Francis’ bones creaked like an old schooner, he felt stiff and weary. There was a heaviness to his body, as he laid on his bed. His hand reached out for the filthy glass of whiskey that was resting next to him, it was an ever-present watch guard through the most terrible of nights. He found the glass empty and coated with a sheen of thick brown sticky residue. It smelled strangely sweet, like molasses and rotted leaves. He tried instead to reach for the bottle, but he knocked it over. It sounded empty and made the room echo with a surreal loneliness as the bottle rolled under his bed.
His room was on the second floor tucked in the furthest corner of the west wing. Close to the room that contained the showers and almost directly above the kitchen. The wooden floors in the rooms surrounding his had grown crooked with slanting floors and bore a wet musty smell, like stale water leaking just underneath the wood.
When he was sent here the first time, three years ago, the Monsignor had given him a small bag of glass marbles. He made a joke to Francis that he “should make sure to keep hold of these marbles, as you’ve lost the rest of yours.” It was a phrase that Francis had never heard before and after asking about it, he realized it was an insult hidden inside a gift. Those were the strangest kinds.
Receiving gifts as a child was not commonplace in his house. Father Bertrand, an older Priest at Saint Anne’s who spoke with a thick French-Canadian accent, had over the years become an almost benevolent father figure to Francis. He ignored Francis’ excessive drinking; the same way Francis ignored his own father’s love of the drink . . . until it was too late.
On the nights where Francis’ mind was burning with thoughts, anger, and over activity, he would take out the small bag of glass marbles and roll them on the crooked floor in his musty smelling room. He would watch the marbles bounce of the walls and pick up speed. They would careen into each other before eventually finding their place in the very lowest point in the room, underneath Francis’ bed directly where he would lay his head at night.
This irony was not lost on him.
So, this morning as the empty bottle of whiskey rolled under his bed, he heard the bottle as it connected with the marbles, his lost marbles. They seemed to dance for a minute hidden from view, the glass sounding like nails scrapping against wood. He laughed, he was not sure why, but he did. He could not remember when he had last slept through the night, he thought it was probably sometime in the days before Isabelle had her accident in the breakfast room.
There were so many accidents in his life. The most memorable one was probably when his father had accidentally broken a glass and then accidentally punched a young Francis in the face with it. He laughed again, an almost hyena sounding howl. He got up from his bed, paced his floor circling the uncomfortable cot where he slept. He mumbled the Our Father to himself; it was a habit since his childhood. Back when he thought his God was listening. Now he knew his God was not there at all. But something was listening.
For years, Francis would do this, mumble his prayers, and think to himself that he knew there was something more in this world for him. There was another part of him, another part of his soul that was missing. He spent all his 31 years on this planet waiting for the other part of him finally to make itself known. The piece of him that was somehow broken away needed to slide back in, and then he would be one. He had almost given up, lost faith.
Then she walked into his life, his Isabelle, a dream born into reality. He did not believe in God, not anymore. Now he only believed in her. He knew he had to make her believe in him, to know him the way he already knew her. He got down on his hands and knees to look under his bed. His body was tired, but his mind, his mind was alert. He was awake. More now than he had even been before.
He could hear her singing in the air; he could feel her at the other end of the building. The strings inside his chest, tugging below his heart, he felt them move with her. He could feel them being pulled to tension; they were being stretched far away from each other . . . she would come back though.
She was an ocean wave, a current. She was a constant, like the tides.
He pulled his books out from under the bed. This had to be the key to it all; he can’t say the words that others have said before him, that others have said better. He needed to find the right words.
As he pulled the faded books out, he also dragged out the nearly empty bottle of whiskey, and with those, three small marbles. Two were orange hued “cats-eye,” but one of the marbles was a brilliant emerald green. He closed his eyes, and he saw the color of the ribbon that framed her face, he saw her smile on that day by the sea, he felt her eyes. He knew them.
Without thinking anything more than that, he put that small glass marble in his mouth, and poured the last few sips of whiskey down his throat and swallowed it. He thought of the smooth glass inside him. He thought of the green. It was madness green. He thought of her. The pieces of him that were missing . . . she could fit inside there, with him.
He laughed; it was an animalistic bray.
“Your name is Oscar.” He said it as he laughed again until the tears streamed down his face, and he felt short of breath, almost wheezing the way he did as a child when he was sick. He could feel that glass orb sliding down his gullet slowly. He thought the words “reverse birth.”
“Isabelle,” he said to himself almost as a reminder.
He grabbed the faded green copy of the complete works of Lord Alfred Tennyson Volume I. He imagined Isabelle up there in her room, looking out to the sea, feeling the curse of her life weighing on her. He needed her to know he felt it too, that he felt her. He could imagine her looking at the world through the refection of her mirror; a world lived only in reverse.
