Authors: Elin Hilderbrand
Ignoring his call, however, is cowardly. What was the point of voting her heart, her conscience, if she’s too timid to defend it? “Hello, Bayer.”
“Ursula.” Bayer is eating something—a bagel, probably, slathered with cream cheese, piled with lox. He has quite the impressive appetite. “I can’t believe I’m about to say this, but you did good.”
“Listen, I got the outcome I wanted. Cavendish is on the bench. And you, my friend, are a national hero.”
“You’ve got a seventy-two percent approval rate among women from both parties,” Bayer says. “You were the only senator on the committee willing to stand by your principles and not vote for a guy who was lying.” Bayer swallows. “You were impressive. Calm but commanding. I would have been mad as hell at you if he’d lost the vote, but he didn’t. If I were you, I’d wait no more than a week before you announce.”
“That you’re running for president,” Bayer says. “My money is on you. You’re going to win.”
What are we talking about in 2019? The death of Bernard Slade, playwright; Nancy Pelosi; college admission cheating scandal; Miley and Liam;
Lizzo; check your Uber; Jeffrey Epstein; Logan, Kendall, Roman, Shiv, Tom, Gerri, and Greg; Old Town Road; Rob Gronkowski; al-Baghdadi; Notre-Dame; John Legend and Chrissy Teigen;
Where the Crawdads Sing;
El Paso; Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper
n the fifteenth of April, Link gets acceptance letters from the University of Alabama, the University of Georgia, Auburn, Ole Miss, and the University of South Carolina, and Mallory can’t help herself: she bursts into tears.
She’s so proud of him.
She’s gutted by the thought of him leaving. And yet she knows it’s natural. If he weren’t leaving, he’d be staying, and neither of them wants that.
Link decides on the University of South Carolina. Frazier is excited because U of SC is home to the Darla Moore School of Business, but Link tells Mallory that he has no interest in business. He wants to follow in his uncle’s footsteps—major in political science and shape domestic policy that will make life better, easier, more prosperous for American citizens. This all sounds very lofty to Mallory, but then Link admits that he also wants a school with big football, big school spirit, fraternities, pretty girls, and warm weather. Any school in the Southeastern Conference fits the bill. The University of South Carolina is his favorite, and it also happens to be the closest to home. From Boston, Mallory can fly to Charlotte, then it’s straight down Route 77 to Columbia.
Once Link makes this decision, things move quickly. All of a sudden, Mallory finds herself sitting in the bleachers of his last home baseball game. How is that possible? When Mallory closes her eyes, she’s back in Cooperstown. She’s at the Delta fields, watching him wallop a Wiffle ball off a tee. It’s his first birthday and Senior is tossing Link the squishy ball that he hits with the oversize plastic bat on his first try.
Natural talent here, Mal!
Senior cries out.
Link takes Elsa Judd to the prom—Link and Nicole broke up six days into Nicole’s year in Italy—and then he asks Lauren Prestifillipo to the senior ball. He’s casual friends with both girls—friends or friends-with-whatever—because he knows he’s leaving for college and he learned his lesson with Nicole: he doesn’t want to leave with any romantic entanglements.
The last week of class arrives for the seniors, and then the triumvirate of senior ball, baccalaureate, and graduation.
Parents are invited to come to the senior ball after the seniors-only dinner. Mallory goes to R. J. Miller to get her hair blown out and then puts on a new dress, just as she always does the night of the senior ball. Tonight—she has to repeat this to herself several times—she isn’t going just as a teacher; she’s going as a parent. The mother of a senior.
During the reading of the senior-class prophecy, Mallory’s vision starts to get blotchy. At first she thinks it’s just her tears, but she can’t seem to blink or wipe away the amorphous pink blob in the upper left corner of her field of vision.
The senior-class prophecy involves a fictional tale about Gibbs Pond—
Oh, boy, good old Gibbs,
Mallory thinks—being bought by an evil developer who wants to drain the pond and build a Nantucket-themed amusement park. All the members of the senior class twenty-five years in the future are called on to contribute their particular talents or personality quirks in order to save the pond—but in the end, it’s billionaire Lincoln Dooley who is the hero.
