Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy (8 page)

BOOK: Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy
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Together they climbed up to the center of the island, where the trees were thick and high. She showed him the graves, and they stood quietly together and were careful where they set their feet. Then back up the shore and to the south end of the island, where shingled one- and two-room houses clamped themselves to the rocks like oysters, glad to be there and not needing anyone's say-so. In front of almost all of them was a dory or two, some overturned, some pulled up long ago for caulking or patching. Near them, half-moon lobster traps bleached under the heat of the sun, the salt dried to white streaks along their boards, their rope netting stiff and a bit ragged. High dune grass hid the paths up to the houses—in fact, almost hid the chopping block one man was using to split his cordwood.

"Hey, Mr. Eason," Lizzie hollered, and the man stopped for a moment and waved at them.

Turner shifted the pail of clams to his other hand, and they followed the curve of the beach past the schoolhouse—the trimmest building on the island—past more shingled one-room homes, where there was always someone at the window to wave to Lizzie and nod to Turner—the kind of nod you might give to someone who didn't belong but might, in time, come to belong—and then back around to the point where Lizzie's home and its tottering picket fence looked on up the New Meadows. And there was her granddaddy, sitting by the front door, a Bible in his hand. He closed it as they came up.

"This the boy never talked to a Negro before?"

Lizzie nodded. Turner nodded, too. He thought Lizzie's grandfather must be older than Methuselah. He looked like a white-haired, fiery-eyed, God-haunted Old Testament prophet without the robes.

"How's he doing now?"

"Fair to middling."

"Fair to middling," her grandfather repeated. "Let's see, then. Boy, why don't you go ahead and say something?"

Turner had no notion of what to say to an Old Testament prophet. He had figured they were all dead.

"Maybe not quite middling," said Lizzie's granddaddy.

Turner opened his mouth and shut it again.

"Maybe not quite fair. How about something from the Bible? You know something from the Bible? I've just been reading in Philippians here."

"I do know something from the Bible."

"That's good to hear. Good to hear." He emphasized the "good" as if it really meant something. "Go on and say what that is."

Turner began. '"Abraham begat Isaac; and Isaac begat Jacob; and Jacob begat Judas and his brethren; and Judas begat Phares and Zara of Thamar; and Phares begat Esrom; and Esrom begat Aram; and Aram begat Aminadab; and Aminadab begat Naasson; and Naasson begat Salmon.'"

Lizzie's granddaddy put his hand to his cheek. Lizzie stared at Turner.

"I can keep on going," said Turner.

"No," said Lizzie's granddaddy slowly. "I expect you've gone on enough."

"Zara of Thamar?" said Lizzie.

"Maybe we should start with names." He put his hand to his chest. "Reverend Griffin."

"And he's Turner Ernest Buckminster," supplied Lizzie.

"Just Turner," he said.

"Turner. That's a fine name."

So's yours.

"Well, thank you, Turner Ernest Buckminster. Now, if you're done with your begats, I'll go on ahead and shake your hand. But only if you're done with the begats."

"I'm done," said Turner, and took Reverend Griffin's hand. He wasn't surprised that it was strong, but he was surprised by how he felt every scar that ridged the man's palm, every cut drawn through by a quick and sharp pull on a fishline, every slit opened by an accidental knife.

"You can tell a man by his hand," said Reverend Griffin. He shook hands solemnly. "You hold your bat on the knob."

"Just on it," said Turner. Lizzie's granddaddy was a prophet after all.

"Good. Now, if you give me those clams, I'll see what I can do with them."

While Reverend Griffin carried the spitting clams into the house, Lizzie took Turner's hand that held his bat on the knob, and they walked back down to the shore. The water was so different here than in Boston Harbor. There was a cold wildness about it, and it didn't seem to care whether you looked at it. It would do what it was doing with or without you, as it had been doing for a long time before you and would be doing for a long time after you. They sat down and did not speak but watched the small waves chuck at the shore, frothing and foaming and disappearing into the sand and rocks, and then doing it all over again.

A loud screeching of gulls from behind the pines, louder and louder, and then it was no longer gulls that were screeching but a pack of five, or four, or six, or who knows how many children flapping their arms and running up and down and back and forth, screeching and cackling, and then careening down upon them, cawing and laughing and thrashing up the water until they flopped down like a flock of swarming birds all come to roost.

