Excerpt of “The Body in the Wake” by Katherine Hall Page
“If one more person tells me to relax and stop thinking about it, I swear I will commit murder. I’ll get myself off. Justifiable homicide. Why else did I go to law school? It will be a win for women everywhere who are trying—and I hate that word with its suggestion that you just aren’t trying hard enough—to get pregnant!”
Sophie Maxwell set the glass of iced tea she had been drinking down on the small table next to her with such force, the lemon slice shot out onto the floor of the porch where she was sitting with her friend Faith Fairchild. Sophie scooped it up and set it next to the pitcher, which had been full an hour ago when the two women had come outside hoping for a breeze off Penobscot Bay’s Eggemoggin Reach. It was the third day in a row of record-breaking heat. The sailboats, colored dots of varying sizes, were either not moving at all, or motoring with sails down.
The wraparound veranda of The Birches, Sophie’s family’s turn-of-the-twentieth-century summerhouse, sported the usual Down East assortment of Bar Harbor rockers made famous by John F. Kennedy and wicker of all sorts and vintages. Sophie and her great-uncle Paul had been almost living on the porch, taking meals there and sitting in the dark until the mosquitos, made even more vicious by the heat, drove them inside. Sophie hadn’t had a decent night’s sleep in ages, tossing restlessly on top of the sheets and searching in vain for a cool spot on her pillow. Uncle Paul was relying on an ancient dangerous-looking fan with blades as sharp as a guillotine. He’d offered to search one out for her in the attic, but she had declined. On Sanpere Island a few people From Away had air-conditioning, but natives and longtime summer people considered it unnecessary, as it usually was, or showy.
“And when you are pregnant,” Faith said, “you’ll face even more personal comments from family and strangers alike. That carrying high means a boy, except when it means a girl. Or even worse, pats on the belly once you show, getting beyond the plum stage to melon. Where did the fruit comparisons come from? I wonder. One woman actually put both her hands on my honeydew bulge while I was in line at the post office and told me she was transmitting her aura to my unborn infant.” Faith was trying to distract Sophie, keep things light. “That aura thing was a bit creepy, though. For weeks after Ben was born I found myself looking for telltale signs of possession—not mentioning the whole thing to Tom, of course. When the Linda Blair phase arrived, it turned out to be colic.”
“I would never bring up something as intimate as, well, I guess family planning is the best way to put it,” Sophie continued to fume. The heat and lack of sleep was making her cranky. “I mean, when they say ‘trying’, you know what they really mean!”
“‘Roll in the hay,’ ‘shagging’—I’m told that’s Old English, by the way—‘nookie,’ of course, and then there’s ‘mattress dancing.’ I prefer ‘making love’ or just good old ‘sex.’”
“Faith, for a minister’s wife you seem extremely conversant with all these terms.” Sophie laughed.
The two women had known each other for a long time—Sophie had been an occasional babysitter for the Fairchilds when she was in her teens—but they became more than close during their unwitting involvement in solving two murders, the first was several summers ago on Sanpere. In the course of those dark days, the bright spot was Sophie’s meeting her future husband, Will.
After the wedding the following fall, performed by Faith’s husband, the Reverend Thomas Fairchild, the couple moved to Will’s hometown—Savannah, Georgia. The new bride had barely mastered which square was which when she was caught up in the kind of ghost story that fit right in with Savannah’s reputation as the most haunted city in the South. When Will had suddenly disappeared, Faith came to Sophie’s aid as they learned the spirits were all too real. It wasn’t the type of bonding common between most female friends, particularly since Faith was older and in a different place in life, but as they now sat in companionable silence drinking sweet tea—the Savannah influence—Sophie thought that aside from Will, there was no one she was closer to than Faith—who knew what was dominating Sophie’s thoughts now. The big three oh was looming closer and closer, weeks away, and her biological clock was ticking at warp speed.
“It must be hotter than Hades in Savannah,” Faith said. “When is Will going to be able to get back here?”
“He says he should tie things up in another two weeks, three at the most. I feel a little guilty leaving him, but the house and his office are air-conditioned. He says he’s used to the heat. And what little work I need to do can be done from here.” Sophie had become a partner in Will’s family firm while he opted to stay independent with his PI agency, which specialized in investigating white-collar crime.
