It was many and many a year ago,
In a kingdom by the sea,
That a maiden there lived whom you may know
By the name of Annabel Lee;
And this maiden she lived with no other thought
Than to love and be loved by me.
He was sitting alone in the library. I’d noticed him around campus before. So quiet. So cute. And always so alone.
When I was eleven years old, I decided that I would marry a man who wore a trench coat and khaki pants and dress shoes, and who would be cool and reserved in public but warm and affectionate at home.
I’d never seen him in a trench coat, but he definitely had the khakis and the dress shoes and the cool and reserved in public thing going on. We could work on the trench coat.
Was the darkness in him then? I try to remember now, as I watch him press his fork down into his waffle. The syrup flows into the space he created, and I wonder if he even knows who I am anymore.
I never did get him to wear a trench coat.
I knew the rules. You take an interest in their interests. You laugh at their jokes. You make them feel important, feel good about themselves, and then they will feel good about you.
I took a deep breath and walked up to him.
“So, what are you reading?”
He didn’t respond, at first. I thought maybe he hadn’t heard me. Maybe his book was more interesting than me. Maybe he was reading about a gorgeous librarian spacetime traveller who could zip between worlds as easy as she put on her lipstick, and I was standing there without any lipstick and with limp stupid hair and I couldn’t travel through space and time, I’d tried and it never worked, and I was boring and I knew I should just walk away, but I didn’t. I stood there, waiting.
He reached a stopping point in his book and looked up, so slowly, so coolly. So reserved.
His green eyes, swimming with darkness and light and intelligence and pain and something else, something else that I cannot name even now, met mine. And I was gone. I was his, forever.
I was a child and she was a child,
In this kingdom by the sea:
But we loved with a love that was more than love –
I and my Annabel Lee;
With a love that the winged seraphs of heaven
Coveted her and me.
I’d smiled and laughed and joked and flipped my hair, and he had spoken in monosyllables and not smiled at all. Still, somehow, I had gotten him out of the library and into the world. Or at least into the park.
He wouldn’t talk.
I asked him where he was from. He said Sunset Valley. I asked him what his parents did. He clammed up. I racked my brain for something, anything to talk about.
Then he saw the plants.
I know, I know, that then there was no darkness in him. He was pure light. And I know that light is still in there somewhere. It is.
He reached out and brushed the leaves with his finger. Softly, gently. Lightly.
He told me the names of the plants. He told me their Latin names. He told me about their properties and how they could be used in alchemical compounds, and how the landscaping crew obviously did not know the correct way to care for them. His voice was low, liquid. I let it wash over me, soft and slow and gentle like his fingers on the leaves.
He does not talk, now. Not even about his plants.
He gets up, his waffles half-eaten and all mushed and runny with syrup, and he says “I’ll be home late.” The only words he’s said in days. His voice now is dry, rasping. It’s full of sharp edges that cut my skin, that leave me bleeding on the edge of his abyss.
Was it always thus? Did I just not see it? Was I so eager for my preteen fantasy, so intoxicated at the thought of being the only one who could bring down his guard, the only one who could gain access to his hidden creamy nougat center, that I did not realize that I had invented the creamy nougat center?
No, I know it was there.
Oh Seth. What happened to you?
And this was the reason that, long ago,
In this kingdom by the sea,
A wind blew out of a cloud, chilling
My beautiful Annabel Lee;
So that her high-born kinsmen came
And bore her away from me,
To shut her up in a sepulchre
In this kingdom by the sea.
Seth always seemed happiest at the park. He didn’t like movies. He didn’t like football games. He absolutely hated parties. He liked grass. He liked solitude. He loved plants.
So we went to the park, with the plants and the benches and the statue of Riverview University’s founder.
I wanted to share my love of dark and haunting tales with him, the way he shared his love of growing things and alchemy with me. So one evening I took a flashlight, determined to tell him a ghost story.
He flinched when I brought out the flashlight.
I lie awake at night, remembering, trying to pinpoint when the darkness came, trying to figure out if it was always there, and I remember the flinch.
On the nights that he comes to bed I pretend to be asleep until I hear him snoring, and then I open my eyes and look at him. Sometimes the moonlight shines directly on his face, soft and sweet in sleep as I remember it, as I know it once was, and I wonder if maybe the flinch was because he felt the darkness even then and the flashlight reminded him of it.
