Still summer, p.15
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       Still Summer, p.15
 

           Jacquelyn Mitchard
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  “But you’ve never been unhappy, not really unhappy. You’ve never had to live through a tragedy. Grandma and Grandpa are still alive,” Cammie prompted her.

  “I cried when I had a miscarriage, and other times. Everyone cries, Cam. Cries herself sick. Everyone’s hurt is as real to that person as another’s. You can’t compare the tears of someone who’s had cancer to the tears of someone in mourning, even mourning an accident. They’re the same and not the same. It’s not as though you have to have a right to them.”

  “He was so gentle, Mom. He was the most gentle boy.”

  “I hate that this happened to you.”

  “Can I sleep up by you, Mom?”

  “Mmm, come ahead.”

  “I’ve been a bitch to you.”

  “That’s forgotten, Cam.”

  “Do you think God’s punishing me?”

  “I think God has better things to do.”

  “Mmm,” Cammie said, drifting, her attention unreliable.

  “What’s that?” Tracy asked, and called out, “Olivia?”

  “Yes?”

  “What’s going on?”

  “I’m moving over to Lenny’s cabin. There’s an open wall there, between their two berths. I don’t feel well.”

  “If there is, Holly should have that, Olivia. She needs room to really get that leg up.”

  “Well, tomorrow, okay?”

  “Go back and take the wheel, Olivia. We could be about to hit a freighter.”

  “I will in a minute.”

  “She’s completely selfish, isn’t she,” Cammie said.

  “No, Cammie. Not completely.” Tracy wondered if she was lying to herself now, willfully. She thought she might need to pin the burden of her heart’s debt, like the tail on the donkey, on a hopeful fiction about Olivia’s nature. She had seen Olivia five times in the past twenty years. Her own wedding. Livy’s. Sal’s funeral. Joey’s wedding. One other time and now. How could anyone say she knew someone at that remove? Moreover, Tracy thought, she was certainly blindfolded, spun around, and left alone. She couldn’t see a damn thing with any clarity at all.

  Holly drifted and wakened, drifted and woke again. At night, the pain was only irksome. She thanked God once more that she was a heavy sleeper.

  To distract herself, she let the album of her life fall open to a room filled with floral arrangements and a tiny bundle of boy at each breast. Chris was beaming with immoderate pride, as if he had won the claiming race for studs, calling out to total strangers in the hallway of St. Anne’s. She flipped ahead to the year they were two and still biddable, and she had dressed fair Ian and dark-haired Evan in matching outfits for Easter. Bow ties as long as her thumb. Tiny velvet jackets. Then to cheering on the sidelines from her folding canvas picnic chair when Evan, entirely by accident, scored his first goal. How small they had been, no more than six? Spelling drills at the kitchen table. Moans from the moment the door opened and the boys smelled Tuesday meat loaf. Muddy tracks on the foyer floor. Stepping over the bodies of half a dozen boys on Saturday mornings after sleepovers. The heavy silver frame into which she slipped each year’s school photos. The portrait they’d spent hundreds of dollars on, a painted photograph: the four of them, shiny and sedate in their best clothing . . . Ian at her side, Ev standing next to Chris. Why hadn’t they waited to take that picture until just before the boys left home? Because they were still children, she thought. Next year, they would be chrysalids of young men.

  Well, she thought. Just as well.

  Olivia sighed and hoped it wouldn’t take very long for Tracy to wake. Dull as she was, Tracy usually had ideas.

  It didn’t occur to Olivia to try actively to turn the boat’s wheel, though she kept a hand on it when she could remember to do so. She waited for Tracy to wake and tell her what to do, and what would come next if she did what Tracy asked. If Olivia approached life with the greed and thoughtless hunger of a child, it was perhaps because all her adult life someone had always been there to guide and buffer her way. When she truly was a child, no one ever had.

  Day Eight

  When Tracy did wake, with the first light, Olivia had already made coffee for them.

  “Thank you, Livy,” Tracy said, genuinely touched. Holly accepted her cup with a benign smile as well and, Olivia noticed, with the absence of a single observation about butlers and silver tea services.

  “What should we do first?” Olivia asked as she waited for the others to nibble on some bread and apples. She could never abide food before noon.

