The lighthouse

Agahlo built the lighthouse in 1924 in an old city outside of a province, which has since

been named too often, really, to withstand another naming here. The force of its impression has less

to do with its now debilitated structure and more with its sheer stint of survival. Aghalo has written

volumes about its construction and reconstruction, there in the library.

By 2024, the man who visits the ruins of the lighthouse does not read the language of this country,

of course. The most integral volumes on the way that its spiral staircase is navigated (a staircase,

more now, like the arthritic hand of an elderly mother swinging the man from one side to the other)

are wasted on him. Still, it would have profited the man, who now stood shovel deep in sand trying

to dig himself out, to have visited the library more than once.

Inside the lighthouse there are the common compartments; the glass lantern atop it and the bedroom

for the caretaker, the kitchen and the store at the bottom floor that never sold a single book. Aghalo

also fancied himself a historian but the language of his country had fled him as a child, and then this

language, which he’d rejected as an adult, was not adequate to describe the landscapes that birthed

him. The manuscripts, instead, became his memories of home, recreated, as it were, from the stories

he was told as they fled. It was no longer clear whether the lighthouse was built before he

chronicled his countries tales, or whether those tales were not simply a misreading of his mother’s

desperate bedtime stories in the years of famine and drought; he wrote as he had always written,

himself into his country and his country into existence. Even his name, Agahlo, one he liked to

pretend was a hand-me-down from centuries of blood, was what his wife called a silly string of

letters, all falling one after the other.

Outside of the lighthouse, there are no identifiable characteristics that separate it from any other. In

fact, if there had been a lighthouse in the near vicinity, there may have been

motivation to give it a peculiar personality, to stripe it with garish red and white. The truth is that

the lighthouse was built after mountains divided the lands and the people that belonged to those

mountains had lost the blue of the ocean over the divides of the canyons. And even before the

people had lost other common links, like the roll of the r and their stomach for spices and their

resolve (so that crossing each other in the street they’d hardly whisper a hello, as if the entire

business of being forgotten was a new import) Aghalo watched from a distance until he could no

longer tell the difference between the deaths that brought them here and their chosen extinction.

Aghalo had built the lighthouse because he believed if they no longer wished to return to the sea,

the lighthouse would call the sea back to them; but being that there is no other in a hundred mile

radius, this particular lighthouse is of no consequence to anyone except the man who built it and the

man who wishes to wake it up a hundred years later.

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Rebecca Seaberry

 

*

It is difficult, perhaps, to empathize with the man who walked into a lighthouse, a hundred years

after it was built, with no prior experience in waking one up. For a while, Gogo’s

countrymen were touched by the novelty of a lighthouse built in a landlocked country and had been

drawn to the impossible. There were writers and revolutionaries present for the first few months, all

with the common purpose of chronicling the moment that Gogo realized his folly. This was the way

of the people now, just as Aghalo had imagined it would be; they were a localized community of

thieves, stealing the suffering of their own and using it as an emblem of a lost dream.

When interviewed, Gogo would lift his shovel from deep within the ground and tell them that he

knew how to make the lantern turn. The problem, of course, was that no one knew where the heart

of the lighthouse had been buried. It was an old wives tale that brought him there to

begin with, one that revolved around the moons reflection hitting the glass of the lantern in such a

way, in such a precise way, that the ghost of her would rise up and point to the place that she could

be resurrected.

Soon, however, the people, who had long forgotten their own ghosts, grew tired of chasing this one

and left the poor, crazy man to his longings.

And so he dug. He dug that way for ten years. He dug underneath the staircase until it detached

from the floor and lifted up into the ceiling, he dug underneath the filaments, and he dug underneath

the cellar. He climbed the rungs on the sides and pushed and prodded each brick for a secret

entrance. He dug in search of the foundation, and then underneath that in search of the place that he

thought was essential for the structure of the lighthouse to keep standing despite his digging; it

could not be as the journalists had mocked, as it had said in the broken language of the library

books that, once, as a young man, he’d mistaken for fact. It could not be that the lighthouse was just

a brick structure around a spiral staircase on which there were an odd number of steps so that he

was never in the center.