“In that case, you really can put all this out of your mind. If you get pregnant it’s going to be a second immaculate conception or an indecent scandal.”
Sophie stretched and stood up, smiling. “Thank you, Faith, I knew you’d cheer me up. Not that I’m at the stage where a Pampers commercial makes me sob, but I have been blue. The heat hasn’t helped. Let’s go to the Lily Pond for a swim. I know you won’t go off the dock here no matter how hot it is.” Sophie had learned in the past that Faith considered a plunge into Sanpere’s cold salt waters unthinkable unless she found herself at the end of a plank with the tip of Captain Hook’s cutlass between her shoulder blades. The Lily Pond was fresh water.
The Fairchilds had bought a small piece of land on Sanpere some years ago and put up a cottage of their own, but it wasn’t a cottage like The Birches, which had more in common sizewise with the “cottages” in Bar Harbor and Newport. Sophie’s great-grandparents, Josiah and Eleanor Proctor, had built at the same time as other rusticators from Boston, New York, and Philadelphia selecting the large scenic site overlooking the Reach on a sailing trip as newlyweds, captivated by the nearby lighthouse, the rough granite ledges, and a deep-water mooring. Once the house was completed, they never missed a summer. They came up from Boston by train, changing in Portland for the coastal steamboats that carried them to Sanpere, where they indulged in early-morning bracing swims, yachting, long walks in the woods and other Teddy Roosevelt–type roughing-it activities while making do with plenty of servants to help them lead such simple lives.
Except for the outdoor activities, this way of life had vanished. The rusticators’ descendants now arrived by car, usually four-wheel-drive Subarus—the Maine state car—with kayaks on the top. The army of servants had been replaced by part-time help like Marge Foster, a local island woman, who was pushing the screen door to the porch open now.
“Thought you’d need more tea and I’ve got some molasses cookies I made this morning,” Marge said. Sophie jumped up to get the tray and was glad to see that Marge had brought a glass for herself.
“You have to stop baking in this heat—not that we don’t appreciate it. But, sit and relax please! It’s a little cooler out here.”
Marge was an ample woman and filled the rocker Faith pulled up for her. “With just you and Mr. Paul there is scarcely anything for me to do. Might as well bake, as you only want cold suppers,” Marge said, taking the glass of tea Sophie had poured for her. Sophie had insisted that she take care of meals, but Marge in turn had told her that cooking was part of the job, and they settled on having Marge leave what she called the “fixings.” She also considered cleaning the house and doing the wash part of what was supposed to be a half-time job. Sophie occasionally found herself in a race to get to the housework before Marge. However, she was a godsend when the house was full, as it had been over the Fourth of July. Sophie’s Uncle Simon, her mother’s only sibling, and his family were a throwback to an earlier era and considered anything more than mixing a drink “not my job.”
Marge drank thirstily. “That was some good, and yes, thank you, I’ll have more. Missed seeing your mother, Sophie. It’s not like her to skip the Fourth, or be this late coming.” Babs, Sophie’s mother, was a favorite of Marge’s—and of the whole island. She started life as Barbara Proctor, Josiah and Eleanor’s granddaughter, never missing a summer either, and Marge was right. To Sophie’s almost certain knowledge her mother had rarely been absent for the Fourth.
Sophie was the happy result of Babs’s brief marriage to Sandy Maxwell, one cut short by the discovery of a receipt from Firestone and Parsons for a diamond bracelet Babs never received that Christmas, opening the promising small box to find a silver one from Shreve’s instead. Babs didn’t have any more children but did have plenty more husbands. Her current full name was Barbara Proctor Maxwell Rothenstein Williams Harrington. She’d told her daughter that in her day you married your beau rather than “jump between the sheets.” Yet, with this current marriage, which had lasted the longest, Sophie was pretty sure that her mother had finally found “The One” in Ed Harrington, an easygoing venture capitalist with a good sense of humor and his own hair (one of Babs’s requirements). They traveled a great deal, as Ed liked to golf in exotic places and Babs liked to shop in exotic places. They’d been to the Mission Hills Golf Club in Guangdong, China, and others from New Zealand to Abu Dhabi. At the moment they were in Greenland. She imagined her mother would be restless by now, as Greenland was not known as a shopping destination once you’d purchased something fashioned from musk ox wool.
