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Authors: The Outer Banks House (v5)

Diann Ducharme (31 page)

BOOK: Diann Ducharme

I shook my head. Apparently there were many theories regarding the history of the name of Nags Head, but I doubted anyone knew for sure anymore.

“It’s also magical. It’s said that any couple that’s engaged to be married on top of this sand hill will live a long, happy life together. And it always comes true.”

I looked at my hands, the word
smoldering in my brain. I said, “That’s just a Banker myth.”

He shook his head. “Can’t always explain everything away, Abby. Don’t you believe in anything that you can’t see or read about in your books?”

I raked the sand through my fingers and across my open palms. It was so soft, I almost couldn’t feel it. “I used to. I used to think that animals could talk to me. I used to hear the trees speak to me.”

I remembered when I used to conduct one-sided conversations with the horses. I paused after every question and sentence, to give the horses time to respond to me. In the summertime, before the war, I used to sneak out of the house and sleep in the tobacco fields, with
the green stalks swaying above me. I would talk to the ripe shoots and compare stories of youth.

“But after the war, after my uncle died, I couldn’t hear anyone or anything. The only things that made sense were words in books,” I said.

He nodded. “You could escape for a bit, I reckon. Go to your own deserted island.”

I said, “It’s strange, though. Every time I pick up a book now, I can’t seem to make my way through it. I don’t want to escape anymore.”

He smiled at me. “All I know is, when I’m with you, I believe in something magical. It’s like the feeling I get when I hook a fish on the line. I still can’t believe it happened to me.”

Finally the children ran wildly down the sound side of the tallest dune. I could hear their screams—of fear or delight, I couldn’t rightly tell—grow fainter the lower they went. I hoped they wouldn’t care to climb back up again.

Ben mumbled, “It’s just us up here again.”

“Then why do you look so downhearted?”

He looked in the direction of the cottage. “I reckon we don’t have much time left this summer.”

I ran my finger along his strong chin and jawbone. The gingered stubble scratched my finger like a cat’s tongue. “Then let’s just live up here. Our very own sand dune.”

“Now, I’ve been thinking on this a lot. You don’t have to go back. You could stay here on the Banks. With me …”

I faced away from him abruptly. “Hector proposed to me two days ago.”

Ben spluttered, “What did you tell him?”

“I told him I couldn’t marry him. But the word
seemed unsatisfactory to him.”

Ben stood up, spraying sand all over my dress, and crossed his arms tightly across his chest. He didn’t speak for several long minutes.

Then he looked down at me, his eyes wild and desperate, like a man awaiting the plank on a pirate ship. “I could provide for you, Abby. You may not think as such, but I’m moving up in this world. Won’t fetch what a doctor could bring home, but we’d get by. We could be together.”

He spoke rapidly, without looking at me. “We’ll have enough to buy as many books as you want! Big fat ones with the longest words you’ve ever seen! We could read together, all day and night. Escape the world together.”

I stood up, wanting to calm his agitation. I caressed his fevered face, and he closed his eyes. I ran my fingers over the lines that branched out from his eyes. I paused to lay my finger in the crease between his nose and lip.

I said, “Remember when you told me I’d grown my sea legs?”

He nodded, exhaling slowly.

“I haven’t been able to get the notion out of my head since then. I felt stronger, like I’d learned how to walk again, but in a different direction than everyone else.”

He stood still. A gentle wind blew sand over our feet.

I said quietly, “I’ve got to see where my sea legs carry me.”

With his eyes still closed, tears trickled down his cheeks.

The sky seemed too close now. It smothered me. I struggled to get my bearings, but the sand had blown and blown, covering my path completely. It was disconcerting to realize that I couldn’t go back to where I had started. And I had no idea how I had gotten here, my footprints long gone. The only way forward was down a sucking slope.

