Xconnect




The One Summer of Our Lives

H.E. Francis


You must know first that Hog Island is the island nearest the town shore. You can see it from Thames Street or Hope or from any high point along the coast; and farther out in the harbor, long and low, Prudence Island; and farther off, out of sight, are the other two, Hope and Charity Islands. The Pilgrim Fathers, looking out and seeing it all, named them.
The ferry--sharp white gliding serenely back and forth all day long--binds Hog and Prudence and town, fifteen minutes to Hog Island, thirty to Prudence, then back. Much of the year you catch glimpses of the island through the town's thick trees, but in winter you can see it clearly through the webs of naked branches: a tiny thing no more than a blot in the harbor, a rough irregular clump of earth and rock outcrops and berry bushes and shrubs and low trees deformed by winds; the scrubby soil can nurture no tall, graceful trees like those which so distinguish town. And you can see the scattered modest summer cottages which people retreat to weekends or stretches of summer to escape, change the view, indulge . . .
Our house on Hope Street faced the harbor. All my early life I looked out toward Hog Island and beyond. But my family had no cottage there. For the long summer vacation ours was the grandparents' on Long Island, so we'd go from town as if to another country and return in the fall for school. I might have missed Hog Island but for the Church and our Sunday school teacher.
The Congregational Church was a rare beauty, stone with upward climbs of ivy and with Gothic deeps within--beautiful and suggestive darks, shadowed mystery, two rows of long, high, recessed stained-glass windows which cast all the richest colors of heaven and hell over the congregation. Above the nave, a Gothic design led the eye high up to a tiny point of light, as if the church had been built around that light--it made that tiny glow infinite. Whenever interest in the sermon flagged, I could not resist following the nave's intricate web upward to that light. When I lowered my eyes, they brought down that white spot in reverse, and it lingered black, as optical images will, before clearing. Something of our Church's generous view of humanity seemed to reside in the rich extremes of the church structure, in the light the sun cast and in the dark deeps. Beside but set back from the church--connected to it by a passageway to an anteroom--was the Sunday school, the same stone and ivy, but filled with ordinary daylight.
It was the Sunday school which took us out on our first forays: summer picnics on the shore, Easter services as the rising sun blazed the bay gold, bivouacs, youth treks up Mount Hope to bring King Philip and the Narragansett Indian wars to life, berrying excursions to Prudence, and--when we got into Mr Bennett's class--the once or twice-a-year weekend at his cottage on Hog Island.
His mother and father were, when I entered his classes, getting too old and ailing to go through what for them was the arduous task of preparing, carting, and unloading a weekend's or especially a summer's needs--dependent on a constant traffic between the island and town--so Mr B, who thought the island was a miniature paradise, delighted in filling his cottage with us. There would be beds set up in all the rooms, including a cot in a corner of the kitchen and cots on the back screened-in porch. He would keep us running. He had a meticulous system, an order of entertainment tantamount to exercises--breakfast, hike, bird and sea curiosity (study), lunch, interlude (when he could wander unguided), swimming, games, supper, table games and then radio, early bedtime.
Interlude and early bedtime were the richest experiences. We were enjoying the early agonies of maturing puberty--hot nuts, blazing balls, hard gonads (we had a dictionary of descriptions)--and hoped Mr B, whatever he might have heard, would be discreet enough to retreat behind his partial deafness so we could indulge in whispering, in talk which gave us the illusion of becoming experienced. One or two of us or a small group sneaked together to enjoy vicariously the experiences of Everett Wood, the tallest, most developed of us all, homely daring--plenty of gall, in fact--who could boast experience and told it, evoking wonder, tension, mystery, ocasionally even the illusion of ecstasy, by nurturing in his nearness the possibility of promises fulfilled. (Everett? Why not us? And after, surely the others--no different from me-- must have fantasized alone and in silence). And in our eyes would materialize those images from class, the cafeteria, the school grounds--they would stand, almost touchable, in the center of our circle, or between us, made visible so that if we raised a hand we could touch them at last-- Helen, Yvonne, Louise, Lucy. Our hands could travel slowly down long black hair (Edna's), blonde (Jo's), red (Beatrice's), along chins, down necks, over breasts, waists, hips, our bodies even at this moment trembling and about to die as we imagined pressing at last against those thighs, our fingers at last running along the soft quivers of flesh in the most delicate invisible places, in visions which no filthy name could make less enchanting, blight, soil. So, together, each of us would nonetheless be touching his own dream and, soon, or finally, somehow all the disparate images would blend like images in the kaleidoscopes all of us had when very young, flicks of one bit of glass, glimmers of separate colors, now Lucy, Edna, Yvonne, etc., in a kind of passionate juxtaposition as one's hand turned the cylinder so that suddenly--as if one had said her name--all the bits made a beautiful and perfectly balanced ideal image, a stylized rose, a stained- glass image--and so we would fall for the briefest moment into silence in which at last someone would whisper softer than the finger of desire subtly touching flesh: "Rita."
Rita.
The word contained all. Rita.
She was small and dark and perfectly shaped. Everything about her softly invited--light breath, quick eyes dark brown in her white face, the long dark hair we were certain longed to be touched, her soft slow walk that made her flesh seem to sigh. She. Unlike most girls then, she wore bold touches of makeup. The bold red of her mouth made cries in us, the dark shadows implied mystery, the blued lids the exotic, and her dark lashes Revlon intimacies: and she spread the air with Arabian Nights scents. Most alluring of all, with an air indifferent (who could know what it concealed?), she seldom looked at anyone unless spoken to and then she turned on you the warmest brown gaze so directly as to baffle, drawing blushes and bungled words, and in turn gave out a soft throaty laughter so palpable we'd feel we'd been brushed against. The air, life, promised . . . and soon . . . fulfillment. We could bear class, band or football or play practice because night would come and . . .
When it did come, each of us would be alone or with another girl. Perhaps, despite our genuine affection for our date or steady, the haunt of Rita hung over us. Maybe we all thought, as I did, Everett's with her. Or Mannie. Or Burt. Or Dante. For--truth was--somebody was with her.
Because she would have someone. Already there was an aura about her on a Monday morning sitting in the classroom, after the pre-class whispers by whoever had over the weekend lain in Paradise--larger he seemed, swelled with more than pride over his masculine achievement, a kind of marathon performance behind him, more heroic than any four-letter man. It is not frequent in life that one sits in the same room with a living legend. She was legend. The other girls, the teachers and parents surely must have felt the naturalness of what Rita desired and the unnaturalness of her promiscuity; and anyone who discerned Rita's aura must have genuinely felt an admiration for her beauty and a lament for what it and living with a divorced mother who worked and could not properly raise and accompany or watch over her daughter could lead to.
