Friday, October 19, 2007

Novel Excerpts

even though I said I was going to finish it last November, I am no where near close -- just beginning to write again....

___________ "Selections" : from, THE ELECTRIC LIGHTHOUSE

Simon would come home smelling like small salty sardines and the vinegar of their solutions. The house smelled as if the drowned had walked out of the sea. He would stumble into the room below when dawn was gray over the water. The door banged open, and I would wake to whispers: "Elaine the fair, Elaine the loveable, Elaine, the lily maid of Astolat, high in her chamber up a tower to the east guarded the sacred shield of Lancelot."

Inchy would lie with eyes still closed and name the source of their father's quoting (she could not help herself), "Tennyson," she'd say.

And was once again, instantly, deep asleep. And once I could hear his gentle snoring, Elaine would get up to light a candle in the kitchen. Her soft singsong murmurings of liturgy prayers would float throughout the early morning house as she made teas to stave off the conception of children. You must not blame her for this. For, she had watched over the past fifteen years, how her two golden children were invisible to their father's eyes. She had no desire to bring more ghosts into a house already full of apparitions, and so, though she loved my father, she was unwilling to conceive another soul to go unnoticed.

Every morning she spent quietly and devotedly cleaning his clothes and scrubbing his boots with apples to take out the smell. Cooking with heavy spices to relieve our nose of the stale oceanic scent and fill it with meadowsweet and chickweed, the briny sweetness of oysters replaced the brunt affront of tin and packaging adhesive. One early morning as the door banged open and the smell of the sea filled the room I was surprised to see Inchy already awake. Her wide green eyes lit by a dreary fog floating in with the light on the water.

"Do you remember that summer, Lil, when Papa first became the Knight?" Inchy whispered into the pale dark. "All those stories, and only you and I were real."

"Yes," I say. "I remember it was the same summer that the twins were born. And he smiled at them, and cuddled them like the baby rabbits you rescued that spring, but he didn't know they were his, Inch…He couldn't see that." I could hear a stumble in her sister's voice, the cracking of a slow breath.

"What makes us real, Lilia?"

I sigh. "I don't know what makes us real, Inchy."


Every spring, once the ice thaw had receded and the mud broke free from its hardness, my mother had taken Inchy and me down to the water and tried to teach us how to swim. I was only four and Inchy was six and while Inchy was much more enamored with the tide pools and the tiny blue crabs with their hard shells and speckled claws, I remember I was terrified of the sound the waves made when they crashed and sucked hard against the rocks. I was much more comfortable taking the long walk around the orchard to the sort of beach at the western part of the island which revealed, at low tide, a long slender bar of silvery sand and round shiny pebbles for almost a hundred yards. And so I would take my sister’s hand and lead her down to the very lip of the water, standing barely more than ankle deep and I’d point out the little clams and urchins clinging to rocks and make necklaces and crowns out of the sea grass and loop them with shells. And our mother would walk out to the water and swim as if she could breath the air out of the water. Her long dark hair (like my hair) dripping down nearly to the back of her knees like seaweed silk, like ink; like a fisherman’s net, it caught at angles and movement, it would clasp at arms and legs and she would rise from the wet with tiny bits of shell and sea caught in her hair. Her face would be so pink from the cold water and she seemed so very much alive when she swam. But then she would get this long cold blue look in her eye as she stood in the water with the surf rising up over her ankles and sucking back out again in little currents, pulling the tiny stones and sand from under her feet, and she would close her eyes and feel the pull. A small smile. The longing of the water is always deep and it tugs on your skin like the moon tugs on the tide itself. And then her dark eyes would open, liquid, wide, dull in the gray light reflected from the water in the late afternoon and she would see Inchy and I on the shore. She would catch my eye. Even at four, I could feel the weight of that glance. I refused each year to go into the water. I did not want to be like she was, haunted by it. It scared me. She weighed her options each day, until with great effort she pulled each foot, webbed just a little between each toe and step decidedly, at least for one more day onto the earth and we would walk back home another day together.

