Arts & Culture

The Secret Keeper of the Sea

by Jessilyn Rich

I watch the blue flames of the stove burner, tapping against the black iron of the kettles sides, in the darkness of the night.

It hypnotizes the darkness with its motion, captivating the kitchen into silence. There are probably much better uses for my time than to watch the flames splash against the sides of the kettle and wait for it to boil, but here I sit upon the kitchen island, watching and waiting. It is my moment to be invisible, my moment to hide from the day in the shadows of the night. It is my moment to try to forget the secrets we keep. I catch the kettle just before the whistle wakes the house. The transfer of the steaming hot water into an old chipped white cup feels, for some reason, the most therapeutic part of this whole endeavor. It’s all a pointless effort for a cup that will grow cold on the end table before it’s paid much attention, but I need the moment in the dark and the quiet far more than I have ever needed the tea.

The two flight climb to the attic always leaves my legs feeling like lead, a reminder of the weight that gets carried up to the top floor each night. The heaviest burden that will ever be carried is the one in which you carry alone. I hesitate just before the top stair of the first staircase, my foot hovers over the loose step, moving to just the
right spot to keep the mocha wood from moaning into the night. An ironic situation that plays out within the walls of an old house filled to the brim with a lifetime of secrets, all while setting traps for anyone who wishes to make new ones. What a cruel master an old house can be. I pause for a moment in front of the mahogany door in the middle of the hall; its glass door knob is ice cold in my hand. I listen to the creaking of the old house with bated breath, begging it to keep this secret once more; I wait until I feel it’s agreement in the silence. Every night the long walk leads to me to bargain for these secrets, secrets I never wanted to keep in the first place.

The click of the door latch as the attic door returns to its frame behind me fills me with relief. The journey to my sitting room each night floods me with a rush of mischief and guilt, as if I were a small child creeping from bed to sneak a cookie. The moon- light paints the room with the rich colors of the night, lights and shadows splashing against the walls. I throw open the window at the end of the room and the white sheer curtains whip back and forth in the sudden breeze. My muscles relax in the darkness as I descend my tired bones into one of the oversized arm chairs beside the open window. My fingers
prickle from the mixing of the cold night air as they try to stay warm around the sides of my old china cup. I perch the cup of tea beside me on the table, rubbing my tired eyes with my warm fingertips. I should be wrapped beneath the covers downstairs, but
the night air smells fresh and cool, and the skies are just too clear. Tonight could be the night I have been waiting for.

I watch the tiny ships move slowly across the harbor, barely recognizable at this distance as more than just tiny lights, but still I watch them go. People going about their normal day, with no idea of the world that watches from the windows or the night air that doesn’t hide them. The lighthouse beacon whips around in circles, placing a spotlight on the land- scape around it, occasionally flashing the silhouette of a ship that comes near. On a night as clear as this you can hear the ships miles out from the great bay, massive horns warning passing ships of the possibilities of great disasters. A warning that plays at the beginning of every sea captains nightmare. The smell of the sea air has rusted the latch on the window, leaving me patiently waiting for the day it ceases to be of use and the window opens and shuts as the wind pleases. I am less the owner of this old house, and much more the caretaker; I learned long ago it’s hard to call yourself the owner of something that carries a mind of its own. Every night I sit here wondering when the latch will finally cease to be of use, and take on a life of its own. Maybe one of these days I will get around to fixing it, but I have far greater things to worry about than the little latch. For the time being it continues to assure me of its loyalty and I must wait; I have gotten so very good at waiting. 


Illustration by Morgan Dyer

I reach for the chain of the old stained glass lamp I found at an antique store on the mainland. It served a single purpose, to keep me company in the evenings while I waited. A lamp who had once been cast of, shows great loyalty to someone who rescues it from dark and dusty shelves. It seems foolish to think of a house and its contents carrying a mind of their own, but if you don’t believe it, you have clearly never lived in a house that holds its own secrets. The lamp clicks to life, illuminating the glass flowers upon the shade, splashing the room with light and color. The walls filled with cabinets and bookcases, comprised of dark rich wood, books, scattered papers and unusual trinkets. I seem to specialize in the unusual. In a house such as this, you certainly couldn’t specialize in the ordinary. I can’t tell you more than this, not now, not here. Maybe someday, but for now the house keeps the secrets of the night, and the caretaker must wait. I will hide away from the world until I fall asleep beside the window, or succumb to my burning eyes and slip downstairs to my bed. One night this great bay will set me free from the window, but for tonight I am its secret keeper.

Categories: Arts & Culture

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