“She’s planned to be here for a few weeks before Samantha’s wedding, so I’d say soon—early August—although she’ll probably spend some time at the Connecticut house when she gets back from Greenland,” Sophie said. Babs may have changed husbands the way other women changed nail polish, but through them all she’d held on to her magnificent house overlooking Long Island Sound on the Connecticut shore, where Sophie had grown up.
“The wedding’s over Labor Day weekend, right?” Marge asked. “I told Mrs. Miller I could help and she’s about asked every other woman on the island to keep the dates clear.”
Pix and Sam Miller were the Fairchilds’ closest friends and neighbors in Aleford, Massachusetts, and on Sanpere, and their daughter, Samantha, was marrying Zach Cohen. Pix had been in panic mode since the couple announced their engagement the previous fall. No matter what Faith, or Sophie, also a friend, said, Pix was sure they’d run out of food or there would be a Nor’easter or there would be a flu epidemic or a meteor would crash down on the venue, Edgewood Farm . . . the list was endless.
“You two better get that swim in before it rains,” Marge said.
“But there isn’t a cloud in the sky,” Faith pointed out. “And the weather report didn’t say anything about showers. I wish it would rain and cool things down.”
“Oh, you can’t trust weather reports,” Marge said complacently.
“My knee was acting up this morning and it’s a sure sign.”
“Leave everything, please,” Sophie said to Marge. ‘You’ve stayed long enough. Go home and say hi to that nice husband of yours from me.”
Marge’s husband, Charlie, fished, like most men on the island, and he was a very nice man who turned up, usually unannounced, to help Paul with all sorts of tasks from splitting wood to repairing the roof. He just seemed to know. Like Marge.
Sophie’s words brought a grin to Marge’s face. “I’ll tell him. ‘Nice.’ He’ll get a kick out of that. Now, Sophie, I overheard what you were saying before. Can’t say I ever had trouble in that department nor did Mumma. ‘All you need to do is lay a pair of men’s pants across the bottom of my bed’ and nine months later the cradle would be full, she used to say.”
“It’s a thought,” Sophie said. “Why not give it a try? I’ll tell Will to bring some particularly sexy trousers up with him.”
Marge gave her a look. “Silly girl, that’s just an old wives’ tale. Like sleeping with a piece of wedding cake under your pillow or planting parsley. What I’m telling you is to go off and have fun. And no, I did not say ‘relax.’ Don’t want you turning into a murderer.” She closed the door behind her with one last slightly wicked look over her shoulder.
Faith and Sophie dissolved in giggles. ‘Parsley! Wedding cake and pants. Those are new ones to me, and I thought I’d heard them all,” Sophie gasped. “We are definitely not paying Marge enough.”
Faith nodded. “Let’s go swim. I have to get my suit back at the house so I’ll meet you at the pond.”
The Birches was actually located on Little Sanpere Island, a much smaller—only four miles long—piece of land connected to Sanpere by a causeway. As Faith crossed it now she noted the new guardrails that the state had finally installed on the narrow twist of road, a favorite for drag racers with often horrific consequences. Sanpere itself, with roughly two thousand year-round residents, was many times larger than Little Sanpere. The population in both doubled in the summer, a phenomenon giving rise to a local saying that you knew it was June because of the dual invasions of black- flies and summer folk. There were two towns on Sanpere, Sanpere Village and Granville, much bigger and home to the largest lobster fishing port in Maine. Last summer Sonny Prescott, a local dealer, told Faith the total year’s haul was over seventeen million pounds.
In the summer months, tourism coexisted with the working port. Newcomers expecting only quaint picture postcard fishing scenes were disabused by the first gigantic tractor-trailer truck passing them on a curve. She turned off Route 15, which circled the island, onto the road that led to the Point, which she now considered home. She’d been in Aleford all her married life, but they lived in a parsonage that belonged to the church not the current occupant. A few summers ago she and Tom had decided to buy a plot in Mount Adams cemetery, so the island would be her dwelling for a long time. The Millers had a large family plot not far from the Fairchilds’ choice, and the Proctor plot already had a number of occupants, starting with Sophie’s great-grandparents.
