Agahlo built the lighthouse in 1924 in an old city outside of a province, which has since
been named too often, really, to withstand another naming here. The force of its impression has less
to do with its now debilitated structure and more with its sheer stint of survival. Aghalo has written
volumes about its construction and reconstruction, there in the library.
By 2024, the man who visits the ruins of the lighthouse does not read the language of this country,
of course. The most integral volumes on the way that its spiral staircase is navigated (a staircase,
more now, like the arthritic hand of an elderly mother swinging the man from one side to the other)
are wasted on him. Still, it would have profited the man, who now stood shovel deep in sand trying
to dig himself out, to have visited the library more than once.
Inside the lighthouse there are the common compartments; the glass lantern atop it and the bedroom
for the caretaker, the kitchen and the store at the bottom floor that never sold a single book. Aghalo
also fancied himself a historian but the language of his country had fled him as a child, and then this
language, which he’d rejected as an adult, was not adequate to describe the landscapes that birthed
him. The manuscripts, instead, became his memories of home, recreated, as it were, from the stories
he was told as they fled. It was no longer clear whether the lighthouse was built before he
chronicled his countries tales, or whether those tales were not simply a misreading of his mother’s
desperate bedtime stories in the years of famine and drought; he wrote as he had always written,
himself into his country and his country into existence. Even his name, Agahlo, one he liked to
pretend was a hand-me-down from centuries of blood, was what his wife called a silly string of
letters, all falling one after the other.
Outside of the lighthouse, there are no identifiable characteristics that separate it from any other. In
fact, if there had been a lighthouse in the near vicinity, there may have been
motivation to give it a peculiar personality, to stripe it with garish red and white. The truth is that
the lighthouse was built after mountains divided the lands and the people that belonged to those
mountains had lost the blue of the ocean over the divides of the canyons. And even before the
people had lost other common links, like the roll of the r and their stomach for spices and their
resolve (so that crossing each other in the street they’d hardly whisper a hello, as if the entire
business of being forgotten was a new import) Aghalo watched from a distance until he could no
longer tell the difference between the deaths that brought them here and their chosen extinction.
Aghalo had built the lighthouse because he believed if they no longer wished to return to the sea,
the lighthouse would call the sea back to them; but being that there is no other in a hundred mile
radius, this particular lighthouse is of no consequence to anyone except the man who built it and the
man who wishes to wake it up a hundred years later.
It is difficult, perhaps, to empathize with the man who walked into a lighthouse, a hundred years
after it was built, with no prior experience in waking one up. For a while, Gogo’s
countrymen were touched by the novelty of a lighthouse built in a landlocked country and had been
drawn to the impossible. There were writers and revolutionaries present for the first few months, all
with the common purpose of chronicling the moment that Gogo realized his folly. This was the way
of the people now, just as Aghalo had imagined it would be; they were a localized community of
thieves, stealing the suffering of their own and using it as an emblem of a lost dream.
When interviewed, Gogo would lift his shovel from deep within the ground and tell them that he
knew how to make the lantern turn. The problem, of course, was that no one knew where the heart
of the lighthouse had been buried. It was an old wives tale that brought him there to
begin with, one that revolved around the moons reflection hitting the glass of the lantern in such a
way, in such a precise way, that the ghost of her would rise up and point to the place that she could
Soon, however, the people, who had long forgotten their own ghosts, grew tired of chasing this one
and left the poor, crazy man to his longings.
And so he dug. He dug that way for ten years. He dug underneath the staircase until it detached
from the floor and lifted up into the ceiling, he dug underneath the filaments, and he dug underneath
the cellar. He climbed the rungs on the sides and pushed and prodded each brick for a secret
entrance. He dug in search of the foundation, and then underneath that in search of the place that he
thought was essential for the structure of the lighthouse to keep standing despite his digging; it
could not be as the journalists had mocked, as it had said in the broken language of the library
books that, once, as a young man, he’d mistaken for fact. It could not be that the lighthouse was just
a brick structure around a spiral staircase on which there were an odd number of steps so that he
was never in the center.
He dug this way until the last day of the ninth year; until he realized he was too tired. He looked up
into the kaleidoscope moonlight, in and out between the iron steps of the staircase. He had not been
digging her heart out but burying his heart in. There was no other way but down. He climbed up the
rungs on the side and sat on the last step, his legs swinging like silly string letters, one after the
other. He had not been digging her heart out but burying his heart in. He looked as far as he could
see into the one man hole he’d buried himself in, with no throbbing heart and no ghostly apparition
to tell him that there was something else underneath the structures that had held him captive,
underneath the ribcage of his animal carcass that had held him captive. There was no way but down.
There was no way but down.
And then the flood came.
At first Gogo thought a well had formed from the years of perspiration. The air began to swell with
a ringing hush and the hair at the nape of his neck stood on end with tiny drops of water beginning
to form at the edges. He licked his top lip and it tasted like the way he imagined his homeland must
taste: the salt of the earth before he was ever a part of it. The water began to fill faster and faster,
white foam began to tide back and forth in time with the swinging staircase. Soon Gogo was a few
feet away from soaking his feet, so that his thoughts became less perplexed than frightened and he
had no choice but to climb. I’ve hit her heart, he thought, and she is bleeding. She is bleeding the
blood of my people and I will drown here with them. And so he began to climb the way any man
who drowns in the reflection of his principles must, even when the journalists and revolutionaries
are not there to see him.
Between the third and fourth step, there were sounds of bubbling behind him, between the eighth
and ninth, the slicing of water like a knife through a pear. He only had enough time to look over his
shoulder before the tide was teaming with fish, an octopus, a shark, a whale— suddenly, the
lighthouse was an anemone between the land he’d left and the land he’d buried himself in. She is
releasing the in-between, he realized, as a stingray lapped around his big toe, brushing the surface
like a paper sailboat that will sink at contact.
Rising to the top of the sixtieth stair, half-swept, half-lost, Gogo gasped for air at the juncture in
between the glass and the last rung. The water subsided patiently at his feet; just below him the
octopus wrapped one tentacle around the rung as if in preparation should the water go back to the
place from which it came. All was still. Gogo looked out through the mirrored glass of the
lighthouse and saw the barren land, a land which had not seen rain in months; and past the miles of
barren land, Gogo saw the outlines of rain clouds. And past the
rain clouds, Gogo could see the chance of rain, and past the rain, Gogo could see the clouds were
the sails of boats coming to take them home.
Gogo saw the boats and Gogo saw the lights of the lantern flicker on. Gogo saw the boats and the
lantern and the light that cast his reflection as a woman in the center of the staircase, from beneath
the water, like a mermaid who’d been hiding in the belly of a shark. The shark unhinged its jaw and
the woman climbed out.
He had not dug out her heart but buried his in.
She had not been sleeping but dreaming his way home.