Red and white swirls twisting up from jagged rocks that held back the sea itself. A cylinder of brick, stone, wood, and paint. The very top brought to a point like a fairy tale castles spire. A light to shine out the top to guide people back from the sea. Remind them that they are not alone and safely show them their way home.
In front of this light house, down on the jagged rocks, a family was posed. A tall willowy woman sat with two dogs held in her pale arms. One dog just a pup, golden red and sleepy. The other getting up there in age, dark as night and softer still. To the right of the woman stood a little girl smiling at the camera, wind ruffling her dark hair as she held her arms as though to ward off a slight chill. To the left another girl with buzzed hair stood beside the willowy woman, her arm slung over her mother’s shoulder. Below them on the large rocks another girl sat, legs out to the side, arms twisted primly in front of her.
The sky was a dull grey, the forest behind the lighthouse seemed to be alive. Twisting and turning, full of the deepest greens imaginable. The shore, rocks, people, lighthouse, forest, and sky. They were imprinted into glossy paper. Tucked away in a box brimming with photos from times forgotten and times remembered. An image of what was, a reminder of what things had been. And an ache of what things had turned into.
She saw all this on the photo paper she held in her hands. The faces familiar but the scene long forgotten. The people too, they were no longer as they had been.
“But then,” she wondered, “might they have been so all along. Maybe I was then too blind to see it.”
Many years had passed since that photo had been snapped all those years ago by her father. Another image of which had deeply faded from her mind. Having a father, she could only wonder at what that might be like.
She contemplated the photo. Her people had gone out, it was only her left at home. She’d been cleaning out a closet when she found her mother’s box of photos. With a curious and nostalgic heart, she’d set herself to viewing the old memories that had been immortalized in frozen frame.
She had a dream, a goal one might say. To one day life in a cottage. Far away from everything. Where the sun shone brightly, and wildflowers bloomed with reckless abandon. The sky would stretch for miles, and over the horizon a great ocean would spread out as wide as the sky. She could imagine herself spinning in the field of wildflowers, smelling the oceans salty mist, and the flowers sweet fragrance. Here is where she would be happy. Incredibly content in an old stone cottage to live out her days in pleased leisure. It filled her with a sense of rightness.
This photo, that lighthouse gave her the same such feelings. It brought the idea right to the front of her mind. Unfolding in a bloom of golden sun and shining grassy fields. It felt right. Staring at this photo, with her mother and her sisters, even the dogs they had loved made her feel, like this.
The last time they had been together. The last time they had been happy. The last time they had truly been a family. The only picture they had to this day with each of them in it. Without the shadow of fear that haunted them. That leaned over every single one’s shoulder.
She could not remember the day itself. She tried desperately to remember. To cling to a sense of what had been. They must have driven out there. Where it was, she didn’t know. But surly they had climbed over rocks and along the shoreline. Maybe they had had a picnic. Maybe they had gone swimming in the ocean that the lighthouse guarded. She was wearing a bathing suit. Her hair did twist with dampness at the bottom of her curls.
She leaned back against the frame of the bed behind her. Wrought iron dug into her back. Her bottom sat lightly on the floor as she dragged her knees up to her chest. Letting the picture flutter to the ground she settled her forehead against the soft flesh of her knees. Arms wrapped around herself she gently squeezed herself in a self soothing embrace.
“Well,” she thought softly to herself. “If I cannot remember the day maybe I can imagine what it may have been like instead.”
She closed her eyes and breathed deeply, seemingly meaning to doze off into sleep.
When she opened her eyes again, she was in the middle seat between her sisters. With a lazy smile she looked from her left to her right to take in her sisters faces. Both looked so different but the same as they had been. Their faces were younger than ever, and an innocence gleamed in the depth of their eyes. So different from what they had grown into.
But this gleam could only last for so long until reality took hold once more. Her sisters began to shove her between one another as though she were a ping pong ball meant for their amusement. This went on for longer than she’d have liked. Then suddenly they were no longer in the confines of the dark blue Honda civic their father drove. A great big dog panted at her side, and she wrinkled her nose and moved away from the great beast. The dogs always made her feel uncomfortable. They were so great and big, and their teeth were so large it unnerved her. Her sisters walked ahead of her following their mother and the dogs.
She trailed behind, lower down that them. They climbed higher and higher while she always stayed slightly below them. Looking up and watching them as they laughed and searched and played with one another. Behind her she could feel the presence of a shadow. The one that followed them no matter where they went.
The shadow that would follow them for what would feel like the entirety of their lives at times.
Then a voice called out to them, loud and demanding.
“Time to pose” she thought to herself as she watched her mother sit and settle. Pulling the dogs onto her lap. Her sisters took their stances, and she took hers right along with them.
Yet, she could not help but notice something seemed to be wrong with each of them. A stiffness in the limbs she’d never known before. A look of worry caressing her mother’s face. The too wide smile that took up her eldest sister’s impish face. The self-conscious tug of her other sister’s arms around her own person. Even the dogs seemed wrong in this glazing world. They struggled in her mother’s grip, trying to flop their way out of her arms. To lunge towards the shadow’s camera aimed figure.
There was a strike, and a flash. An overly sweet chorus of “cheese” towards the clicking camera. Then the image faded into blackness. She faded into blackness, right alongside her people.
When the light filtered back in, she could only see them for what they were now. Not forgotten memories but a lifetime of words spoken, and hearts broken.
Sisters who fought against one another. Who found fault with one another in constant venomous fever. A mother who fought tooth and nail for each of them, at times to her own detriment. One a mother. One a wife. Another still finding her path.
A path that led her to photos of the past. A path that spans in every direction but always ending in the same place. In a field of flowers, a mile from the shoreline. Misty sweet breezes and twirling dances.
So, when you look for the youngest. When you search out her path. Know that you’ll find her in a cottage of brick, stone, wood, and paint. Where she has built her own lighthouse to guide herself home.
she’ll guide them home as well.