Still summer, p.25
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       Still Summer, p.25

           Jacquelyn Mitchard
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  “Give me it,” Cammie insisted. “Mayday! Mayday! Everyone understands that. Why isn’t he listening?”

  “For God’s sake, Camille, did you think you could say it more fluently than I did? We can hear them, but they can’t hear us,” Tracy said. “Don’t you get that? I have no idea why. We have to be on the same frequency!”

  “You’re right, but I can’t accept that,” Cammie answered, bursting into dry sobs of fury. “I would break this goddamn stupid thing to bits if I could, but it’s the only goddamn stupid fucking thing we have!”

  Both of them turned to watch the lights of the freighter as they grew smaller and smaller and then seemed to go over the edge of the world. Then Cammie looked up at the cockpit. “Mom,” she said slowly, “the boat is still sailing with no one steering it . . . and we’re in a shipping lane now.”

  Tracy bounded up the slippery stairs. “Olivia!” she called. “Olivia!”

  “I’ll take it,” Cammie said. “I can do it. You find her.”

  “Olivia!” Tracy yelled, pounding on the cabin door. “Come out. We’re being rescued by a freighter. It’s all over!”

  Olivia threw open the door, and Tracy grabbed her arm. “You have let me steer this boat until I fell asleep on my feet and we almost hit an ocean liner. Now, you’re not going back in there. There’s more ammunition for that gun.”

  “Let me alone, Tracy.”

  “No. You’re going to help save your birth daughter’s life, Olivia. You’re going to help save my life. I was the only friend you ever had.”

  “I’m not going to sit for four hours and stare into nothingness for you. If you’re determined to try to starve me, I’m going to sit here and save what little energy I have. I’m not going to do a single thing. You can count on the fact that I’m going to live. There’s more of what I found where that came from. And I’m not giving one bite of it to you, and I’m not showing you where it is, and you’ll never find it.” She smiled with a gracious air of victory.

  “You don’t want anyone to forgive you, Olivia. Even Cammie?”

  “You made it very clear that she is your daughter, and you are the mother bear protecting her cub. You provide for her.”

  Tracy had never struck another human being. She drew back her hand and slapped Olivia’s face.

  “Why, for the adventure,” Sharon Gleeman answered, to Janis’s question. “Money? Oh no. My father spent his days screwing poor garment workers out of their daily bread. It’s been more than enough to provide for me, for my entire lifetime. We take people out for fun. Sometimes they’re fat cats. Mostly they’re people who couldn’t afford another boat, huh, Regin?” Sharon turned to her partner. “We’ve had inner-city kids from the Boston slums come with their teachers. We’ve had families we’ve had to pay to fly here. It’s fun. You’d be surprised what the sea gives to them. And then, of course, it’s beautiful. It’s beautiful now. But it can turn on you, as life does. In an instant. And I must admit, I like that, too. It challenges me. I could be sitting on my porch, with biddies, planning charity events for snobs. Not me.” Sharon peered into Janis’s eyes. “Don’t take that the wrong way, dear. I’m not looking for adventure now. I’m looking for Lenny and for that dear boy, and your sister. And we’ll find them, I promise you.”

  Janis laughed, and Sharon stared at her. “No, nothing is wrong,” Janis told her. “It’s just that, what you said, that’s what I do. Plan charity events for snobs.”

  “I never meant to be in any way disrespectful.”

  “Oh, you weren’t. Not at all. It’s the snobs who get the credit, though, not the planners.”

  “Just so,” Sharon agreed.

  Sharon Gleeman was a marvel of agility. Janis watched her scramble up ladders and heft heavy jugs and cans of gasoline with the strength of a man—and a man half her age at that.

  Reginald Black was the architect of the details. It was he who had put together a makeshift map, from Meherio’s description of the route Lenny would follow. While Janis chafed with impatience, Reginald had taken the extra hours to gather blankets, water, simple provisions, and information from everyone who’d spoken with Lenny or Michel before they set out. She knew they would need all of it. She hoped they would need all of it. But she could not rest until Big Spender was motoring past Norman Island and out into the open water. They would not need the sails, Sharon had told her. Sailing was for pleasure, motoring for speed.