"You Tripps," scolded Lizzie, but she was not really scolding, and though she stood and put her hands on her hips and looked at them with a terrible eye, Turner knew right away that they had seen it all before, and not a single one—not a single one—felt any remorse.

Two of them grabbed Turner's hands. "Fly with us!" cried one. And they pulled him up and suddenly he was flapping his arms and running down the beach, and Lizzie was flapping hers and running alongside them, together in the midst of the swarm, and calling and calling and running and running, plashing through spent waves, cavorting up the granite ledges, wheeling around stands of pines. And when they were too spent to flap and screech anymore, they collapsed on the point, and Lizzie's granddaddy waved them to his door. Inside, there was bread and chowder in cracked white bowls, and they all—Tripps and Lizzie and Reverend Griffm and Turner—they all took the food and sat on the rocks, sun-warmed and briny, and Turner could not tell if it was the scent of the chowder or the sea that filled him, and he knew that he was late again for his own dinner and he did not care. Then there was quiet among the Tripps, and Turner and Lizzie looked at each other over their heads and smiled.

One of the Tripps who had held his hand came to stand on Turner's toes. "I'm Abbie," she said. "You the boy who throws rocks at his nose?"

Turner glared over at Lizzie, who was trying not to laugh. "Does Lizzie go around telling you stories?"

"Only all the time."

The Tripp who had held his other hand climbed onto his lap.

"That's Perlie," said Abbie. "She don't talk much yet." Turner began to tickle her stomach.

"And she ain't ticklish, either," said Abbie. "You could tickle that girl till half past tomorrow and she won't laugh none."

"She won't laugh, huh?" said Turner. He set down his bowl, shoved off Abbie and Perlie, picked up a round stone, and tossed it in the air. He let it fall just by his face, then began to howl and howl.

Perlie laughed, and Abbie laughed, and all the Tripps laughed. And they laughed louder and louder, and then they spread their arms and began to run in circles. They swarmed up the beach, and back down, and finally disappeared abruptly into the pines, Perlie the last in line, looking back at him and holding her nose.

It was, Turner figured, as good as a baseball game on Boston Common. Even better.

They carried all the bowls back inside the house. It was dark and warm and cozy. A shelf with pitchers was tacked to one wall, and underneath was another with a line of books, worn but serviceable. A small potbellied stove took up one corner, and next to it was a dry sink under a window that looked out to the sea. Lizzie's granddaddy took the bowls and stacked them in the sink—"Time enough for that later on"—and he pointed to a line of sepia photographs tacked to the doorway. "Those are our begats," he said, and he touched each one in turn: his grandfather, his own father, himself as a boy with his mama, Lizzie's mama, and another of her mama and daddy holding on to her as if she were a first-place prize they had just won.

"Where are they now?"

"You saw Mama before," said Lizzie. "Down to the graveyard." They were all three quiet for a time, and they could hear the screeching of the Tripps, or maybe it was the gulls.

Turner and Lizzie spent most of the afternoon skipping rocks into the waves—he was better than Lizzie—and climbing up to sway in pines—she could go higher. And only reluctantly did they find themselves going back to the dory, getting in, and each taking an oar. They had trouble figuring how to work them together, and they circled and got slapped in the side by a wave that might have swamped them if it had been even a little bit bigger, but they straightened out and sat side by side, their shoulders working together as they crossed the New Meadows and landed the dory on the shore.

"You come around again, Turner Ernest Buckminster."

"I'll be around, Lizzie Bright Griffin."

She smiled at him as he shoved the dory off, and he waved as she oared her way easily to Malaga and when she landed, she waved once, twice, at him, then ran back up around the point. Turner blew his breath out slow and even. He did not know that Lizzie was doing the same.

Neither did Turner know that up in town, his father was blowing his breath out, too.

He got home in good time, and since he wasn't wearing his white shirt, the dirt showed no more than it should. He had run all the way and, truth to tell, skipped some as well, though he had stopped when he came to Parker Head to become the Minister's Son again, stared at from every parlor window. He had walked quietly and calmly, with only a skip now and then when he couldn't help himself. He figured he was smiling like a loon, but probably no one would fuss too much about that—probably.

