Once On An Island

Lungfest is the concert held at Mullen’s Head Beach at the end of every North Haven summer. Trucks line up across the skyline of the park, like the shoes arranged side by side in my mother’s closet. The tailgates of the trucks turn down, holding beer and people who wear faded flannels Summer people, and local people, and people with thick Maine accents who own lobster boats named Betty Lou, First Catch or something like that. I don’t normally go to Mullen’s Head; it’s where the other teenagers go to drink and smoke and kiss. Safe from parents’ eyes and grandparents’ judgment, bonfires fever red and hot. 

Most nights I play spit by my own fire, one my grandfather built. Sometime after dinner, when Mom has drunk two glasses of wine, her eyes wrinkle when she smiles. Her cheeks turn rosy and she rests her hand on Dad’s knee, and just lets it sit there. This is when I tuck Mom’s hair behind her ear and say, “Can I ask you a question?”

“Yes, what is it dear?”

“I don't want Dad to hear,” I whisper. 

“Don't worry, he’s not listening.”

“Can I go to Mullen’s Head?”

“No, honey, not tonight. I don't think that's for you.” 

Instead I’m the girl who has learned how to walk barefoot on the jagged beaches and not get splinters in her foot.  I throw periwinkles back into the harbor when they’ve crept above the high tide line. My cheeks become freckled like the backfield speckled with raspberry bushes before it’s hayed. At Mullen’s Head you lose your freckles. 

But tonight is Lungfest and Uncle Marcus said he would take me and Esme to see the bands if we wanted. Esme is my cousin with hair that's red like the port light. She has an older French cousin from her father’s side who has come to stay on Island for the week. Who barely speaks English expect for common words, like hello, pop-tart, where, and toilet. She wanted to see a cool American band, so Uncle Marcus said she must come too. 

We take the black Ford and sit in the bed of the truck, backs resting against the cab so dust from the dirt road doesn’t get in our eyes. We take the North Road to Mullen’s Head past the Lamont’s house, the yellow one that faces the Camden Hills. The road to Mullen’s Head is gnarly, cratered with ditches and potholes. 

We pull up to the skyline of cars and take our place on the grass next to a family I don't recognize. The band stands on a stage made of wood and sail covers and plays music that sounds ugly and manipulated, like a series of smoke alarms being set off to a syncopated rhythm. I wonder why they couldn’t have found a better band. Esme’s French cousin sits and listens, and pretty soon even she becomes bored, and she leaves to find soda or wine.

People from away stick out of the crowd. Islanders may say I come from away too, but my family has migrated to North Haven every summer since long before my Mother’s time. We’ve made a nest among crooked shores in houses with shingles and green window shutters and porches that face the Camden Hills. My grandparents are formed within the landscape like the weathered evergreen trees and now I grow here too. But many uncommon faces come on Island for Lungfest to listen to the unusual bands and drink their beer, and we don’t try to talk to them. 

***

I’ve heard of LSD before, but I don't know what it does. Mom says Uncle Harry used to do a lot of it, and that's what why he lives alone out on the bluff. I’ve never been inside Uncle Harry’s house. He always wears a jean kilt to cocktail hour, which the parents say the LSD made him do. And he has both of his nipples pierced. I know this because one afternoon Esme and I took the whaler out to ride around the harbor. Now that we are thirteen, we can take the boat out on our own. We usually take turns working the tiller while the other stands on the bow to let their hair whip in the Maine air. I was steering the whaler over the outside lip of the harbor when the motor burped and then settled into silence. Stalled, we floated with the current, as the water slapped its hand against the side of the hull. 

“This will be the bloody end of my life.” Esme exhaled, circling her toes in the water, making small whirlpools. 

“Maybe this is a heroic way to die,” I tried to bargain. “Lost at sea. Perished with Poseidon!” I ran my hand over the length of the tiller, my fingers lifting flakes of rust from the copper handle. “I wonder when my family will notice I’m gone. Maybe tonight at dinner when each place setting is missing their butter knife and soup spoon.”

