Thursday, February 11, 2016

Story: "Statement at the Automation of Tuskar Rock Lighthouse"

The sea hungers for me. For six generations, the men of my family have kept the Tuskar Rock lighthouse, off the Irish coast at County Wexford.  Even before the lighthouse was built, the sea devoured us. As my thrice-great-grandad and thirteen others laboured building the lighthouse tower, the sea rose up and swept them into the deeps. Only two men survived, an old Manx-man laborer, and my twice-great-grandad.

Well, we built that lighthouse. And my family, we manned it, ever since my twice-great-grandad's day. We were the only ones fool enough to--for the sea round Tuskar Rock is greedy. Oh yes. One hundred seventy-six ships the sea here has claimed, since first we began our watch, and no doubt more besides. Aer Lingus flight 712 crashed within sight of our lighthouse, and we watched the sea swallow those passengers down.

The sea... Some nights great masses of jellyfish are washed onto the isle, phosphorescing bright enough to see by. It's said that jellyfish trap the souls of the drowned dead, and that is why the jellies glow. Certainly, the sea nearby grows thick with jellyfish whenever a ship founders. Me Nan always said the jellyfish are guiding sailors' souls to Davy Jones. I don't think she's right--I don't think Davy Jones rules these waters.

The sea hungers for the dead. But it has a particular taste for the men of my family. The sea is like a shark, understand. When a shark--say the makos or blues which cruise Irish waters--gets a taste for man-flesh, it gains a dreadful intelligence, as if it's been imbueued with the mind of its prey. The sea here is no different.

First it took my thrice-great-grandad, and it learned our scent. Then it took my twice-great-grandad, caught him fishing in a squall. My grandad, rowing to a wreck in a howling gale. My dad, as he stood alone on the pier one night. And now there it hungers for me...

Drowning is a terrible death. I've heard it described as peaceful, like dying in your bed. Maybe if you're unconscious at the start. Conscious, drowning's nothing akin to sleep. Sometimes, you take in water straight away. Others, you hold your breath until your lungs burn and you gasp for air involuntarily. Either way, once the water's gotten in, your throat closes up to keep out water, and you run out of oxygen. All the while, you're choking on cold salt water. And then, without air, your heart stops beating, your blood stops pumping, your brain starts dying. It's about then you go unconscious. A small mercy, that. Six minutes later, you're dead.

How many lives has the sea round Tuskar Rock claimed that way? Hundreds, maybe thousands. The sea hungers for me. I watched the jellyfish glowing last night, drifting ever closer to shore.

The lighthouse agency says this light is to be automated. They've finished all the work, and all that remains is to switch it over. I'll no longer be needed. Thirty years on this island. I know every pebble of it. I know where the surf reaches highest. I know where each brick needs mortaring back into place. What else am I but a lighthouse keeper?

The sea hungers for me, and I cannot live inland.