Trailing Light – Polished Personal

What do these texts suggest about the conflict between pursuing a personal desire and choosing to conform?


     Every night, I would fall asleep to the rhythmic, soothing, perpetual sound of the watchman’s whistle. I knew that if I were to peer out my window, he would be there— pacing around the block, seemingly doing his duty and nothing more. It was easy to discern his silhouette when you knew he was out there; easy to follow the shrill noise of the whistle that indubitably led to his tall, hulking figure; easy to spot the dot of light he carried, attached to an impossibly long wire following his footsteps. If you squinted really hard, you might even be able to make out his typical black overcoat, or perhaps catch a glimpse of his superfluous business suit, or maybe his fawn coloured hiking shoes. On some days, he wore a hat, but always the same hat. If it were to rain that night, he would have an umbrella in hand. He was never not prepared, and always logical in his ways. I appreciated that about my father.

     No doubt some thought he was cold, distant: a kind of community outcast. Nevertheless, he was greeted with the utmost respect, and walked with an air of superiority. After all, he kept everyone safe against the dangers of the night, the only one brave enough to do so. Regularly, mothers and grandmothers visited his hut with baskets of baked goodies as thanks; fathers and grandfathers with offers of fishing trips and rides into town. Never once did he accept. Perhaps that is why they offered.

     I would watch him as he prepared for that night’s watch exactly half an hour before sunset, half an hour after we had dinner. Like always, he would start by checking the weather conditions by peering outside the window. Even if the sky was blue and cloudless, he would sometimes predict a thunder shower. It used to seem like a superpower to me, and often hilariously far-fetched, but now it was just another one of his routines. He always got it right. Then, he would proceed to make small talk as he put on his watch, his whistle, his overcoat on top of his suit, then his shoes. Standing by the door, he’d sigh with a contented smile and open the small pantry that he kept his large light bulb in. The last fifteen minutes before his watch would be spent attempting to untangle a small fraction of the wire—just enough to get him to the outskirts of the community, never more. It would frustrate me, his satisfied untangling, but it never seemed to bother him. It was his duty, after all. He yearned for nothing more than what was familiar. He’d leave this mess outside, gesture for me to turn on the switch, and be instantly assuaged by the fluorescent glow of the light bulb. Mesmerized by it, he would wave me goodbye, and set out. I knew he would return at the first hint of dawn.

     You’d think: someone so ignited by a mere light bulb would be absolutely over the moon during the sun’s encompassing light of day. But my father, the watchman, was quite the opposite. A small light ahead of him, an endless, discoverable darkness—that was what fueled his mind’s passions. He felt in control of what he saw, of how he reacted. And of course, the comforting wire trailing from his hand, behind his legs, eternally connected to the hut. With his return, he’d bring me tales of fairies, centaurs, gypsies—and numerous other mythical and mysterious creatures I had grown to question the authenticity of. The glint in his eyes as he reiterated them made me wish they were.

     Sometimes, laying in the loneliness of the dark, I’d imagine myself untangling the entirety of the wire. Letting father free. I’d be doing him a favour really; at last he’d be able to embrace the vast darkness with just his bulb of light. But, he would never decline the validity and necessity of his duty. Never disregard his obligation to keep the people safe, keep me safe. Only with the wire in his hand, did he allow himself some joy, oblivious to it simultaneously existing as a trap. Let out on a small leash, bound to come back and succumb to his task.

     Overwhelmingly bothered by this, I questioned the watchman one day. Why did he just not explore all there is to explore, see all there is to see, and discover all there is to discover? For it would bestow him with undeniable elation. His response was succinct: if he discovered it all, why would he want to leave his hut another night?
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