Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy (2 page)

BOOK: Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy
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And the next day wasn't so promising. Bright and early, Mrs. Hurd stood on their front porch, a fresh blueberry pie for the new minister and his family in her hands and the baseball game on her lips: "I'm sorry you had such a difficult time last night. Did you ask Willis to show you how to play?"

"He will," said Reverend Buckminster. "Turner should have a grand time with Willis. He's been looking forward to living here in Phippsburg."

"He's been looking forward to lighting out for the Territories," thought Turner.

But the grand time came before he could light out.

That afternoon, the dignitaries of Phippsburg arrived to conduct Reverend Buckminster around his new parish, and the sons of those dignitaries arrived to conduct Turner to "the best spot to swim in the whole state," according to Willis.

"Is it safe?" asked Mrs. Buckminster.

Turner was impressed that Willis could smile at his mother and sneer at him at one and the same moment.

"We'd never swim where it wasn't, ma'am," said Willis. Then he looked at Turner. "You can swim, can't you? You have done that before?"

Turner wished he had a baseball bat in his hand.

He walked behind the other boys, and tried not to hear the stifled laughs, tried not to see the flailing swings. They crossed Thayer's haymeadow and passed among the firs and cedars and yellow birches, then began to climb up. Turner was a bit confused; even someone who had lived in Boston knew you climbed down to the sea. But then the trees gave way, and they came to a granite outcropping that jutted out over the cold, green Atlantic. While the other boys draped their shirts over the blueberry bushes, Turner stepped to the edge and looked down at the blue-black rocks. He figured this was where people who'd had enough of Phippsburg came to end it all.

Willis came up beside him. "You jumping in with your Sunday shirt on?"

"It isn't a Sunday shirt, and I wasn't planning to."

"I suppose all Buck
ministers
wear Sunday shirts every day of the week. You do know how to jump, right?"

"I know how to jump."

"Wait for the wave to come in, so you don't splatter yourself all over those rocks. If you do, there won't be much of you left to wash out to sea." Then Willis moved to the edge, waited for his wave, and, with a last smile at Turner, leaped.

It was beautiful. He fell slowly, like a baseball, reaching the wave just as it covered the rocks, disappearing in white and green, and then rising out of the water as the wave drew past and threw itself against the cliff. The sun gilded the spray that fell around him.

Turner thought he might be sick.

One by one, the boys jumped off the granite outcropping and fell perfectly into waves that had just covered the rocks. And one by one they rose out of the sea into a golden spray.

Until there was only Turner.

He left his clothes on the blueberry bushes and moved to the edge where his pale toes clenched the rock. The sea swelled rhythmically beneath him, and he leaned forward whenever a wave folded in and broke to a yellow froth. He looked down at his legs and was surprised to see that they were shivering, since he couldn't feel them at all.

He flexed his knees. Below him, the boys, standing on the blue-black rocks waved at him to jump. "Now!" they yelled with each swell, and then groaned with disappointment when he didn't go. "Now!" More groaning.

Turner hated their guts.

Somewhere there was a baseball diamond yellow with dust and green with summer grass. And there was a kid stepping up to the plate, swinging his bat low, the pine tar sticky on his palms. He was moving his back foot behind him and trying not to eye the gap down the right-field line big enough to run an eight-wheel locomotive through.

But Turner was standing forty feet above the writhing sea, waiting for a swell big enough to keep him from splattering on the rocks and hoping he wouldn't throw up before he went under.

"You coming or not?"

"Hey, Buck
minister,
you coming?"

Turner leaned over. He edged the tiniest bit closer to the tip of the rock and wondered how far away the Territories were. He hoped that they never smelled of sea salt, that they never heard the urgings of the ocean, that they were so lonely that being a stranger in them hardly mattered.

And then he saw the sea surge that was coming in.

Already the boys were scrambling up to a higher rock. "This is it, Buck
minister. This
is the biggest one you'll ever get."

Turner had no doubt it was the biggest one he would ever get. The surge moved like a wallowing mountain range, roiling to a whiteness at its peaks. He saw the water begin to pull back from the rocks below him, saw the seaweed sucked out in long green tresses, saw the ocean yanked away from the dark, sharp mussel beds.

