LIGHT­HOUSE

灯塔

The World of Chinese - - Ed­i­tor’s Let­ter - - TRANS­LATED BY MOY HAU (梅皓)

《灯塔》 Ever feel like you're all at the sea, with no pur­pose and no di­rec­tion ex­cept to keep a lone light burn­ing in­side a light­house? In this ex­per­i­men­tal short story, screen­writer An Wei pon­ders the na­ture of re­al­ity and whether we have any choice but to ac­cept it

Isat up in the ca­noe and saw the moon hang­ing large in the sky; the light seemed to drip down like drops of wa­ter. The sea breeze rushed past and my cold body couldn’t help but shiver. I slowly ex­haled a heavy breath and rubbed my eyes with the backs of my hands, maybe too hard; tears al­most came out. I looked up at the moon, so round in the sky. Be­neath it, there was a thin sil­hou­ette in the light. That was my des­ti­na­tion.

The ca­noe rested against a sim­ple pier at the light­house. I climbed up, and tied the ca­noe to the post. I stood at the door of the light­house and twisted the han­dle, but it didn’t turn, so I pushed gen­tly and it opened. There was a stair­way in front. “Is any­body there?” I called out. Af­ter a while, a faint voice fil­tered down to my ears. “Wait a mo­ment, I’m com­ing.” I stood there for a while at the base of the stairs, but didn’t see any­one. I then sat on the steps, fac­ing the open door and look­ing out at the pitch-dark sea. Be­cause the moon was be­hind me, I could see all the stars in the sky and the hori­zon where ocean and sky met.

“I’m sorry for mak­ing you wait,” the woman’s voice said again, but much louder.

I turned around and saw her stand­ing be­hind me. She was as beau­ti­ful as her voice.

“Don’t worry,” I stood up. “Time is some­thing I have.”

“So you’re…the new light­house keeper?”

I nod­ded, “Maybe, at least that’s as much as I know.”

“Well, then that’s all right.” She laughed, “Ev­ery keeper is like this.”

“And you? You’re the for­mer keeper?”

“No,” she said. “I’m the keeper’s as­sis­tant.”

“And what about the last keeper?”

“Well, he’s gone, and now you’re here.” “Well, yeah, that makes sense.” I fol­lowed her on the spi­ral stair­case, end­lessly up, round and round. There were no lights or win­dows, but it wasn’t dark. I felt that the light flowed down from above. Not long af­ter, her voice be­came dis­tant again, like it sounded when she first an­swered. It was a strange feel­ing, like the stairs were wind­ing a straight plane round and round the tower. I looked up and found my view un­ob­structed; I could see the wa­ver­ing light em­a­nat­ing from the top floor of the light­house, just as if I were out­side the tower. I couldn’t make up my mind whether I was spi­ralling up or if the stair­case was straight. For the first time, I dis­cov­ered it was eas­ier to lose one­self on a straight road than on a curved one.

I didn’t feel lost, though. What kept me alert was the scent of her body. It wasn’t just fra­grant; it also had a calm­ing gen­tle­ness. Smelling her scent, be­ing around her, ev­ery­thing else be­came unim­por­tant, even nat­u­ral.

Step­ping through time, fra­grance, light, and stairs, we came closer to that en­trance. When we were al­most cov­ered by the light, she opened a door to the right, and we walked in. Af­ter we closed the win­dow, the light was out­side. Even though the room didn’t have a light of its own, it had a large win­dow. Light from the huge moon spilled in from out­side, but it was no longer grandiose, just gen­tle and calm.

The light in the cen­ter of the room il­lu­mi­nated a small wooden ta­ble with a wooden chair next to it. In the dark­ness on the side of the room, there was a sin­gle bed and a book­shelf. There were no other fur­nish­ings.

“This is your room. If you need any­thing, you can go to the room up­stairs to get me.” She pointed to the door be­hind her.

“So what’s my job?”