  “Well, I’m sure we can find the generator, and running the generator should charge the batteries. Cammie’s good at that, if we can get her to . . . I have to go down and talk to her. She’s really upset, Liv, not that all of us aren’t.”

  Olivia nodded but then shrugged. “Really, Tracy, getting her going would be the best thing for her. A teenager’s broken heart is the least of our worries. And then?”

  “We’ll . . . motor to . . . back. We’ll read the locator, the positioning device thing, and go back to St. Thomas or St. John, whatever island we come to first. We’ll stop when it gets dark, if it takes us more than a day, though God knows how we’ll tie up to anything. But if we should run aground, unless the boat sinks, well, all the better. We’ll set off the flares. Someone will see us. It’s good we didn’t get very far. What a swell notion for a trip I had, Liv. I’m sorry.”

  So you should be, thought Olivia. But, still feeling generous from her night of sacrifice, she said, “Well, don’t worry about it. I’m not angry. If it hadn’t been for the crew and all, this would actually have been more of a distraction from mourning my husband and leaving my, well, my home than . . . any old trip. I’ve been on dozens of those. As Lenny said, it’s exciting, in a horrid way. Do you think they’re all right?”

  “I don’t,” Tracy said, trying to move her mind aside from the small thud she had felt, felt with her entire body, that night as she’d turned the boat. She prayed, briefly but earnestly, that it had not been what she feared. “I hope with all my heart that they are, but no, I don’t think so.”

  “They had no fuel.”

  “Maybe there was fuel. Maybe the motor was just flooded,” Holly suggested.

  “That’s probably right,” Olivia said. “Want more coffee?”

  Holly said then, “Livy, you’re so nonchalant. How can you be? That girl in there is . . . Cammie. It’s like you’re not upset for her, or about what happened. It’s like you don’t care.”

  “I care,” Olivia said. “But I can’t do anything about it. So why spend time talking about what I can’t fix?”

  For a moment, Tracy saw a montage of mental snapshots, of Olivia’s closed eyes and slackened face, her black hair spread, dark against the pillow as a vine, of the borrowed assurance of white jackets. Olivia had been curiously unmoved then, as well as now.

  “Drink up,” Olivia said. “I’m going to bed. You’ve all slept, and I’ve been up for hours. You take over now.”

  They watched as she crossed quietly to her cabin and closed the door.

  “She’s so damn odd,” Holly said.

  “I want you to take a couple more of these antibiotics,” Tracy replied.

  “You just won’t talk about her that way, will you?” Holly asked. “And I can take all the antibiotics on earth, Tracy. I don’t think I have an infection that they can touch.”

  “Antibiotics never hurt,” Tracy said. “Take them, and take half that painkiller thing.”

  “I’m the nurse,” Holly reminded her, amused. She watched tolerantly as Tracy slapped the bubbles out of one of the syringes Lenny kept in the first aid kit and, after gathering up a fold of Holly’s healthy thigh, gave her a tentative injection. What Holly suspected was only lidocaine still spread like a balm through her, allowing her to relax her clenched neck for the first time in hours. “Thanks, Trace,” she said. Tracy looked white around the lips. “What’s wrong?”

  “I’ve never given anyone a shot. I was sca
red to death.”

  “Well, you did a great job. I’m going to rest now for a moment.”

  “Well, then I’m going to get Cammie. Olivia was right about one thing. Getting her moving is going to be the best thing for her.”

  The men lay up for a day when the winds came. They meant to stop only for a few hours, to refuel. Fuel was sometimes left for them at this place, sometimes at another. The young man didn’t know this, but he went along dumbly. He did not know that they did not usually see the people who lived in the house near the dock. There was no need. When they approached, the young man sometimes caught a glimpse of a child disappearing into the shanty, like a small furred thing into its den. This day, however, there was no use going on. They would hardly have made any time at all, despite the size of the motor. The winds were brief, but they gave Ernesto and Carlo a chance to drink again. And when they drank, the young man was guaranteed that they would be insensible for twelve hours at least. The young man thought their livers must by this time appear brined and stippled, like ugly fish.