"You see it, Buck
minister? You
see it? That's the one!"

Of course he saw it. God and all creation saw it.

He flexed his knees again, unclenched and clenched his toes. It would take a second and a half, maybe two seconds, for him to hit the wave. Not hard to judge. Keep the knees bent so he wouldn't hit the bottom. Blow out the nose just when he hit so he wouldn't come up spurting. Be ready if it spun him over ...
when
it spun him over. No screaming. Oh Lord, please no screaming.

By now, the mountain surge had drawn all the water along the entire coast of Maine up into itself, and it was no longer wallowing. The top ridge began to fall over and disintegrate into churning confusion. Turner felt himself leaning, leaning more and more, his legs about to spring. Then the wave crossed where he knew he must jump and exploded into chaos, water avalanching in every direction, roaring at the sky, tormenting the rocks, and bursting into a spray that blotted out the sun.

And when that spray fell back in sheets to the following waves, it left Turner still standing on the top of the cliff, knees still flexed, toes still clenched.

He was breathing about as hard as any human being can breathe.

Then the laughing hollers began to come up from the rocks below the outcropping. He tried to slow his breathing, to stop the shivering in his legs. He found his clothes, put on his pants, and stretched the suspenders over his shoulders. He didn't wait to put on his shirt but willed himself to climb up the ledges and start for town even though his legs were still shivering.

Around him soft bright moss curled up the yellow birches, lichens roughened the rocks, and crushed needles let go their piney scent. But Turner hardly noticed. If only he were on Tremont Street, the gold on the State House glowing in the sun, the horsey smell of the carriages and the brogue calls of the cabbies filling the air, the bells of Park Street Church singing the hours, the grass of the Common—oh, the sweet grass of the Common.

He tried not to cry.

He came out of the woods and onto Parker Head Road a little below Phippsburg. Ahead of him, the sky pirouetted on First Congregational's sunlit steeple. Beneath it, the bell tower angled down to the clapboard front and granite steps, hewn a hundred years ago by the first congregation. Aside from the granite and the green window shutters, the whole building was shining white with a new coat of paint for the new minister.

In fact, all the buildings up and down Parker Head Road were white, and though most looked as if they had seen more winter storms than any house should have to, they all stood with corners as straight and trim and proper as if they wore invisible corsets. All of them had green shutters and all of them had green doors—except for one, whose shutters were as yellow as sunlight and whose door was as red as strawberries.

Turner skipped a rock down Parker Head, trying to keep it between the lines of grass. It threw up yellow dust for three skips and then skidded off. He wondered if Willis could hit a pitch thrown honestly, and tossed another rock, more fiercely, that skipped five times. He wondered if Willis could hit a pitch that had spin and speed, and skipped another stone, which skidded off after the first skip, jumped over the grass, and smacked sharply against the picket fence that bound the narrowest, sharpest, most peaked house on the street. The elm that draped over its roof shadowed its high windows

It was not the house with the yellow shutters and the red door.

"Oh no" whispered Turner when he heard the smack.

"Doggone," he muttered when he saw the green door of the house open.

"Darn," he said aloud when a woman came out with a hand up to shield her eyes so she might see him all the better. It was a large hand, attached to a large woman. "You the new minister's boy?"

Turner nodded.

"A boy that belongs to a minister should know how to answer a lady."

"Yes, ma'am. Turner Buckminster."

"Well, Turner Buckminster, what are you doing standing in the middle of the road half naked like that, throwing stones at my house in the middle of the day?"

Turner wondered wildly if there was a better time to throw stones at her house, but all he said was,"I'm on my way home. From swimming."

"We don't run around half naked in Phippsburg. Maybe that's the kind of thing they do down to Boston, but not here. Not in a God-fearing town. And especially not the minister's son. Throwing stones at my house—my very house! You're supposed to set some kind of example. Don't you know that?"

"I'm just on my way home."