“To guard this tower.” She laughed, “Guard the light; don’t let it go out.”

I nod­ded—that’s right, that was the keeper’s ba­sic job.

I walked over to the book­shelf. There was the keeper’s di­ary and some CDS.

“So many CDS, but no CD player,” I said. “You don’t need a CD player.” “I can lis­ten to the CDS with­out one?”

“I don’t know. But the pre­vi­ous keeper never needed a CD player.” “All right, thanks.” “You’ve had a long jour­ney; you should rest. I’ll leave you alone.” As the woman fin­ished speak­ing, she

pulled the door open and walked out. The light out­side faded.

I top­pled onto the bed and flexed a bit. I fell asleep quickly. Nat­u­rally, I had no dreams. I woke up and had a sud­den de­sire to take one of the CDS and put it on the desk with the re­flec­tive side up. When the moon­light hit the CD, a sparkling light was re­flected, and a solid im­age ap­peared in the room. There was a ma­jes­tic moun­tain, cov­ered in an­cient trees. A wa­ter­fall flowed down the moun­tain’s face, and small streams joined in and split up again, giv­ing the moun­tain spirit and life.

In the midst of this vivid im­agery, my senses of hear­ing, smell, and touch were all en­gaged. It was as if I were there. My mind swirled, and I felt daz­zled and in­tox­i­cated.

She gen­tly pushed open the door, with my break­fast in her hands. I cov­ered the CD with my hand and put it back in the case, which I placed in the book­shelf.

Break­fast con­sisted of baked fish, a fried tomato, two slices of bread, and milk. The fla­vor was bland, and I couldn’t tell which an­i­mal the milk came from. I asked why she didn’t eat with me, and she said it had al­ways been that way.

Af­ter break­fast, I sat un­der the moon­light and read the keeper’s di­ary. The moon­light was nei­ther strong nor dim, and my eyes felt com­fort­able. I read some time be­fore drift­ing off to sleep. When I woke up, she had al­ready brought lunch. I closed the di­ary and placed it back on the book­shelf. Think­ing back, I couldn’t re­mem­ber what I had read. It was no mat­ter; there was al­ways time to read it again.

Lunch was fried eggs, an onion salad, two slices of bread, and milk. The eggs were big, but I couldn’t tell which bird they came from. The por­tion was about the same as break­fast. In fact, there was no real dis­tinc­tion in the light­house be­tween day and night. The moon had been re­placed by the sun. It seemed triv­ial to in­sist on dif­fer­en­ti­at­ing be­tween break­fast and lunch.

She still didn’t eat. She just sat on the bed with her chin in her hands, look­ing at me. Af­ter I fin­ished, she spoke. “Do you know what a bub­ble is?” “Of course I do.” “Not the nor­mal kind, the ones I am talk­ing about are huge. The sea out there has this type of bub­ble in it. When they ap­pear, a fish storm is com­ing.” “A fish storm? What’s that?” “Oh, you’ll see when it comes. I can’t even be­gin to ex­plain it.”

Hear­ing her de­scribe it in this way, I didn’t want to ask more.

Time went by like this slowly, seg­mented by meals. In be­tween, I al­ter­nated be­tween read­ing the di­ary and watch­ing CDS. The keeper’s di­ary gave me a kind of hazy feel­ing; it was hard to un­der­stand what it was about, and I couldn’t seem to re­mem­ber what I’d read af­ter­wards. It men­tioned some­thing about the fish storm, but I didn’t un­der­stand what it was. How­ever, each scene in the CDS was en­graved in my mem­ory—whether they were moun­tains, deserts, grass­lands, or great rivers, they were all quite real to me. It was al­most as if they came from my own mind. Each time I’d sud­denly wake, it was like I had been here many times, and couldn’t shake the feel­ing.

Af­ter I don’t re­mem­ber how many days like this, the fish storm came.