He laughed again, and some tears that he had forgotten leaked from his now very bloodshot eyes and seeped into his mouth. He felt the seawater that was alive inside him. He grabbed again for the empty bottle of whiskey. He poured a couple drops onto his awaiting tongue. There was nothing left, and he was resigned with wanting, like he had been his whole life. He threw the thick brown glass bottle across the room. It smashed against the wall and glass shards fell from the wall like the fireworks he saw as a child over Boston Harbor, celebrating something even now he could not understand. Freedom.
The dawn was breaking as he flipped through the pages of his books, pencil in hand, looking for the perfect thing, the perfect parting missive to hand Isabelle before she boarded her death ship that would deliver her back to her life. The exact words she would read before she got on the boat, the words that would bring her back to him, to their world, to their seemingly perfect endless summer day.
His fingers felt dry and the thin and already brittle paper that danced under his hands made it all worse. It was not until he saw these words that he knew that it was done. He would circle them; and then he would bring the book down to her at breakfast.
“Oh fuck,” he mumbled as he looked at the clock now turning on 11:30 am. He noticed the crooked and slanted room was filled with that almost mid-day sun. He reached for his pencil; the tip had been dulled down against the wooden railings of the hotel before it was allowed to be in his room, as he was technically not able to have sharp objects in his possession.
Heard a carol, mournful holy.
Chanted Loudly, chanted lowly,
Till her blood was frozen slowly,
And her eyes were darken’d wholly
It was at that precise moment, after he finished circling those words that he heard the noise. He thought it had to be her, The Lady of Shallot, her mournful song. It took him a few moments to realize it was not a sound a human would make. It was a foghorn; the strange wailing sounds moaning out from the lighthouse, such a strange ungodly sound coming out from behind the clouds of the almost midday sun. The sounds penetrated his thoughts and made the walls of his room reverberate into his bones in a frequency that made his already sore body ache with terror.
He circled the words in this worn book over and over. They were a message and they were a warning. He knew now if she were able to see this that he could get to her. He would be able to reach into that space between them and bring her back.
The horns still wailed as he left his room, stumbling and bleary eyed from days of too much unrest and too little sleep. He grasped the railing on the wide staircase and used it to keep himself upright as he traveled down the stairs. His only thoughts were that he might be too late, that he might not be able to place this book and these words into her hands.
Without this last attempt, he knew she would not be able to believe in him, believe in them.
When the doors opened to the hotel and he was hit with the shining white light of the midday sun, he thought he was too late. He started to run, down the rocky path towards the dock. He knew this path in his tired bones. He walked it at night before she came here when his head was filled with such noise that he became restless. Though the sunlight hit his eyes like knives, and he could barely see; his body knew where to go. He ran there, unsteady on his feet, the copy of Tennyson clenched in his hand.
It was not until he felt the rough hands of an all-too bearded man shove him back that he realized that he had found himself at the dock, an act of instinct more than sight. “I need to give this to her,” Francis said, as more of a shout. As if, he was screaming to the island itself.
“She’s not here Father.” Francis heard the words, but it took him a few moments to realize that it was Hawthorne, Mister Hughes to the guests, that was speaking. His voice crept up behind Francis like a shadow with long unnatural arms.
“What do you mean, she’s not here?” Francis said.
“We don’t know Father; she is just gone.”
“Aye, she said she had forgotten a book, and she went back to get it,” the bearded man said quickly as if he was defending himself. As if the moment Isabelle had walked onto the dock alone, she became his responsibility.
“Well, she must be back in her room,” Francis said, and there was a high-pitched fear that started to enter the cracks in his voice. The fear seemed to exist there in the momentary pauses between his words.
“We checked there, her room is empty, and Petal hasn’t seen her come in since she left about an hour ago.” Mister Hughes said this with a very decided lack of fear in his voice. His tone sounded as if he were a man over-burdened by the falsity of caring for others. When he spoke, his voice bore a strain as if the smile he wore was causing pain.
Without another word, Francis understood where Isabelle had gone. He walked past Mister Hughes and the bearded man. His steps picked up speed until he was running back the way he came. If the other men called after him, he could not tell. The shouts blended into the sound of the sea and were soon overtaken by the blood that rushed in his ears. The heavy thumping of his heart joined the squeaking wheeze in his lungs. He was not sure if it was the years of whiskey and madness or the scars from the tuberculosis, but he could barely go on. His pace had gone back to no more than mere walking by the time the tidal pools were in sight.
He could not see her. He thought, or maybe he hoped that she was sitting down on the edge of the rocks, looking out towards the water. He imagined her letting her fingers dangle and play in the cold water of those shallow pools. Even the sun never managed to warm them the way you would think it would.
He walked to the place that they had shared their one afternoon together; the day he realized that there was something to believe in again. He remembered the way the sun shone on only half of her face. The shadow from her hat’s wide brim seemed to cut her face into two parts, the two versions of herself; the woman she thought she was, and the one that he could see, the real her. The one that she was afraid of, the same way that he could tell that she feared him; it wasn’t really of him that she was scared; she was scared of hope.
It was then that he saw it, in a pool closer to the rocky edge. It was the now swollen and waterlogged copy of Jane Eyre, seemingly abandoned.