Authors: Barbara Delinsky
“What does he mean by that?” she asked. She and Marcy were sitting at the edge of the frog pond on the Boston Common. They’d just come from grocery shopping on Charles Street and were eating the chocolate-covereds that Pam had bought from a nearby vendor. “‘A five-month baby.’ He’s said it before. What does it mean?”
Marcy was a while in answering, which was part of her charm, in Pam’s eyes. She had the same slow way about her that most of the Mainers did, silently mulling over her answer before offering it up. “Has your mama talked to you about that?”
“She doesn’t talk about babies at all, except to say that she won’t have another one. Does that mean she
have another one?”
Marcy took a slow lick of her cone. “Could be. Could be it means she doesn’t want another one b’cause she knows she’d never get another one so good as you.”
“I’m not so good, not all the time. So what’s a five-month baby?”
Marcy leaned against the cement rim of the pond and watched the people who passed. “Has your mama told you about making babies?”
“No. But I know.”
“How do you know?”
“Melissa and I talk about it. She has a book that we’ve read.” Pam scooted close to Marcy and lowered her voice. “And another one about periods. Janice Brooks just got hers. We thought we ought to know what it was.”
“Janice Brooks is twelve. You’re just ten.”
“That doesn’t mean anything. The book said that a girl can sometimes get it when she’s ten or eleven.”
“Not much. She can be sixteen, too. You may have to wait.”
“Do you get one?”
Marcy thought about it, then nodded.
“So you could have a baby now if you wanted to?”
Again Marcy nodded.
“And it would take nine months to grow. But the book didn’t say anything about five-month babies. John looks disgusted when he calls me one. So what does it mean?”
“You better ask your mama.”
“I don’t think she’ll answer.”
“I don’t know. I just don’t think she will. She’ll probably laugh at me. She doesn’t think John’s so awful. So I’m asking you, Marcy. Come on. You’re my best friend, and you
about things. What’s a five-month baby?”
Marcy took another lick of her cone before turning her slender body toward Pam. “A five-month baby is a baby born only five months after the parents get married.”
It didn’t take long for the meaning of that to register on Pam. She was good at math. “Then John is saying,” she began slowly, “that my parents made me before they got married?”
“That they got married because they were going to have me?”
“Th’ important thing,” Marcy said, “is that they were married when you were born.”
“Did they have to get married because of me?”
The conviction behind the word was some reassurance to Pam, but still she had to ask, “How do you know?”
“B’cause they love you. And they love each other. People who love like that get married whether there’s a baby or not.” When Pam continued to look skeptical, she added, “You know they love you.”
“Sometimes I think they don’t love each other. Daddy spends so much time in Maine.”
“That’s on account of the pits. He has to be there.”
“No,” Pam said, but distantly.
“Yes’m. If he didn’t spend so much time in Maine, you wouldn’t have all the nice things you do here. Your daddy is a fine man, about as fine as any that comes along. I’m sure that if he had his way he’d be here all the time with you. And your mama.”
Pam didn’t argue further, though it seemed to her that the last “mama” had been stuck on as an afterthought. She could understand why Marcy would insist that Patricia and Eugene were still deeply in love. Marcy’s own parents had a volatile relationship, if the screaming Pam had heard the one time she’d gone with Marcy to visit was any indication. By comparison, anything was better.
Pam’s point of comparison, though, was different. Increasingly she could look back on her earliest memories, and, even allowing for the innocence of those first years, she could see the change in the way her parents treated each other. The nice times were fewer and farther between. If Patricia and Eugene were in love, it wasn’t as deep a love as it once had been.
Pam was convinced that something was wrong, and nothing in the course of the months that followed suggested otherwise. Eugene was in Maine more often than not, which irritated Patricia so much that she made several trips there herself.
“Do you blame me for wondering?” she asked in a huff one Friday night. She’d taken Pam straight from school and made the three-hour drive without forewarning Eugene.
In the eyes of a twelve-year-old, his welcome was one of unqualified pleasure, everything Pam had hoped for. The three of them went out for dinner at the nicest restaurant within twenty miles of the Cove, and when they returned they sat for a time in the den catching up on what each had been doing since last they’d been together. When the talk turned to business, Pam quietly left. But the conversation easily carried up the stairs to the hall, where she leaned against the wall papered with Queen Anne’s lace and listened.
“Yes, I do blame you,” Eugene argued. “When I say that I’m here because I have to be, that should be enough. There was no need for you to race on up just to make sure I was working.”
“I raced on up because I missed you. It’s been three weeks.”
“It’s often been three weeks.”
“But it shouldn’t be. It doesn’t have to be. I need you there.”
“You nag me there. You’ve got me dressed up and going out every night to some party or ball or art show.”
“Those parties and balls and exhibits are where you can make contacts to broaden your base. That’s what you should be doing.”
Pam heard the tension in her father’s voice as he said, “My business is taking tourmaline from the earth and selling it, and I’m doin’ pretty damn well.”
“But you could be doing better. Don’t you see? You’re not making the most of your assets. You sell the stones, pay your crew, buy new equipment now and then, and put the rest of the money into the bank. It’s piling up there, Gene, when it should be earning twice as much in another venture.”
“This sounds familiar. Have you been talking to John?”
Pam flattened her back against the wall. She knew the answer to that one. She saw the way Patricia had begun to wait for John to come home from work. She heard the discussions they often had over drinks before dinner.
“Who else do I have to talk with?” Patricia shot back. “You’re never around.”
“Why do you have to talk with anyone? Why can’t you just trust me?”
trust you, but I get nervous. We have all our eggs in one basket. What if something should happen up here? What if the mine caves in or there’s a flood, or you take the last piece of tourmaline out of the ground and can’t find any more? What will you do then?”
