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Authors: Luanne Rice

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BOOK: How We Started
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“He calls me, too,” Delia said. “At home, when he knows I'm at work, and at work when he knows I'm home. He can't stand to talk to me.”

“It's not you,” Dar said. “He can't stand himself.”

“My son is all the way up in Alaska, fishing in wicked weather . . . that's when he can get on a boat. The fishermen up there are so suspicious of outsiders.”

They were silent for a moment; Dar was thinking of dangers of storms, of what could happen to a person on a boat at sea. Delia couldn't separate the past; it filled her thoughts and dreams with fear.

“They're big, steel-hulled trawlers,” Delia heard herself say.

“That's good. Well, the guys are probably territorial like the fishermen here,” Dar said. “And the watermen on the Bay, right?”

“I know, but I worry about him being cold and hungry. He makes good money when some captain is desperate for crew and signs him on—but he can't count on it. I'm worried when he's on a boat, and nearly as much when he's not. He's one step away from welfare. Sometimes I think he doesn't want to work, so Maryland can't attach his wages for child support.”

Dar moved her chair closer. “He's figuring it all out,” Dar said. “I'm not defending him, but I know he's going to come around. He's got too much of you in him to keep doing this.”

Delia shook her head hard.

“You're the most responsible person I know,” Dar said.

“You mean boring.”

“Never,” Dar said. “Just steady and good.”

To Delia, coming from her cool, willowy, offbeat older sister, that still sounded dull as hell. But she gave Dar a smile, to let her think she'd accepted the compliment.

Neither of them had mentioned their father or his dangerous sea voyage. They didn't have to, because the story lived inside them, made them who they were. Whenever Delia picked up one of Dar's graphic novels, she saw exactly how haunted their lives had been. Dar expressed mystery enough for all three sisters.

Now they'd come to clean out their family's house, and Delia wondered what surprises they would find, what leftover evidence of love, loss, and the great big question that remained.

* * *

Dar could almost see them on the beach: herself, her sisters, and baby Pete: the first grandchild, her first nephew. Building sandcastles, playing in the shallow water, showing him how to use a plastic shovel and pail, tilting the striped umbrella so he could nap in the shade. The summer he was two, they'd taken him on the Flying Horses in Oak Bluffs, for Mad Martha's ice cream in Edgartown. Jim, Delia's husband, rarely came to the Vineyard; he considered it too snobby and preferred to stay home.

As Pete got older, Dar and her sisters had taught him to swim and bodysurf. When he was thirteen, Dar and Andy had helped him catch his first wave on a long board. They'd shown him the best surf-casting spots at sunrise and sunset, watched him catch his first striper. Harrison had welcomed him aboard his Hatteras Sportfish so Pete could enter the island's bluefish tournament, taught him to tie knots, shown him how to sail on his family's Herreshoff 12.

By then Pete was ready to race at the yacht club, and he found some friends with a Rhodes 19. Dar had loved when he'd admitted racing and the yacht club weren't for him; he'd rather just let the wind take him, not have to worry about competition or who had the most expensive gear.

As Pete's aunt, Dar saw it her duty and blessing to pass on to him all the beach, nature, and maritime things she'd always loved. So much had come from her father, and she'd tell him about Mike McCarthy, what a great father and boatbuilder he had been. His hands had been permanently rough and creased, and she was proud of his carpentry and hard work.

Dreaming back to a much younger time, the summer she was eleven, Dar remembered being with her parents on the beach. She saw herself and sisters bodysurfing the crests of long waves, swimming out with their mother again and again, thrilled by every perfect, curling wave carrying them over the white sand bottom. Her father, used to the saw-edged rocks of southwestern Ireland, had wanted to run in and rescue his daughters every time.

They'd run out of the water, completely chilled, and lie on blankets up in the dunes, where the sun baked down and the wind was screened by beach grass. Their mother would have brought a picnic, and they'd all dig in. She had loved seeing her parents side by side in their low beach chairs, her mother completely in her element, her father awkward in bathing trunks and sunglasses, as if he'd rather be in his work boots and overalls, planing a plank, joining it to the next on the boat he was building. Dar had loved that her mother tried teaching him to relax.