On that day, she brought me a rice omelette, as­para­gus salad, and a cup of milk. She then sat as she al­ways did upon the wooden bed, chin in her hands, star­ing at me. She spoke:

“In a mo­ment, the fish storm will come.”

“Oh?” I said, “Then we have to see it.”

“Of course,” she said. “It’s just that ev­ery time af­ter the fish storm comes, some un­avoid­able things hap­pen, so I don’t like it at all.”

Af­ter she said this, I be­gan to feel the same way, too. Al­though it was re­lax­ing and com­fort­able in the light­house, I knew that the fish storm would up­set this calm.

Not long af­ter, there was a feel­ing of a dis­tur­bance in the air and the scent of the sea be­came stronger. We went to the win­dow and saw the sea had started to toss. Af­ter that, the sur­face of the sea lit up. A num­ber of small bub­bles came up in rows, float­ing into the air. The moon il­lu­mi­nated them in a myr­iad of col­ors. A wind blew, car­ry­ing the light to a far-off place. The bub­bles kept grow­ing in num­ber and size, and some flew past the win­dow—they looked large enough to fit a per­son in­side. They whirled about in the air, and the light danced about, daz­zling me; it was ex­hil­a­rat­ing.

The bub­bles sud­denly stopped ris­ing from the sea, and the ones float­ing in the air dis­ap­peared far away into sky. The sur­face of the sea sud­denly be­came calm, giv­ing me a feel­ing of as­phyx­i­a­tion. Then, the fish storm started.

The sur­face of the wa­ter be­came dark, and the forms of count­less fish were vis­i­ble, kick­ing up sea spray all about. Crys­talline, trans­par­ent fish, fish in all col­ors, gold and sil­ver fish, gi­ant fish with long wings, small fish like ru­bies on a thread. Ev­ery kind of fish I could imag­ine—and all the kinds I couldn’t even imag­ine in my dreams—shot out of the sea into the air, churn­ing up huge waves. Soon, there were fish and waves ev­ery­where be­tween the ocean and the sky. It was crazy enough to make you for­get to breathe, for­get your heart­beat, even for­get to think.

As the fish storm ended, I re­al­ized I was cry­ing.

I quickly wiped away my tears, so I didn’t know if she saw. I knew, though, that she had seen the fish storm many times, so she wouldn’t be as moved as me.

Af­ter the fish storm, days went by nor­mally. The only thing that was dif­fer­ent was that we were both wait­ing—wait­ing for that thing that would in­ter­rupt the pace of our lives. We didn’t re­ally care about this thing, but we couldn’t ig­nore its ex­is­tence. It was, af­ter all, a part of the fish storm.

Fi­nally one day, I woke up and knew that it had ar­rived. I walked over to the win­dow and saw a sil­hou­ette ap­proach­ing the light­house. I walked out of my room and down the stairs. Just like the day I’d ar­rived, I sat on the stairs and looked out over the sea. When the sil­hou­ette came a bit closer, she came down the stairs and sat next to me.

“You’re dif­fer­ent than the pre­vi­ous keep­ers,” she said. “They were never as calm as you.” “What were they like?” “Like in the di­ary.” “I’ve read it, but I don’t re­mem­ber a sin­gle word.”

“That’s nat­u­ral. What other peo­ple have done, heard, said, seen, and thought—that doesn’t con­cern us. So whether you know or not, re­mem­ber or not, it doesn’t in­flu­ence our thoughts and lives. Any­way, the pre­vi­ous keep­ers were dif­fer­ent from you, so you can’t nor do you need to re­mem­ber the con­tents of the di­ary.” I thought maybe she was right. “Maybe,” I said, “the me of when I ar­rived could re­mem­ber the di­ary’s con­tents.”

“Now, you are suited to be the light­house keeper.”

I didn’t speak aloud the re­ply that formed in my heart, be­cause it didn’t per­tain to me any­more.