Maybe he saw me carrying a flashlight as me trying to peer into his darkness, trying to illuminate it, and it scared him. Maybe he didn’t know he had a creamy nougat center, and he thought that if I shined my light into him I would find the darkness, the sharp edges and the yawning abyss. And he didn’t want me to find it. He didn’t want me to leave.
He doesn’t want me to leave.
I can’t leave.
The angels, not half so happy in heaven,
Went envying her and me –
Yes! that was the reason (as all men know,
In this kingdom by the sea)
That the wind came out of the cloud one night,
Chilling and killing my Annabel Lee.
I saw the flinch and I was afraid, but then it passed and he actually sort of smiled, and he said go on, he’d like to hear my story, and he sat on the ground like a child at story time.
I don’t remember, now, what story I told.
Possibly it had zombies.
And perhaps some flaming skulls. I do so like flaming skulls.
Seth seemed to appreciate the story. But then, he’s always had a thing for flaming skulls himself.
I finished the story in grand style and he clapped. He actually clapped.
He did care, once.
He stood up and brushed those khaki pants off, and then we giggled like schoolgirls about flaming skulls.
I miss that Seth, the Seth full of light and laughter and…love, I think.
He’s never said it. Not in all our years together. I didn’t mind. I loved his walls. I loved his defenses. I loved his silence, his reticence. He didn’t have to say it. I knew it, when I was the only one who was allowed inside. I was the only one who saw his smiles, heard his laughter. The only one he touched.
On the nights when he doesn’t come to bed, when he spends the whole night off in his garden or staring at that damn waterfall or wherever he goes, I cry.
I hate that waterfall.
It booms in my ears all the time. I never have any peace, any quiet.
I liked it when we first moved here. It was charming. It was unique. Who else had their own waterfall in the backyard?
Then over time the booming receded into the background. Seth went to his lab and studied his plants, and I made waffles. And fruit parfait and grilled salmon and lobster thermidor. But mostly waffles.
Maybe if I cut his waffles into flaming skull shapes he’ll remember me, and he’ll talk to me and smile and laugh and touch me again.
On the nights he stays outside and stares at the waterfall, I remember that night in the park.
I remember his fingers sliding across my palm. I remember how soft his skin felt. I remember how nervous he was.
I remember how he tasted.
But our love it was stronger by far than the love
Of those who were older than we –
Of many far wiser than we –
And neither the angels in heaven above,
Nor the demons down under the sea,
Can ever dissever my soul from the soul
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;
My sister writes me sometimes. She lives back home in Twinbrook.
She says, did you know Tim Burre is still single? He always had a crush on you in high school. She says, he’s taken to wearing dress shoes. She says, I saw him in a trench coat the other day.
She says that Seth is gone, that he’s never coming back, that he’s not the person I love anymore.
She says that the fire at the lab killed the Seth I loved, that staying isn’t doing any good, that I have to grieve and move on, that the Seth I married would want me to do that. She says that nursing him back to health fulfilled any obligations I had to him, that I’ve done all that I can.
I write her back, and I tell her that I can never dissever my soul from the soul of the beautiful Sethabel Lee. I tell her that I love the dark, his dark. I tell her that I am his flashlight, that I shine light into his dark places, that if I just keep shining he will follow the light back to me.
I don’t tell her about the flinch. I don’t tell her about the time I tried the Sethabel Lee line on him and he just grimaced and left. He’s always leaving, now.
Except when I make waffles. Then he comes to the table, and he presses his fork down, and he plays with the syrup, and then he leaves. But he’s mine for a while, while he is tearing his waffles into little pieces and staring into the syrup.
I’ll find a flaming skull mold. I’ll make little flaming skull waffles. Then he’ll remember, and he’ll look up and he’ll talk to me and he’ll slide his fingers along my palm, slowly, gently, and he’ll laugh and he’ll smile and he’ll be mine again. My Seth.
Sometimes I go outside, and I stand in front of the waterfall. I stand where he stands all night, sometimes. And I scream.
For the moon never beams without bringing me dreams
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;
And the stars never rise but I feel the bright eyes
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;
And so, all the night-tide, I lie down by the side
Of my darling -my darling -my life and my bride,
In the sepulchre there by the sea –
In her tomb by the sounding sea.
Author’s Note: The poem Annabel Lee is the wonderful work of Edgar Allan Poe. I really don’t think he’d mind me borrowing it. 🙂