The McCarthy family lived between two worlds. Getting off the ferry, they'd leave one life behind and enter another one. Throughout the school year in their small house in Noank, Connecticut, Dar would watch her mother pretending not to have grown up rich and trying to get used to balancing the checkbook and packing her husband's and children's lunches every day. But when summer came and they returned to the big house on the salt pond, the wide porch, and cocktails at sunset, she again inhabited her realm. Dar and her sisters joyfully joined in, and their father had his own reasons.

Dar, her sisters, and their best friends would ride their bikes twenty miles into Edgartown. They'd spend the day sailing, and if it got too late, their mother would pick them and their bikes up in the station wagon. They would ride to Menemsha, talk to the guys on their fishing boats, eat lobster rolls on the dock. Rainy days, they would huddle under the porch roof and learn how to make and mend sails, using waxed thread and vintage leather sailmaker's palms, talking nonstop.

Community Center dances were sweet, wild, and romantic. A local band would play, and everyone would dance. Dar remembered her racing heart, the intensity of slow dances, usually with Andy, pressing their bodies together, hardly able to breathe, never wanting it to stop. But it always did—the dance would end, and it would be time to go home. Dar always wished for happiness to last, for all love and good things to stay the same, but she had received early proof that they never did.

The year she was twelve, Dar's life as she knew it ended. Her body kept moving, but her spirit had flown away, after her father. Her parents separated that winter, and that summer he sailed to Ireland on a boat he'd built. He made one call home from a port in Kerry, but then he disappeared somewhere off the craggy, razor-sharp rock coast between Dunmore Head and county Cork.

Dar alone had watched her father sail away, in the clear light after a rainstorm, and as if she'd been his keeper, for a long time she'd felt it was her fault he didn't return.

Rocking her in her arms one of the worst nights, Dar's mother had tried to soothe her. She explained what Dar already knew: that her father had come to the Vineyard as a young man, looking for a tract of land his Irish grandfather claimed was his birthright. He'd fallen in love and married her mother, had children, spent years building boats, but he'd never forgotten his initial reason for coming to the Vineyard.

“Sweetheart,” her mother said, “your father was driven by something inside. Do you know what that means?”

Dar listened, not wanting to let on that she did.

“A feeling so strong, it began to matter to him more than anything else in the world.”

“Did he go back to Ireland to get away from us?” Dar asked.

“No,” her mother answered. “The opposite. He had this idea that if he went, and brought back proof about his land, that we would value him better, love him more.”

“I could never love him more,” Dar said, but her mother didn't reply. Maybe their love had already been tested too much; his resentment and determination had pushed her away. Only twelve, Dar had observed and taken in the way her parents' closeness had swirled and dissipated, like a beach being eaten away by winter storms, over that last year.

Dar had seen what “driven” meant. She remembered her father walking this property belonging to his wife's mother. She'd gone with him so many times, exploring all fifteen acres, from the gorse hedge at the land's eastern end to the yellow shack, known as the Hideaway, at the westernmost. They'd walked from South Road to the edge of the salt pond, searching for surveyors' markings and stakes.

“What do they look like?” she'd asked, walking beside him.

“A crosshatch on a boulder, an iron stake or maybe a granite post.”

“What do they do?”

“They mark where one person's property ends and another's begins.”

“But this is all grandmother's,” Dar had said. “Why are we looking here?”

“Because you never know what you might find.”

She'd glanced up, scared by the intensity in his eyes. “I'm no one special,” he said. “A boatbuilder. But there's a treasure right here, Dar. Straight from our ancestors, a land grant from the king of England.”

“Dad, you're Irish,” she'd said. That had brought a dark smile to his face.


Feelings too much for Dar overtook her, and it was on that walk with her father that Dulse began to materialize.