"Don't give me that shit about parents and divorce and poor," Everett would say. "It's in her. She was born hungry for it. Drives me crazy. You should see her--it's not just she can tease you into anything--she doesn't--she just lies there, moves, every little move's to burn you, set your balls on fire, only you get to knowing she doesn't even try to excite you, it's in her, she's built so's she's got to have it, she can't be without it, it's what she's for--I can't tell you--you should see her. I think sometimes she doesn't even know who's with her, it's not me Everett Woods, it's just it happening. She throws her arms back over her head, her arms crossed over her face and moves, jesusgod, moves so even I'm not here anymore, takes me down so's, after, I want to keep kissing her whole body, I do, she lets me--I mean she doesn't let me, she just lies there, she could be sleeping--sleeping, f'chrissake, while I'm touching and kissing all her body, and her paying no attention like she knows it's got to happen--jesus, if I could understand!--and I could pick her up and shake her, I could kill her but I can't stop, just keep my mouth, my tongue, going over her skin, and I don't know, then it's morning and she's gone and me thinking about it, what the hell's wrong with me I'm doing these things? What a fool! But in the back of my head all day's night coming, only maybe she'll be gone with somebody else, she doesn't care if it's me or anybody else humping her, it's humping, not us, and all day long thinking it I get crazier, somebody's there before me, and work goes right out of my head, christ you can't know, I'm going out of my fucking mind, she's making me, I can't blame her, she doesn't care, it's my fault, but who else can I blame, the bitch, that whore, yes she is, a whore, she was born one, nobody could make herself that good, no, to be that good your blood and bone and heart's got to be born for it, it's like something made her that way so she hasn't got a chance and now me either, I live for it."
We would go back home after the weekends at Mr B's cottage on Hog Island with experiences of Rita become memories, and I'm sure we had the glazed look of those who are not listening to mortals, who stare at the speaker but who see the real beyond the visible tarnishing of this world.
And when one of us--in my cellar, in Hardy's garage, in the Mount Hope woods-- mentioned Hog Island, the very name conjured up--from the variety of stories gathered from the growing body of boys who had "had" her--the many Ritas, the multiplying delights and mysteries of Pandora's box. So, after, Rita and Pandora's Box and the island would come to be synonymous.
Our--let me call it love--would go on, years.
Of all Mr B's students four of us stuck close together--and maybe Rita loomed large in responsibility for it--Everett, Hardy, Dean, and I. Most of the time it would happen that Everett and I ended up in Mr B's parents' double bed. It was comic because the three of us had never "seen" Everett and we had half a bet that we never would. Everett--jock, built, half scornful of us inexperienced ones--was very private about his body. We never saw him when he removed his yellowed underwear; if he had pyjamas nobody ever saw them. He wouldn't swim--strange for one who lived on the harbor--but sit on the shore while we swam; and as athletic as he was, hard- -we all envied him his long hard muscled thinness--he never tanned, or never let himself, and his skin was too white, even veered toward the parched faded not quite unhealthy color of his shorts. Of course, the three of us, if in a friendly way, joked about how he, especially for such an athletic type, shunned showers. So reaping him as a sleeping partner was no final prize, but it meant I was closest, through the horse's mouth, to Rita; and before Mr B said, "Light's out. Morning'll be here before you know it, gents" (he always called us "gents"), Hardy and Dean and any others who had come over with us would huddle together. I have to say that Mr B trusted us, never warning us against suggested outlets for the increasing stress of puberty; and, if he ever heard us talking about fellow students, he never let on what the subject was or forbad any topic. Close, he simply kept a respectful distance. But lights out was lights out, and he expected us to sleep; if whispering went on, he didn't expect to hear it.
Some of our parents occasionally asked who'd be at Hog Island for the weekend. For most of them an answer like "the Sunday school class" was enough; for Hardy's and mine, not. We had to enumerate, though if it came to names, other parents would be a little leery when Everett was mentioned; and Hardy's mother would always say, "The Woods boy?" and if Hardy pretended not to hear, she'd say. "Hardy! You mean that Everett?" Hardy and I thought it stupid. How many Everetts did we know? "That" meant--and none of us was so "well off" though some had "family"--poor, son of a divorced couple (half as bad as Rita, maybe), living in a tenement, and stories that had gotten around with the usual hay-fire speed of talk in town. Our mothers were geniuses at getting all that in simply in the tone they gave to the phrase that Everett. Naturally it had the classic effect: forbidding bound us closer to Everett.
Maybe that was the danger: closer to Everett, we were closer to Rita. Through him we touched her. He took us closer, almost to the dream. He might have led us to a precipice which thrilled with the inseparable pleasures and perils in sight.
She and Everett were a year ahead of us, so we had always the feeling of looking up to them. We saw more than heard Rita (she was always a slow sensual motion in a corridor, going up the stairs, crossing the schoolyard). But when she did speak, it struck me with wonder when Hardy, rapt, made a hoarse whisper (I felt that sound it as if he'd been drawn over stones till he was raw and I caught in his despair a sound of salvation), whispered as if to himself, "Have you ever heard such a voice?"
Voice.
His question sent me closer: I realized in some part of him he had been, was, closer to her than I. Closer to Everett. Or that Everett had taken him closer to Rita. Perhaps--without knowing it then--I felt, realized, knew--for the vagueness of her voice and its clarity to him made me aware that something I didn't understand fully was happening. It may have been that some part of him had leaped the ravine: suddenly it gaped between my boyhood and his manhood. It was that precise moment, I believe now, when he took (at least in his mind) that leap. He became identified with Everett. He left me and Dean, though he would go on chumming with us. He was the link, suspended, between us and Everett. He was that much closer to Rita.
And Rita knew it. Was she aware that Hardy was always somewhere within range, listening, even when her words were not clear? And we knew it, Dean and I, because Everett, having made us aware, had brought us within conscious range of that mellow if throaty softness, a lure, a snare, a sibilance that insinuated, stroking.