Later, we saw the sil­hou­ette clearly. There was a ca­noe, and in the ca­noe, there was a per­son. When the per­son came closer to the light­house, we saw his face. I saw that this per­son was me.

I didn’t look like I had been when I ar­rived, nat­u­ral and care­free. I looked very ner­vous and he­si­tant, like I wasn’t sure if I should pull my ca­noe up to the light­house. Only when the cur­rent had slowly brought the ca­noe within a dozen or so me­ters of the light­house, did I make up my mind and row over, stop­ping at the base. I jumped out and dragged the boat ashore. I looked back and took a few steps to­wards the light­house. Only then did I see us un­der the light of the light­house.

“I” was as­ton­ished; speech­less for a while un­til he stam­mered: “You… you’re here!” I spoke, “You fi­nally came, too.” “I” sighed, “No mat­ter how dif­fer­ent, the same per­son will even­tu­ally come to the same place.”

“But dif­fer­ent is dif­fer­ent.” I said, “That’s why we split”.

“So, in the end, I’ll def­i­nitely leave,” “I” said. “And I will stay,” I said. “You shouldn’t leave,” she sud­denly spoke to “me”. “And right now you can’t leave.” “Why not?” “I” asked. “The dark tide is com­ing.” “Dark tide?” “Yes, turn around and look out.” I and “I” looked into the dis­tance, but couldn’t make any­thing out.

“You can’t see well from here, but come up to the tower, and then you’ll see,” she said.

We as­cended the tower stairs and en­tered my room. We looked out into the dis­tance from the win­dow, but could only see a sheet of black­ness.

“That black­ness is the dark tide, and af­ter some time it will sweep out across the sea and swal­low up all the light.”

“Just like this light­house,” “I” mum­bled.

“But be­cause the keeper is here, the dark tide has never suc­ceeded in swal­low­ing the light of the light­house.”

“Will the light­house keeper him­self glow?” “I” laughed as he looked at me.

“The keeper will keep the light,” she said.

“How? That’s not a nor­mal tide.” I asked.

“Don’t let the dark tide en­ter the tower, and it will be fine.”

I thought for a bit and spoke: “OK, then let’s block the door with rocks.”

“Wait!” “I” sud­denly cried out. “We don’t know any­thing at all about the dark tide, right? And we don’t even know why we have to pro­tect this light­house.”

“Be­cause I am the keeper of this light­house,” I said. “Of course the keeper must en­sure the light is kept.”

“I” was speech­less for a bit. He wasn’t a great speaker—just like me.

We used all the stones we could find to block the door of the light­house; “I” had no other choice but to help us. Af­ter we were done, we were afraid there would be a prob­lem block­ing the dark tide. So, we built a stone door on the stairs, and then an­other above it. We built seven in to­tal, for seven seg­ments of the stairs. We used ev­ery ma­te­rial we could find—stones, earth, fur­ni­ture, glass, and all kinds of trash.

Af­ter we fin­ished block­ing the stair­well next to my room, the dark tide ar­rived at the base of the tower. We could see its true form. It wasn’t a tide of wa­ter. It was a tide of gi­ant black in­sects, black beasts, and black-ar­mored knights wav­ing black ri­fles and gi­ant swords. There was even a black dragon! The dark fiends howled and screamed, spilling over each other.

They quickly cov­ered the en­tire area around the tower. As no light passed through them, we couldn’t see them; but we knew they could see us, ren­der­ing us afraid, help­less, and des­per­ate. We heard a dull thud from be­low—they had bro­ken through the first bar­rier. How­ever, the dark tide didn’t lunge for­ward, but started to cir­cle around the tower. The howl­ing be­came louder and louder; not just from out­side, but also from within the stair­well. We heard an­other crash— the sec­ond bar­rier was bro­ken.

“It’s meal­time; I’m go­ing to go pre­pare the food,” she sud­denly said, and then left my room.

