Death and the Lighthouse
The sea has many voices and there are times in the evening when they seem to be on the verge of saying something. Always, at the crucial moment, a hungry gull or a horn blast from a freighter en route to the Americas, with its cargo of fresh lettuce and peaches. I’d stayed alone at the lighthouse and watched my daughter spinning like a ballerina at the other end of the telescope. Her father had rowed her home so she could make her first holy communion. She twirled in her white dress, ringlets bouncing like buoys. Her fingers diaphanous in sunlight, delicate as fish fins stroking the air like strings on an invisible harp. A silent film, before the barometer fell and the gulls departed the rock. I knew I was in trouble. Sea-spray dwarfed the tower and the storm raged for days severing me from shore. Many times I pointed the telescope home. The last time, a dark carnival of silhouettes, jet-black plumed horses like prayer-flags semaphoring messages, weighing me down like wet sails. Black crepe bands and gowns billowing mournfully, marching across the bluff in the direction of the graveyard. I gnawed at my knuckles as I watched my husband walk behind a small coffin. Something made him look up. He turned his head on his neck, face filling the lens. His lips pulled tight across his teeth, smiled a crooked smile then turned away. I screamed a scream that woke God up; he took a breath and blew my heart out.
I don’t know how long I lay on the beach, a dead dog, but later they said that my spine protruded like a rosary. I’d heard her voice coming out of the darkness and had come to find her. My eyes turned and I walked in the direction of the house. The table was laid—were they expecting me? My daughter ran through me like I was water, sand spilling out of her mouth. Over and over:
Mom. I’ve been alone since … (she can’t say dad) left. Don’t go away again, into being gone.
I let her cry because it seemed to ease her heart. But still running in and out of me, within reach without touch. From behind, someone stepped into my footsteps.
Who was in the coffin? I asked.
Her. Your … (he can’t say, daughter), she’s gone.
She’s here. In the house. Slid out of the mouth of her bed.
I can’t see her.
The dead can’t see other dead.
Mom! I’ve been alone since … (can’t say dad) left. Don’t go away again, into being gone.
I looked at her more closely this time. Her eyes empty, she had retreated from the front of them. Two purple bruises on her milk-white throat. Again, a presence in my footsteps. My daughter disappeared through a door. Each of them seemed unaware of the others’ presence, they shuffled in weirdly strange ways, moving, gliding like clock automatons in and out of rooms. The house was unbearably hot, I opened the window to let the air in, the night, the smell of salt.
Close the window! Are you crazy? Do you want me to catch my death?
He was grey-skinned, thin as a knife, his black suit clung to his bones, three sizes too big and soaked through.
It’s too late for that, husband, I said
Who are you talking to, Mom?
Dad. He’s come home.
What’s wrong with him?
He doesn’t know he’s dead.
I didn’t tell her that he had come for me. Launched the rib after the funeral. Climbed the granite steps soiled with birdlime, his clothes dripping across the cambered floor tiles to where I lay dead-seeming beside the cracked telescope. He made to hammer me with it but a fist rose up in the struggle and he slipped on the briny floor cracking his skull like a bottle. I hauled him outside for the storm to ravage and fastened him, best I could to a pilaster hook near the exit.
He woke God again roaring like a tempest.
One breath and they both were gone.
The sea has many voices and they still say the lighthouse is haunted. But I know it’s only my husband. That crooked smile still nailed to his face. His black boots flailing about in the wind, banging at the door to get in.
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