She stares into the lighthouse beacon, her blind eyes inches from the panes housing its fiery glare.
The light is bright.
But there is something brighter than that glass-housed star, that saviour of the ships passing these razor-cragged shorelines. Yes, the light she shared with Leopold. That’s brighter. She promised herself that their love, forged through a lifetime of tending the lighthouse, wouldn’t end as her husband had ended. Better that it should live on with her memories of him, particularly the memories of those countless sunsets they’d enjoyed. Her insides had given them no children, and so she alone carries the memory of her darling Leopold. The widow is not of faith; to her, death is dust, nothing more. If she dies, the light of Leopold dies. So she will live, her and this blazing beacon, for the sake of Leopold’s memory.
Nevertheless, there is something she needs.
She tends to the lighthouse thanks to years of practice during the gradual deterioration of her sight. Oh, Leopold. How he had wished these duties to be his alone as his wife’s sight fell from her, that way she could enjoy her final years singing in the rocking chair by the fire. Yet she’d never had any interest in such idleness. Life was duty, and if she couldn’t tend to a son or a daughter then she would tend to a lighthouse.
And now the blind widow stares. Every night she stares. To her, the roaring inferno behind the glass is a faint glow, a subtle red illumination of the blood vessels inside her eyes. Her world is black, but with the heat of the beacon blasting her face she can see the distant ghost of all those sunsets she shared with her husband. Here, with her sightless eyes drinking in the last light of her life, Leopold lives on.
The light is bright.
But always there is that thing she needs. Someone to hear the sweet strains of her singing as she gropes through fuel replenishment, lens cleaning, wick trimming, and mechanism winding? No, not that. The stores of kerosene and coal could last years, so that’s of no concern either. The thing she needs must be found soon, and only through her own means – not through those who have brought it in the past. The outsiders would see nothing but a blind old woman running a lighthouse on her own if she let them visit now. They’d tear her away. She couldn’t risk it, so she told them that her and Leopold (He’s a little peaky today, but doing just hunky-dory. Bless you for askin’, young man!) were now receiving their provisions from elsewhere. She must stay with the light. She must keep it bright.
She can acquire the thing she needs herself.
She kills the light.
In the numbing gales the widow will wait, singing her songs under her breath into the darkness. For what she lost in her eyes she’s reclaimed in her ears. In the sound of the waves she has discerned a language, and so proficient has she become in this aqueous dialect that she’ll hear precisely when the thing she needs has arrived.
The nights will be long without her light. How she’ll crave that distant glow, that reminder of the sunsets through which Leopold held her. Little had he known she’d been staring directly into the sun all those evenings, seeing in that great beacon in the sky what could have been: a boy, a girl, or both. How could a mother deprived ever look away from such a thing?
After many nights of lightless oblivion, beyond the hints of melody in her breathy exhalations, she will hear it. The thing she needs will finally arrive.
It’s here, Leopold! This’ll keep us goin’ so the light can keep on keepin’ on! Oh, goin’ to be some mighty fine sunsets this season, that’s my feelin’s to it, anyways. Gee-whiz, ol’ Leopold, we’ll be dinin’ rich tonight and I’ll even sing you that number you always say you be likin’ so much and…
The words of the widow will ramble on as she traces her way down the stony beach. Towards the lapping tide she will march, where nothing awaits.
A day will pass and she’ll return, still to nothing.
Once eight days and eight nights have passed, the widow will return to the beach, shuffling along the water’s edge, blindly groping for the thing she needs. She will tend to the first of the washed up bodies in much the same way as she tends to the paraffin lamps or the polishing of the windows or the shining of the brass or the mending or the cleaning or the sweeping: through unseeing memory. Her mutterings will continue, spiralling round and round even as she heaves the first of the bloated, drowned sailors up the beach and struggles towards the storehouse. As she pants with exhaustion she’ll wheeze out Leopold’s favourite song, just as the blisters of the sailor’s inflated balloon-skin erupt over her hands.
Always did like this number, my Leopold did.
Anyway, the sooner she gets this done the sooner she can return to the blazing beacon, where she will reach with every last strain of her optic might for her and Leopold’s sunsets.
The memories must remain. The light must keep on keepin’ on.
In the coming week she will weed the shoreline of six more swollen, bleached bodies. By now she’ll have relit the light. She’ll have all she needs for the moment, the shelves of the lighthouse cellar now lined with jars of brining meat. Her salt solutions could allow the contents of this new larder to keep for years, but she has to keep her strength up.
So she will dine.
Of course, before long she’ll have to kill the light again. Leopold’s wife will become a Siren, the darkness her song. But for now, as the stove cools while the lighthouse beacon roars its thunderous glare upon her deadened, blind eyes, offering only the dimmest shadow of those once-glorious sunsets, the widow will enjoy her dinner. She prefers her meat medium rare, but well done will have to do. Waters as cold as these can delay decomposition by weeks, but you can’t be too careful.
The light is bright.
The sunsets continue.
Oh, Leopold. Told you we’d be dinin’ rich! I’ll make sure this darned ol’ light keeps on keepin’ on, just you see. We’ll have our mighty fine sunsets, I’m tellin’ you now. It’s all goin’ to be hunky-dory. I’ll even sing you that number you always say you be likin’ so much and…