The times that Mallory has asked God to stop time for her and Jake seem quaint compared to how badly Mallory wants to stop time now. Just let these high-school days go on forever, please—the gatherings of boys eating chips and guacamole around the harvest table or playing Fortnite while sitting on Big Hugs; the baseball games in thirty-seven-degree weather; the pep rallies and Spanish-club dinners; the Homecoming floats and SAT prep; even the Bud Light cans stuffed deep in the trash and the empty nip bottles of McGillicuddy’s scattered across the front porch; even the heartbreak of day six of Nicole-in-Italy when she texted to say she needed
and Link screamed profanities across the ocean, then went into his bedroom and cried.
She’ll take it all on a loop, forever and ever.
Baccalaureate is held at the Congregational church. Lauren Prestifillipo sings “Brave,” by Sara Bareilles, and that’s all it takes—Mallory dissolves. Her vision still isn’t clear and all this emotion is giving her a headache. This is probably some kind of karmic payback for the many years when Mallory sat in this church watching other parents cry and scoffed,
Oh, come on, it’s not like they’re going off to war, they’re graduating, be happy!
Graduation, strangely, is the least emotional day of the week, probably because Mallory has the distraction of guests. Fray, Anna, and Cassie fly in on Fray’s plane late Friday night (they’re staying at the White Elephant), and Cooper and Amy fly to Boston from DC but get stuck at Logan because of early-morning fog on Nantucket.
Amy calls Mallory in a panic. “I’m not sure what’s up with Cape Air,” she says. “The woman at the desk says they’re waiting for the ceiling to lift. What if we miss the ceremony?” Amy is high-strung for a psychologist, Mallory thinks. She and Cooper have been married for just a few years, and yet Amy has donned the role of Auntie Amy like it’s a thirty-thousand-dollar sable coat. It’s sweet, if a bit unsettling. Amy has been reposting all of Mallory’s photos from this week on her personal Facebook page with the tags
“The fog usually burns off midmorning,” Mallory says. “It’ll be fine. Deep breath.”
And it is fine. Cooper and Amy arrive in plenty of time to clap and cheer as Link walks across the stage in his white cap and gown to accept his diploma.
It’s over. Link is a high-school graduate
. Her field of vision still has that bright spot in the corner like an incoming alien spaceship, though her headache has subsided somewhat. Or maybe she’s just used to it.
The worst is yet to come, of course. The summer of 2019 might as well be called the Summer Link Pushes the Envelope. He has given up his job at Millie’s general store in favor of a job landscaping. He’s out in the sun all day, mowing, weeding, laying sod, trimming hedges. He’s deeply tan and his hair is bleached platinum blond; he has real muscles, and he grows another two inches. He looks so much like Fray that Mallory sometimes does a double take when she sees him.
Link goes out with his friends every single night. Mallory knows he’s drinking and also probably smoking and sleeping with beautiful, rich summer girls from New Canaan and the Upper East Side. Mallory keeps her rules to a minimum, although the rules she does lay down are ironclad—midnight curfew during the week, no driving at night at all, and no shenanigans at the house. She tries to set up one evening a week when Link eats with her at home and one night when the two of them go out together, but Link cancels and no-shows so much that Mallory gives up.
Apple’s twins are spending a month and a half at sleepaway camp in Maine, so Mallory and Apple resume their nights out once a week. They return to the Summer House. The restaurant has changed—the days of the Hokey Pokey are long gone—but the view is still magnificent.
“It’s like he’s already off to college,” Mallory says. “That’s how little I see him.”
“Kids do this the summer before they leave for college,” Apple says in her guidance-counselor voice. “They separate so that it’s less painful for them when you say goodbye. It’s completely normal.”
“Just wait until it happens to you,” Mallory says. “Then you’ll wish you’d been more sensitive.”
“You’re lucky,” Apple says. “You can reclaim your personhood, become more involved in the outside world. It’s exciting out there, I hear. And it’s an empowering time to be female. I know you don’t pay attention to politics, but there’s this incredible woman running for president.” Apple raises her glass of wine. “Here’s to Ursula de Gournsey. May she save us all.”
Mallory obviously knows that Ursula is running for president; the only good thing about Link leaving is that Mallory is too self-absorbed to think about it.
Southern universities start early, so Mallory throws a goodbye beach bash for Link and all his friends on August 14. The kids have a great time—the music is so loud, it feels like Post Malone is there at the party—but Mallory can’t seem to relax and enjoy the moment. Her thoughts are heavy, maudlin. When the golden hour arrives, making everything look like it’s been dipped in honey, Mallory thinks about how her front porch has served as her church, the ocean as her daily proof that God exists. She has done all her praying out here—she has expressed gratitude and wonder, asked for forgiveness, petitioned for those in need. But today, as Link and his friends dig a hole for the bonfire, Mallory prays for herself. She needs more of everything: strength, clarity, hope, patience, peace.