It wasn't that Rita reached out to Hardy--that would be the last thing. She never had made overtures, had no need to, for she had what could be called a waiting line for her favors (and there would be whispers, smiles, pokes, laughs suggesting who had taken her in his rumble seat, against the school wall in dark, around Colt's drive, down the ferry by the Mount Hope bridge). She was simply, with that finest instinct of the most sensitive and sensual woman, susceptible to those elusive auras some men exude. And as certain boys in their own unfulfilled desires are extremely sensitive to the real or subliminal outlets or desires of others, some of us soon became aware that "in the air" there was an actual, if invisible, union between Hardy and Rita. You'd think it must have flattered Rita, for Hardy was--girls and boys alike, teachers, townspeople knew it--a promise and a catch: a flash of wit, a superior and directed intelligence, a full sensibility, a quiet personality that could dazzle with unexpected spontaneity. He was handsome in a serene unstartling way. But Rita, if she ever were flattered, never showed it. She was--what we loved about her or what enchained us to the idea of her--Rita: and so, indifferent. She simply was. She contained. She was contained. What could we do to the center of the world but revolve about it?
Surely she would have gone with any one of us had we dared make a pass, but in one way or another the weight of convention made us aware of the immeasurable difficulty of overcoming the mind's mountains at the thought of joys which could cost us so much agony if we weren't careful. But I think what really held us back then was our sense of fraternity, our loyalty to Everett. For already we knew Everett did not know how much he thought of her as his, even if there were others, no matter how many; how sure he was--if he said the word, laid down the law, had to make her choose--that she would drop the others for the real pleasures he could offer Rita from what he had always hidden from us in those yellowed shorts.
So it seemed then. But in fact it would be a couple of years before he would actually make any demand of her--if that was the demand he did make (and who will ever know?); and that alone may suggest that all that time when he had thought he was sure of himself with Rita he had lived the agony of doubt.
And--it was a mistake but we did it--the three of us would sometimes tease him: "If anybody was ever hooked, it's you, Everett." If anybody, if anybody, if anybody . . . We'd laugh, till one day he said he'd fix us if we believed that. He'd show us, stupes that we were. "I'll fix you all up, get you all laid, one good gang bang to show you. You game? Oh, you can talk, yeah, but how 'bout it? Put your cards on the table. I'll have her there. I can get maybe Terry's cottage. I'll fix you up once and for all."
"Shee-it. Who's shy?" Dean said.
But over that summer, whoever was or was not shy, first Hardy, then I, then Dean came up, for whatever reason, with some apparently necessary begging off--we could not get together on the proposition. Perhaps it awakened Rita to wondering which of us resisted, which she had to weaken, but she and Everett and Hardy had graduated in May and all through that school year we saw each other only a few times. Everett had got a rare job in the cotton mill as an apprentice pin-setter so we seldom saw him. The rift between us students and workers had set in--and when he wasn't with Rita, or maybe some other girl to try to tease or goad Rita to jealousy, he would tramp the harbor side of town, Thames Street, in and out of Mannie's tavern, thinking he'd spy her there. "That bitch! I swear if I lose my job I'll kill her. Every minute I got her in my head, I can't get her out, I keep wondering who she's with." Hardy had gone into his father's advertising firm in Providence to get some experience before he went off for a university training in public administration and, if we seldom saw Everett, at least once every two weeks or so we went out with Hardy almost as if he had not graduated. Perhaps he could not leave us. He had the regular use of his father's Ford then and, perhaps because of that, a quiet antagonism sprang up--on Everett's side--between Everett and him because Rita lived on The Neck, a narrow stretch of land which the highway between Bristol and Warren ran through--a long walk, longer if Rita weren't at her mother's house (which Everett could never enter but hover near) after he'd made the trip on foot. So he skulked, sulking, whenever we were around in Hardy's father's Ford, though he'd consent to come with us, of course: our bond was still unbroken, Rita still bound us.
By then we could see that work--and Rita--had changed Everett. He had grown, developed, more animal--and forgotten school; had picked up mill talk, the half-syntax of the Italians and Portuguese immigrants, cut and blunt; and we could see he brooded. His teeth, finely serrated, were nicotine stained too dark, and when light caught his open mouth only the edges gleamed. And even when he said, "You guys never came through. Chicken, that's what. How 'bout that gang bang?" laughing, cajoling with pokes, I could see flame in him, feel fury repressed in the pokes and little shoves--out of affection, friendship, yes, but inverted, though I wonder if he could have known how much animosity then. He wouldn't let up. It was finally Dean who said, "Kee-rist, why all the fuss about a piece of ass. Set it up or shut up," but with good humor, and cupped his hand over his fly and shook it: he was ready--anytime.
"Meet me Saturday--here. Eight o'clock?" Everett said. We were on the Common, hanging about the bandstand. "And no fooling?"
We kept our word. That was October, close to Hallowe'en. I remember because everywhere the dry leaves underfood were noisy, the first overt sound of our discomfort, for, first, the meeting was not to be on the island, where it was always safe. We were to pick Rita up at The Neck and then go around Colt's Drive to a secluded spot Everett knew off the road. Colt's Drive, the three miles or so of it running through woods and mostly along the harbor, was lovers' territory--and that too was partly against it because on the road between Bristol and Warren were night spots from which people sneaked out to the drive to park and romance and knock off a piece, a quickie. And I think we were nervous too because somehow Dean, Hardy, and I knew, despite our separations, we were under some Hitler or Mussolini aegis which Everett actually embodied in his attempt to control us still, perhaps that part of him which we associated with Thames Street, the mill, the taverns, and the language and company of immigrants. And it became clear--or so I felt even then--before we had picked up Rita that his talk was mere strutting. "You think she's got me under her thumb. I'll show you who's top man. I've got her where I want her, you'll see." And the strutting was a revelation of his lack of confidence, his fear of losing even the part of her he did have. Was he seeking an irreversible control over her? Did he imagine she would somehow be his slave? Maybe, I thought before the night was over, if he'd made sure she'd had every available male in town, then there'd be no one else but him left for her. He'd have proven his point.
She had moseyed down the highway some distance from her house and was standing under a chestnut tree when Hardy drove up. Dean got out and opened the door. She sat between him and Hardy. At once all the night seemed to open up, to palpitate; and her scent--it must have been 5&10 hyacinth--made the dark bloom with invisible flowers, brought an evanescence promising touch . . . She herself was a pale flower, all silver under the moon, in a grayish blue dress with a low cut and such white shoulders and breasts of which she seemed entirely unconscious. She startled us with how right her naturalness was. "Dean . . . Hardy . . ." She murmured each of our names with that throaty touch. I confess the hairs on my arms tingled at her voice. I imagined how Hardy, so sensitive to her voice, must have quivered with her flush against him. I had visions of him passing out at the wheel. She said almost nothing else, but laughed now and then as we kidded one another out of, as she must have known though you'd never have guessed it, nervousness.
"There--," Everett said. It was a wide spread of dark under thick, nearly leafless limbs, a play of patches of light.
