Authors: Brunonia Barry
È brunonia barry
To my wonderful husband, Gary,
and to my sister-in-law Joanne’s magical red hair
Part One 1
MY NAME IS TOWNER WHITNEY. No, that’s not exactly true. 3
WHEN THE PHONE CALL COMES IN, I am dreaming of…
THE SALEM NEWS HAS ALREADY picked up the story about…
WHEN I WAKE UP, I look on the bedside table,…
IT IS JUST AFTER SUNRISE. I cannot get back to…
RAFFERTY IS A NICE MAN. He gives us a ride…
WE’RE ALL AT MAY’S HOUSE NOW. Beezer’s fiancée, Anya, got… 45
I WOULD HAVE WON THE BET. May never shows up…
ANYA ACCOMPANIES AUNTIE EMMA back to Yellow
Dog Island. When…
I KEEP A STELAZINE PILL in my pocket. It’s old…
I STAY UP ALL NIGHT packing the lace. I take…
Part Two 101
OLD HOUSES CATCH THREADS OF the people who have lived… 103
I HAVE BEEN IN EVA’S CLOSET for most of the…
ANN WAS READING HER FIFTEENTH head of the night when…
ANN LAUGHED ALOUD WHEN HE presented her with
RAFFERTY GRABBED THE PAGES OFF the copier as they came… 163
RAFFERTY’S EYES WERE BEGINNING to sting. He
thumbed through the…
RAFFERTY HAD BEEN FIGHTING a headache all afternoon. He’d stopped…
I LEAN AGAINST THE DOOR to steady myself, waiting for…
I AWAKEN IN A SAILING SHIP. Floating on open ocean…
Part Three 217
Part Four 283
RAFFERTY AND TOWNER SAT TOGETHER on the porch like an… 285
RAFFERTY DIDN’T GO HOME until he was sure Towner had…
ANGELA RICKEY’S PARENTS LIVED just north of Portland in a… 309
RAFFERTY AND I STOP IN Beverly for lunch at a…
Part Five 327
RAFFERTY HUNG UP THE PHONE and looked at his watch. 329
JACK TOLD JAY-JAY HE WOULDN’T be back. He didn’t tell…
ANGELA HAD INSISTED ON SEEING Cal. The police
MAY STOOD ON THE FLOAT watching the Whaler pull into…
MAY TIES UP THE WHALER as we pull in.
OPEN OCEAN. FOG. HAND SHAKING with the vibrations of the… 345
ANGELA TOOK DOWN THE MILAGROS and wrapped
each of them…
THE FOG CLEARS AS I enter the harbor. The milagros…
Part Six 377
I WAS AT MASS GENERAL for six weeks. One of…
About the Author
About the Publisher
É PART ONE
The Lace Reader must stare at the piece of
lace until the pattern blurs and the face of the
Seeker disappears completely behind the veil.
When the eyes begin to fill with tears and the
patience is long exhausted, there will appear a
glimpse of something not quite seen.
In this moment an image will begin to
form . . . in the space between what is real and
what is only imagined.
È —THE LACE READER’S GUIDE
My name is Towner Whitney. No, that’s not exactly true. My real first name is Sophya. Never believe me. I lie all the time. I am a crazy woman. . . . That last part is true. My little brother, Beezer, who is kinder than I, says the craziness is genetic.
We’re from five generations of crazy,
he says, as if it were a badge he’s proud to wear, though he admits that I may have taken it to a new level.
Until I came along, the Whitney family was what the city of Salem fondly refers to as “quirky.” If you were old Salem money, even if that money was long gone, you were never referred to as “crazy.”
You might be deemed “unusual,” or even “oddball,” but the handsdown-favorite word for such a condition was “quirky.”
Throughout the generations the Whitney men have all become famous for their quirks: from the captains of sea and industry all the way down to my little brother, Beezer, who is well known within scientific circles for his articles on particle physics and string theory. Our great-great-grandfather, for example, parlayed a crippling preoccupation with ladies’ feet into a brilliant career as a captain of industry in Lynn’s thriving shoe business, creating a company that was 4 Brunonia
passed down through the generations all the way to my grandfather G. G. Whitney. Our great-great-great-grandfather, who was a legitimate captain in his own right, had a penchant for sniffing cinnamon that many considered obsessive. Eventually he built a fleet of spicetrading ships that traveled the globe and made Salem one of the richest ports in the New World. Still, anyone would admit that it is the women of the Whitney family who have taken quirky to a new level of achievement. My mother, May, for example, is a walking contradiction in terms. A dedicated recluse who (with the exception of her arrests) hasn’t left her home on Yellow Dog Island for the better part of twenty years, May has nevertheless managed to revive a long-defunct lace-making industry and to make herself famous in the process. She has gained considerable notoriety for rescuing abused women and children and turning their lives around, giving the women a place in her lacemaking business and home-educating their children. All this from a raging agoraphobic who gave one of her own children to her barren half sister, Emma, in a fit of generosity because, as she said at the time, there was a need, and besides, she had been blessed with a matching set.