“Wait, you’re go­ing out on your own?” “I” yelled out, but the door blocked his voice. “I” felt speech­less, be­cause there was no way out.

When she came back with the food, the dark tide had al­ready bro­ken through the fourth bar­rier, but its speed had slowed. We could al­ready clearly hear the buzzing of the in­sects, the sounds of the in­di­vid­ual blows from the beasts, and the clang­ing of the knights’ swords against the stones.

When we ate, “my” hands couldn’t stop trem­bling as he held his spoon. He ate a few bites be­fore giv­ing up, star­ing at me as I fin­ished my meal.

“I say,” “I” couldn’t keep quiet any longer. “Don’t you think it’s re­ally strange? In a huge sea, we don’t know where the land is; there’s just a light­house in the mid­dle of the ocean. Is that nor­mal? Light­houses are there to guide ships, to guide them to land. Nor­mally, they’re built close to the coast, on land or on reefs—but never in the mid­dle of the ocean, be­cause they have no use there! And where does our food come from? Where does the drink­ing wa­ter come from? What’s the power source for the light up there; have you never thought about this? What’s even stranger is this moon, the fish storm the day be­fore yes­ter­day, and now the dark tide. All of th­ese things are un­nat­u­ral! Do you re­mem­ber what hap­pened when we were in the sea be­fore we ar­rived here? You don’t, right? My mem­o­ries start when we were float­ing out on the ocean in that ca­noe. And now one per­son has be­come two peo­ple. All this is just too weird!”

I nod­ded in ac­knowl­edge­ment that ev­ery­thing “I” said was log­i­cal. By this time, the dark tide had bro­ken through the sixth bar­rier.

We were forced to leave my room and build a fi­nal bar­rier higher up. We used ev­ery­thing we could find, in­clud­ing the desk, bed, and chair from my room.

We fi­nally ar­rived at the place clos­est to the bea­con.

There was a door, lo­cated on the plat­form on the high­est floor. There were no walls up there, just a few slen­der round col­umns that rose to the roof. Light leaked out from the door, il­lu­mi­nat­ing the frame around it, shin­ing in all di­rec­tions. It came closer to us, but didn’t seem overly bright. We could al­most feel like out­side that door was a shim­mer­ing world of ev­ery­thing that is beau­ti­ful—per­haps more daz­zling than light it­self.

“The out­side world, the real world!” “I” ex­claimed. “That’s just an­other world,” I said. “No mat­ter what it is, isn’t this all an op­por­tu­nity?” “I” replied. “An op­por­tu­nity to leave here, just when we are about to die?”

“We won’t die,” she said in a gen­tle tone, “be­cause the keeper is here.”

“I” looked at her and then turned his head to look at me, hope il­lu­mi­nat­ing his eyes.

“We are one per­son. With­out me, or with­out you, we won’t be com­plete. This sea split us into two. If I leave, we must leave to­gether.”

I shook my head. Even though I knew this would hurt “me”, I said, “I ad­mit, ev­ery­thing you have said—all of your doubts about this world— are log­i­cal. How­ever, I don’t need a world where ev­ery­thing is log­i­cal and rea­son­able. I don’t need ra­tio­nal­ity; I just need a world that suits me. It may be wild; it may be or­di­nary—but I just want to live my life. That door is for you, it’s not for me. You and I are dif­fer­ent, which is why we split.”

He sighed and turned away from us, pass­ing through that door of light. He didn’t come back.

There we sat on the edge of the top floor, with our shoul­ders touch­ing, our backs to the door, our legs hang­ing out­side; tak­ing in the sea breeze and the moon­light upon our bod­ies. When the moon touched the sur­face of the wa­ter, the dark tide aban­doned our light­house and fled to that end­less un­touch­able light of the moon.

“Let’s stay to­gether like this,” I said to her. “OK,” she said. Our lives re­turned to nor­mal, un­til the next fish storm came.

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