She’d inherited the island. It was a curved spit of tall dunes and long green grasses shaped in a half moon, where a few wild horses ran, chasing
the wind off the New England shore. It was a mile long, and a half a mile in the thickest part of the middle, where the C-shaped rear of the isle
aimed back at the coast, and the opposite side opened its arms to the wide blue sea.
There was a small crooked shack, made of driftwood the color of dove’s wings, soft and worn and full of holes. She stored her tools and memories in
it; shells that washed up, a rope coiled round a life preserver donut with the faded letters “S. S. Gull” printed along the edge, a scrap-wood
bench with hammer and tins of nails, a screwdriver, a hand saw, a tackle box and fishing pole, a long handled oar.
She walked the morphing line of the early morning pre-dawn beach, the place where earth and water met, and sank her feet, pulling her this way, and
that. The air was filled with the remains of summer, a breeze of brine and sweet fresh air, a hint of crispness in the purple sky that pushed her to
walk this last time along the edge of the world. Her world. (A horse whinnied over the dunes, a gull cried before diving down to snatch a fish, the
sea lapped her feet cold and warm and foamy all at once.)
She had a bucket in her hand, filled with clams. She held her favorite digger in the other. She would steam them underneath a fire for her lunch,
piled between stacks of seaweed, along with a few potatoes, as she did most days. She’d made the last of her salt-water sourdough bread last night,
and had baked the risen dough this morning in the brick oven she’d built four summers ago next to the tight little storm-weathered house. Her small
greenhouse was nearly done, its pole beans and a few bright lemons, zucchini squash and heirloom tomatoes, along with the shelves of culinary and
healing herbs, were down to one more meal’s-worth and a couple leftovers to take home on the boat.
The boat, a second incarnation of the old Gull, would be waiting for her; white with a sail to pitch, an anchor to haul, an oar to push off and aim
her back to the crash and heave of the electronic world, where her college students mostly stared into the void of their own minds while Tennyson
rolled over in his grave and Chaucer simply laughed. The world of division, it was. The world where appearances on social media mattered, where money
and things were set up as the objects of desire and to have them divided people from their own hearts as often as not. It was a strangers world, to
her, where prayers clashed as easily as politics. She did not know if she could bear it again.
Still, it was a very long way to retirement. The island was only good during certain months — a winter here, without proper supplies, would be
deadly in a slow, cold and starving sort of way. The horses survived it. She’d rescued them from death at the hands of land managers who did not
see their worth or know how to handle their needs.
She’d brought them here on a rented barge, frightened and busting mad. They had instantly adapted and they would live or pass on naturally here,
with no enemies to hunt them, and no one to upset with their trampling hooves. She helped them a little. Fierce and proud, they would eat the hay
she left for them and huddle in sheltered places she had built when the grasses died and the snow howled, barreling towards the city like a fist. She
left them good things, and they did not die — it was a worthy trade for watching them run, leaping and kicking and free. Free. Yes. For all its
confinement, all its hard ways, freedom was the most plentiful resource on the island.
She wrote every day, monk-like, filling notebooks and drawing sketches too — a shell, a stand of grass on the dunes, a grey horse in the surf. It
was it’s own food, this daily scrawl, and it amplified her soul even as her body wasted from low-calorie living. She didn’t care. She fed
herself into her books.
Everyone said how healthy, how trim and tanned she looked after her island vacation, imagining palm trees and sipped liquor out of coconuts. Instead,
she’d reveled in starkness, in a harsh and constant beauty. She curled into herself here, mindfully and willfully, fortifying her shell for The
Return, carrying the island around her like a conch. Always, always she heard the ocean within, the rhythm and harmony of waves against the brittle
bite of Real Life. That was what it meant to live in a shell.
While writing, she culled words like clams, tossing the unappealing aside, washing and washing and refining out the dross of those she cared to keep.
She would publish them in some obscure little press for poetry no one read, or perhaps she would package it for the web, that spider’s nest of
marketing. She was brewing a novel with her morning tea, which felt cliche and far too fashionable. Everyone she knew was writing one, it seemed.
She was still young enough to miss his body next to hers, young enough to remember how summers on the island used to be second, third, fourth and a
final seventh honeymoon before the cancer took the light from his eyes and the doctor’s couldn’t cut any more of him away.
She saw his ghost, smiling, in the corner of her eye, and she knew she would never bring a man here to this sacred place. She’d never found even a
close second to his hazel eyes and supple humor, nor any who captured her attention, mind to mind, heart to heart, as he had. It had been seven more
years since his ashes met the island sand. Seven years of solitude. Seven summers alone with her wild heart and his memory so strong in her that
sometimes she could swear he breathed next to her in bed.
Summer’s end was sorrow, a kind of death along with the harvest of her words.
She set the bucket down by the hole she’d made, already lined with flat rocks and filled with a lit driftwood fire started from the coals of
yesterday, before she’d even gone after the clams. She stirred it with the shovel a bit, liking the heat and coals. She would go down to the water
and wash the shellfish again, four more times, as she always did, but not for a few more minutes.
Now she enjoyed the sunrise, sitting comfortably on a rock. The next to last sunrise. It was always bitter-sweet.
The red-orange-pink-yellow color that didn’t have a name was splashing and shifting across the thin, windy clouds as the red sun rose. (She could
hear the horses again, down closer to the dock, it seemed.) A hand met her shoulder for a moment. Fingers touched her cheek. She turned to look,
finding no one there. No one visible. She smiled.
“Yes,” she said to the breeze, “I’ll come back again, next year.”
A crow flew overhead. They didn’t often venture out to the curve of dunes they’d named “Treasure,” as a joke. The iridescent bird dropped
something into the sand nearby, then flitted off with a jaunty, throaty cry. Something shiny lay near her foot. She reached for it, plucking it from
edit on 15-9-2016 by AboveBoard because: SEWC
edit on 15-9-2016 by AboveBoard because: (no reason
edit on 15-9-2016 by AboveBoard because: (no reason given)