What staggered again--to our relative innocence--was that she was a marvel of apparent indifference.
We got out. Rita, her long dark hair in a quiet blow from the harbor, raised her arms to the night and sighed and laughed and went over under a maple. In a second she had dropped the dress--there was a quick awe at the sudden unsheathed streak of white standing so still--and then sank onto Hardy's father's lap robe which Everett had spread there. Such ease! We stood, struck--all tremors.
Everett wouldn't have that.
"Well--?"
Nobody moved. For a moment the tension mounted. Then Dean heroically said, "I asked for it," and something strident about "not leaving a virgin in the lurch." When he began taking his shirt off, we turned our back, I sank to my knees, the others gathered around me, but I think it was more in the hope that we would in our talk drown out the sounds, for clearly we heard Dean's zipper, the rough chafe of his pants; and then, in voices we would at any other time have burlesqued in ourselves, we did talk, mostly in clipped questions: What gives in Providence, Hardy? Whose mother reported the drinking behind the Y? Pat Silkie's the first to be drafted-- you think you can hold out long, Everett? What was--? But the sounds, unbearable--chafe and breath and our own blood, throbs surely--broke in, made hiatuses of such stillness that we found ourselves listening; and when there was a long subsiding and another stillness, abruptly our own breaths broke, we kicked, scuffed, shook our heads, laughed.
We--Hardy and I, at least--couldn't look Dean in the face. He said nothing, sat against the car. I wanted words. We all must have, but Everett spoke: "Let's shake a leg. What's with you guys? What say, Hardy?" I don't know why Hardy, but there was an edge, goad to Everett's voice--and a little triumph? It hadn't occurred to me before that maybe of the three it was Hardy he might not like. I'm tempted now to say liked least, for an antipathy, an animosity, began to creep into his voice, his looks. Even his suggestions, and particularly this one, began to suggest the results of venom.
Without a word Hardy moved. We sat, consciously striving to ignore, and it was not long before we were aware that silence loomed with its own reverberations--nothing was happening-- and presently Hardy was standing beside us, staring over the car into the night. "Jesus H!" Everett said. Yet Hardy went on staring. I wanted to hear a breath of struggle, something to indicate what had happened--or not happened--to Hardy, a prelude or premonition of what would be my own state. "Okayokayokay," Everett whispered, "let's get on with it. Paul."
But I was limp, petered--with Hardy then; and with the others there, I knew I couldn't. All my training made me know that the joy of lying, stealing, and sex, if you dared any of them, was secret and, if church teaching was any indication, a suffering longer than any fleeting secret joy.
I shook no.
At that Everett let out a spate of curses. Hardy wasn't having any of it. "Hey, wait a minute." Dean and I stood behind him, but Everett's cursing was not for us. He went straight to Rita. He didn't stop swearing for one instant, it was one uninterrupted flow--in fast fury: "All the time me thinking you was good and could turn anybody on, nobody could resist you, you'd suck them right into you, never say die, and look at you, can't even excite them, it don't work. What the hell's wrong with you? I thought you was a woman, a real woman, you good for nothing--" and we for a sec had to drop our heads, turn away. Only Hardy said again, "Hey!" but Everett had her by the arm then, jerked her up. She was dressing. Beside him she shrank smaller and smaller. "You hear me? You listening?" But Rita said nothing, stood motionless and silent as long as he held her, and that silence must have infuriated him more because he cried, "You! Get any man in town, can you? Keep 'm coming back, drive men crazy, can you? Well, how 'bout it?" and shoved her back down on the blanket, struck at her and missed as she went down. "Hey, Everett! Cut it!" Hardy charged straight at him. "You stay out of this. It's between me and her, see?" "Don't touch her again," Hardy said. "What's it to you? You got some priority? You got rights? What'd she spread for you one time?" "Everett--" It was Rita. Just the word from her, no sound all through the dark, halted the four of us, if only a quick hiatus. Maybe it was because she'd said his name, she acknowledged him as the key to action, centered him, and he was about to speak when Hardy said, "Look, we came together in my car--we're going together. I'll take you and drop you, Rita. Everett, you can stay with her or do what you like. The rest of us are going back to town."
There was iron in Hardy's voice. More than anything else we all were all aware of that, though in a last gesture of domination Everett took Rita's arm and shoved--practically flung--Rita ahead of him and picked up Hardy's blanket.
All the way back, nobody said a word. From the back seat I watched Rita's head, her hair quivering, and sometimes, it looked to me, deep breaths lifted her shoulders. In town Everett got out fast and followed her and before we had pulled out we could hear his raised voice. "Think we better stick around?" Hardy said. "Rita wouldn't like that," I said, so he drove off.
That was our silent break with Everett. If, after that, we never sought him and he retreated to his mill world and left us to school and Hardy's work, his presence lingered, insinuated, at times loomed:
For Rita bore his presence. The sight of her in the 5&10, on the school grounds or the Common, walking the road to The Neck (few of us had cars in those days), always returned me to that night. From somewhere I would expect Everett to appear, stalking, grim, possessive, even brutal. And though I saw Hardy less, when I did see him, he had Rita more on his mind. I knew that because, crossing the Common during Easter week, headed toward St. Elizabeth's, the Portuguese church, to watch the Crucifixion procession, always a moving drama of images carried majestically through the streets, preceded by the priest and the incense, I came across Rita on a bench. I might simply have waved and gone on, but I was so certain she'd seen me and consciously turned away, even huddled, surely to make herself less visible. Her action betrayed her. Why should she do that?
"Rita, is that you?"
Her hand rose, her head tilted, acknowledging; and when I sat she said--it was early warm, unusually so--"I've been yearning for sun all winter." And as if some warm burgeoning was going on inside her, my own body felt a press toward her. "I've found a job." "You have!" "You'll laugh, Paul--in the pharmacy; but Mr Daws says if I'm interested, he'll start me in on little tasks in the pharmacy and send me off to classes in Providence." "That's wonderful, Rita, simply wonderful." I didn't realize how quickly my hand went out to touch her until her eyes darted to it and she drew back almost imperceptibly and then I caught sight of her left cheek--a bruised dark ran from her cheek almost to her ear. "What happened?" Her hand--her eyes vague--rose quickly as if she too had just discovered it, and then said, "I had a little tussle." And I knew at once, though I'm sure she'd never have said, that it was Everett--and over Hardy, who else? "You--or somebody--shouldn't play so rough," I said. She laughed it off, then eased into that almost unshakable indifference, as if, now, she had succumbed to sun, given herself up to it as completely as if coupling, closing her eyes for long instants and then, opening them, fixing on a far tree, too still. "Bye, Rita." I went on to the Portuguese church on Wood Street: and when the statue of the Virgin passed, carried on the shoulders of four of the men, it was as if--sitting there in her stillness, the constancy of her eye on a far sight, the indifference to everything happening around her--I could not help seeing Rita. I wondered what blasphemy those around me would accuse me of if they knew my thoughts.