Faith took comfort knowing that she could at the very least count on some good conversation in the hereafter. She thought back to her first summer on the island. Ben, now entering his second year at Brown, was a toddler. The Millers had convinced the Fairchilds to rent a cottage on Sanpere, their beloved Maine island. Faith had given in, faced with such enthusiasm, especially Tom’s. He’d grown up on Massachusetts’s South Shore and thought exploring rocky beaches with side trips to canoe on the North River or hike in Myles Standish State Forest was heaven on earth. Faith’s plan was to be a good sport—especially when she heard there was a bridge to the mainland—then call in her chips and head for the Hamptons or even Provence the following summer. Instead, looking back she was sure Tom and the Millers had slipped something in the well water at the farmhouse rental they’d found for them on a white sandy cove with a view straight out toward Mount Desert Island and sunsets more magnificent than Faith had seen anywhere. She found herself gathering wildflowers and sticking them in Mason jars, marveling at the number of varieties of ferns, listening for the cries of gulls and terns. Above all she cooked. The setting could not have been more different from Manhattan’s Upper East Side, where she had grown up and chosen a more elaborate culinary path leading to her own catering firm, Have Faith, which became one of the most sought after in the city. It was at a wedding she was catering that she met Tom. He was in town to perform the ceremony, changing for the reception. Daughter and granddaughter of clergy, Faith was adamant at avoiding the fishbowl life of a parish spouse, but the heart knows not reason. Faith found herself in a small-town west of Boston, the land of boiled dinners and soft bagels. But her feeling for New England changed definitively that first summer on Sanpere, with a richer bounty than Dean & DeLuca and Citarella combined at her fingertips. Lobster, mussels, clams, scallops, halibut, haddock, peekytoe crab, chanterelles and other wild mushrooms. Local goat cheeses and fresh eggs from Mrs. Cousins were a short walk down the dirt road. Maine meant a late growing season, but as first peas, then strawberries, blueberries, and all the rest of summer’s bounty arrived, Faith found herself savoring each with renewed appreciation. She made things like blueberry buckle, green tomato chutney, and all sorts of chowders in the farmhouse’s kitchen.
As she pulled into the empty gravel driveway, relishing the pleasant memory, Faith thought how different a summer this summer was from previous ones. First, no Ben, who had opted to stay in Providence and accept his professor’s offer of a summer research spot. After entering college intent on linguistics, Ben had become interested in bio-chem, especially as it related to life in waters like Sanpere’s and had switched majors. The other difference was having Tom on the island all the time rather than for sporadic visits. He had a contract with Harvard University Press to turn his divinity school thesis on the history and theology of the twelfth-century French Albigensians into a shorter and more accessible book. An editor had come across the thesis and was intrigued by Tom’s conclusion that the successful, extremely brutal Crusade by the church to obliterate the Albigensians, or Cathars, was the first example of genocide in the Western world with far-reaching historical implications. He’d arranged to take a leave from First Parish for two months, working with the assistant minister and calling in guest preaching favors from fellow clergy to do so.
Faith had been delighted, picturing the two of them with free time for picnics, boat trips, and other fun they’d never had uninterrupted hours for, but Tom soon realized he couldn’t work at the cottage because of both the delightful distraction that was his wife and the slow Internet. Friends with a techie’s wired dream house who would not be on Sanpere until the fall had offered it as an office for Tom. This left Faith with daughter Amy, entering her junior year at Aleford High School. But Amy was following the time-honored Fairchild summer job tradition at The Laughing Gull Lodge’s kitchen. Laughing Gull was now Sanpere Shores, a conference center. Last summer, its first, had proved very successful.
The new owners, who had two other similar facilities in New England, had added tennis courts, a spa, and a pool. They had also changed the Rec Center that had served as a kid’s camp and hangout space for families into a lounge with a bar, billiard table, Ping Pong, and a flat-screen TV the size of Rembrandt’s The Night Watch. The rustic cabins had been upgraded—no more knotty pine—and plenty of high-speed Internet. Companies used Sanpere Shores for training retreats, and professionals booked time to offer courses in everything from digital photography to how to trace your family tree. To distract herself From Here to Maternity, Sophie had signed up for a writing program starting soon. Sanpere Shores provided three meals a day: a hearty continental breakfast, box lunches, and a full-course dinner with menu choices. Amy was determined to follow in her mother’s culinary footsteps, despite Faith’s admonitions—hard work, long hours, difficult customers, and so forth. Amy had left Nancy Drew and Lemony Snicket behind years ago for M. F. K. Fisher, Elizabeth David, A. J. Liebling, and Ruth Reichl. Sanpere Shores was close to the house Tom was using, so the two of them left after breakfast each morning like commuters. Faith didn’t know what she would have done without Sophie and Pix. She was unaccustomed to the experience of free time.
