A Kingdom and the Sea

Written in response to: Set your story in a silent house by the sea.... view prompt



It was many and many a year ago,

   In a kingdom by the sea,

That a maiden there lived whom you may know

   By the name of Annabel Lee;

And this maiden she lived with no other thought

   Than to love and be loved by me.

~ Edgar Allan Poe, “Annabel Lee”

That silence. It was everywhere she listened: behind her, over her shoulders, under her fingertips, between her lashes, drizzling down her spine. It wasn't like the song, it wasn't a hello darkness my old friend. It wasn't a song at all, because if you're hearing nothing, there is no song. 

Yet, she thought, oxymora so often seemed to accompany acoustic voids. One fed the other. They communicated in ways that worked for them. No sound should ever be poundingly unpleasant. She knew that. Her silence was where and how she wanted it, when she sought it out, while she breathed it in. It was something that gave her a much-craved balance. Like a musician (which she was not, although she loved music), she craved the no-notes, the spaces they created, how they felt on her fingers and face.

Now she stopped reading and just looked at the book that was resting in her lap. It was nearly midnight, which wasn’t so late for her, if the truth were to be told. Her most contemplative hours would generally begin after nine in the evening and could last until four A.M. if she had a lot to think about, which she often did through writing and reading. She was not the sort of person who got up and sat down at a desk with a mug of coffee and words. She might not even be a writer, except when she was actually writing, on paper or digitally. On the other hand, she could read every waking moment of the day, if only the rest of the world didn't constantly intrude.

Evenings were when she liked to reread familiar books, and this evening she had gotten caught up once again in Poe’s poetry. She had been reading dear Mr. Poe since she was around thirteen (perhaps a bit young for all that moroseness), and had inadvertently memorized some of his verses because of it. Yet she still wanted the weight and feel of the volume in her hands, reading rather than reciting the well-worn words. 

Words that sometimes arose from the pages like the tufted, flaxen pampa grass that grew in Galicia as well as Maine. She thought of the pampas as a quite challenging place to live and work. The treeless winds of the real pampas must batter the spirit constantly, refusing respite for contemplation. She wasn’t sure she could survive in a place like that. She needed more space.

Annabel had lived by the sea. Lived and died beside it. In her poem, next to her nameless sea, she has no voice. That is unfortunate. Only her mournful lover can tell her story, which is only ever about the love of two young people. Annabel Lee - perhaps forever without a surname - had died by the sea. She felt sad, because Annabel, according to her lover, husband, spouse, had had only one dream. It was a vortex of a dream, if true: Annabel had only wanted to love her husband and be loved by him. Very monotonous, even incestuous.

She was not going to do that, even though she too was in a silent house by the sea. Her house was different, and she was not a child, as Annabel had always seemed to be. She, the woman who had been reading Poe, had always hoped life would bring more than adolescent amour. Love was too narrow and dizzying, if wrapped too tight.

She had chosen to be in this house, reside here, for six months. On a trial basis, rent-to-own, some called it, but she wasn’t renting. She had taken advantage of the offer of a good friend to live in the house, to house-sit (and pet-sit) while the friend was on sabbatical in Italy. Of course she had her own place of residence, but this made her feel rather wealthy, being able to choose where to live each week. At this very moment she was by the sea and the night, almost about to start its ascent toward day, was utterly silent. It was a perfect night to just be, to let everything find itself in clash and harmony. Improvised iridescence.

She retrieved the leash for the small red spaniel, planning to walk along the mica-speckled, pebble-studded shore, although she was not convinced she needed any restraint for the animal. Nutmeg reminded her of her own first dog, her only one. The dog's presence would help her keep alert. With luck she might be able develop the story line that was still very amorphous. Not a writer, she still had skeins of language hoping for her to give them form and warmth.

Waves tugging brightly in the moonlight made her wonder at how such a vast ocean, her beloved Atlantic (she hadn't always admitted to that love), could travel so many kilometers, only to end up all crumpled like satin, on its opposite shore. Maine seemed like it was trying to mirror Galicia, and Galicia seemed pretty much indifferent to the state across the way, or waves. It wasn’t that Galicians were arrogant; they just didn’t need anything Maine had to offer. Or were too busy with their own matters, which were complex.

That they were face to face, mirrors of each other, was perhaps irrelevant. That they were on the fringes (the threads again) was definitely relevant. Fringes flow out from the larger portion of the fabric like tiny rivulets, seeking freedom without letting go. If they let go, they are lost, swept under the rug, or discarded. Fringes are soft, unpredictible, have an oddly aesthetic quality (there are no ugly fringes). That these fringe-fingers belonged, not to the lands - one east, one west - was less important than the fact that they belonged to the Atlantic. An ocean with a name.

She had time, on this walk, to think about that name. Yes, it was supposedly derived from Atlas, the Titan who supported the sky. Why, then, hadn't the massive continents been named the same thing? Except they had, at least in the mountainous area of Morocco. However, she didn't think simply identifying the etymology would explain the process of grafting the syllables to the sea. Was one more deserving of the Titan's name?

Was the Atlantic the same one where Annabel Lee had lived (and died)? Or could the sea have been just a pond in reality? Then again English speakers used to call the Atlantic Ocean 'the pond', which was the opposite. Mirrored images would seem to be opposites of each other. Where in the great watery expanse did the folded glass line of the Atlantic begin to reflect itself? Was there a buoy marking the spot?