I don't know how it came to pass but all through spring, after that meeting, I would see her--run into her, I want to say now, but it was more than that, though it took Dean to make me aware of what was happening. I would see her at what I now call all my favorite spots: on a bench off under the trees at the Common; behind the school near the stables of the Colt house, which the movie Barrymores, mostly Diana, through Ethel's marriage, legendarily visited then; or at the foot of Burton Street by the Herreshoff docks, where Endeavor I and II and Ranger I and II and other cup defenders stood in drydock; or at the foot of Union Street with its lovely view of Poppasquash Point and the harbor and a vagueness beyond which led my thoughts to travel and the future. It seems inevitable to me now that Rita should have been there. Though she still made up with a kind of blatant beauty, she had taken to wearing the black so prevalent as everyday dress among the old world Italian and Portuguese women in town, though low and tight and of perhaps some kind of jersey which seemed to ride loose against her, natural as skin. And though she was waiting for no one, you would swear that like any girl alone anywhere she was.
Everett had taken to beating her regularly then. Whether I came upon her face to face or from behind or sideways, she would sometimes make the slightest gesture, with great artfulness, to conceal a bruise, a hurt arm, a marked leg. Once, when I tried to get her to take her shoes and stockings off and wade into the water with me, she resisted, saying it was a little too cold yet and she wasn't feeling quite that hot-blooded today and laughed, though her hand--and she almost never touched anyone of her own volition--rested lightly on my arm, belying her because it was hot, at least to me, and I pulsed with the heat of those fingers. When I left, I made the mistake of looking back and caught--and I was ashamed after--a glimpse of her as she rose: she limped off. Actually, we seldom spoke--or if I did, she seldom answered. Always, later, when she crept into my mind (insidiously I'd like to say, though I certainly didn't think that then), I wanted to ask a dozen questions about Everett--why he did what he did and, worse, why she let him, why she didn't resist or try to escape or report him or find a champion to ward him off (I knew she would if she'd wanted to). I left with that persistent question What kind of submission was it that was in her, that dictated to her, that she was submitting to? I couldn't understand it, and pondering it began to drive me crazy. Perhaps that was why I found myself wherever she was; and though I wanted to talk about it, to ask somebody, discuss it, I felt I'd be violating her sensibilities, revealing secrets that she carried that I was the only witness to (though if I'd really stopped to think about it, that surely was not so).
It was getting on toward graduation and I was driving myself--driving because I was tempted to drift through lazy afternoons toward where Rita would be, though really I could not yield if I were going to earn the needed scholarship. And because I did do some drifting, I hadn't seen much of Dean, who now came by to study for exams as always. "You haven't been by lately," I said. "You haven't been here." His reminder--direct, tart--made me realize how imperceptibly one habit weans you from another. "Are you getting the bug, Paul?" I didn't answer. Then I knew all the time he'd been aware--it made me aware of the frequency of my "appearances" (all I could call them) wherever Rita had been. Dean is direct--he has a clean eye and he models what he says after what he sees, straight. "I've seen the two of you." "You make it sound like dating or something." "You don't think it is?" I laughed. "I feel sorry for Rita. Besides, I keep running into her." "You think you do," he said. "Think!" "You don't think--I'd bet my bottom dollar--she sets it up?" "Sets--! Boy, you are crazy." "Maybe." "Nothing could be more casual. If she wanted to date me she could sure be more direct than that." "She sure could be. Maybe she doesn't even know it." "Rita not know? How could she do it and not know?" "She might be shocked to hear me say it, but maybe she can't even help it--she just does things, she has to." Has to. He seemed to know I knew that was true. "And all the time Hardy chafing at the bit," he said. "Hardy!" "Yes, Hardy. Why'd you think nobody's seen him? He's keeping that rumble seat busy." "Rita?" "Every minute he can swoop her off when Everett or somebody else's not after her. And don't think Everett's not running wild looking for her. It's all the mill talk. If he had a car, I'd hate to think of the condition Hardy'd be in-- You want to knock off some study with me or not?"
So it ended--or began. On the page, math or English or political science would dissolve; she would materialize, or Hardy, or Everett. At that moment I respected Dean sitting there, not the brightest of the four of us, but the most practical-- Do what you must. Do it now. And he did it with sufficiency rather than intensity, and with satisfactory achievement. The night of the intended gang bang, he was the only one to have gone straight to Rita and fulfilled the promise. The act personified him. He said, "If a girl wants it, give it to her--that way you get rid of her, it removes the mystery and you won't have her hanging around all the time."
Hardy. With Rita.
She just keeps moving from one to another. To Dean's detached eye her movements were clear. It seemed remarkable to me how he could read Rita that way--circling, narrowing the circle, zeroing in. Simply by being there, she drew me in as instinctively as the motionless black widow (our high school black widow?). And already--I couldn't help it--something in me was measuring the distance to the center. It cost me every bit of energy to concentrate; and if anyone in the school was known to be able to concentrate I was the one, why Dean and others wanted to study for exams with me. But Rita obtruded. She materialized by the bed, in the bathroom doorway; she would be sitting on the lawn, in a chair in the living room. Or I saw her face, that dark bruise, the fall of a lash. Or I felt her hand pulsing on my arm, so real that I could nearly speak her name.
But Hardy.
And then it would come--how they would be out this night; there would be moon, a breeze, the hush of waves, and the rustle of new leaves; they would lie on the ground or on the rumble seat; there would be sighs, flesh, her mouth soft and wet.
Hardy?
And suddenly for an instant we were together, all one--Dean and I graduating, all the class tears and laughs, Hardy and Everett at the parties in that moment between yesterday and tomorrow--the threshold which our parents and teachers harped on. "To the valedictorian." To me--with my speech on "Patriotism." Hitler and Mussolini were presences in the hall. My grandmother smiled as I opened the new pink Gruen watch which I would carry for years. Time. None of us realized what brief time there would be before Imperial Japan directed us toward Hitler and Mussolini. Before Dean. Before Everett . . . I see them fall, one, and one, leaving the air vacant, taking their eternal place in the mind, looming . . . And somewhere Hardy . . . In their wake I would enlist. . . .