“I’m on glass duty tonight.” 

“Soon they would begin to cry, ‘Anne, Anne! Has anyone seen Anne? We have no soup spoons!’ And I’ll try to say, “I’m sorry! I’m sorry you’ll have to drink your soup with the undersized desert spoon!” We laughed, but I knew no one would be able to hear me if we went under; I would be muffled by layers of sea. 

Our hysterics were soon interrupted by Uncle Harry, who cast his rowboat beside our desolate dingy. 

“Need a tow?” he asked. His hair was long and turning gray. 

“Yes please, Uncle Harry.”

He cleated our painter to the stern of his rowboat and began to carry us into shore. He was shirtless, and this is when I noticed his nipples were pierced. Two hoops dangling from each nipple, small ornaments for Uncle Harry’s hairy chest. I had never seen pierced nipples before, but he brought us back to the dock. We thanked him and he continued to row up the creek. I don't think he is a bad man.

***

“I own four thousand million books. That's a real number too, I ain't making that fuzz up,” says the man. His hair is long, harnessed in a ponytail; his khaki capris are worn, and a pair of thin-wired glasses sit perched on his nose. He had introduced himself as Manuel, which was hard to decipher over the music of Lungfest. He had stumbled over to our plot of green and decided to stay a while.

“Oh that's interesting,” I reply, twisting my toe into the ground, creating a small canyon in the dirt. Esme was off talking to one of the yellow haired Lamont boys, one she knew from school. Other summer families sway to the Lungfest music: the Watsons with wine glasses in hand and the Thatchers towing a pair of unfamiliar guests.

“They used to fit into fifty-six bookshelves that would align my library – well – I didn’t have a library, it was a kitchen. But a kitchen lined with shelves. It was my librichen.” Manuel says.

“A librichen?” I watch his eyes turn behind the glasses, rolling deep and wide like tides.

“My librichen! But then my wife and I got divorced, woman took half my books. Now I only have twenty-five books,” Manuel said. He puts his hand in mine and begins to twist me to the smoke alarm melody, as if he were a bear swatting at a beehive. Heaving back and forth like a tempered wave, we move across the lawn. I am too frightened to let go.

“You were married? She took that many books?”

“Married? Me? No. Never.” He stops, planting his feet into the worn ground and reaching his hands to the sky. “I’ve never been so happy in my entire life!” he cries. I stand, immobile with him, unsure if I should be raising my hands too.

Esme’s French cousin grabs my arm and pulls me back towards familiar faces.

“He, not good.” She says, stroking my hair and curling the ends with her finger.

***

Police cars were corralled in the ferry station, their blinking lights reflecting throughout the thoroughfare. I had heard the sirens earlier that morning headed down Crabtree Road, just a mile away. At breakfast the table was full but no one was eating.

“They were visiting the Thatchers, the two brothers, for Lungfest. Staying at their house, you know the one down on Crabtree?” said an uncle.

“I heard it was over a girl,” said another.

“Deputy said they found the older brother on the couch this morning.”

“Poor thing, such a shame.”

“I heard they were on drugs,” mumbled an aunt. The table went still. A spoon slipped on the ridge of a saucer, ringing until it settled.

“But to kill your own brother? That makes you want to lock your door, even on North Haven.”

Mom said it was a crime of passion, something that was very sad. The papers wrote that the Thatchers had a sword collection with exquisite pieces from the Revolutionary War.

***

Esme and I rode our bikes to the North Haven Grocery to pick up flour, eggs, and sugar for baking. It was a rainy day. The Grocery is small, and has three aisles that are always over stocked in August to feed the flood of summer people. The cashier was a cute boy who lived on Island year round. His name was Jess. When we were younger, Jess and I used to go crabbing down by the dock when it rained. The crabs would always come out in the rain and bite on the turkey we would tie to a string. I normally like talking to Jess when I go to the Grocery but this morning he was setting out a jar to collect change and dollar bills. The jar sat on the counter, a note taped to the front: “Donations for the Thatchers’ new couch.”