  “If you’re thinking starvation, don’t worry. Lenny keeps a hefty amount of canned goods on board for emergencies, including canned water. And if they haven’t encountered weather, which I hope they have not, they should still have plenty of frozen food. In the worst case, they should have plenty of water in the tanks and can use the water maker if they need to.”

  “What are you worried about, then?” Janis asked.

  “Let’s just head on, dear.”

  “No, tell me.”

  “Well, you force me. It seems someone Regin spoke to thought he saw the little tender from Lenny’s boat, like our little motor craft, you see, but theirs is a bit larger, blue, quite distinctive.”

  “Spotted it?”

  “Spotted it adrift. He was in a rush and the weather was foul, so he didn’t investigate. But he had the impression that it was unmanned. If there was anyone in it, he was lying down, which would make sense, of course.”

  “Which means . . .”

  “I have no idea. Probably nothing at all. The line on the tender could have unraveled. Lenny would have gone in after it. He might be in the tender. He might have missed it and they’ve towed him back to the boat. Most likely he and Michel are with your friends. A drifting tender doesn’t mean an accident. It doesn’t mean anything on its own. I can’t count the times people have lost their tenders. They wash up someplace. Someone else grabs and tows them in. All is well. Still, it’s better safe than sorry,” Sharon continued. “You know, when I met Lenny, I never thought he’d last. The only boat he’d ever sailed was in a bathtub, I thought. You can’t count the navy, walking about on great flat cities that float through the sea. But he was a fine diver, one of the finest. And he was patient. He learned from everyone he met. No matter what’s happened, Lenny can handle it.”

  “Tracy, my cousin, is very resourceful,” Janis said.

  “Well, there you have it. I wasn’t looking forward to the beginning of the dull season back on Long Island in any case. We’ll all be laughing about this in a few days.”

  “What if Lenny is hurt?”

  “It would take a great deal of bad luck to get Lenny in a jam.”

  “What if?”

  “Well, let’s let each day’s evil be sufficient unto that day. My mother said that.”

  “Something else is bothering you.”

  “No, nothing.”

  “Reginald. Mister Black, what else could happen?”

  “Miz Loccario—”

  “Janis, please.”

  “Janis, Sharon is the most relentlessly optimistic person on this good green earth. I’ve known her since she was ten years old. My family moved from North Carolina right next door to hers. It was thought we would marry. In a sense, I suppose we have.”


  “But she doesn’t like to dwell on the grim.”

  “And you do?”

  “I’m more of what the kids call a downer. I’ve earned my last name over and over throughout the years, they tell me, and spared this fine woman a world of woe, I must say, when I turned out to be right.”

  “What are you getting at?” Janis finally asked.

  “At this time of year, not all the boats out here, and there aren’t many, are sailing for pleasure. Some are heading toward winter destinations. But others, ones we don’t see, are, you might say, doing wrong. They’re sorry folk.”

  “You mean pirates?”

  “Well, there are modern-day pirates, I suppose. Robbers. But the people I’m talking about don’t want to be seen. They’re bringing drugs into coastal
areas off the United States. Drugs that came from Costa Rica or El Salvador through Honduras or other spots. Very profitable and very dangerous work for them.”

  “But also dangerous for anyone who runs into them.”

  “Yes, and the people who run into them usually are agents from the Honduran navy who put the screws to them in short order. And that’s the end of that.”

  “But not always.”

  “Almost always. Not always. Pretty near always.”

  “Reginald,” Sharon said, “I, for one, am very hungry. Go cook something, please. No one wants to hear these tales of tourists. . . . Janis, there has never been a single case of anyone being harmed by these rascals.”

  “Sharon, darling, you know that’s not true. There was that couple who were boarded, and they humiliated the woman, I’m very sorry to say, and the man was badly injured.”

  “No one has been killed. Not for ten years or more. Please don’t let my gloomy partner here fill your head with more worries.”