Send it to me. Or let me discover it within myself.
Mallory and Link leave for Columbia two days later. The blob in Mallory’s vision seems to be getting bigger. She’s planning on seeing a doctor the second she gets back to Nantucket.
But first, there’s a trip from the suffocating ninety-nine-degree heat to the delicious air-conditioned universe of Target for twin XL sheets, comforter, pillows, a rug, underwear, socks, a case of Gatorade, two cartons of Pepperidge Farm cheddar goldfish, spiral notebooks, pens, phone chargers, ramen, a poster of Dominic West and Idris Elba in
(this is Link’s idea of an homage to his Baltimore roots, just wonderful), shampoo, deodorant, towels, condoms, Band-Aids, a two-hundred-count bottle of Advil, sunscreen.
“What else?” Mallory asks. As long as there’s something more to buy, she can stave off the inevitable.
They move their haul into East Quad. Link meets his suitemates: Eric, Will, Declan. The boys seem nice; the other mothers are busy decorating their sons’ rooms and stocking the cabinets in the communal kitchen as though they’re expecting a nuclear winter. Mallory helps Link get his room set up, and girls keep poking their heads into the suite to introduce themselves. They all have long beautiful hair and syrupy Southern accents and first names like Shelby and Baker. There’s rap music playing, then that song by Lizzo that Mallory loves. This is college, it’s fun, Link’s going to have the time of his life. His RA introduces himself, nice kid; his name is Jake, so Mallory automatically loves him. Jake asks if Mallory has any questions. Well, yes, she does: How is anyone expected to devote eighteen years to raising a child and then, one day, just leave him in an unfamiliar place among strangers twelve hundred miles from home? And also: What is wrong with her eyesight? She made an appointment with her ophthalmologist for the following week.
“Nope,” Mallory says. “No questions.”
“All freshmen in this dorm have a mandatory meeting at three o’clock and then there’s Convocation, where the university president will speak, and after that are First Night activities.” Jake pauses. There’s a vintage turntable in the common room playing Fleetwood Mac’s
which is a reason to love Jake beyond his name. But despite this, Mallory wants him to stop talking. It feels like the next words out of his mouth are going to be
So now is probably a good time to say your goodbyes.
Mallory has learned from twenty-six years with Jake that a fast goodbye is better than a long, drawn-out goodbye. She finds Link in his room, putting shirts on hangers.
“I’ve been given my marching orders,” Mallory says. “You have a full docket, so I’m going to go.”
“Okay,” Link says. He shuts the closet door and then takes Mallory by the shoulders and looks at her with his ocean-colored eyes, eyes she knows better than anyone else’s. “I want to thank you for getting me this far, Mama. I’m going to study and exercise good judgment and check my Ubers and be kind to everyone I meet, just like you taught me.” He hugs her tight. It very much feels at that moment like he is the adult and she the child. “I love you. You did a good job.”
A week later, Mallory is out on her beach under an umbrella reading Dani Shapiro’s new memoir when she hears someone knocking on the door of her cottage.
She wants this to be a figment of her imagination—maybe she’s hearing things now as well as seeing things—but there’s no mistaking the
ping. Mallory considers not moving an inch. FedEx and UPS drop packages. Apple doesn’t stop by unannounced, but if she did, she’d just come down to the beach. It’s still two weeks until Jake’s arrival, and he never knocks anyway. There’s no one else Mallory wants to see.
There’s a reprieve, then more rapping.
Mallory heads up to the house. On the front porch, she stops to rinse off her sandy feet with the hose. She’s wearing linen drawstring pants over her bikini and a long-sleeved Gamecocks T-shirt. Ponytail, hat. She looks like a dirt sandwich.
Through the screen of the pond-side door, she sees the form of a woman and, beyond the woman, a black sedan, a car-service car, dusty after a ride down the no-name road. At the same time that Mallory wonders,
she gets a jolt of incredulous shock because she knows who it is.
The spot in her vision starts to expand and contract like it’s a living, breathing thing.
Mallory wants to go into her bedroom, close and lock the door, and shutter the house as if preparing for a hurricane. But the woman has seen her.
Mallory stops to look around. Without Link here, her house is spotless. Which is a good thing, because she fears the woman she’s about to invite inside is Ursula de Gournsey.