She dashed into the house, changed into her bathing suit, and threw one of Tom’s old tee shirts over it—Yankee thrift was part of the Fairchild DNA, and she saved a couple of threadbare items from his wardrobe she hadn’t managed to spirit away to wear for times like this. The tote she kept with towels, sunscreen, and a book was already in the car. Faith was surprised to see so few people on the pond’s small beach, or in its waters. Maybe it was going to rain. She set her things down and realized that the woman sitting next to a little girl filling a bucket with sand was the mother of Samantha’s best friend, Arlene, and the child was Arlene’s three-year-old, Kylie.
“Hi, Marilyn,” Faith said. “Wow, Kylie seems to be growing taller—and cuter—every time I see her. She looked adorable in the parade.” The theme for this year’s Fourth of July parade had been “Our Island Paradise,” and Kylie, riding on Larry Snowden’s float, had been a lobster with a grass skirt.
Marilyn gave a big smile. “Took me forever to sew that thing. That Larry comes up with some foolishness every year, but this took the cake.”
“And the blue ribbon I heard,” Faith said. “Is Arlene swimming?”
She shaded her eyes to look out at the water. It was a long pond surrounded by birches and other trees. Water lilies encroached upon the clear water, and Faith didn’t like to swim too close to the sides. Besides the lily pads there was an abundance of other aquatic plants that seemed to have tendrils waiting to grasp her ankles.
“No. She was feeling a little poorly today,” Marilyn said, her smile dimming. “I said I’d take Kylie, but I’ve got to go now. I have to get supper on.” Island meal times were considerably earlier than the ones Faith kept. She wondered if Arlene might be pregnant. If so, it would mean drastic alterations to her matron of honor dress. Kylie was also in the wedding party—the flower girl—and Sam Eaton, the little son of other island friends, was the ring bearer. The kids would steal the show, Samantha said when she showed Faith pictures of their outfits. Although they would look precious, especially if Sam could be persuaded out of his beloved rubber clammer’s boots. Faith, however, knew all eyes would be on the bride. Samantha had selected a gown from Anthropologie’s bridal collection that looked like something from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, floral appliques over layers of tulle with a pale rose-colored satin underskirt. Instead of a veil, she planned to make a simple white floral wreath to crown her shoulder-length dark hair.
“Say good-bye to Mrs. Fairchild, Kylie,” Marilyn said, and the little girl came over, planting a sandy kiss on Faith’s cheek. As she waved good-bye Faith remembered the car accident Arlene had been in late last winter and chided herself for not asking how Arlene was doing in more detail. On their way to pick up Kylie at Arlene’s parents, Arlene and her husband, Mike, who was driving, hit black ice, and the car flipped over. They had been wearing seat belts, and both the front and side airbags deployed forcibly. Mike was tall and avoided injury, but Arlene’s nose and left cheekbone had been broken; she’d sustained a hairline jaw fracture—plus several teeth had been knocked out. Samantha had told Faith that Arlene had worried she wouldn’t be healed in time for the wedding. For months she had looked like someone from a horror movie. It had been a long process and many trips to various doctors, but Faith thought Arlene had looked amazingly good on the Fourth at the parade. No wonder she was “poorly” though.
The long-drawn-out recovery had to have still left her feeling tired, especially with a lively little one. Sophie was coming down the path onto the beach, and after exchanging quick greetings with Marilyn and Kylie, she called out to Faith, “I’m dying to get in the water! Race you to the end of the pond and back?”
“You’re on!” Faith said and sped into the pond. After a shallow dive took her to the deeper water, she quickly moved into a fast crawl, heading straight down the middle. She could hear Sophie closing in behind her and quickened the pace. She reached the end of the pond and flipped to return, then realized she was about to get tangled up in a reedy thicket filled with fallen branches and trash, a bundle of old clothes. She started to swim away.
Until she saw two bare feet sticking out of a pair of jeans.
