The Little Red Lighthouse had once prevented boats traveling at night along the Hudson from running aground on Jeffrey’s Hook. Looking at it, it was hard to believe it had once been a working lighthouse. Its diminutive appearance made it seem more like a miniature golf course decoration than something that had once guided ships. While it was small for a lighthouse, it was actually forty feet tall, but the enormous bridge that towered over it made it into a toy.
The Little Red Lighthouse was something right out of a children’s book. It really was. Its title role in “The Little Red Lighthouse And The Great Gray Bridge” had saved the obsolete little lighthouse from demolition in the late 1940s, and had eventually elevated it to landmark status.
If there was one single book that every child in my neighborhood knew by heart, it was Hildegrade Swift’s little classic. Apparently, even little Sadad had been exposed to it. Her shining eyes were the size of saucers. “Just like in my book,” she whispered.
“Let’s go look at it,” I whispered back to her.
“Not on a field trip, here,” Moira hissed. I ignored Moira and led the child by the hand and my dog by the leash to the lighthouse. Everyone had no choice but to follow. We found the lighthouse door unlocked, and we went right in.
“Trapped like rats in a can,” Moira observed.
“Rats with guns,” Mike answered, leaning his own gun against a wall and taking off his backpack. “I had no idea this was down here. It’s a neat little thing. We can hang out here until daybreak. Not be so exposed. We can pump the raft up in here, too. Well, we can at least get a good start on it. Might have trouble getting it out the door, if we fully inflate it.”
“It’s not a raft, it’s an air mattress,” Moira reminded him.
“Be careful where you sit,” Jill said. “There are some used…” she looked at Sadad, “balloons on the floor.”
I sat down on the beginning of the little spiral staircase. Sadad immediately climbed into my lap. Bethel glared indignantly at the pair of us, then she clambered into my lap, herself. Sadad stuck a thumb into her mouth and delicately took one of Bethel’s ears between the thumb and forefinger of her other hand. As she sucked, she rubbed Bethel’s ear. I assumed it was a substitute for her blanket at home. Bethel’s eyes rolled wildly for a moment. A CHILD WAS HANDLING HER EAR!!! COULD I NOT SEE THE CHILD HANDLING BETHEL’S EAR?!! I shook my head at her, not in the mood for a scene, more than a little worried what attention a scene might attract. Unbelievably, Bethel gave it up and resigned herself to being a blankie.
After about half an hour, my damned legs were falling asleep and I shifted the load of child and dog on my lap. I heard a crinkle under Sadad’s light windbreaker. Curious, I unzipped the jacket and found a note pinned to her little dress. It said, “In The Unlikely Event That Sadad Reaches New Jersey, Please Deliver Her To The Al Salam Mosque in Jersey City.”
The note kind of took me off guard. It had never occurred to me to wonder what we were going to do with the kid after we got across the river. Ali had thought about it, although his note showed that he thought our chances of success were poor, at best. But, he had thought we had some chance, or he wouldn’t have pinned the note onto his child.
I looked around at my friends. They had fallen asleep, sitting against the curved walls of the lighthouse. I really hoped that we all made it across the river. I really did. Then, I went to sleep, too. None of us woke up until morning.