“If that happens,” Eugene said with renewed patience, “which it won’t, but if it does, I’ll know that I’ve got all this wonderful money in the bank that I can use to keep from starving.”
Pam pictured him grinning that broad, self-confident grin of his. Leaning against the wall, she smiled. But her smile soon faded, because Patricia wasn’t as easily reassured.
“But why not invest it and make even more money? Why not diversify? If you branch into another field, you can be in Boston more. I need you there, Gene. When I’m alone, I start imagining things. I get very nervous.” She was speaking more quickly. Even from the distance, Pam could hear the tremor in her voice.
Eugene must have heard it too and been touched. “Now, now, Patsy . . .” He went on, but his voice faded to a gentle murmur, too low for Pam to hear at the top of the stairs.
Telling herself that things were in hand now that her father knew her mother’s fears, Pam went to bed. She heard no more voices, and if her parents slept together in the large master suite, she was asleep before they climbed the stairs.
She and Patricia stayed the weekend, and by the time they headed back to Boston on Sunday afternoon, Pam felt optimistic that her parents’ differences had been ironed out. “You’ll be down to see us soon?” she asked after giving Eugene a last hug and kiss.
“Soon, Pammy girl. Real soon.”
He kept his word. He was back in Boston the following week, but it was for a single night. Then he was gone. Patricia was more disappointed than usual and therefore more nervous. That added to Pam’s disappointment, because when Patricia was nervous, she turned to John.
He was, without doubt, Pam decided, one of the coolest people she’d ever known. His hair was always combed, his tie always straight, his posture just so, with one hand in a pocket so that he’d look casual even if he felt tense.
She could forgive him that, she supposed. What she couldn’t forgive was that he always seemed to know how to put Patricia’s mind at ease, which wasn’t right at all. That was Eugene’s job.
But Eugene wasn’t there, and the more John filled the gap, the more Patricia sought him out.
Pam didn’t know what to do. Each time she talked with her father, she begged him to come home, but he always had an excuse. Then vacation came, and she went to Timiny Cove. Patricia joined them for several days, driving up with John when Eugene demanded he come. But when John returned to Boston, so did Patricia.
Watching her leave, Pam felt a sense of loss. She wasn’t as close to her mother as she used to be. They didn’t talk much. They didn’t laugh together or daydream together or spend days together, just the two of them, the way they once did. Patricia seemed distanced from her, even when they were in the same room. She watched her mother drive away from her and she knew their relationship had changed.
Unable to blame Eugene, whom she adored, or Patricia, who seemed too distracted, Pam put the responsibility on John.
OHN WASN’T SURE JUST WHEN
his fear of his father hardened into contempt. It was a gradual process, starting in his early teen years when he formed an elite group of friends, continuing when puberty gave him the confidence of height and a physical par with Eugene, and culminating with his parents’ divorce and his mother’s subsequent death.
He wasn’t sorry to see the fear go. Long after childhood, he could vividly remember the quaking he’d felt when Eugene’s loud bellow told him that he’d disappointed his father again. Sometimes, it had been the way he looked: “Too new, for pity’s sake.” Sometimes it had been the way he acted: “Starchy, boy, where’s your sense of adventure?” Sometimes it had to do with the business: “What do you mean you don’t want to work in the mine?” It wasn’t only the voice that made him tremble but the flashing eyes and the cheeks that grew red with temper. “You’ve got the whole summer lying out there ahead of you, with nothing better to do. Hell, by the time I was your age I’d been workin’ for three years shovelin’ manure at Grady’s farm!”
John shrank back against the paneled wall of his bedroom, but the painted pine offered no protection from this man who didn’t like him. “Why do I have to work?” his small, eight-year-old voice asked.
“To learn. And you won’t be doing anything killing. You’ll be helping out with little things like carrying water and running errands. I’m no slave driver, for pity’s sake.”
There was no solace in that, since John had no idea what a slave driver was. The word
was enough. But the words
were even worse. His very first memory of the place was of being lost in the woods, and lost was what he’d felt every time he’d been there since. Timiny Cove was filled with people who didn’t dress like he did, didn’t live like he did, didn’t like what he did.
“I want to stay here,” he protested, but his voice sounded feeble next to his father’s full boom.
“And do what?”
“Play with Timmy and Doug.”
“Timmy and Doug? What for?”
“I like Timmy and Doug.”
“Well, that’s just fine, since they’re your cousins. But what they can teach you about business ain’t worth a tinker’s damn. With due respect for your mama’s family, the Wrights have had their money since the Pilgrims landed. They don’t work. We St. Georges do.” Under his breath he mumbled, “You wanna play with Timmy and Doug.” Then he thundered so loud that John jumped, “For pity’s sake, you do enough of that here. Your mother’s got you runnin’ around with your cousins and a whole bunch of other little boys with fancy names. Well, enough! There are some fancy names up in Timiny Cove, too, and the boys there can teach you a whole lot more about living than any Saltonstall ever could. So this summer you can do your playin’ with the Duffys and the Greenleafs and the Pelletiers, and you’ll learn a thing or two along the way.”
Given no choice in the matter, John tried. He worked for his father that summer and hated every minute of it. He didn’t like the dirt, didn’t like the smell, didn’t like the men. Mostly he didn’t like the way Eugene kept yelling at him. In his father’s eyes, he could do no right. If he was sent for a tool, he brought the wrong one. If he was sent for the medical box, he brought it too slowly. If he was sent for water, he spilled too much along the way. John knew that Eugene yelled at other people, but never as loudly as at him.