Ghosts of a Lighthouse in Autumn
See that cottage over there, the one with the wooden fence and the climbing roses? That was Cicely Walcott's cottage. Maybe you've never heard of Cicely Walcott but everyone who lives here in Halcyon Beach knows her story. It's a sad story but then Halcyon Beach is a sad town. Don't let the bright colors and the amusement park atmosphere fool you. That's just for the tourists who come in the summer. Those of us who live here year round know differently. Strange things have happened here. Ghosts linger here. People go mad during the long, cold winters. The smartest guy in town doesn't even live here. Old Fitz Connolly owns The Snuggle Inn and Pub which is one of the few places that stays open year round and Old Fitz makes a killing because around here there's not much to do during the winter but drink. The Pub is where most people go to do that.
I've heard stories about Old Fitz for years. He used to spend a lot of time here but he's real old now and stays down in Boston. They used to say he was “connected.” That's what people say. They don't say he was in the mob or anything like that. They just say he was “connected.” I've heard that one of his wives went crazy living here and that she's in a loony bin somewhere but that happened long before I was even born. Just like Cicely Walcott's story did.
I wasn't born in Halcyon Beach. I was born and grew up in Sommerville but when I was a little kid we came here every summer for a week. My mother never liked it. She said it was shabby and cheesy but my dad said it was also cheap and with four kids he was big on cheap. Us kids didn't care – we loved it. We loved the beaches and the amusement park and the arcades. Dad saved all year for the week we spent here. We'd get a suite of room in The Oceanview Inn, an old hotel on the Promenade. Mom would sit on the balcony overlooking the Promenade with a book while Dad took us to the beach every morning. She didn't care for the beach and that was okay with him because he said she worked hard all year looking after us so this could be her vacation, too. Now when I think about it, I think how kind that was.
When we'd had enough of the beach Dad would take the boys to the bath house to shower and he'd put me in charge of getting my younger sister showered and shampooed.
“Make sure to get all the sand off, Fleur,” he'd say, “you know how your mother hates getting sand all over the place.”
Dad always called me Fleur. My real name is Felicia but he said I was his little flower and the name stuck. Everyone still calls me Fleur even though Dad died when I was in high school. I miss him every hour of every day. Maybe that's part of the reason I decided to live here, because it is so full of happy memories of him.
After we were cleaned up, and in shorts and t-shirts, Dad would take Alan, the baby, back to the hotel for his nap. He'd give me money, because I'm the oldest, and set us loose on the Promenade. That was the best part of the day. There was everything a kid could want, arcades full of games, and stands for every kind of crappy junk food imaginable. My sister Lauren and I got hot dogs from The Dog House. I liked mine with chili and onions. She got pickles, ketchup, and cheese. Our brother Kyle always got a deep-fried corn dog from To Fry For. We'd get sodas and sit at one of the picnic tables in the middle of the Promenade below the balcony where Mom sat reading. After Dad got Alan to sleep he'd get a bottle of Sam Adams and come out to sit with her and keep an eye on us.
Once we gobbled down our lunches I'd divide up the leftover money and we'd take off. We were allowed to go into any of the arcades and playhouses that opened onto the Promenade. The amusement park with its gigantic Ferris wheel and wild rides was off limits until the evening when our parents would go there with us. Mom said we were safe in the places around the Promenade during the day but once it started getting dark we had to stay with her or Dad.
Kyle and Lauren liked the games in the arcades but I liked to wander in and out of the souvenir shops. I especially loved the little snow globes that featured tiny replicas of Halcyon Beach landmarks – the amusement park, the big Dreamland Ballroom on the beach, the lighthouse on the headland. They were submerged in water with plastic snow that swirled around and around when you shook them. Every year Dad let us buy one thing as a souvenir and I always bought a snow globe. I still have all of them. They sit on the windowsill over the sink in my cottage and when it is snowing here I sometimes think those snow globes conjured my destiny.
It was in one of the shops that I found the book about Cicely Walcott. It was called The Lady and the Lighthouse-keeper and was illustrated with lurid watercolors. Of course the characters in the book had different names. It was written in the 1970s when bodice-ripper romances were all the rage. Cicely was called Dominique in the book and the lighthouse-keeper, who was her lover, was called Antoine. His real name was Lester Geary. The picture on the front of the book showed a muscular brute, his shirt open to reveal his manly chest, on the balcony of a lighthouse. He looked out over the ocean, all moody and scornful, as a beautiful blonde, whose enormous breasts were puffing up out of her lacy bodice, clung to him with tears in her huge blue eyes. It was very romantic and, considering that Cicely and Lester were lovers in the 1950s, totally in the wrong century. But I loved it anyway.
I think I was thirteen when I bought the book. Normally I would never have given it a second glance but there was a hand-written sign on the table where the books were displayed, “Based on the notorious murder-suicide at Halcyon Beach Lighthouse in 1953,” it read. I had never heard about a murder-suicide in Halcyon Beach but I knew the lighthouse well. It was a tall white tower perched on the edge of a cliff on the headlands just north of town. Every summer we, like many other tourist families, had a picnic there and then Dad took our picture posed on the grass in front of it with Mom's arms around us. Even back then the lighthouse was automated and the keeper's cottage, attached to it by a covered walkway, was empty. Then the town got the idea to renovate the cottage and rent it out to summer people. Now it is booked solid from Memorial Day to Labor Day but in the winter it is empty unless the town can find someone to stay there.