  The house was the home of an acquaintance of Carlo’s sister. The man fished and was gone for long periods. The woman seemed to have no discernible personality. She made strips of beef for them and hard corn bread with peppers. Carlo made her sleep on mats on the floor, with her two feral children, a little boy and an even smaller girl. In the night, the young man heard Carlo grunting as he had sex with the woman. She made no noise at all.

  The young man slept in what he assumed was the rope bed that belonged to the little girl. In the night, she wandered out to use the toilet, and when she returned, she crept into bed beside him. “Frío,” she said. He could see the lice shining in her dark hair. But he held her close anyway, and he began to cry. Two days more, he thought. Nothing was worth this.

  “This is hopeless,” said Tracy, letting her hands drop to her sides as she surveyed the generator’s smooth, opaque planes. “Even looking at it scares me.”

  “Mom, I’m mechanical, I’ll figure it out. I’m more worried about Lenny and Michel,” Cammie said. Her eyes were swollen from crying, and though she had rallied enough to try to help, Tracy could see, with pity, the distance in her eyes.

  “Honey, it’s not going to change anything, you worrying,” Tracy said, trying Olivia’s tack.

  “You do it. You’re, like, the grand master of worrying.”

  “But I know it isn’t a solution. And neither is carrying around whatever happened with Olivia and Michel, while we’re at it. That stuff poisons you.”

  “Trust you to lecture me about my psychological state, Mom, when we’re stranded in the middle of the ocean. I’m not going to kill her. She’s just cheesy. And I didn’t appreciate you telling me to let her alone.”

  “What you were saying was so vulgar.”

  “Mom, I was with Michel. There was a lot of mutual . . .”

  “Attraction.”

  “And interest. He’s mysterious. He’s smart. Anyhow, whatever. I can’t think of it now.”

  “Let’s assume they’re alive,” Tracy told her, squeezing her daughter’s hand in response. “It would make for at least some kind of happy ending to a crappy ending. Let’s hope Michel’s at some billionaire’s house on some gated island and he’s sending the Coast Guard for us now.” She was careful not to mention Lenny.

  Holly spent the next few hours, while the painkiller was still working, at the stove, cooking. She was good at cooking plain food, and what food there was would spoil if she didn’t do it now. The electrical system was, at least temporarily, defunct. And despite her growing apprehension that she could lose her leg at the end of this voyage if it didn’t end pronto, she felt better being useful.

  So she fried fish and baked it.

  She used Lenny’s dough and baked cloverleaf rolls.

  She contemplated what looked like a pork roast but thought it probably had already gone over. When she threw it into the water, she saw sharks rise, like snakes the circumference of her thigh, green as the water, tearing and worrying the bloody lump. Tracy had told her that Cammie was determined to try to fix the motor. Cammie would have to go down there. But not now, not at the intersection between afternoon and evening, when the sharks glided back and forth like racing sleds, making use of the rhythms of the other creature, of their hierarchy on the food chain. Holly shivered in the dull heat and made the sign of the cross. Olivia had awakened briefly, for water, but gone back to bed, pleading a migraine. What a horny bitch, Holly thought idly. She wondered what circumstances would prompt her to cheat on Chris. The guy would have to be younger, she decided, and Australian. And a soccer player. Pro. Despite herself, Holly smiled.

  At last, Tracy came down.

  “I was fantasizing about screwing an Australian soccer player.”

  Tracy grinned. “Do you have a fever?”

  “I think I probably do, but it’s not bothering me. I started by wondering if I’d ever have done what Olivia did, even if I had the chance. And then I got to thinking about how Olivia was like the proverbial cat in heat—”

  “Oh Jesus, can we leave that alone now? Do you have to keep blaming her! You’re gossiping like we’re all still in high school.”

  “And you’re so loyal, it’s like a mental illness. You’re acting like you and Olivia wore the matching French braids on Spirit Day.”

  Tracy blew out her breath in what could hardly be called a sigh. She said, “Cammie’s got the wheel now. She’s steering straight on. At least we have the compass and we know we’re pointed in the right direction.” She paused. “Listen. I don’t want you to think I condone this. I think she’s a lonely person, Hols. And she was when she was the belle of Villa Montefalco, too.”