Because all summer after graduation, though we were not aware, something in us knew that this was to be the one summer of our lives, the hard burning to the core. I knew--say knew, though I did not know, but felt--that hard core at the parties. Hardy came haunted, his face hollows--too suddenly thin (in only the few weeks during which we'd missed seeing him at the end of the term), his head a hang of rich dark hair, his eyes quick wet flames, his body bony but with a hard-muscle look, as if he'd been reduced but to a man, because there was no body to him now, but a line, he'd made a leap, his body taller. Yet he was handsome, attracting. The tarnish of his face said experience, suffering, fear even. He moved--his eyes, his nervous hands, even the quickest bone moves--as if he was touched raw. And through all the parties, Everett--too dressed, in clothes alien to him too, as if his wild physicality could not be contained (you expected his collar to pop, the tie to unknot, a button to go)--Everett was smoldering. And the two, Hardy and Everett, always within range, the two equidistant poles in the room, circling, moving simultaneously, made an unconcious compass.
And Dean: Observing me? He must have regretted that, contrary to all desire, he too had planted Rita in my mind: she grew, bloomed, flowered. The harbor water penetrated, the sensuous summer heat, the heavy scents made a moving breath against the skin--all slid, sensual, turned Rita, till in bed burning, till in the mind dying, till breath caught at each glimpse of what might be . . . Rita. And my imagination could not stray from thoughts of the rumble seat and Colt's drive and Hog Island--the two (Everett and Rita), and the two (Hardy and Rita) . . . I saw them. My mind laid them there, carried them. . . . What could stop it? What?
One thing only? I would be going to the university in the fall. That. It would save. But all my body said Do not save me. Sun was agony touching me, wind, it was all throes. Avoiding everybody heightened it. I brooded over my neglected body. My mind saw me running toward Rita, running from--because Hardy, because Everett and even Dean she belonged to. And to be with her would mean more than being with Rita. There was some bond, binding--terrible--in the idea of one being four, Rita containing four, even wanting to. I was afraid--but desired--that: to be lost--in her--with them? But I did not want Everett's madness, or Hardy's, even though I did not yet know madness--complete disruption, or almost anyway--till one afternoon when she passed the house. Perhaps I was afraid I'd miss everything and regret it all my life. She passed all the time now, at the same hour almost, logically too, for she had to pass the house to and from work (she walked all the way to The Neck and back). I was sure she would linger. She passed, surely knowing I was there watching, because I was. I don't think I wanted to hide behind the curtains--surely she would see through the sheers, see the motion. Why shouldn't I hide? Didn't it prove something to her, encourage, even goad--or return her goading? Because by then I was sure it was that--she was waiting, wanted, but could wait. Didn't her indifference say that patience was the most natural attribute of all--as if the body knew it could not be denied. Simply, it was a matter of time. It was August. I had so little time left. I was afraid. I was afraid to let go of the summer which might never be again, offer itself again. So when I saw her coming down Hope Street from the pharmacy, I went out front and sat on the porch railing. Even at that she might have gone by without speaking. Where was she? Maybe we all wanted to know that--where she moved--because she seemed, and always, elsewhere, in a place as physical as she was, as here was. She seemed to inhabit a private terrain, if invisible to us, surely so visible and concrete to her that ours must have seemed alien, and yet the two terrains needed to come together, fuse, or was there anything for her in either?
You must know it is all now speculation, that then it was simply a whirl, an intense, passionate groping into what dissolution I could not--none of us could--understand: except that we were on the edge of an emotional ravine, feeling all the thrill of peril which convention made too real--temptation and dread, surely the most enticing of all states. "Hello, Rita." It was not my own voice. She smiled--perhaps at that sound--and stopped and looked up with that intimate yet far look, as if she gave you all her gaze but what she saw was too far in you to be you or maybe too much you. I went down and sat on the first step. "Still enjoying the job?" She smiled. "Enjoy!" "Well, it's money." "It's tomorrow," she said. I asked, "What does that mean?" "A beginning," she said, "a way out." She must have had The Neck in mind and her mother's cottage and whatever life they had together that she perhaps was always escaping from. "You mean the classes? When do they start?" "About the time you go, September classes begin- -in the city--and then, two years from now, I figure, I'll be going to Providence for good. Everything's there." I wanted to ask if Everett or Hardy would be. Or what they were to her. But because I didn't, couldn't, it turned me--worse--onto what I might be to her, if that were possible. And I said, abruptly, "And before I even get to know you?" She smiled. I said, "It isn't as if I haven't had all the chances," assuming her words, what must be from her point of view the truth. She smiled again, Her finger teased her thigh. And I said, "All those afternoons talking to you." And she said, "Yes." Perhaps I imagined she turned her head the slightest away, as she did the day of the bruise, and she got up and brushed her dress, a flowered dirndl that swayed when she stood again, and she started off--but quickly I stood. "We could swim," I said. "Rita?" And she turned back, that far smile--for me, but through me. "We could." The words were far down in her throat. "At night," I said. "I could be at the Hog Island dock. We don't need--" She said, "I'll be at Emma Weeks' place for the whole weekend." Emma was a cook at the Belvidere Hotel, dubious, a little shady, to be honest, and the cottage was where Emma'd grown up with her father before moving to town for a job. Mostly it was empty; kids would even sneak in and use the place. She must have taken to Rita. It was Wednesday. Two days! "Friday," I said. "I'll be there--I'll take the nine o'clock ferry, I'll--" "I'll be at Emma's," she said. And she left. I watched her all the way up the street, though I'd swear I'd closed my eyes and held her moving inside me as if I'd already touched her and couldn't let her go. For two days my imagination played games with me: she was everywhere, as if that instant she had melded into my eyes and my eyes set her down everywhere before me. I could not remove the image.
Thursday I woke to fire--air, grass, walls, whatever I touched was fire. I kept close. I was sure my parents would see fire, Rita, Hog Island in my eyes; know. Because I lied. I said I was going to Hog Island. And my mother said, "Where?" And I said, too quickly, "Mr B's." And time would not move. Friday would never come. And Thursday in bed, burning, I had all I could do to refrain from hands. Rita. Rita.
I knew I was committed now because I'd lied--I had to go, couldn't undo it, explain.
I could not wait for dark. Thank God the days were shorter. And I'd bathed, dressed, checked my wallet and pockets a dozen times, and then quietly said to my parents, "I'll see you," closed the door, a tremendous pound of blood bludgeoning my whole body, and for a brief interval I stood there, could not move; and when I did go down the back porch steps, a voice guttural and strange whispered, "Paul," with such urgency--!
