By Danae Younge
We ran through the dark, the bottoms of our shoes sinking into the sand with every step. Terry was too excited to allow that to slow her down, though, she raced towards the moving beam of light which rotated steadily from the lighthouse like a planet on orbit, illuminating little slivers of silver which sparkled like stars in the sea. She never slowed down – never looked down – only up, and forwards, and faster. I, on the other hand, heaved at my weighted school bag and focused on lugging it through the dense sounds of the ocean waves. That was the difference between Terry and I – she ran towards the stars while I ran away from something more frigid – the darkness that seemed to be nibbling at our heels.
We made our way to the base of the lighthouse. I followed her, skipping two stairs at a time so I wouldn’t fall behind as she brought me up and away from Earth. The staircase coiled around our town’s skinny rural lighthouse and I felt my mind become dizzy, my vision warping as if climbing closer and closer towards illusion. At the top of the lighthouse steps, we leaned over the edge and peered down. Terry’s eyes searched excitedly – the type of look I would have given if I was her age and ripping through the decorative trim of a much-anticipated Christmas present. I was only three years older than her – I in fourth grade and her in first – yet the charm of gifts had slightly faded when I learned that Santa Claus was a lie. I had a queasy feeling, standing there with Terry, as we watched, and I had words for it too, but I tucked them away, and let them be hushed by the hope-filled intensity of her staring brown eyes. Instead of speaking, I looked out across the blank emptiness of the ocean, trying to mimic the inquisitive expression on Terry’s face as she scanned for a hefty green motor boat hauling a net full of fish being driven by Terry’s dad and Ms. Violet.
Ms. Violet was Terry’s first grade English teacher and as of September, a new arrival to our little town of 300 which hugged the outskirts of the coast. She came into town in a small black car, and Emmett Powell, who lived across the street from her house, said he had watched her unpack only two suitcases of belongings from the trunk when she moved in. People generally suspected that she came from one of the next towns over, but the kids at school all seemed to disagree on where she had lived before that. Some said she had mentioned living in the big city, others swore she talked about life in rural Texan farmland. Ella Adams said that once in class, Ms. Violet casually referenced moving to Italy off of a whim. She was a nomadic enigma, and though whispered rumors tried to pin her down to a place on a map, she evaded them every time. I first saw her in the halls of our elementary school. There, I came to recognize the clickety-clack of her heels against the tiled floor. Ever since late October, however, I started to recognize her in other ways, too.
Terry and I had started to see her more and more outside of school. When we rode our bikes down the winding trail to Terry’s house every day, Ms. Violet would always seem to be around – her long brown hair uncoiled and let loose, glasses inched down to the tip of her nose. Most times she blended into the background almost seamlessly, like a secret signature left on the edges of a painting. And as the months went by, she wrote her name on every landmark within close proximity to Terry’s house. If we didn’t look hard enough, we could easily miss the sight of her strolling effortlessly down a dirt path with her back turned away from the sagging, stagnant walls of the house. Other times, she would pass us directly, looking at us and smiling without saying a word as our bikes zoomed past her. The defensive barking of Terry’s dog – usually triggered from any stranger making noise within a block – diminished into silence as the months went on and familiarity faded out any excitement of a newcomer. I’ll never forget how Ms. Violet always smelled sweetly of honey, and her perfume would tip-toe sneakily behind her – the same scent Terry said used to linger in the second floor hallways late at night or in the cabin of her dad’s motor boat when her mom was overseas for business.
Terry’s dad had owned that boat for as long as Terry could remember. Most of the time, we’d find the boat tied up to the dock, the remnants of ocean waves lapping at its base – taunting it from a distance. Occasionally he would take it out for little fishing trips past the bay, gone for a day at most, and when he returned, he would tell Terry of the icy wind which had woven through his hair. He would tell her how it made him feel free.
Then his fishing trips started getting longer and more frequent. I lived right next door to Terry, and oftentimes I would wake up to an old engine dissolving into the whirling sounds of the ocean outside of her house. I would stay up for a while after, replaying that haunting sound until I managed to drift off again. The strange thing was that I knew she was probably in the next house over sleeping peacefully to that sound – letting it lull her to sleep.
Her mom always said these short excursions were good for him; She joked about how he probably got tired of sitting on the living room couch after she had returned from a trip to the research base in Provincetown, listening to her go on incessantly about various work stories she had brought back with her – being nagged by his wife, the dog, and the screaming yellow wallpaper all at once. To this playful self-deprecation he would respond with kisses on her cheek, and match her teasing smile, eyebrows lifted towards the center, holding her and denying the notion that he could ever become weary of her. I always wondered if he held a mirror out in front of him during these interactions – mimicking her tone and demeanor – if he angled it perfectly for her satisfaction as she looked into the eyes of a person who believed he was still in love with her.
Three days ago, he had held Terry’s face in his hands, and had told her he was leaving to go on his longest fishing trip yet, and wouldn’t be back for a couple of days. I had watched from the porch, sipping a glass of lemonade that Terry’s mom had made for us before heading off for her weekend commute. The lemonade coated our mouths with sugar. I didn’t know if Terry’s mom sweetened it so much because she knew Terry liked it that way, or if she herself favored the candied sapor, but sometimes it seemed too diluted for my taste – like the raw citrus was drowned out completely by white pixels.
We had watched him haul two of his suitcases and a duffel bag onto the boat – only two – like the ones Ms.Violet had so effortlessly unpacked when she moved into town. To Terry, it may have seemed like he had over-packed, like the suitcases held a peculiarly large load for just a fishing trip – an observation she would then shrug off and let blow away in the wind. To me, though, it was clear that the bags were curiously light and easy to carry; I wondered how he could leave so much behind. Ms. Violet was seated in the driver’s seat, hand on the steering wheel, looking away from us, as if she didn’t even know us – as if we, along with the town, were just another one of her forgotten conquests. The engine started one last time. Terry waved, I stood – until Ms. Violet’s flying locks of hair blurred into the sunlight and the spec that remained of the motor boat turned to nothingness.
Now, shivering in the numbing wind atop the lighthouse, we watched the shadows dance deceitfully across a blackened abyss. I could feel Terry’s stare penetrating through the darkness as she searched for movement that wasn’t just a trick of the light projected onto the various curvatures of the seaside. Ms. Violet had signed her name on our town in cherry-red lipstick and honey-scented perfume, making it difficult for us to escape her ghost even long after she’d left. As for Terry’s dad, his signature was written with something even more permanent, even more difficult to erase – like a promise that had stiffened in concrete years before Terry was born. Did Terry understand that promises could be broken?
Together, we waited – Terry for them to return, and I for something else: If her legs stretched upwards from the ground, and her feet burst out of the souls of her shoes – if she shed her small ruffled dress for a larger skin, and suddenly found silence more comforting than a motor’s hummed lullabies – then I wouldn’t have to say anything at all.
Then, we would be on Earth again, staring down the lighthouse from below…
Then, we would chug sour lemons together – our faces wincing, and our eyes open.
Danae Younge is a young-adult, biracial writer who specializes in poetry and flash fiction. As a rising freshman at Occidental College, Danae is only just beginning to sink her teeth into the world of literary publication. She was one of 25 national winners selected by the Live Poets Society of New Jersey to be featured in the 2020 winter issue of Just Poetry!!! Literary Magazine and was awarded third place in the It’s All Write international writing competition for her poem, “If I Could Pinch a Moment in Time.” She plans to major in English with a creative writing track