“Sophie, come help!” she screamed and dove underwater, grabbing the legs to free the whole body from the tangled mess. Faith tugged hard, and it broke loose and slid across the water like a cork from a bottle. Facedown with pale blond hair. At Faith’s side in seconds, Sophie immediately grabbed the head and neck, lifting them above the surface. “I can’t feel a pulse!! I’m going to float him over toward that mud flat and start CPR. Can’t wait to get him to the beach. Go call 911!”
As Faith started toward the opposite end of the pond at a competition pace she tried to get her mind around what was happening. Sophie had said “he.” The body was a man. He couldn’t have been in the pond long. No discoloration. His slender feet and ankles were bare—no bloating. Nearing the shore, she started yelling for someone to call 911 and was relieved to see a man instantly take a phone from his pocket. The pond was near the new cell tower and one of the few reliable places on the island for a signal. Getting out of the water, she cried, “A man has drowned! At the end of the pond!” Someone draped a large towel around her. Someone else gave her a can of sugary Mountain Dew and told her to drink it down. In what seemed like no time at all, she heard the ambulance’s siren signal its arrival, and the volunteers instantly went into action, two of them swimming out to help Sophie transport the body ashore. As they closed in on her and the body, she yelled, “I think there’s a pulse.” Onshore the EMTs strapped an oxygen mask to his face and then the ambulance sped off, leaving Faith, Sophie and the other few who had been at the pond sitting close together. It was over
“Anybody know him?” asked a man Faith recognized by his distinctive beard as Bill Haviford, the president of the historical society. They had all had a good look at the victim as he was taken away. No one answered at first and then Sophie said, “I’m pretty sure I saw him and some other guys at the market last week. They looked in their twenties, maybe a little older. Around my age.”
One of the ambulance corps volunteers had tossed blankets out for Sophie and Faith to wrap around themselves, and despite the temperature Sophie was still clutching hers close. “They were buying beer. Four of them. I didn’t really pay much attention until they left the parking lot. They were all on motorcycles—Harleys I think—and roared off.”
“You gals need to go home and dry off,” Bill said. Faith nodded in agreement. “Yes, come to my house, Sophie. We’ll get your car later.” She was thinking dry clothes were in order plus some brandy. The image of the young man in the water like a grotesque Ophelia wasn’t going to go away for a long time though.
“Give me your keys, and my wife will follow with our car. We don’t live far from you,” Bill said. Faith wasn’t surprised he knew where she lived, although she had no idea where he did. It was the island after all.
“Thank you, that would be a big help,” Faith said. Sophie was still shaking, and Faith was sure the young woman was in mild shock. Since leaving the pond Sophie hadn’t said a word, but now passing through Sanpere Village, she shuddered and, barely audible, said, “Did you see his tattoo?”
“Yes,” Faith said. “I did.” Tattoos were so common now and she’d thought she’d seen them all, but this one was unique: a lifelike green adder snaking up his right forearm, its fangs dripping blood and a few Gothic letters in red spelling something Faith couldn’t make out before he was taken away. A Y at the end? And she was pretty sure the first letter was an L. She stepped on the gas.
Pix Miller stepped out onto the porch at The Pines. She closed the screen door gently in case her mother, sitting in her favorite canvas sling back chair, was dozing. The Pines, built by Pix’s grandparents next to the Proctors’ Birches, was a large gray-shingled “cottage” with the same magnificent view of the Reach and lighthouse as its neighbor’s.
“Pix? Is that you? Creeping up on me,” Ursula said, turning to look at her daughter with a welcoming smile. Pix gave her mother a kiss. This year she had started bringing the mail from their post office boxes every afternoon along with the Island Crier, the weekly island newspaper, on Thursdays. Pix had thought Ursula, who had always fetched both for herself, would protest. Driving The Pines’s 1949 Ford Woody station wagon, kept in perfect shape by Forrest “Fod” Nevells, had been octogenarian Ursula’s particular delight. Pix knew giving this up was hard. She had friends who had had to hide elderly parents’ keys and, in one case, declare the car stolen (with a buyer all lined up). But Ursula had never said anything except to say in the beginning that Pix must have better things to do than drive all the way from her cottage every day, that a couple of times a week would suffice. Pix had pointed out that Sam wasn’t coming until August, nor were any of her children around, so she really didn’t have anything to do. In fact, she treasured this quiet time with her mother.