"Hardy!" I cried, too loud. He drew me around the house. He was--his grip--frenzied. "Say, Hard--" His fingers dug, he was too close to me, his breath. "Listen--," he said. I waited, but he did not go on. He was staring-- He was sweating, not sweat, but a fine sheen of oil--his skin gleamed in the near dark; and his eyes glittered, but so deep and dark I could see how he had sunk to bone; and that dark hang of hair gave him a distraught look. His hand was like bone on my wrist and his breath hard against me. "Stop, Hardy. Stop it." But he held--just held--stared: "Don't, Paul," he said with such pain I quivered. "Don't." "Don't what, Hard?" I could see his eyes well-- He couldn't say. In his clutch I felt him near breaking. His fingers made all the words he could not say. "Don't go, don't go, don't go," he broke. "Don't!" He thrust me off, turned, and ran down the walk, his shirt and trousers loose over that thin body.
"Hardy!" I cried, but not loud, suppressed, fearing my parents might hear.
Now--he'd given me no time--jealousy came. Could Rita have told him? He wants Rita to himself, he's got a date, he can't stand anybody else being around her. Or maybe it's Everett. Or she's got something else going for the night? But Hard! It was his voice. I felt the aftereffects now, as if a torn fingernail had scraped my insides. Now it was his voice, the wretchedness, the glinted tears, what he had lost. I thought, He almost doesn't know where he is, what he's doing. It must have taken all his energy to concentrate long enough to remember Paul, who I was, what he had to say. Or why couldn't he say what he meant?--Hardy, who could, who had always been so articulate--and to me.
Don'tgoDon'tgoDon'tgo. I couldn't stop hearing him. Nobody would have a reason if Hardy hadn't, I thought. And if I'd been confused and furious when he ran off, by the time I walked along Hope and down to the ferry landing, I knew if it were that important to Hardy I wouldn't go--he had a reason, though part of me, disappointed, urged me to go. Surely his reason was selfish, and if I found out later that it was to keep Rita to himself I'd regret not having gone. The ferry had just left. I lingered on the dock. I watched the tiny lights moving swiftly in the dark until the boat docked briefly at Hog Island and then headed for Prudence. Hardy must have made it. I would not go now. I would not spoil his fun--or whoever's--though I lamented how near I had come and it gnawed still: What was in her? How could she . . .? I was determined to get as close as I could to an answer. There was time yet, if little, before Labor Day and Harvard. I sat hours on the dock, watching the ferry make its rounds, thinking maybe Hardy would come back, sometimes thinking maybe he hadn't gone, that I should have, that he would still appear. Perhaps I was afraid to go home because I had lied and now I'd have to lie again; and all the time I knew my parents must have, more than suspected, known, for there had been not a word at church of any of Mr B's crowd going to the island or it would surely have come out in casual talk. Well, I went back, and there was not the least sign of surprise from them when I said I'd changed my mind, not a lie but a lie; and to this day, through all the years, the lie of that night has never been brought up--maybe only because that night itself weighs so heavily now: because for two days, the weekend, I waited, hardly able to bear it till Monday, when Rita would go by. I planted myself in the front window so I could mosey out when I saw her coming. But nobody. I'd missed her? All day I waited till her time to go home: No Rita. I went down to the pharmacy and sat over a coke till I found she'd missed work for the first time. It was then a kind of madness began to grow: they were still on the island, Hardy and Rita; they hadn't come back; they wouldn't; they were . . . I imagined all sorts of things--pleasures, dreams, desires, perversions, delights beyond delight--that would have kept them there, that I was missing, that didn't really belong only to Hardy, Everett, all the others. . . . And they were there, enjoying them in dark, in broad day . . . I'd take the ferry, I'd go there, I'd surprise them. I went home for a jacket.
My mother said, "You don't know . . .? They're looking for Everett."
"Everett!"
"Angus--Mr Walcott at the Mill--said he's been strange lately--and today he didn't show up for work. And his mother--she called, she's been calling around--hasn't seem him for two days. You were gone. I called Dean."
I could tell she sensed disaster. It took all her effort to get the phrases out; and she seldom fixed her eyes so undeviatingly on me, as if not daring to blink. "Paul . . .?"
"Dean?" I said.
"He's gone looking. It seems . . ."
"Ma?"
"Dean says maybe Everett's looking for . . . Rita, and right away, when he called Hardy--"
"Hardy!"
"His father's car hasn't been moved . . . since Friday. So he hasn't been to work either."
"Hardy," I said. "Hardy." And I was running then, my mother calling out, "Where--?"
"To Hog Island," I said, hearing her echo "Hog Island" behind me.
I raced the few minutes to the dock.
But I did not get to Hog Island.
The ferry had just left, and Dean was coming off the dock.
I could tell he didn't want to look at me. He was sick, struggling.
"Dean? Jesus, tell me!"
He sat a minute on the dock edge. He held his head in his hands, steadying. "I found Everett."
"He's all right!"
"He's all right."
"Where?"
"At Emma Weeks' place."
"But Hardy and--"
"Yes!" He cried it out, broke. "Everett, he found her."
I dared not speak. Dean couldn't for a time. I think I was crying.
"They--the police--thought Everett had cut her. Cut."
"Not Hardy. Dean, where's Hardy?"
"Him too. They thought Everett. But Hardy. She was alone. And some people out fishing found him on the far side of the island, cut too, with the hunting knife, by himself, and the tide got him, was pulling-- And Everett, it took all the men to hold him down, poor Everett, and saying her name, nothing but her name--he couldn't stop."
"Hardy," I said.
How he came to me! Don't go. I saw the eyes, hollows, in the dark, the bony head and hang of hair, the sagged clothes. And I knew I had to see.
"I'm taking the next ferry."
"If I have to fight you, you won't," he said simply. "They're bringing them back. There won't be anything there."
"But the place. I have to see the place." I didn't know why I wanted to be there, see the place. Or see.
"Hog Island will always be there, Paul," he said.
"All our lives," he said.
I couldn't imagine the streets, the air without them. I could see Rita Rita Rita moving, I could see the Ford, the Ford was Hardy, Hardy behind the wheel, Hardy streaking up and down the street--
We sat against the pilings a long time, silent.
By the time I reached the house, all the town knew.
My mother's eyes were red so I saw she'd been on the phone. She held to me a long time. My father said, "I'm sorry, son," and left the room.
After came the vagueness and slow motion with which memories following traumatic events move through a life. I was so quickly at Harvard that I might have had a nightmare from which I had suddenly been disoriented by waking to a life that seemed to have nothing to do with the life that had gone before.