I breathed deeply and held the breath for as long as I could. The
sky was a deep purplish gold, a healing bruise. I closed my eyes and I could hear every particle of sand skipping along the dune and flying through the air, endlessly connecting with one another.

I pulled Ben down onto the sand. He propped himself up over me and his weathered face was set against the backdrop of the fading sunset. I pulled his damp shirt over his head and ran my hands over his back.

He gently lifted the hem of my dirty pink dress, and the night air cooled my legs. He stroked my sandy toes, one by one. He kissed the freckles on my knees. I lay back in the sand and closed my eyes, his fingertips drizzling over my body like ocean spray. As he caressed my thighs, the insides of my arms, I thought of summer strawberries, ripe tomatoes, sugar and honey.

But then he pushed himself inside me, as strong as an arm pulling in a net. I gasped with the tearing of flesh. My hands dug far down into the sand in a strange agony, trying to reach the cold, damp layer below.

But with one glance at his face, the pain went away. I rolled my head back and forth in the soft cradle of sand. He drove in and out of me, a fierce lullaby.

I could see the beginnings of the stars in the graying sky. His warm tears slid onto my skin. He sobbed out my name until darkness descended. I whispered to him of the love in my heart.

’Round and ’round we all went. Life, and death, would spin and spiral forever, taking and giving. But time stopped on the dune that night. Life suspended herself, like the full moon in a dark, dark sky.

Daddy had finally called Doc Newman to the cottage. He had taken a special packet schooner from Edenton, incurring an inflated rate of
passage. His clothing was disheveled and his white hair stringy when he arrived at the western door, but he still had the twinkle in his eyes that I remembered from when I was a small girl. I almost expected him to reach into his pocket for some sweetmeats.

He greeted me more affectionately than he had in the past. “Hector tells me that Nags Head was right beautiful this summer. Hot, and every inch covered with sand. But beautiful nonetheless. He seemed quite taken with it.”

He winked at me, making his bushy white eyebrow plunge over his dark gray eye.

I smiled tentatively and said, “Yes, it has been hot, but more pleasant than Edenton has been this summer, I imagine.”

“Oh, it has been a swampland, to be sure.”

Winnie led him upstairs and I followed along, wondering what, if anything, Hector had told his father about me.

Mama was in bed, her bowl propped on her middle. She looked so downright awful I hardly recognized her. But when Mama saw Doc Newman, she brightened up immediately and handed the bowl to me. It held what appeared to be spit-up watermelon.

Doc Newman sat down in the rocker by her bed and placed his big black medical bag right on top of her white Bible on the bedside table. Mama flinched at the affront, but said nothing.

He smiled at her. “I heard you’ve been feeling under the weather, Ingrid. That baby in your belly giving you some trouble?”

Mama waved a limp hand. “Oh, no, not too much trouble. It’s to be expected.”

“Nolan indicated you’ve been experiencing some mood swings. Not feeling yourself.
Not leaving this bedroom
. Ingrid, you need fresh air. It’s too stuffy up here. Defeats the purpose of living by the sea.”

He raised the windows and propped open the shutters with sticks. The ocean air filled the room.

Mama’s face darkened at the mention of her husband’s name. “What does Nolan know about carrying babies? Even when he’s here, he’s gone. He’s got other things on his mind this summer.”

“I imagine he does.
job is to carry this baby.”

“My body doesn’t want this baby. I’m so sick, I can’t even get out of bed. And the smell of the sea makes me ill. I can’t stand it.”

He said rather sternly, “If your body didn’t want the baby, it would have rejected it a while ago. You’re going to have to carry the baby, Ingrid. You’re going to have to try harder.”

Mama’s eyes welled with tears at his advice. “I can’t,” she whispered. “I don’t want to.”

Doc Newman and Mama looked at each other, likely thinking on the many years of blood-soaked, bedridden hardships they’d weathered together. His furry eyebrows knit together in a V.

“You can do it, Ingrid,” he said softly, but without conviction.