February 14, 1993

My hands are bandaged, but I'm not supposed to care that they hurt. When I was treated at the scene, the husky EMT said flatly, “He's a lot worse off than you.” The police officer had to remove my handcuffs; he snapped on latex gloves to avoid having to touch my burned palms and wrists.

They drove me in a squad car to the East Hampton station house for booking, and finally into the sheriff's van for the ride here to the county jail, fifteen miles away in Mashomuck.

I'll tell you one detail because it's frozen in my mind. The phrase “two to the head.” That's what I've been hearing since the police arrived. “She gave him two to the head.” Then they laugh at me. It's supposed to be a big joke about how inept I was.

This enormous, shaved-head bodybuilding sheriff acted it out for me in the van on the way here. “One,” he said, pretending to clobber the other sheriff over the head. “Two.” He imitated the second blow. Then, “Ouch,” he said as he waggled his fingers at me and winked nastily at my bandaged hands. “You burned yourself as bad as you hurt him, but he's going to the hospital and you're going to jail.”

I'd like to block his words out. They make this seem like any other crime, one of the salacious stories you see on CNN Headline News. To the outside I suppose all crimes are the same—someone attacks, another is injured. It's only in a person's mind and heart, only within the soul of any given family that the entire tender, brutal, surreal story makes any sense.

I say “family,” but it might only be me. I have three blood relatives in this world: Anne, my older and only sister, and her children, a niece and nephew I barely know because her husband has cut us off so thoroughly. Blood is one thing, but to be family, you need so much more.

This morning I'd reached my breaking point on that and taken the LIRR out east, unannounced, to show up with roses for Anne and books and Valentines for the kids. I chose late morning, when Frederik would be at his gallery. The day was bright blue but frigid, no humidity, a sharp wind whirling around Montauk Point.

I caught a cab from the station to their house on Old Montauk Highway. I was a wreck, thinking she'd slam the door in my face. But she didn't—she let me in. Right now I can hardly stand the memory of seeing the shock and joy in her eyes, feeling our strong embrace, as if our lives in that instant had been reset, back to the time before him.

The children didn't know who I was. They're only three and five, and I last saw them all at my mother's funeral a year ago, when Frederik had dragged the family away from the gravesite before Anne and I had a chance to console each other, or even speak.

For twenty minutes today we had a good time. The house was freezing; obviously the heat was turned way down. Anne, Gillis (“Gilly”), and Margarita (“Grit”) wore warm shirts and fleece pullovers. I kept my jacket on. We huddled around the hearth where two logs sparked with a dull glow; a third had barely caught, flames just licking the top edge.

The brass screen had been set aside, as if to keep the wire mesh from holding back the fading warmth. I glanced around for a poker, but saw nothing to stoke the fire. There didn't seem to be any more wood either.

I was afraid to ask about the heat, or lack of it. Anything can trigger Anne, especially when it comes to Frederik. She might have taken my question as implied criticism of his ability or willingness to provide basic needs for his family. She's very defensive about him. But the truth is, she's always had a strange, secret side when it came to men. She puts them on pedestals, and then subverts them in ways they'd never guess.

I'll confess something else: Anne and I had probably been the closest sisters on earth, but we have never been completely, one-hundred-percent easy with each other. I don't believe Anne can be that way with anyone.

While we sat and talked today, she was old Anne, and it felt as if she'd spent the last five years waiting for my visit.

The children seemed numb at first. They smelled the pearl-white roses I'd brought, and touched the Valentine cards and books, and looked up at me as if they weren't sure whether they should smile or not. I'd brought my camera, and I took a picture. Their hesitant smiles killed me.

“Who is she?” Gilly whispered to Anne.

“She's your aunt,” Anne said.

He stared, as if he'd never heard the word before.

“I'm your mother's sister,” I said.

“Mommy doesn't have a sister,” Gilly said.

“I do,” Anne said. “Just like you do.”

She squeezed my hand so they would see. Grit broke into a smile.

