"In this kingdom by the sea,
A wind blew out of a cloud, chilling
My beautiful Annabel Lee;
So that her highborn kinsman came
And bore her away from me,
To shut her up in a sepulcher
In this kingdom by the sea."
--Edgar Allan Poe, "Annabel Lee"
The skies were weeping.
Never had the climb up the seventy-two cast iron stairs seemed so trivial, so easily conquered. I barely noticed the dull ache in my thighs as I hiked my way up the eleven flights; I just noticed the damp smell of the tower, the small cobwebs nearly invisible to the eye, and the thin layer of dust covering each step. It had been months since anyone had visited the lighthouse. The lanterns hadn't been lit, the oil hadn't been replenished--no one even bothered to bar the doors shut. There wasn't a need to. No one visited the lighthouse.
I opened the door to the Lantern Room, sneezing from the disturbed dust. The storm panes shimmered from the rain's caress, slightly distorting the view of the majestic waves before my gaze. I stared at the blackened water, aimlessly wondering how it all came to this. I reached up and unlatched the north storm pane. The hinges moaned and slowly swung open. I stepped onto the galleries, lifting my hands high to welcome the embrace of the rain. The cool droplets of water seemed to know what I wanted; they seemed to know what had finally brought me back to this place.
And just as if they were finally giving me their permission, a slight wind blew from behind me. I let the wind push me. I let my feet walk over to the catwalk; I let my fingers grip the handrails, and then slowly released them again.
The ocean was calm. Not even Poseidon seemed angry enough to interfere. Not this time. Even he knew that I was meant to be there at that very moment. A single tear escaped my eye and trickled down my cheek, indistinguishable from the rain running down from my soakened hair and face.
"How did it come to this?" I quietly whimpered out loud. How had it gotten to the point that not even the gods seemed to care about an innocent? How was it that no one was there anymore, no one was trying to stop this from happening, no one was begging me to reconsider. Not like last time.
I swung my legs over the handrail. Closing my eyes, I lifted my hands high once again as the wind billowed around my dress. When I opened my eyes again, it all seemed so clear. Clenching my hands around the rail to keep my balance, I slowly pulled one bare foot, then the other, on top of the rail. Steadying myself, I slowly--ever so slowly--stood and gazed out before me. The world seemed so much bigger this way. The waves seemed brighter now and less foreboding. I heard my name on the wind, calling me to where I'd longed to be for so long.
Smiling and spreading my arms wide, I arched my back and took to the sky with a final jump.
I didn't cry when they buried my mother. I didn't cry when they closed the black casket. I didn't cry as I heard them whisper about hell, abomination, and sex. Their opinions no longer mattered. They got their wish; Victoria Hansella was six feet under. No longer would she be the object of the town's desire. No longer would her flirtatious dancing in the bars be cause for gossip. Now, the light of the city would no longer bother those who found it too bright as the gates of the dock would be closed for all visitors and previous guests. The star of the city had finally taken to the sky in a chariot of crimson silk.
I didn't cry when I returned to school. In fact, I barely noticed my classes passing. Not like it really mattered, I never really, truly fit in there anyways. Long Island didn't welcome those of us with an appreciation for the endless sea of alfalfa fields blowing in the wind or riding bareback on wild stallions in the golden afternoons after the harvest was complete. School was no exception to that intolerance. My long, golden blonde hair didn't fit in amongst the dark brunettes and Vitamin D deficient complexions. And not even Brooklyn appreciated a fine "howdy" and a dropped "y'all."
My mother was a performer. She loved to dance, to wait on tables, and knew how to please men. She was never meant for the country, but yet somehow she had become tied to a pair of hazel eyes and a rich, Southern accent, which was attached to my mystery father. She tried to make the best of it by waitressing at the local diner in the small city of Defiance. And though she had all the attention of the world, it was never enough to satisfy her. She was insatiable with want of the city.
And so, the night of my sixteenth birthday, we entered into the world of Long Island. Mother had fallen in love with the lighthouse and paid the down payment with the last of our mediocre savings we had scraped together. And though I'd never admit it, the ocean was an amorous sight that not even I was immune against. The smell of the salt with a light accentuation of fish was addictive and refreshing. The drafts of cool breeze emanating from the crests could keep me along the shores for hours on end.
High school was torturous, much like any high school in any state. I had never been very good at befriending others due to an intense level of shyness and trying to integrate into the hustle-and-bustle of the heavily populated halls didn't make it any easier. My style was all wrong, my accented speech was a source of ridicule, and never before had I ever wanted to dye my hair so much. But my studies excelled without the distraction of a social life. I delved deep into Charles Dickens, Jane Austen, Victor Hugo, and Edgar Allan Poe all the more fervently. Never before had I enjoyed applying lessons of Critical Theory to texts before; never had I loved reading Fitzgerald or the Bronte's so much.
My mother, however, became the social butterfly she had always romanticized about. Long nights spent at the bars, singing to karaoke and dancing on table tops and counters won her all the attention her desire could ever afford to carry. Men loved her and were drawn to her. There was something about her curly hair that stood out from every other woman who frequented the streets. Something about the voluptuous curve of hips, the secret smile that played on her lips, and the light that always seemed to glisten in her azure eyes.
"Whore," the people of the city came to call her as. "Shameless." And though she'd never admit to it, I slowly watched the city take its tole on her. The vitality she had always possessed simmered and finally burned out. The bright scarves and sequenced skirts started collecting mothballs in the back of the closet. And finally, the bright red lipstick was replaced by light pink and beige. Soon, my unique mother became one of them.
The heavens were raging the night that it happened. I came home late after a study group session. Exhausted and irritated by the ignorance of my peers, I barely noticed that the house was in disarray; the disorder matched my own tumultuous mood. And then I saw it. There, on the table, was a scribbled note written in my mother's worst form of cursive. "I love you, Lulu. -Mom"
Horror encompassed my features as I went running towards her bedroom. The light was on and clothes were flung across the bed and floor. The drawers of the bureaus were flung open, glass from a bottle of vodka on the floor with fresh remnants of the sweet nectar dribbling down the walls. Her makeup bag was open and the stiff, ugly blue blazer she seemed to always wear was torn and had little, circular burn marks that seemed reminiscent of her cigarettes she smoked so often; but there was no sign of her.
I ran back outside, ignoring the wind whipping furiously around me. I ran to the lighthouse that was fifty yards way from our home and saw that the door was wide open, being battered heartlessly by the wind. I ran up the stairs to the Watch Room and smelled lingering traces of freshly opened oil and kerosene. Ignoring the burning scream of my lungs, I raced up the remaining stairs to the lanthorn and burst through the door.
She was right there, out on the galleries. Her back was to me as she gazed out to sea, the wind and rain thrashing against her. I ran against the storm panes and pounded when I realized they were locked. She turned and looked at me with a look so sad I felt tears rise in my eyes and panic encompass my heart.
"Lulu," she mouthed as she closed her eyes and lifted a single key.
"Mom!!" I screamed, desperately gazing around in search of something to shatter the glass. She was wearing the crimson red gown she had worn in the picture of her holding me as a small child in Defiance. It was a special occasion dress, a symbol of her strength, her independence, and her way of life.
She smiled and turned her face back to the ocean. The crests were high and tempest tossed. The water was blackened and screamed of tragedy and loss. I was screaming and crying and laughing and grieving all at once. I was begging yet not saying anything at all.
And then it was over. She opened her arms and took to the sky in a chariot of crimson silk.