She said, “I’ve been reading the Bible. There is one verse that I can’t get out of my head. It comes to me in my sleep. Book of Luke, chapter six, verses forty-six to forty-nine. Do you know it?”

He shook his head. “Not off the top of my head. What is it?”

Mama didn’t even reach for her Bible. She began reciting from memory a passage that I remembered from Sunday school.

“And why call ye me, Lord, and do not the things which I say? Whosoever cometh to me, and heareth my sayings, and doeth them, I will show you to whom he is like: He is like a man which built a house, and digged deep, and laid the foundation on a rock: And when the flood arose, the stream beat vehemently upon that house, and could not shake it: For it was founded upon a rock.”
She paused, then spoke in a whisper,
“But he that heareth, and doeth not, is like a man that without a foundation built a house upon the earth; against which the stream did beat vehemently, and immediately it fell; and the ruin of that house was great.”

Doc Newman said with interest, “What does that passage mean to you, Ingrid?”

She put her hands over her eyes. “It fills me with fear.”

She took her hands from her face and glanced at me, a brief look of motherly regret. “I have scorned Christ’s prophecies. I have cared only for myself.
I have not loved
. And look! Now I am living in a house upon the sand! A house built expressly for false Christians! I am surely doomed to hell for eternity.
God is telling me this
, I know.”

Doc looked alarmed. “Now, Ingrid, that’s taking things too far, indeed. You’re an upstanding Christian woman. I’ve never seen you miss a day of church. I think you need some more fresh air, move around a bit. Staying up here all day isn’t doing you a bit of good.”

With that, he told Winnie and me to leave the room so he could examine Mama, who was sobbing into her pillow. Half an hour later, Doc Newman clomped slowly down the narrow staircase. Winnie and I both greeted him expectantly at the bottom of the stairs.

Without meeting our eyes, he dispensed his favorite prescription. “She needs fresh air, and lots of it. That room is making her loopy. Quoting scripture, indeed.”

This hardly satisfied me. “Dr. Newman, pardon me for saying this, but it seems to me she needs more than just fresh air. She is unwell … in her spirit, too. And you led us to believe that she couldn’t get pregnant again.”

He shrugged as he snapped his doctor’s bag shut. “I’ve been known to be wrong in these kinds of cases. Things do happen.”

I dared to ask him, “Will she survive the birth?”

He fiddled with the rim of his hat. “It’s hard to tell. Everything appears to be moving along normally. But as you know, her pregnancies and births have been hard on her body. I can’t say for sure what will happen.”

I stared at him, wanting more of an explanation, especially one
that freed her and the baby from death sentences. He just kissed my hand with his papery lips. “Rest and fresh air, Abigail. Oh, and I’ll see you soon, I hope.”

With a slight tilt of his flossy head, he donned his hat and headed straight through the sand toward the hotel.

As soon as the screen door banged shut after him, I heard Mama call me upstairs. Her voice sounded strangled, as if she were set to retch, so I hurried up to see her. She was out of bed and standing in the middle of the room in her dirty nightgown. I had forgotten how tall she was.

a proposal of marriage?” she spit, her white face contorted. “Are you trying to kill me with your willfulness, Abigail?”

Doc Newman must have known more about the situation than he had let on. I couldn’t believe that he had mentioned it to Mama, especially in the state she was in.

But I could still feel Ben’s kisses on my thighs from earlier in the evening. I could still feel my sore flesh rubbing against my pantalettes when I moved. I couldn’t think about anything else.

I uttered the only words that came to mind: “I don’t want to marry him, Mama. He’s not the one for me.”

She began to pace the floor, her heavy breasts swinging against the cotton of her gown. She muttered violently to herself and pulled at her long hair. “You didn’t think you could keep the refusal a secret from us, I hope?”

I shook my head pathetically. “I didn’t think you were up to hearing about it right now. Have you seen yourself lately? You’re losing your mind up here, Mama.”

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