I asked if they drew pictures, and they both ran to get their drawings. Soon we were coloring together, and Anne seemed happy and almost relaxed, and except for the cold, everything was all right.

I hadn't been to the house in five years, since right after Anne married Frederik. They'd invited my mother, Paul, and me to their
party. That night of the party is stamped in my mind. Climbing out of the car, I had my first look at their formidable glass house on the lighthouse road, surrounded by acres of scrub pines and thick brambles, an incredible habitat for birds. We rang the doorbell, and Frederik answered.

He kissed my mother and me, once on each cheek, and shook my fiancé, Paul Traynor's, hand. He took our coats, gestured around the majestic, cathedral-ceilinged room. “I'm king of all I survey,” Frederik said in his elegant Danish accent. “And now Anne is queen.”

“King Frederik and Queen Anne!” I said.

Frederik didn't smile, and he backed away. “Please enjoy my glasswork and help yourself to glogg and the buffet. I must find Anne and tell her you are here.”

“That was weird,” I said to my mother and Paul. “Did I do something wrong?”

“No,” Mom said. “Maybe the humor got lost in translation.”

“Maybe it's not a joke and he really thinks he's king. He's definitely an over-shaker,” Paul said, flexing his hand.

We laughed because Paul was six-three, a rock climber, park ranger, and long-distance runner, and Frederik was five-eight tops, bald, with a slim, even fragile build, dressed head to toe in black. He gave the impression of either a retired cat burglar or a ballet dancer.

Sarah Cole, Anne's and my childhood friend, and her boyfriend, Max Hughes, came over, hugs all around.

“Have you seen her yet?” Sarah asked.

“No, have you?”

“It's totally mysterious. We've been here half an hour, and no sign yet.”

Loud voices echoed under the cathedral ceiling. Simple, pale wood furniture filled the room and rya rugs—contemporary, coarsely woven wool patterned with striking red and orange squares—covered the bleached pine floor.

Within a few minutes, Anne entered the room with Frederik. Her pale skin and dark hair looked striking against her long green velvet dress. He held her arm, led her to a group of Danes. They entered into earnest conversation, and I could tell my sister was resolutely keeping her focus on his friends to avoid making eye contact with us. Sarah walked over, stood by Anne's elbow, but Anne pretended not to see her.

“Wow,” I said when Sarah came back without speaking to her.

“Bitchy the great rides again,” Sarah said. We'd adopted the name from Hemingway's
Islands in the Stream
. It was the nickname of a character's mean girlfriend, and Sarah and I used it when Anne's dark side took over.

I looked at my mother, who knew exactly what Sarah and I were talking about. She put her arms around our shoulders; she had become more confident and motherly since my father's death. “She's the hostess, and this is new to her. She'll come over as soon as she can.”

“You're right,” I said. “Can I get you something from the buffet, Mom?”

“We'll all go,” she said.

Frederik's delicate, eccentric glasswork filled an entire wall of thick, rough-hewn shelves; the contrast between gossamer glass and heavy planks made an austere statement. I saw small white dots on each glass piece and moved closer to see them marked with prices in both U.S. dollars and Danish kroner.

“It's not very kingly,” Sarah said. “Pricing out the treasures.”

“It's odd,” my mother agreed.

A large red-and-white Danish flag stretched across the wall above a sideboard laden with food and spirits: aebleskiver—ovals of fried dough topped with raspberry jam; boiled potatoes; roast pork; a basket of bread and plates of cookies.

The glogg—red wine mulled with nutmeg, cinnamon sticks, and slices of pear—bubbled in a large Crock-Pot. Several brown ceramic bottles of Bols Genever gin clustered behind a pyramid of clear glass mugs. Sarah and I ladled hot wine into mugs and passed them around.

A fire roared in the stone fireplace, throwing off so much heat the sliding porch door had to be opened. In the room's center, a twelve-foot white spruce, decorated with iridescent ornaments, towered over the guests. Our group stood together, still waiting for Anne and Frederik to come over. We took plates of food, hung out with Sarah and Max, made conversation with a few people we'd met at the wedding, and waited some more.