And my Great-Aunt Eva, who is more mother to me than May ever has been, is equally strange. Running her own business well into her eighties, Eva is renowned as both Boston Brahmin and Salem witch when, really, she is neither. Actually, Eva is an old-school Unitarian with Transcendentalist tendencies. She quotes Scripture in the same breath as she quotes Emerson and Thoreau. Yet in recent years Eva has spoken only in clichés, as if use of the tired metaphor can somehow remove her from the inevitable outcomes she is paid to predict.
For thirty-five years of her life, Eva has run a ladies’ tearoom and franchised successful etiquette classes to the wealthy children of Boston’s North Shore. But what Eva will be remembered for is her un-The Lace Reader 5
canny ability to read lace. People come from all over the world to be read by Eva, and she can tell your past, present, and future pretty accurately just by holding the lace in front of you and squinting her eyes. In one form or another, all the Whitney women are readers. My twin sister, Lyndley, said she couldn’t read lace, but I never believed her. The last time we tried, she saw the same thing I saw in the pattern, and what we saw that night led her to the choices that eventually killed her. When Lyndley died, I resolved never to look at a piece of lace again.
This is one of the only things Eva and I have ever vehemently disagreed about. “It wasn’t that the lace was wrong,” she always insisted.
“It was the reader’s interpretation that failed.” I know that’s supposed to make me feel better. Eva never says anything to intentionally hurt. But Lyndley and I interpreted the lace the same way that night, and though our choices might have been different, nothing that Eva says can ever bring my sister back.
After Lyndley’s death, I had to get out of Salem and ended up in California, which was as far as I could go without falling off the end of the earth. I know that Eva wants me to come home to Salem. It’s for my own good, she says. But I can’t bring myself to do it. Just recently, when I had my hysterectomy, Eva sent me her lace pillow, the one she uses to make the lace. It was delivered to the hospital.
“What is it?” my nurse asked, holding it up, staring at the bobbins and the piece of lace, a work in progress, still attached to it. “Some kind of pillow?”
“It’s a lace maker’s pillow,” I said. “For making Ipswich lace.”
She regarded me blankly. I could tell she had no idea what to say. It didn’t look like any pillow she had ever seen. And what the hell was Ipswich lace?
“Try holding it against your sutures if you have to cough or sneeze,”
she finally said. “That’s what we use pillows for around here.”
I felt around until I found the secret pocket hidden in the pillow. I slipped my fingers in, looking for a note. Nothing. I know that Eva hopes I will start reading lace again. She believes that lace reading is a God-given gift, and that we are required to honor such gifts.
I imagine the note she might have written:
“Of those to whom
much is given, much is expected–Luke 12:48.”
She used to quote that bit of Scripture as proof.
I can read lace, and I can read minds, though it isn’t something I try to do; it is something that just happens sometimes. My mother can do both, but over the years May has become a practical woman who believes that knowing what is in people’s minds or their futures is not always in anyone’s best interest. This is probably the only point upon which my mother and I have ever agreed.
When I left the hospital, I stole the pillowcase off one of their pillows. The Hollywood Presbyterian label was double stamped on both sides. I stuffed Eva’s lace pillow inside, hiding the threads, the lace, and the bonelike bobbins that were swinging like tiny Poe pendulums. If there was a future for me, and I was not altogether certain there was, I wasn’t going to risk reading it in the lace.
Each Reader must choose a piece of lace. It is hers for life.
It might be a pattern handed down through the generations
or a piece chosen by the Reader for its beauty and familiar-
ity. Many Readers prefer the handmade laces, particularly
those of old Ipswich or the laces made today by the women of
Yellow Dog Island.
—T H E L AC E R E A D E R’ S G U I D E
When the phone call comes in, I am dreaming of water. Not the warm blues and greens of the California beach towns where I live now, but the dark New England Atlantic of my youth. In my dream I am swimming to the moon. Like all dreams, it seems logical. The idea that there is no pathway between sea and moon never occurs. I swim my own combination: part breaststroke, part drownproofing: slow and purposeful, a rhythm remembered from another lifetime. The movement is all efficiency, with just nose, ears, and eyes protruding above the water, mouth submerged. With each forward stroke, tiny waves of salt enter my open mouth, then recede again as I slow, mirroring the larger surrounding ocean. I swim for a long time. Past Salem Harbor and the swells. Past any sight of land at all. I swim until the sea becomes still and clear, too calm to be any real ocean. The light from the full dream-moon 8 Brunonia
etches a clear path on the black water, a road to follow. There is no sound save my own breath, slow and steady as I swim. This was once my sister’s dream. Now it is only mine. The rhythm of movement gives way to a sound rhythm as the telephone rings again and then again. This is one of the only phones that actually rings anymore, and part of the reason I agreed to take this house-sitting job. It is the kind of phone we might have had on our island. That’s the one interesting thing about what has happened to me. I am encouraged to rewrite my own history. In the history I am writing, May actually has a phone.