Vividness, Darkness, and Death at the Door (Public)

Around one o’clock in the morning we heard a sickening moan rise from near the front door, the kind that turns your blood cold.

Vividness, Darkness, and Death at the Door (Public)
Aboard the Sea Horse, photo by the author


It’s one o’clock in the morning on a Saturday night. Phillip is away and Jon’s arrived back on the island. I joined him and Hans in carving up a nice piece of lamb for dinner earlier this evening. Now I’ve come back, had a bath, and have been making my way through a Nabokov anthology I bought at the post-office store on a previous trip to St. Agnes over a year ago.

The sea has been amazing lately: brightly lit and emerald green. The whole island appears astoundingly vivid in seemingly electrically-enhanced, candy-chrome hues set against black, rain-laden skies. Any more luminous and you’d think every blade of grass, every drop of water, would simply burst from chromatic tension. That’s what it was like when I came back from St. Mary’s the other day on the Sea Horse, the local St. Martin’s boat. Through piercingly green, churning seas, I stood on deck, arms lashed through the railing, as huge swells plunged and rocked us in rough cycles from trough to crest, me grinning and licking the salt from my lips.


Daylight has its virtues, but I find darkness an even greater luxury. That absolute velvety blackness, flickering in front of one’s eyes, playing tricks, allows the faint outlines of buildings and blind lighthouses to slowly emerge but masks potholes and keeps horses hidden behind hedges. It’s a rare pleasure, as long as you step carefully and aren’t easily startled.

But how often does one have the opportunity to explore one’s surroundings, familiar like a lover in the dark, to trust touch not sight? London’s queasy, orange glow keeps it up all night. Even many small towns never dare close their eyes.

Actually, I have seen one that does, a small town in Cornwall called Truro. Jon, my friend Zoe, and I made the trip down there to visit Jon's mom Linda, a few days after New Year in 1997. Jon and I went on to Scilly from there. The town has never heard of streetlights. The only thing lit was the cathedral, centrally located, still architecturally dominant, and looking stunning in a sea of black houses. The house she rented had a paneled front room, with low ceilings and elaborate plasterwork which Zoe and I shared.

Around one o’clock in the morning we heard a sickening moan rise from near the front door, the kind that turns your blood cold. We both woke up and blinked at each across the darkness. “What the fuck was that!?” It sounded so close. “Shit,” I thought, ratcheted up my bravery, and went to check it out.

The wind whips through Truro like it does on St. Agnes. That night it had loosened a piece of weather stripping around the front door. The resulting gap had turned the foyer into a haunted, one-note, pipe organ that sounded exactly like someone dying on the doorstep. Relieved, I stuffed the weather stripping back into place, quieted the dying door, and began to shiver from cold instead of fright.