She knew the origins of the name and thought of both her Atlantics as she picked her way along the very uneven beach. She was enjoying the challenge of navigating atop and in between the roundedness that felt so different from flat, battered sand. She could walk outside to the waters of Cangas, Muros, or Esteiro, and of course, Noia and, once, even Viveiro. Then had come Wolfe's Neck Point, Masthead Landing, Cape Elizabeth, Maquoit Bay, especially Maquoit Bay, whose name made it seem capable of anything.

All the beaches she liked were navigable, despite the stones. There was meaning in that she thought, even when it remained unspoken.

She would always walk outside without fear, with a small dog or without, and had the habit of pressing the distant gleam of night sky to her retinas, shutting her eyes then to trap the light within. She loved this with a love that was more than a love, more than Annabel Lee. She could read this and also write it. Above all, she longed to write the waves that would never be her tomb, because she had those secret plans to become a gargoyle beside the cathedral. (She had written about that.)

She had been in the house with no (spoken) words, and had feared nothing. Why should she? The Atlantic shore was her protection. Atlas had ensured that, although there were other ways to find the shores. She considered the fact that water was genderless, nor should it be. Or better yet, that it excluded nobody, nothing. Never that. It was hard not to be drawn to the sea. It doesn't need divinities and devils to inspire respect.

The frills on the backs of Nutmeg's legs were fading from sight and it was time to call her back. Not that she would get lost, knowing as she did every last pebble and scent. No, the dog would not do that, but she, the human, might. Only the fact that she did not care for the frigid ripples kept her from wading into the ocean until she could wade no further. She knew because of this, a simple matter of degrees, that she could never write a novel like Kate Chopin had, in part because the southern writer had warmth to sink into, probably not even an ocean at all but a simple bay. There was a big difference between the two. The two bodies of water and the two women.

Then the forlorn figure of Antoinette or Bertha, so tortured and confused by the Mr. Rochester of Rhys's novel, not Brontë's, gradually moved into sight of the quiet woman walking with a quiet dog as if it were her own. How many women had formed part of the Atlantic and what had happened to them? Just as important, what had become of their stories, told or untold? Women who had left houses of silence for the world of openness, of horizons. Women not bound like Mr. Rochester's wife, chained up with words of madness. Happy women. Surely they had much to say.

Nestled and safe, in a perfect abrigadoiro between two ripping winds, she (the woman with the dog) thought she found herself on the eastern side of the sea. This side was the one where the Caribbean lived only in oblivion, like the woman Antoinette (or Bertha). The woman of the silent house was still not afraid, nor would she be. 

She did not believe in the Wicked Witch of the West (nor in the Good Witch of the North). She would not walk into the waters because she knew she could not walk on them, and to try would be suicide. She would, however, break the surface of the sparkling silence, lunar and chill, to speak with anyone else who might be on the beach.

The beach where? Beaches and ocean shores at the walking level never have maps. Whether made mostly of sand or mostly of roundish stones, they are speechless. She had understood that she was on the eastern Atlantic shore, but had no way of proving it, not at that very moment and in that very place. She could only survive the fissure of her imagination by being creative, making unscripted sounds or signs.

It wasn't immediately clear who was going to bring her the words, because it was late and the brétema was beginning to slither in like Sandburg's poetic cat, and like Sandburg's fog, was moving heaven and earth at the very moment she discovered it. was out there, rolling toward her. She desperately hoped this was a fog or a brétema for her, that she could live there in, in her own personal kingdom, instead of in another person's house, east or west. 

Correct that: queendom. Poe wasn't big on strong female characters.

The tide is turning and she is breathing more easily. Nutmeg's gait matches hers. This, the moment when she is, here, is where she should be. Instead of in a life split in half, with two worlds and one huge ocean, or pond, between them, she will serve as their bridge. She will claim nothing, but will finally have learned that you can move the wheres around, transport them to another place, if you wish. 

She will have taken all the words she wished to write, and the ones she wrote, and connected them like seas connect rivers. Will have helped construct that walkway over the Atlantic she'd heard about in Rosalía. Helped construct, because clearly the task must involve more than one person. Ntozake Shange knew it and wrote an important poem about it:

is this where you live?

i live here in music

i live on c# street

my friend lives on b-flat avenue

do you live here in music?

She, the woman with the dog that could have been hers, the woman living in silence inside the house but had more than silence inside herself, is relieved, extraordinarily calm in the 360 degrees of azure where she was standing. Even the pebbles have blues and dark grays. There is a lot of variety in the tones and hues, but they all are working together somehow. They flow, to use the oft-repeated term.

She had not been certain, but she knows at this point in time what others meant when they spoke of how they came into contact. Came into contact? She wasn't sure if that was like mirroring, or quoting, or being absorbed by what you're hearing when you learn to listen. 

To the silence. 

And its echoes. I


November 13, 2021 03:45

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19:17 Nov 16, 2021

i love this story


Kathleen March
13:41 Nov 17, 2021

Thank you so much.


16:25 Nov 24, 2021

you are most welcome


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Eve Retter
07:12 Nov 14, 2021

okay the vocab in this blew me away. i didn't even know oxymora was a word, but everything is so beautiful. and this is literally my dream life, reading and rereading favourite stories in a beautiful place. adore the ending too!


Kathleen March
12:29 Nov 14, 2021

Thank you. You understood perfectly. Dream life, not found in any specific place…


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