On a cold November morning, the inspector came. I met him in my service dress and saluted. He acknowledged and began his tour. He investigated each room, looking for cleanliness, inventory accuracy, and maintenance of the lighthouse. He asked about the food stores. I replied that Jack had not seen me in two months, but he assured the boy would be around before noon. We continued up the stairs to the light room. He uncovered the lens, ran a delicate finger along one of the rings, wiped a cloth on the windows and floors looking for dust, and ensured the fire buckets were in their proper place.
After asking if I lacked anything, to which I jokingly replied a steak, he awarded me the Efficiency Star, pinning it on my coat. I could wear it for a one year, then he would return for another inspection. I thanked him and saluted. Then he turned to leave.
I had always found the footing on the stairs hazardous but had grown accustomed to their little quirks, avoiding certain stairs that creaked over much. One stair, the third from the top between the second and first store, I stepped over as a matter of habit. The Inspector, however, had no such habit and when he applied his weight to the stair, it broke. His foot fell through, and he lost his grip on the rail to come toppling forward. I cried out, trying to grab him, but he tumbled down the stairs while I stood at the top, stupefied.
After an eternal moment of falling to the floor below, the inspector lay silent, blood dripping down his face, breath coming out in erratic rasps. Collecting my wits, I raced down. The man’s leg was clearly broken at the ankle, having been caught between the shattered stair and his forward momentum and his head was injured from where it struck the wall. I asked if he was well, with no response.
With all the care I could manage, I stretched him out on the floor, offering gentle words. Then I ran upstairs, opened the medicine box, and withdrew the morphine, sweating with terror. More than fear of losing my position, of prosecution and imprisonment, of having a man die in my care, I feared losing my connection to the sea. I back to the inspector and administered the medicine. His bloodshot eyes opened, glazed over with fading pain and the unnatural sleep of the opiate. He grabbed my lapel with all the strength of a sleepy child, his thumb pressed over the embroidered K.
He slumped to the floor, miles away from the pain, a thin rivulet of blood trickling down his forehead, its metallic smell thick in my nose. I wet my lips, wild anticipation beating in time with my quickening heart. With almost tender care, I rubbed my thumb against his skin, collecting the sweat and blood, feeling his shallow breathing bristle against the hairs on my hand, and studied the crimson smear with deep fascination before gingerly licking it off.
Jack arrived at dusk. I admonished him for his tardiness as we unloaded the cart. With great care, we hauled the unconscious inspector down the spiral stairs and into the waiting cart. Before Jack left I inquired if he might bring me a steak.
“Fine time to think of food,” he said, snapping the reins. “I’ll see what I can do.”
I stood there among the dried meat and potatoes and watched them go.
I doubted the boy would ever bring me my steak.