The Era of Lanterns and Bells

By Ann Tinkham

No one ever stays.

And so, I’ve grown to despise the sea. The sea is a siren of death and the air an alchemist of spirits. Together, they give birth to maritime phantoms. I’m no longer a lighthouse that directs ships, but a tower that attracts lost souls. During gale-force winds and tumultuous storms, my lantern tower casts an amber glow, and my whistle blows, even though my parts stopped functioning years ago.

I’m quite a remarkable structure, actually. I’m the highest point on Raspberry Island, and I look as though I belong in a Gothic romance. I’m an offshore wave-swept tower atop a reef of sunken rocks and subjected to the wrath of the sea. My 52-foot tower looks like a giant candy cane — swirling red and white peppermint stripes — now fading, licked by the sea. My light is a first-order Fresnel lens with 1,009 prisms and was installed in 1880. My lens could throw light 20 miles to the horizon.

The trouble began with Violet during the era of lanterns and bells. Violet was the wife of Edgar, a lighthouse keeper who lived here in the 1880s. When Violet first arrived, she was mesmerized by the breaking waves below and the shifting cloud patterns above. Then, by the third full moon, she started to climb up and down my stairs, pace in my lantern room, wring her hands, and rock herself to sleep. She was tired of the sea and clouds, and edgy from the wind. After her restless period came the raging period. She slammed my doors, locked herself in my tower, and threatened to plunge into the sea from my deck. Violet screamed, “Tower of torture,” over and over again. Naturally, I didn’t take to her. Finally, like a dense fog that never lifts, melancholy set in. This is when Edgar sent for a piano.

It seemed that the baby grand was the answer for both Violet and Edgar. Violet would no longer pressure Edgar to leave, to return to the town where she was so happily surrounded by fellow musicians and artists. But Violet only had one piece of sheet music, which she played repeatedly, sometimes from the red sky at night until the twinkle of dawn. The couple quarreled about the music, but Violet said she was playing the sea; her music reflected the monotony of the waves. At last she could convey to Edgar how the salted sea had pickled her mind. The pickling must have spread to Edgar’s as well. On a night of freezing fog, when feathery ice crystals coated the decks and railings, Edgar threw an axe over his shoulder and climbed the tower to the piano room. He chopped the mahogany piano to bits. Then he crept down to the bedroom and took an axe to Violet. I was all for it, until he turned the axe on himself. Unfortunately, for me, no one shredded the music. Like a piece of driftwood that forever bobs in the water, the melody surges and recedes with the tides. Some say you can hear it when listening to shells that wash up on shore.

In the era of lanterns and bells, I was a sight to behold — fresh red and white paint, polished brass and ironwork, a sparkling lens, and a bell that pierced thick blankets of fog. I guided countless ships and crafts to shore and comforted thousands of wayfaring captains. I had a valiant purpose — to see to it that lives, commerce, and crafts were preserved.

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