Peer Review by lizbadiz (United States)

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Margaret Patterson was a Lighthouse

By: ⋆ katie ⋆


PROMPT: Open Prompt

Margaret Patterson was a lighthouse.

She was named Margaret, but nicknamed Peggy by her mother. After Peggy’s Point lighthouse, her mother always told her, a beautiful Canadian lighthouse that Margaret’s mother had seen countless times, but somehow, Margaret had never seen closer than a photograph.

Her mother reminded her countless times that she was named after that lighthouse. Maybe that was why the lighthouse kept showing up in her dreams. But Margaret didn’t want to conform, so on her tenth birthday, she proudly walked up to her mother and declared that she wanted to change her nickname.

Margaret, on that birthday, became Maggie. Her mother was destroyed.
Maggie’s mother wanted to name her after something beautiful, something meaningful. But maybe, even though Margaret was now Maggie… she would always be the lighthouse.

All her life, Maggie wore a camera on a strap around her neck, the fabric fraying and ripping at the seams. She was always oddly disconnected, living her life through that camera lens and refusing to allow anything to touch her emotionally. That's why she always clung to the physical things. Otherwise, her barriers would crumble.

The camera was older than she would have liked. It didn’t work as well as she would have liked. In fact, saying that it worked at all was a bold statement altogether. It was her mother’s camera- a silver and black one- from 1989, her mother told her. The monochromatic metal casing was discolored slightly by dirt and age, the white lettering above the lens beginning to peel and yellow. But the camera was her mother’s, and there was no way she would ever let go of it.

That was her fatal flaw. She wouldn’t let go of anything, especially anything concerning her mother.

Not when her mother was barely holding on.

Everyone in the Patterson family was barely holding on. Dylan, Maggie’s brother, locked himself in his room and cried, unceasingly. Her father just sat quietly in a peeling leather armchair, letting it all fester and grow and worsen in his head. He stared blankly at the television while he drank his coffee, almost seeming like he was still a little drunk from the night before. Which, he usually was. And Maggie’s mother: for the longest time, she was the one who was really barely holding on. She was the one who wore a little knit hat from the hospital and smiled, smiled through the pain. Smiled as she was being put to sleep for surgery, smiled as she woke up in the morning with tears streaming down her face… smiled when she saw her daughter. She had seemed to be the least broken out of anyone in the family.

Which, sadly, was true. And Maggie was the second-to-least broken. Not because she didn’t love her mother, simply because she closed herself off. She wouldn’t put down her walls, and just when her mother needed her most, those were the days she was so disconnected that no one could even hope to reach her.

Maggie’s mother was a combat photographer in the United States Navy. She lived through her lens, photographing wars and natural disasters and third-world countries where children died every day. But she never, not once, felt scared. All because she had the camera lens to come between her and the world around her.

And then one day, she couldn't see to take pictures anymore.

When Maggie’s mother got sick, her sight was first to go. The retinoblastoma, the doctors said, was to blame for that. The tumor was to blame for everything. But, rather than blaming anything at all, she gave Maggie her childhood camera, the camera from when she was her daughter’s age, from when she had just discovered the wonders of photography. Her gift to her daughter was, in a way, the gift of having the whole world within her reach through photographs.

And Maggie, without so much as a second thought, began to learn how the best pictures were taken, and how to find the best lighting, and what the best angles were, so she could stand and take photos without having to open her eyes to what her reality had become.

With a sad smile, Maggie stood up and lifted her camera, snapping a photo of her mother who was, as usual, lingering in a blurry state between wakefulness and sleep. Her eyes were half-open, unfocused, bleary… and the beauty of the piercing blue eyes that were a prominent trait in the Patterson family was gone, the wonder vanished.

A camera shutter. Maggie’s mother blinked.

For one second, that disconnectedness faded, and Maggie, for once in her life, felt like she had really stepped out from behind her lens. She felt like she could reach out and her mother would be there. She felt, even though she knew it wasn’t true, as if there was no great divide between her and the rest of the world.

And then her vision returned as the white-light ring formed by the camera’s flash dwindled, and then, with a blink, it was gone. The great divide between mother and daughter returned as well, and Maggie shuddered as she felt herself pull away from her mother's bed.

But it wasn’t her. It wasn’t a conscious choice for her to step away. It just happened.

Everything had become a blur to Maggie Patterson. Every day, whether she was awake or dreaming was the question that burnt through every single thought and turned the workings of her brain to ashes.

She dreamed of flying, she dreamed of standing on water; she dreamed of isolation, sitting in a lighthouse with an impossibly bright light that turned around slowly, a sun guiding sailors on their paths.

When she opened her eyes, strangely enough, she felt more out of reach than she did in her dreams. Her waking state was her true state of isolation, no matter how many nights she dreamt she was inside that lighthouse.

There was a photo of a lighthouse on the mantle. Peggy’s Point Lighthouse.

Maggie’s mother was sick, very sick. The tumor had taken all her energy, but she still remained. And Maggie was very similar to her mother, she was a wonderful guide.

A lighthouse that guided sailors through the dark.

Maggie’s mother reached out her hand, her breaths labored and the pauses between breaths becoming increasingly longer.

“Maggie… are you here?”

Maggie did not speak, she simply removed the camera from around her neck, set it down on the couch, and took a seat on the edge of her mother’s bed.

“I love you so much. Promise me you'll keep taking pictures, okay? Promise?”

Maggie finally let her guard down. Her mother’s hand was right there, and she took it into hers, and suddenly the lighthouse danced in her vision for just a moment before fading from view.

“I promise, mama.”

A lighthouse, illuminating the darkness with the brightest light imaginable.

“You're the light of my world,” her mother said, her voice raspy. She gripped Maggie’s hand tighter and gave a weak smile, reassuring her daughter that everything was okay.

For once, the wall between mother and daughter crumbled. The camera was in Maggie’s free hand and her mother reached over, feeling the cold metal against her even-colder fingertips.

Light danced in her mother’s eyes, and love in her heart. Light and love reflected across miles upon miles of sea; light and love that still radiated in her mother’s heart and all among her body.

And this love that her mother felt, it was almost better than sight, in a way. Because she had her own little lighthouse, guiding her through her darkness and leading her to the shore.

That light was her daughter.

Maggie Patterson was a lighthouse.


Message to Readers

Any critiques are welcomed and greatly appreciated!


Peer Review

It's about a girl whose mother named her after a lighthouse. Even though she and her mother begin to drift apart, they are eventually drawn together again before the mother dies. At the end, it turns out that the girl was a lighthouse in ways she didn't expect.


The way it tied back to the first part at the end. That was done very well.


This piece needs some moving around. It feels a bit disjointed in places, and I hope I've pointed those out to you as best I could.


Reviewer Comments

I'm a fairly harsh reviewer, but I did like this piece. There's no shame in having a draft that needs redoing. This could be a very good piece, provided that you revise it.