But nothing is ever over.
Perhaps all the time practical Dean had been telling me just that, though I don't know how he'd learned it so soon, because you must know he kept in touch with me--a periodic letter, I see now, with inevitable regularity--though I seldom answered, knowing I'd see him when I went home during semester or holiday breaks. Even after he'd met Evie Clark, grown serious about her, and said he'd marry--he had taken courses at Bryant and Stratton in Providence and gone into accounting--the letters came.
Dean was going to be married my second Christmas at Harvard, and he asked me to be best man. Of course I said yes, though it was a time of indecision for me. I had intended to go into cellular chemistry. Perhaps I didn't realize how deeply I'd felt the idea of probing into cells (aren't all the secrets there?), something tied to the idea of Rita, to my desires and that unfulfilled night, but mostly the indifferent, incessant motion in her, as if there might be some discoverable explanation in the deepest heart of the cell. But I had begun to renounce study indirectly by spending my time writing--I was turning inward, or outward?, to the heart--for they began, imaginary people, to roam the room, fill my head, press for exit: so I would quit Harvard, I thought. I went home with that in mind.
Evie was a slim, spontaneous, athletic girl--not beautiful, but radiating inner sun; and Dean had an obvious, quiet admiration for her. He seemed, even when not with her, always by association to be completely indentified with her.
They had bought the Staples' house on Hog Island.
"Hog Island!"
Presences filled.
"Yes. Evie love it, and we both like being a little removed. And after the office, it'll be some solitude for me. Town's a few minutes away, and Providence only a half hour off. What more could we ask?
What more? I could not understand how he could live, bear living, so close to the moment of Rita, of Hardy, the sight of Emma Weeks' cottage. So I said, "I couldn't bear that. In fact, I'm going away."
"Going away?"
"I'm quitting Harvard. I need--experience."
"Experience! Jesus, Paul, you get that every day of your life. You don't get Harvard every day of your life--it comes once, you can't do that again."
I stared hard, startled, at him--not because of what he'd said, but because of a latent violence in him.
"Harvard will always be there," I said.
"You, Paul! You can't leave! It cost too much to get you there."
"Cost--? What in hell are you talking about, Dean? Cost? Cost what?"
We were at his parents' place, in the garage. It was cold, but he slipped down onto the ground and leaned back against the wall. I went down beside him. We might have been on the ferry dock, that night.
"What it cost? I'll tell you. Hardy it cost," he said.
"Hardy? Jesus, what're you saying?"
"I was never to tell you--Hardy didn't say that, but he said, `He can't go to Rita, not Paul, he'll never get away, he's so one-track-minded and I can tell it's Rita and nothing else on his mind these days,' the way she was on his, the way he couldn't think anything else either, it was making him sick, killing him. He knew you, Paul, we both knew you--and Hard, he thought you were God's gift to the world, God's own green thing that would blossom and grow and we'd all be, the whole town even, proud of what you'd be--and he went that night to be sure you couldn't get to her, jealous maybe but jealous for you too, and I don't know what happened--maybe there was too much of Everett's . . . and your . . . madness in him, I don't know--or why'd he go so far once he started to . . . started on her, as if he couldn't stop either, he had the madness, till--till I don't know what. You should know, you're more like him than any of us. And he knew that, yes, because he went, was going, through what you were going through. He saved you, saved you for Harvard and the rest of us, whatever that means, and I don't know. I'd stay. I'd have to stay. I'd feel I'd owe it to him and her, yes, Rita, though she and Hardy'd kill me if they heard me say that, they didn't believe in owing, I know that, but-- Jesus, now I feel shitty. I'm ashamed I told you, but you had to know, somehow I knew I'd always tell you, it had to come, I dreaded to think of telling you but couldn't ever stop thinking it had to come--"
So all the time that was why the letters, the constancy, the tie--they were the heralds of what he knew he would speak, though he didn't know when.
I could not contain that--it was too much--and besides I was furious at the thought of somebody making me, sacrificing for me; and I had to say that: "Who the hell did he think he was? It's my life," I shouted at Dean. I kept shouting. "And you too." He kept trying to get me quiet but I wouldn't--couldn't--listen. "And what the hell do you think I can do?" I shouted. "What can I do?" I shouted. "What can I do? What can I do? You tell me that."
The revelation almost ruined the wedding, but by then we had--if not smoothed it over-- come to a quiet, if distant, respect for each other's feelings. The wedding was beautiful and sad: because all through it, each time I raised my eyes, I saw Hardy and Rita--worse, because Everett was there: and I saw or imagined I saw them in his eyes too--what he saw.
I did not go back to Harvard then.
Very soon after--the honeymoon was not long over, they had scarcely set up and got through spring on Hog Island--Dean was drafted, and Everett enlisted. And before the war was over Dean and Everett were killed in action; and when V-J Day came, and I went back home, I was alone--there was no one, classmates, yes, but they all moved outside the periphery of a circle they could never enter.
And one scorching August day I took the ferry to Hog Island. I went to Dean's house (Evie had long since gone to her people in Philadelphia) and to Mr B's cottage. I walked the beach, went in fact around the whole island before the day was over. I stopped at Emma Weeks' cottage, neglected because of the war, I supposed, unpainted, boarded up. I felt as old as the rock outcrops, the unproductive sand, the shrubs and berry bushes yellowed by the August sun. You must know that I'm sure it was then, sitting there, living through it all, making myself imagine the most minute detail of the events of that night of Rita, Hardy, Everett, Dean; that I knew that no matter how far I moved from that island I would always be bound to it. It would be the center of my life, and through the mysterious complex way that life gathers layers of life around itself and grows, my view of the island would grow and transform. There would always be those abrupt leaps down time back to that inevitable moment. I went back on the nine o'clock ferry. Town glittered like sky laid down in the harbor, its lights spilling, now and then in rises and falls quivering like sudden white snakes.
From my window I looked out on the harbor at the dark mound of Hog Island speckled with lights, at Prudence's long hump rising farther off, finer pinpoints of light, at the endless dark holding those fine white fires. I wondered what everyone else was looking out on at that moment. How different could it be? And I wondered what they had felt standing here, those first settlers, who knew their kind too well, who named the mainland and the islands and all within sight as they looked out over the harbor at the nameless.
And you will understand now, June, you will understand why, after Harvard and my travels, I have come back here, why, even though we may live elsewhere, you and I, carrying all that each of us carries, why the very sight of the island is both a burden and a salvation.



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CrossConnect Incorporated 1996, 1997
Published in association with the University of Pennsylvania Writers House
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