  Janis looked out at the wide, gently ruffled, and forgiving expanse of depthless blue. Icy rum drinks with pineapple slices and paper umbrellas. Old stories, Motown music, and suntan lotion. “I didn’t need him to. I was thinking about it already, Sharon.”

  And while human beings are not like animals, which can sense the approach of a storm or a predator, or even death, Janis and Tracy had been wheeled through the zoo by their mothers in a single baby stroller. They had slept, head to toe, in one crib, then in one double bed. Janis had never had premonitions. But as she stood in the sunlight on Big Spender, she felt Tracy, and Tracy’s distress, and the exigency in it.

  “It’s not all right,” she told Sharon.

  Day Eighteen

  At last, a torpor fell over all of them, like a caul.

  The deaths would have been a horror. But had they had enough food and water, guided by Lenny’s example, they might have gone on. Licks of luck had been given them: They had drifted off the sandbar. Tracy had sewn a sail. Even the armed men . . . at least the fact that they had held them off was a sort of piteous victory. But the vicious encounter between Holly and Olivia, Cammie’s hurt, perplexed withdrawal from all of them, Olivia’s naked spite: Taken together, it was too much.

  Planes and boats and, as far as Tracy knew, trains and goats would pass them by. They were invisible in the inexpressible vastness of the imperturbable sea. Nothing would happen but the end. And if anything happened before the end, it would be dreadful.

  Day turned into evening before Tracy woke.

  It was the day after Holly and Olivia had gone at it.

  It was the night of that day.

  She had been asleep for more hours than she had ever slept in her entire life. Her hand still stung from the slap she had given Olivia. She thought, I have no urge to use the bathroom. Brush my teeth. Eat my almonds. And then she thought, I don’t care anymore. She had not steered that night. She had no memory of lying down on the storage lockers, her head pillowed on a life preserver. But as Tracy had lain asleep, the shores of Jamaica had slipped past. The last of Opus would not have been able to turn with enough skill to master an approach to that destination if any of them had seen it. It was perhaps better that they had not. On the shore they passed, there were virtually no inhabitants, only treacherous rocks and shallows.

  Cammie’s reflections were parallel to her mother’s.

  Steering the boat . . . to where? Drinking . . . to what end? Nourishing herself with bits of food her body might not survive long enough even to use? She thought of the condemned, able somehow to disassociate and eat a last meal. I would ask for hemlock, Cammie thought. She had often wondered, How do people know when it is the last time they will ever make love? When it will just simply not occur to them to do it again? How do they know they will never again see their parents? The last time Dad or Ted gives me a kiss? Everything that will happen to me probably already has, she thought. But she needed to get up and find Tracy. She needed to do that much. She had used the words real mother to describe Olivia. She had stepped on a crack and broken her mother’s heart. If she truly had to die, it would not be weighted by the shame she felt for those two words.

  Holly lay upright in her bunk, because breathing had become difficult, a slow and deliberate labor. She could hear her chest fill and empty to a sound like small pebbles tumbled in a distant glass. She had heard it often before, at the hospital, in quiet rooms where DNR orders were tacked to the doors. But the people who lay and breathed their rattling last were most often old, surrounded by those who had loved them long and well. And if they were alone, nurses took special care to comfort and soothe them. She knew that death was neither painful nor difficult. Shock was a kind of pleasurable release, so she had been told by those who had come close to death—the source of legends about welcoming lights and euphoric entries into a real and visible kingdom. Would there be a kingdom? Would there be a kingdom for someone whose last act had been the mistaken murder of another mother’s son?

  Olivia munched on her mocha bar and drank brackish water from the taps. She was nauseated and weak. Her belly above her bikini bottom was flaccid. She had determined not to come out again, not to open the door of her cabin at all. Let them all beg her. She would survive and thrive. That she had spawned that little Jezebel, in all charity and pain, was bitter gall. That even Tracy had lashed out at her was impossible to comprehend. Olivia had learned a bitter lesson. No one, no one was to be trusted. In Europe, they considered these great, thick, loud American women a sort of joke. Olivia didn’t belong among them. She had never belonged among them. She was like a changeling child, peasant-born by chance. Perhaps, one day, Camille would come searching for her. Olivia would receive her graciously and warn her about the ineptitude of fools.