She shook her broom at him. "Then put your shirt on so you don't walk down the main street of Phippsburg like that, in front of God and everyone. And find something to do fitting for a minister's son, instead of being a trial and a tribulation to an old woman. Standing in the middle of the road, throwing stones."

"Yes, ma'am." Turner wondered if this was a third failure. It seemed almost too much to bear—three in two days.

"Your father is sure to hear of this. See if he doesn't. You tell him that Mrs. Cobb will be down to call on him."

Turner thought he might start bawling right there in the middle of the road, in the middle of Phippsburg, in the middle of Maine.

And then across the road, the strawberry door on the sunlight-shuttered house opened, and a tiny, frail bird of a woman stepped out. Turner figured she had reached her peak of height sometime around the Civil War and from that time on had been folding and shrinking until someday she would probably just disappear. The white of her dress had faded to yellow and matched her skin almost precisely. One hand held a pale blue shawl tight around her chest, and the other held a book, which she used to beckon him.

Turner glanced back at Mrs. Cobb and her large hand—he could imagine that even a tidal wave wouldn't shiver her—and crossed over to the yellow-shuttered house, buttoning on his shirt and strapping on his suspenders again.

"Turner Buckminster," she said, her voice the dry rustling of fallen leaves. "Turner Buckminster III. Well, you never mind that Mrs. Cobb." He heard the green door slam across the street, heard the gate of the picket fence open and shut, felt a disapproving presence move behind him like a wave frothing up the street to the parsonage.

Yes, ma am.

"She's more thunder than lightning. I'm more ... a cloud. A wispy one. Mrs. Elia Hurd, mother of the present deacon."

She held her hand out, and Turner went up the steps to take it. It felt as dry as her voice, like one of those pastries with layers that flake off, thin as paper.

"Turner!"

His father, coming up Parker Head in the custody of the town dignitaries. Since he was smiling, Turner figured he had—who knows how—missed the thunderous Mrs. Cobb, and that God had given him at least a brief reprieve—which he deserved after the last two days, not to mention the Sears, Roebuck catalogue.

"Come along with me," Reverend Buckminster called, his arm out and gesturing.

Mrs. Elia Hurd looked at Turner, her head a little to one side, her old eyes as pale as her shawl. Her lips parted, closed, parted again, and then she said what he had never expected anyone else in the wide world to say: "So, Turner Buckminster III," she asked,"when you look through the number at the end of your name, does it seem like you're looking through prison bars?"

Turner fell back one step.

She came closer and laid her hand against his cheek. He did not move. "Sometimes," said Turner softly, "I just want to light out..."

"Oh yes," said Mrs. Hurd, her hand still on his cheek,"I do, too. Just light out for the Territories." And suddenly, Turner thought he could smell sweet grass.

"This instant!" called Reverend Buckminster.

***

The sea surge that had drawn up the coastal waters of Maine poured past the cliffs and tore along the ragged coast. It covered the high rocks—dry for more than three months of high tides—all the way from Small Point up past Harpswell. When it had finished its fussing, it seethed back down the New Meadows River, sluicing between the mainland and the islands. It spent its last surge on one rock-shouldered heap just a spit or two off the coast, frothing over the mudflats, setting the clam holes flapping, and carrying a small, startled crab out from its weedy hiding place. It tumbled upside down up the island shore and onto a toe stretched toward the water.

Lizzie Griffm, who belonged to the toe, grinned at the crab's frantic turnings as it tried to sort out claws and legs. Its shell was so pale that she could see the mess of the inner workings. Another almost-spent wave came up behind and tumbled it off-—claws and legs all to be sorted out again. Lizzie plucked her toe and the rest of her foot out of the covering mud and slowly backed up the shore, letting a wave catch her and cover her ankles, then moving away some until she was on the thin line of gravelly sand that marked the reach of the water.

She looked out at the thrusting tide, clenched her toes into the loose sand, and smelled the salty, piney air. At thirteen, she was, as her grandfather liked to remind her, one year older than the century, and so a good deal wiser. Too wise to stay on Malaga Island, he said, but she planned to stay there forever. Where else, after all, did the tide set a pale crab on your toe?

BOOK: Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy
5.77Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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