The Lighthouse Committee
By: Leonie Rowland
Desires that occur in the forest are corporeal. I have often caught myself yearning for an animal skin to drape across my shoulders—or, out of respect for my veganism, to become naked altogether. Desires that occur in the mountains are spiritual. I am closer to God, I tell myself, even though he is far away, and altitude cannot close the distance between us.
The Lighthouse Committee found me on a forest-covered mountain, thinking of neither God nor sex but of eating the ground, which, mixed with water, might persuade me it was coffee. I was bending down, hands submerged in soil, when a voice called to me, and I saw the light.
I knew it was a lighthouse even though I was nowhere near the sea. I have only come across light like that in stories, so bright it shuts you out. The voice said, ‘Disturb the ground and it will remember.’ I felt the dirt under my fingernails and hoped that, after a wash, they would forget.
The voice took me into the light and up to the mouth of a building, which was made entirely of glass. Inside, plump buns and chocolate cookies were wrapped in colourful packets. When the voice told me to enter, I knew it belonged to them.
I am in the habit of consuming bodies, so what followed was the corporeal equivalent of church. Coffee waited in branded plastic, and I was overcome with the urge to make it part of me. I drank until I thought my heart would stop.
When I was finished, the voice said, ‘Welcome to the Lighthouse Committee.’ My first thought was that I had no money to pay it with. I looked around for a person, but all I could see were processed meals and ice cream. I noticed the till was empty and felt compelled to stand behind it.
There is a slowness to healing that sometimes feels like pain. The Lighthouse Committee allowed me to drink, but I couldn’t ignore the taste that settled in my mouth, the way it made my body bitter.
I slept at the counter with my head on the till. Each night, having failed to fill it, it filled my dreams instead. My debts were mounting, and I could never seem to count the hours I’d been at work. Sometimes, the door swung open, and I echoed, ‘Welcome to the Lighthouse Committee.’ When I went to close it, there was no wind and no sign of life, human or otherwise, save for the faint trail of mud that always appeared no matter how much I cleaned. Once, I stood for hours watching a roll of kitchen towel soak it up, thinking that the Lighthouse, white and paper-thin, was absorbing me too.
My body felt full, and yet I was always hungry. In the morning, I would catch myself unwrapping a pain au chocolat or drinking from a carton of long-life milk, only to find it was already gone. The condiments conspired, and I let them, knowing that a congregation must believe in its freedom. The voice said, ‘Kneel before me,’ and I answered, ‘I have nothing.’ I bowed my head.
In my flat, there is a mug that says, sorry for what I did before my coffee. My sister bought it for me after we had an argument, and I thought at the time how convenient it was to blame the hurt I had caused on my own incompleteness. Starbucks would have saved me from myself, saved her from me. I am half-here without it, like a sleepwalker, guided gently and then startled when she wakes.
Because truthfully, I had known for a while, from the way acid lingered on my tongue, that the coffee was made of soil, repackaged to look like home. I walked to the fridge and picked out an empty can, filled it with water and then with mud. It occurred to me later that I was drinking my own body, traveled here from the future. I imagined it decomposing, rotting, becoming dust. Then, I imagined scooping it up with both hands, boiling the kettle.
That night, with my hunger at its strongest, I left the Lighthouse. I walked until the darkness clouded my vision, and for a moment I thought I was blind, but when I turned around, the Lighthouse shone like a distant star. I lay down, swaddling myself in leaves. My hands were covered in mud.
A voice said, ‘Return to me.’ Listening, looking at the Lighthouse, I knew one of them was God, but I couldn’t tell which.
Leonie lives in Manchester and has an MA in Gothic Literature. Her writing has been published by Ad Hoc Fiction, Reflex Press, The Cabinet of Heed, Horrified, BlueHouse Journal, Dreich and CP Quarterly. She also has work forthcoming from Emerge Literary Journal, TSS Publishing, Walled Women Magazine, TunaFish Journal, The Arachne Review, Wrongdoing Magazine and Words & Whispers. You can find her on Twitter @leonie_rowland or visit her website at www.leonierowland.com.