I remember climbing into her lap in the evenings. In her rocking chair in the sitting room facing the tall, tall windows overlooking the cliff where it just out over the sea. She sat there every night with one hand playing with the small webbed flesh between my toes or pulling the tangles softly from my hair. She would sing in my ear stories of whales and lobsters and pirates. And always, she looked pale indoors, and she was always quiet.
Nearly a year would pass before the sea finally won. I was five and Inchy almost seven and my mother walked into the sea and did not come back. It was not a swimming day. Inchy and I had not been invited. And we did not think anything of it, for she often took long walks in the morning after breakfast. Early that morning, a cup of coffee from town and thick cream for McEwen’s cows; we kissed mother on her cheek. Can you keep some supper warm, Lil? I had nodded. Supper would sit until breakfast. She would often bring back crab or berries or wild mushrooms in her pockets, bits of fishing twine and large round stones perfect for flinting the Light House. Simon always said she had a knack for finding them: those small pieces of earth that looked like nothing, and yet could start a fire bright enough to sail ships by. He would smile at her with such tenderness, it creased the corners of his mouth. As if she were the sun and the light of her on his face warmed him through to the very blood and bone. Getting ready by the door. Kissed me on the cheek. When will you be back Mummy? Said Inchy. No darlings, I’ll not be back any more.

____________ and much later in the story __________

I was coming around the far corner of the lighthouse from the coop, with the eggs that Elaine had asked for pocketed in my apron, when I heard Jack call after Clover: "Stop, please!" He said. And I stopped, not wanting to intrude. I stayed hidden against the shade of the house, waiting. I leaned in amongst the rose bushes that would climb the wall in those few warm months before the frost came again, for then they would wither and die leaving their strangled brown skeletons still reaching, they were nearly up to the window boxes. I could hear them speaking but could not make out each word, Jack's voice was stern, scolding. But there was this small waver, a small fear that welled up and broke in his inflections.

"You think I don't see how you look at him?" he asked.

"You think he's good enough for Lilia."

"You will never be her, you know. And I don't care, I mean, I love her, of course, but… I don't care where Lilia goes. You know that."
"I don't know what to say, Jack." And then a long moment.

"Promise me you won't leave," He said.

Silence again; then "Wait, Clover…" And she had come around the corner and stopped, caught in my hiding place, barely worthy of the title, I was seen. I stepped forward facing my youngest sister. And Jack following after, having seen Clover and me standing there with nowhere to go, stops.

All three standing with nothing to say to each other. I see Clover's lower lip tremble. She looked long and cool at me, and I saw the tension behind her eyes, knowing I had heard everything. I could see the set to her jaw, and knew she was grinding her teeth. Jack looked at me, pleadingly. But I shake my head, unable to help this time. Not I, the one she most wanted to be; how could I tell her not to go, even knowing what would happen?

But Jack's eyes were wide and for all his height, he appeared small and helpless. And in that moment, I remembered when we had been younger, how he had given us animal names, the way Simon used poetry and myth to mold us. I was Trout. Inchy had been Rabbit and Clover he named, Moth, and she had been offended. But then I don't think she ever realized the reverence of that: that he had always pictured her with wings. Not the white feathery ones belonging to angels, but with the dusty symmetry of moth wings, the breed more delicate and less immortal than those of heaven, the ones that always in the dark to the light, are drawn.

Now here she stood between us. Our golden girl, dressed in the palest fawn-colored silk dappled gray, like the speckled moths of early summer, her wrists trimmed in feathers, her lips an eerie poisonous red. Her face looked so severe, powdered white and white pearls clipped to her virgin ears. She stood before me, meeting my eye, a stranger. And then, decidedly, she walked past and headed towards the trail to the Orchard, to the lawn of the Whitney's, dressed in the clothes Spencer had bought her, eager to be loved; she did not look back, because of Jack, and because she could not promise.

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