A Lantern For My Feet: Work
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