by Sheila Moeschen
That spring brought a slow thaw and Becca’s divorce papers.
“Will you come with me to do something?” Becca asked.
“Of course,” I said without hesitation. “What are we doing?”
“A ritual,” she said giving her eyebrows a theatrical wiggle. We laughed.
Three years ago Becca and Neil were married at the lighthouse. In the same way it called ships to harbor, the lighthouse was an irresistible draw for couples. Maybe it represented the idea of a light pricking the darkness, hope housed in a tower of brick, glass, and metal to them. Becca and Neil claimed this site as their own the way so many others had before them, grafting wishes for constancy onto a place where erosion was inevitable.
After the brief ceremony we posed on the rocks in our mismatched bridesmaid dresses like the oddest collection of mermaids just finding our feet. We shivered as the salt wind lapped at our bare shoulders and ran its sticky fingers through our hair. The April sky was the color of blanched sea glass. High, thin clouds hurried across the horizon; we barely made it to the backyard reception before the first fat rain drops fell.
“Shit,” Becca swore as we pulled into the narrow dirt parking lot of the lighthouse grounds. “It’s really windy.”
“We are on the ocean,” I said drily. She rolled her eyes and popped open the trunk.
Becca reached for the metal bucket and handed it to me while she fished out a small bottle of lighter fluid, a lighter wand, and a bag of stuff. Photos, a few Birthday and Christmas cards, the marriage license, a piece of material that looked like it came from a flannel shirt—these were the things of our alchemy.
“That’s it?” I said. I don’t know what I was expecting exactly just that there would be more of it.
“We’re not exactly having a bonfire here. Yeah, that’s all she wrote,” Becca replied giving the trunk a hard slam. We started up the path toward the lighthouse.
The had marriage unspooled the way marriages do when they’re held together with safety pins and fear. He wasn’t mean. She wasn’t reckless. They had unsaid expectations that bloomed like rust on a fender. They experienced frustrations and disappointments, hurt and resentment that slowly grew into the understanding that they had mistaken love and connection for a choking need to outsmart loneliness.
“You know what I said when he proposed?” she asked the day she told me he was gone, that they were done and the marriage had really ended. I shook my head. “I said to him ‘Are you sure?’” Becca sat back in her chair and chewed on the wisps of her cuticles. “I should have known as the words were coming out of my mouth. I should have known.”
The lighthouse is perched high on a grassy, slightly rounded rise. Below it thick fingers of rock jut out to form jetties that you can easily walk on when the tide is out. Behind the lighthouse, the land forms a basin. It drops off in a series of short cliffs to form a wide inlet where people boat and scuba dive sheltered from the ocean.
“There,” said Becca pointing down into a part of the inlet a short way below us that curved slightly away from the main property. “Less chance of someone seeing us and messing up the ritual.” She pronounced the word “ritual” in a terrible, fake British accent. We giggled, suddenly nervous.
Earlier in the day as we drove along the coast, Becca talked about closure and moving on, all the right things you’re supposed to reach for even when you’re nowhere near them. She needed a way to sever herself from the past, she said. She wanted to be free of the weight of her sadness and what she felt was her biggest failure.
She laid out her vision for how it was supposed to work—a quiet place, a bit of flame, and later scattering the ashes into the sea. Sweet and clean release. She said there were words she would need to recite.
“A prayer,” I said helpfully.
“More like an intention,” she answered.
“A spell!” I said. A chanted promise, a lyrical beacon. Now it was my turn to give my eyebrows an exaggerated wiggle. We cracked up and stretched our arms outside the windows, palming the wind, letting the sun slide over our skin.
Together we picked our way down over the rocks that were jagged and forked like the scales of a dragon’s back. With no flat surface, we made do in a small area that straddled narrow tidal pools. Becca nestled the bucket as far down as she could and still reach it. I gave her the bag, it felt wrong somehow for me to over-handle these meaningful things. The unseasonably warm autumn afternoon meant that plenty of people were roaming the grounds. We could see them wandering around just above us and expected points and shouts any second.
Our attempted ritual proved pathetic. The wind kept snatching away the flame. We huddled closer to form a human shield around the bucket, twisting it this way and that, but the wind was everywhere. We could feel eyes on our backs. We knew we were pressing our luck. A little burned, a lot didn’t. We compromised, tipping the bucket toward the ocean to let it fill with salt water, drenching whatever was left. It would have to be enough. It would have to make magic in some way. That was the point all along, wasn’t it? To purify, to cleanse, to ruin what had already been laid to ruins in order to feel like you are walking around with a few less broken pieces.
“We’ll find a trashcan to dump what’s left,” I said. She nodded. “It was a good ritual. It counted, I’m sure it did.” She nodded again, looking more resigned than assured. We could have burned the entire ocean in that bucket and the moon for good measure and it would never ease the uncertainty that lived with her now.
We let the arms of the coast release us back to civilization, driving home in silence. I thought about Becca’s wedding reception and the way the rain ran off the tent in ribbons and forcing people to huddle around small cocktail tables in the center to avoid getting drenched. The flower girl stood at the tent’s edge, palm out to catch the rain, shifting from foot to foot, itching to cause trouble in the puddles. Becca took her tiny hand and danced her outside. I watched the friend I had always known flicker in and out of focus as if she were the subject of a jumpy, Super-8 film and summoned acceptance. The flower girl shrieked and hopped around. Becca twirled the little girl in a dizzying spin, laughing despite the cold and wet, determined to make this the shiny, storied day she was promised it would be.
Sheila Moeschen is a Boston-based writer and photography enthusiast. She is a frequent contributor to The Huffington Post and her work has also been published in Niche Magazine and Red Line Roots. Sheila is currently at work on a nonfiction book about women and comedy.