Image by kind permission of J R Biddulph (copyright)
The Lighthouse Wives
There are three phases of twilight: Civil, Nautical, and Astronomical. Nautical is vital. In clear weather, the horizon is faintly visible and the brightest stars can be seen. I use their position to navigate. I am now an old sea-dog, sailing coastlines and islands, alone. Night is risky. Sometimes I have company - the aurora’s Merry Dancers or a full moon that works both for and against.
I remain tough and strong enough to make my living, overcoming naked young women dancing on beaches at dusk; tethering them to the deck as I sail toward distant flashes of light on dark seas. They cry for their seal-skins left behind on the shore, and refuse nourishment. They will adapt. Lighthouse keepers are happy to relinquish bachelorhood and don’t haggle over money; without their skins the wives are land-locked. I re-visit every light. Children are born, and loved, but lighthouse wives yearn to return to the sea. Some die young, broken-hearted. Good for business.
Lighthouses are numerous around treacherous coasts. I map them, discovering a remote islet with a towering light. Ever hopeful, slithering up rocks to the doorway, I’m disappointed to be met by a slender, wiry woman. Her man is dead, but she keeps the light. Her dark eyes laugh at my discomfort when she says she wants to buy a husband.
Snatching girls from groups of enchanted dancers is one thing, but the males look muscular and strong. I think of the money, selecting a slim laddie who has strayed from his kin. My fist smashes his face. He is surprisingly compliant when I haul him aboard. How wifey manages him is her problem. After two days we make land, barely visible through the sea-haar. The woman, dressed in her dead man’s clothes, pulls me up onto the jetty. I fall screaming as she snaps my arm. Her boot smacks my head like a mains’l boom.
He sails before dawn to reclaim his skin. A selkie with soft liquid eyes bobs beside the boat. The sun is 12° below the horizon, slowly peeling the lightening sky from the sea.
Author - June Palmer