“Get yourself something cold to drink,” Ursula said. “I sent Gert home. Too hot to work. She insisted on baking cinnamon raisin bread this morning. Told her I couldn’t have her passing out from the heat, and that convinced her.” Gert Prescott was surely close to Ursula’s own age, Pix reflected. She’d been working at The Pines since she was a teen, coming to give Ursula, with two small children, a hand. Pix disliked the kind of summer person who referred to the women and men who worked for them as “just like family” while underpaying and overworking them, taking advantage of the fact that these jobs only existed seasonally and were a much needed source of income. But Gert truly was family, and a few years ago Ursula had hired a young woman to do the housework and tend the garden over Gert’s protests. Gert was possibly more excited about Samantha’s wedding than anyone. Arlene, the matron of honor, was a niece, and Gert was seeing to the refreshments at the shower that Arlene was giving close to the big event.
“I’ll get you something too,” Pix said, noticing her mother’s glass was empty. “Lemonade?”
“Yes, and hurry up. Want to see what’s been going on this week.”
Pix laughed to herself. While the paper was a news source, Gert knew what was happening on Sanpere before the island actually did and wasn’t so much a part of the grapevine as the root itself. When they were settled with their drinks, Pix opened the paper and as usual started with the column “From the Crow’s Nest.” Ursula had unearthed a Japanese fan and was wafting it to and fro in front of her face, sending puffs of air toward Pix, who was feeling extremely content until the thought of the wedding intruded. She sighed. Her mother waved the fan hard. “I heard that! I have half a mind to give them a large check and tell them to elope if you can’t stop worrying. It’s all going to be fine. Faith is taking care of everything, and what she isn’t, Samantha is.”
“I know, but I wish Samantha was here.”
“She will be in a few weeks. In plenty of time for the ceremony, which is what counts. You know they can’t get away from their jobs.”
Taking the scolding in stride, Pix brightened up. “Maybe they’ll be here sooner. Samantha loves Fishermen’s Day even more than the Fourth, and Zach has never been. I wouldn’t be surprised if they drove up after work tomorrow and back on Sunday after it’s over. It never goes much past three.”
“There now. Keep a good thought and open the paper!” Much as Ursula loved her one and only daughter, she was fast losing patience with Pix’s wedding woes. This was a woman with such fine-tuned organizational skills that she was on the phone booking rooms at the inn and other lodging scarce on the island less than an hour after hearing the happy news from Samantha and Zach. “Now, what’s going on?”
Pix started reading aloud. “‘The Maguire Family is having their reunion this weekend and expect seventy, one member coming all the way from Australia. Six generations represented.’” Ursula nodded. Family reunions were what kept those who left for whatever reasons closely tied to the island. No matter where you lived, you showed up. Pix continued, “‘The Granville Community Center is having an auction to raise money for the Island Food Pantry and is looking for items.’”
“I’m sure we can find some things in the attic once the heat breaks,” Ursula said. Clearing out the attic had been on The Pines to-do list roughly since the 1930s. Pix read more—what was coming up in gardens and the Fisheries Log, which was pessimistic about the lobster catch equaling last season’s. Lobsters liked cold water, and the increasingly warm Sanpere waters due to climate change meant many crustaceans were staying far from the traps in water more to their taste.
“Let’s see. Your Sewing Circle Fair is featured in ‘Coming Events.’ No Planning Board announcements; they’re not meeting next week.” Everyone on Sanpere scrutinized these announcements. Fair warning if your neighbor was planning to put up a dock across your view or add an addition blocking your time-honored shore access.
She turned to the obituaries. “Oh dear.” Her voice caught.
“Who is it? Tell me quickly,” Ursula said.
“No one we know. But young. Only twenty-four. Fished, graduate of Sanpere High School, beloved son, father of a four-year-old. There’s a picture of the two of them. Heartbreaking.”
Pix looked up at her mother and then out to the Reach. “It’s another ‘died suddenly’ one,” she said.
“We’re losing a whole generation,” Ursula said in despair.
From THE BODY IN THE WAKE by Katherine Hall Page. Copyright © 2019 by Katherine Hall Page. Reprinted by permission of William Morrow Publishers.