  “That’s such crap, Tracy. Could you see the good side of John Wayne Gacy? He could draw nice pictures of Bambi, you know. This isn’t the Queen Elizabeth! It’s so totally gross to actually fuck someone with five other people twenty feet away.”

  “Well. We’re not talking about some big sin! They’re both single. He did it, too.”

  “Granted, let’s stipulate. Men are pigs. But did you see the little necklace Cammie has, that he gave her? He wasn’t a total asshole. No, your friend—”

  “My friend! She’s your friend, too, Holly.”

  “She was my friend for a very short time a very long time ago, Tracy. Yeah, we were the Godmothers. It was all fun. It was fun to go to Italy after she dropped out of school and watch her, in that train twenty feet long with all the little Italian girls in white dresses, marry the old guy. Nice guy. But you think she really loved him? Or do you think she wanted the money and the big villa?”

  “I think she really loved him. She was distraught after he died, Hols.”

  “If I had to bet, I’d bet she was distraught because his partner had the percentage power to put her out! If he hadn’t, she’d be there now, stomping grapes and telling the locals to eat cake.”

  “I’m not listening to this.”

  “And you know why she had sex with that kid? She thought of us as a bunch of over-the-hill cows and she some rare filly who never got older. She had to prove it as fast as she could!”

  “Stop. Just stop. Let’s get home. Holly, I love you. You’re my best friend.”

  “Janis is your best friend.”

  “Janis is my cousin. Let’s just get home.”

  “Next time we go to Vegas.”

  “I’m with you.”

  “Mom!” Cammie shouted.

  Holly watched her friend lope up the stairs two at a time and gave herself the small pleasure of sitting down. She wondered if Tracy and Jim fought.

  Everybody fought. She and Chris sometimes bickered so darkly that Evan said they should go to a marriage counselor. They never had, but that was because Chris could never sustain a grudge more than overnight; and it seemed small of Holly, much as she actually enjoyed a good bout, to bait him about the silly stuff she did, and in front of the kids. The last time, it had been over his mother installing
electric shoe racks labeled in colors, which presented her mother-in-law, Karin, with a dozen pairs in each color at the touch of a button. It was none of Holly’s business. But it was so nutty, and so was Karin. Try as she might, Holly couldn’t even imagine Tracy bringing something up with Jim like the automatic shoe rack. It would be beneath her, beneath them. Jim occasionally drank too much at a party or a barbecue, drank himself to the point of singing old songs from his college glee club. The worst Tracy had ever done was give Jim a reproving smile and put out her hand for the car keys. Holly wouldn’t have let Chris live down a stunt like that for months.

  Except that now she would.

  Once she got home, she would.

  She would stop being a hobby bitch, stop thinking that it was funny to tease Chris and even ever so slightly embarrass the boys.

  She wouldn’t do that anymore. It had been only a game anyhow, a way to let Chris and the kids know that, yeah, they had her, but, boy, they’d better not take advantage . . . but it had been silly.

  Holly got up stiffly and hauled herself onto the deck.

  “I don’t want to wait anymore,” Cammie was saying to her mother. “It’s driving me nuts.”

  “You don’t have to do it this minute!”

  “I don’t want to wait anymore. Someone’s going to have to go down, and I’m the logical one, Mom,” Cammie said.

  “I don’t want you down there.”

  “Look, I’ll be ten feet underwater.”

  “Alone!”

  “She’ll be safe, Tracy,” Olivia put in, emerging from her room with a cloth held to her head.

  “No one asked you,” Cammie snapped.

  “Let’s not start,” Holly said. “Let’s talk about it over dinner. I’ve made dinner for an army.”

  They all dutifully sat in the saloon.

  Her appetite briefly revived, Holly devoured most of an entire pie, forkful by forkful, while Cammie pulled a piece of bread into bits.

  “Mom,” Cammie finally began again, “listen to reason. Daddy taught me how to fix car engines. He taught me how to fix the rotors on the dishwasher when I was five. He taught me how to do oil changes. I was the only girl in auto mechanics in high school, Mom! If there’s something around that prop, maybe I can get it loose. I admit, it doesn’t look good, but we have to try.”

 
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