He dug this way until the last day of the ninth year; until he realized he was too tired. He looked up

into the kaleidoscope moonlight, in and out between the iron steps of the staircase. He had not been

digging her heart out but burying his heart in. There was no other way but down. He climbed up the

rungs on the side and sat on the last step, his legs swinging like silly string letters, one after the

other. He had not been digging her heart out but burying his heart in. He looked as far as he could

see into the one man hole he’d buried himself in, with no throbbing heart and no ghostly apparition

to tell him that there was something else underneath the structures that had held him captive,

underneath the ribcage of his animal carcass that had held him captive. There was no way but down.

There was no way but down.

And then the flood came.

At first Gogo thought a well had formed from the years of perspiration. The air began to swell with

a ringing hush and the hair at the nape of his neck stood on end with tiny drops of water beginning

to form at the edges. He licked his top lip and it tasted like the way he imagined his homeland must

taste: the salt of the earth before he was ever a part of it. The water began to fill faster and faster,

white foam began to tide back and forth in time with the swinging staircase. Soon Gogo was a few

feet away from soaking his feet, so that his thoughts became less perplexed than frightened and he

had no choice but to climb. I’ve hit her heart, he thought, and she is bleeding. She is bleeding the

blood of my people and I will drown here with them. And so he began to climb the way any man

who drowns in the reflection of his principles must, even when the journalists and revolutionaries

are not there to see him.

Between the third and fourth step, there were sounds of bubbling behind him, between the eighth

and ninth, the slicing of water like a knife through a pear. He only had enough time to look over his

shoulder before the tide was teaming with fish, an octopus, a shark, a whale— suddenly, the

lighthouse was an anemone between the land he’d left and the land he’d buried himself in. She is

releasing the in-between, he realized, as a stingray lapped around his big toe, brushing the surface

like a paper sailboat that will sink at contact.

Rising to the top of the sixtieth stair, half-swept, half-lost, Gogo gasped for air at the juncture in

between the glass and the last rung. The water subsided patiently at his feet; just below him the

octopus wrapped one tentacle around the rung as if in preparation should the water go back to the

place from which it came. All was still. Gogo looked out through the mirrored glass of the

lighthouse and saw the barren land, a land which had not seen rain in months; and past the miles of

barren land, Gogo saw the outlines of rain clouds. And past the

rain clouds, Gogo could see the chance of rain, and past the rain, Gogo could see the clouds were

the sails of boats coming to take them home.

Gogo saw the boats and Gogo saw the lights of the lantern flicker on. Gogo saw the boats and the

lantern and the light that cast his reflection as a woman in the center of the staircase, from beneath

the water, like a mermaid who’d been hiding in the belly of a shark. The shark unhinged its jaw and

the woman climbed out.

He had not dug out her heart but buried his in.

She had not been sleeping but dreaming his way home.


 

Gina Alexandra is an amateur human but an expert wolf.
On Autotranslation: When younger, I learned all the curse words first. Upon meeting someone with a different language set, I’d quickly swap the worst of the words I knew in my own for theirs and giggle at the sacrilege. It was a rite of passage, an unloading of cultural expectation that no one but my new friend and I would be privy to. We’d whisper them passing each other in the hallways of our school, new to me, an implant from a private Armenian academy, suddenly aware of an accent I had not known I had. The worst of the words I knew had to do with mothers: I’ll tell you, I’d say conspiratorially, but you better never say it out loud. What I mean was that when in my language you insult someone’s mother, it is like insulting the country itself, all of its mothers, the language rooted down in so many generations and almost lost in so many wars that to hold it on the tongue is to hold something like a ball of mercury, smooth and lovely but burst, deadly, poisonous. I know the weight of every word in Armenian, and that weight transfers into my native language, English. Someone asked recently if I think first in English or Armenian and I told them that it took me twenty minutes to remember the word buckwheat because I had only ever heard it said in Armenian when learning how to make a family recipe. I don’t translate the language but my own experience in that language to write it. The experience of the language will tell me what words hold the most weight, how, when I encounter a small animal, a child, someone who I love dearly, almost certainly Armenian words will stream out subconsciously before I’ve had the time to think them in English. I used to think that knowing the curse words of any language would show you where that culture hid its most sacred things but now I think not. In any language, first learn the terms of endearment.