The scent of spiced wine and gin filled the air, along with pine and smoke, and people milled about, many of the men smoking pipes and speaking Danish. One of their wives told us the party was intended to display and sell Frederik's glass pieces: strange, abstract tubes of orange, scarlet, cerulean, and turquoise glass.

We read his artist statement posted by the shelves:
From crashing spheres and the existential abyss I employ techniques born in the last century
to merge the elements—air, water, earth, fire—refine them in my furnace, and blow the molten gob to create thinner and thinner layers, spun into “tunnels,” swirled with jewel tones, left open on either end, through which may pass spirits on their way to Himmel

“Okay, I'm going to crack up,” I said. “‘Molten gob.'”

“You are an immature brat,” Sarah said. “Remind me again, what's

“Danish heaven, weren't you listening at their wedding?” I asked.

“Please, girls,” my mother said. “Be kind. Frederik is an extremely talented and

Why did that make us laugh? no good reason, relief of tension probably, plus the oddness of being in my sister's home for the first time, seeing how she'd become instantly Danish, hurt because Frederik kept her talking to his friends instead of us. It stung when I glanced over, smiled at my brother-in-law as he accepted a check from a tweedy-looking man, and he did not smile back.

The food was delicious. Eventually Anne walked over with a tray of cheese, made a beeline for me. I was sure she'd say something sister-crazy about the madness of the party and how busy she was with the other guests and how she couldn't wait to get to me, but instead she said, “Try the flatbread; it's homemade.”

“By little elves?” I asked, joking along.

“No, by me,” she said, seeming honest-and-truly taken aback.

“Come on.” The Burke sisters had many talents; baking wasn't one of them. I tried to laugh, but her expression was cold steel.

“Are you trying to ruin the party?” she asked.

“Hello, I'm your sister,” I said. “Balducci's? Catering? I assumed—”

“That's the trouble, Clare. You assume everything stays the same. My life has changed, and you'll never get it.”

Huge metaphorical slap across the face—so sharp, my eyes stung. When we'd shared an apartment during college, we'd loved throwing parties but hated cooking, so we'd make secret runs to Balducci's, miraculously located just a few blocks away. We'd arranged the prepared food on family china, thrown out the foil containers, and taken credit as if we'd cooked it all ourselves.

“I'm sorry,” I said. “I know things are changing. You're married, and—”

“Thank you. On that note, are you going to buy something?” she asked.

“Really?” I asked.

“Don't you think his work is amazing?”

“Of course.”

“Frederik thinks you don't like it.”

“I'm so sorry!” I said. “Why would he think that?”

“Because he suggested you look at it, and you haven't said a word to him since.”

“Are you kidding? He's ignoring us.”

“He has a lot of clients. Some came from Denmark just for this party.”

“Okay, that's impressive,” I said. “But we're you're family, we love you, and—”

“And you know something else?” she interrupted. “He told me you made fun of his lineage.”

What are you talking about?”

“He has royal blood,” she said. “He said you were jealous and he's right.”

“Of you being royal? Wow, let's start over. We are not getting anything right tonight. Could you, like, snap out of it, and be my sister? I realize you're in love, and Frederik is your husband, but I know you, all right? And you're acting like an idiot.”

“How dare you speak to me that way in my home!” she said, backing away. Even before she could speak to our mother, who stood there waiting, Frederik called her over, whispered in her ear, and ushered her out of the room. She didn't return for the rest of the night, and when we asked for her as we were leaving, Frederik said she had a headache.

I felt stunned, iced out by my big sister, alarmed by how not just mean—i could have handled that—but Stepford it all felt. She was under a spell. Was it possible Anne had met her male match? He was in complete control as he helped my mother into her coat and essentially pushed us out the door.

When Frederik called late that night, catching me just as Paul and I walked into our Chelsea apartment, he told me I had insulted his wife by claiming their party was catered and I would never again be welcome in their home.

BOOK: How We Started
9.34Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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