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Ghosts

23 Jul

“Oh God, oh God, don’t say it’s ghosts!”

“It’s not ghosts, shut up!”

“What is it, okay? Okay, Nicky? What is it?”

“I said shut up!”

Sam was standing in the middle of the attic with his hands clamped over his eyes and his knees pressed together like he had to pee.

“Sammy,” Abby said, “You know there’s no such thing as ghosts.”

“Right,” he said, and relaxed his knees. “I know.”

“It’s right back here, I think,” said Nicky. He pushed aside the squat chest of drawers and there it was. He picked up the box and turned to show it to Abby. “I knew it was up here!”

“Let’s take it back downstairs,” she said. Nicky scowled. She put her arm across Sam’s shoulders and raised her eyebrows. “It is kind of creepy up here, Nicky.”

“Fine. Don’t call me that.”

Buck was waiting for them at the bottom of the stairs. His hair was still wet from his bath, and his pajama top was on inside out.

“What’d you get?” he asked. Sam pushed by him and the back of Buck’s head knocked against the wall. “Dammit!” Buck hollered.

“Say that in front of Dad and you’ll get spanked,” Abby said. She ushered Buck back to his bedroom at the front of the house. “And you’re supposed to be in bed, camper.”

“I’m not sleepy.”

“If Dad finds you up when he gets back, you’ll get spanked.”

“You always say that.”

Abby laughed. “Well, it’s true. Now, get in bed. We’ll be right downstairs if you need anything.” She tucked her brother in and turned out the bedside lamp.

Buck whispered, “Don’t say ‘don’t let the bedbugs bite.’ ”

“I won’t. But you just did.” She left the door cracked and the hall light on.

Sam and Nicky were in the kitchen. The box from the attic was on the table.

“Well?” Abby asked. She sat down and looked at Nicky. He put his hands on the box but did not lift the lid. The ball cap he wore hid his eyes from her. He was shirtless and tan.

“Okay, are you sure you want to see this?”

The question was addressed to Sam, who was pale, but Abby answered.

“If you don’t show us what’s in that stupid box, Nicky—”

“What, your dad is gonna spank me?”

That made Sam laugh, and color flooded back into his cheeks.

“Really, Sam, if you’re gonna cry or something,” Nicky said.

“I’m not gonna cry, jerk. Just open it.”

Abby leaned forward. Sam swallowed. Nicky took the lid off the box.

The Beach

22 Jul
It was one hundred yards from the cottage to the beach. First pavement, then crushed gravel, then stepping stones through the cattails and weeds. The beach was empty. She stepped over an orange buoy, her foot sinking into a patch of rotten seaweed. Seashells crunched beneath her feet.

She walked to the very edge of the beach. The tide was out. Weak waves lapped at the toes of her shoes. The sky was far away and bright, the water close and cold and gray-green. She breathed in the scent of the salt, the seaweed, the stench of the gulls that circled overhead.

She threw the ring into the water.

She dropped to her knees and then sat down hard. It was gone, it was under the water and sinking, given up to the sea. She didn’t want it. She wanted it. Oh, she wanted it. She could get it.

She dug her hands into the beach, seashells biting into the flesh of her palms, drawing blood. She held on to the sand and the shells and the seaweed. She held.

Postcards

22 Jul
The last postcard Clara got from Jenny came in the spring of 1955. It was a picture of Jenny and her new husband, Billy, standing on a beach in front of a fancy building. Maybe a hotel. They were both wearing white bathing suits. Jenny’s hair was long and wavy, held back from her face with a scarf. At the bottom of the picture, under the printed words “Season’s Greetings and best wishes for 1955,” Jenny had signed both of their names.

Clara had received a postcard from Jenny every month—sometimes every week. They came from places with names like Pegram, Ponchatoula, and Plano. For three weeks, every card came from Maine: Presque Isle, Dover-Foxcroft, Ogunquit. And then, in the summer of 1954, four in a row from California: Santa Rosa, Santa Maria, Santa Ana, Santa Carla.

In the three and a half years that Jenny was gone, Clara received forty-six postcards. And in those three and half years, Clara moved from the farm on Chubb Hollow Road to the house at Grace Point. Eleven miles.

Half

22 Jul

Gun. It’s mostly cloudy with a chilly breeze, slight drizzle, fifty-four degrees. I breathe the spring air, in, out, in, out. I hit the first incline and settle into a rhythm. I smell the wet grass, I listen to the slap of my shoes against road. My knee feels strong. In the first mile, I barely touch the pavement. I’m high-school strong. My feet fly.

Four. It’s getting hotter. Very little shade on this part of the course. My knee feels a little stiff. But my feet are still fresh. I chew some jelly beans. I fly through the water stop.

Seven. No shade. Cloudless sky. The air is thick. Fingers are swollen. Gagging on gummy bears.

Eleven. Sticky tar. Clenched fists. Burning lungs. Orange slice. Throbbing knee. Steep hill. Wobbling ankles. Ice water.

Twelve. Sweat. Blister.

Finish. My lungs open, my fists uncurl, I fly, I float, I glide across the finish line, blood pooling in my left shoe.

Chili

22 Jul
Gran tied an apron around my waist and pushed me toward the stove. “It’s easy,” she said. She opened the cupboard and took out plastic jars of spices. Paprika. Cumin. Cayenne. Oregano. Garlic. I browned the beef while she opened the cans of kidney beans. Muffin meowed at her feet.

“She thinks it’s tuna,” Gran said.

“Shut that thing up,” Papa called from the porch. He had the Sunday paper and a cooler filled with beer. The game started at two.

“The secret to good chili is the secret to a happy marriage,” Gran said. She poured cumin into her open palm. I chopped onions and added them to the pot. Gran opened the bottle of garlic powder and poured it directly onto the beef and onions. “Be generous,” she said.

It began to snow. I asked Gran if we should make corn muffins from scratch. “We’ll use a mix,” she said. “Papa likes them better.”

We played gin rummy and took turns reading Good Housekeeping while the chili simmered. Gran had it timed it so that the corn muffins would be ready at halftime.

She gave me the final taste on a smooth wooden spoon. “Perfect.”

“Fill these,” she said, and handed me two bowls. “Now for Papa’s.” She ladled steaming chili into Papa’s favorite bowl, the one with the finger handle and the chip on the rim.

“There,” Gran said. She leaned over and spat into the bowl. “Papa’s dinner’s ready.”

By the Sea

22 Jul
Ben poured the last of the coffee and went out on the deck. A boy was on the rocks, casting a line into the water. He tipped his hat at Ben and Ben lifted a hand back. The sun began to rise.The boy was joined by a young girl with long brown hair. She punched the boy on the arm. Ben felt his chest constrict. He gulped coffee and it burned his throat. A seagull landed on the rock behind the boy and girl, hopped over to the boy’s bucket. The girl turned to see the thief skitter away, worms dangling from its beak, and she shrieked, the sound both cheerful and terrified.The bird hopped toward her, flapping its wings and screeching. She screamed again, and now Liz came running out onto the deck, a brown ribbon of tea spilling from her mug. Her robe was untied, revealing the faded Eagles t-shirt and Ben’s boxer shorts she’d worn to bed.

Ben and Liz locked eyes and over the happy shouting of the startled girl and the full-throated laughter of her brother. They thought of their daughter whose name they no longer spoke aloud, and the car that had swerved onto the beach, headlights sweeping the pier, the sound of her shriek seconds before the car struck, the spray of blood on the sand, the splash her body made as it hit the water. Ben wondered, not for the first time, why they still lived by the sea.