  After the sun went down, Tracy and Camille met at the door of their cabin. Tracy, who knew that despite her apathy she was still a mother, and that mothers did what needed to be done, was coming to claim her child. Camille, who had remembered that the only truly secure place she had ever found on earth thus far had been her Sunday mornings as a child in her parents’ four-poster bed, had come to find her mother.

  They regarded each other warily.

  They did not fall into each other’s arms. But when Camille opened her mouth to speak, Tracy put a finger to her own lips. If it was the last thing she did, she would not allow Olivia to hear her and her daughter speak the things that belonged only to the Kyles, to their family.

  Silently, Camille hauled up the bucket her mother had so recently scrubbed and poured water into the machine. She longed to grab the first drops and swallow them all, but she thought, First I have to make sure Aunt Holly has hers. Holly had not opened her door since the previous night.

  When there finally was a full cup, Cammie carried a third of it to Holly. Gratefully, her eyes heavy, Holly accepted a few sips. Then she patted Cammie’s hand—a gesture that so reminded Cammie of Gran, her father’s mother, who had done this very thing days before she died, quietly and without protest, when Cammie was nine, that a thrill of fear for Holly rushed through her. Holly’s hand had the same faint, papery touch that Gran’s had. The same sweet but unpleasant smell surrounded her.

  She and her mother each ate six almonds. They could have counted the nuts that remained in the bag. Finally, Cammie allowed herself to slake her own murderous thirst.

  Cammie could not remember a day in her life she had passed without speaking. She passed this day entirely that way. She worked at seeing to today’s water and tomorrow’s. She sealed the water in a clean jar she found in one of the cupboards. She wrote a long letter to her brother on the backs of successive postcards, apologizing for being a bitch to Ted, jealous of the way Ted seemed to do everything right and fit in perfectly where she never had, saying that she hoped he would remember her as the big sister she had been when he was a little kid, who let him put toothpaste in her hair as mousse and taught him to ride a two-wheeler as a Father’s Day surprise. And then she lay d
own inside and tried to read. But she could not read, and the demarcation between waking and sleeping was not clear. The two ways of being were no longer so different.

  Tracy did not want to slip back into an oblivious sleep. When she went up to the cockpit, she took a lantern and unfolded her ancient plastic sleeve of wallet photos. One by one, she shook the photos loose. The thickness of photos of Ted and Cammie had created a bulge almost too fat to accommodate her cash and her single credit card. Somehow, when school picture time came, she could never bear to relinquish the previous year’s sweet or silly pose, so she simply slipped the current snap in front of the others. There were a dozen of Cammie, culminating in her glamour head shot as a St. Ursula senior. There were more of Ted, because Tracy kept his sports photos, too, and the occasional snap from other occasions, cut down to fit.

  Here was Ted, missing teeth in his second-grade soccer picture.

  Here was Ted in his first suit at the winter dance in ninth grade.

  She remembered that night—a loud gaggle of boys, six or more, all of them spreading sleeping bags on her rec room floor, running outside after midnight darkness to throw rolls of toilet paper into the trees at Angela Sheridan’s house, while Tracy watched indulgently from her darkened window. The next morning, she had flipped endless stacks of golden pancakes, while they ate and ate and ate yet more, talking about this girl and that girl—none of whom they had the courage to speak to, much less ask to dance.

  Tracy gazed at the photo of her and Jim at their tenth anniversary party. They had danced until one in the morning. Tracy’s feet, crammed into unaccustomed heels, were so swollen the following day that she couldn’t shove them into her bedroom slippers. Jim had teased her about being one of Cinderella’s stepsisters. She was glad that she and Jim, along with Holly and Chris, had taken that ballroom dancing class at the community college. It made Jim proud to waltz her around the floor that night, with other couples applauding.

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