The late afternoon was colder as he drew closer to home. The clouds had mottled, and high winds had started to shred their undersides. He wondered how Lizzie and her granddaddy got along on the island come winter, wondered if the New Meadows might ice over so that he could walk out there, wondered if Lizzie ever came into town. He figured she didn't, or at least not much. He thought for a moment of Willis Hurd, and he didn't need to worry any longer about keeping his skipping to a bare minimum.

He didn't need to worry about it at all when he got home.

He opened the front door and thought he had walked into a prayer meeting. The parlor was stuffed with his father, Deacon Hurd, Sheriff Elwell, Mr. Stonecrop, and any other rich man who owned a house up to Phippsburg's Quality Ridge. The furniture seemed too small for them—the room seemed too small for them—and they scented the air with old cigars, starch, and sweat. Mr. Stonecrop stood like an actor posing onstage, one hand set carefully in a pocket and the other gesturing toward the ceiling, or maybe to heaven.

"... Your duty to the town, Reverend. Your duty to the town, I say."

Even though Turner tried to close the door slowly and quietly, it shrieked out his presence like a guilty accomplice, and they all turned to look at him. Mr. Stonecrop took advantage of the moment.

"Good Lord, Buckminster, think of your own son here." He gestured toward Turner, then drew the eyes of his audience back. "This town is on the brink of economic collapse. Shipyards folding, one and then another. Families who have worked those yards for generations, who have used the hands that God saw fit to give them to build up a whole world, may see those hands empty. And what will this town be then? What opportunities will young Turner find then? I am a man of business, and I may not form the eloquent sentences of a preacher. But I say this: the day is coming when this town will perish, and young Buckminster will have nothing. Nothing at all."

Turner thought it was rather hard to be used as an example. He decided he should head up the stairs.

He did not make it.

"Come in here, young Buckminster," Mr. Stonecrop called. "Come on in here and talk to your father." He held out his arm to him as though he were looking for a stage prop to be delivered.

Turner went in, slowly, warily, feeling about as eager to go in as black molasses to flow on a wintry day.

"Gentlemen," Mr. Stonecrop said, "this is the boy we've all heard about. Son, is it true, your running around naked in Mrs. Cobb's house?" He draped his arm around Turner's shoulders and drew him in, into his strength and power and presence. Turner felt as if he were moving in close to a mountain. But when he looked up into Mr. Stonecrop's face, he shuddered. Mr. Stonecrop was laughing, and his mouth was pulled into a grin, but his eyes were as dead as marbles, almost as if there were nothing behind them. He was like someone out of a ghost story, and Turner tried to draw away.

Mr. Stonecrop held him.

"Son, tell me, is that true?"

Turner looked at his father. His face was pulled, too, but not into a grin.

"Mr. Stonecrop, it's not true, what you heard."

Deacon Hurd began to laugh. "The way I heard it, you were trying to wash blood off your shirt. You know, son, you'll learn that living in Maine is living more like a man than down in some easy city. But you have to be smart, too. You don't want to start throwing punches at someone a whole lot bigger than you—not if you don't want to get knocked around."

Turner felt his hands start to ball into fists; he put them in his pockets. He felt the slight laughter of the men in the room wash over him like a foaming wave lapping over a crab. He did not look at his father; he did not want to know if he, too, was laughing. But he did look at Deacon Hurd. "How's Willis's nose?

"Willis's nose? Fine."

His voice tight.

"Last time I saw it, it seemed pushed over to the side."

More laughter in the room, but not from Deacon Hurd.

"Willis's nose is fine."

"Gentlemen," said Mr. Stonecrop. "Back to the issue. Reverend Buckminster, we came here to ask you to help us rescue the town. You've seen the squalor on Malaga. There isn't a soul on that island who isn't a drunk or a thief. We tried educating them. We built a school and hired a teacher, all at the town's expense. But that didn't do a single bit of good."

"And besides," added Sheriff Elwell, "teaching those people is like teaching dogs to walk on their hind legs. All they know is living off others."

BOOK: Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy
6.85Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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