Another Summer at the Shore
by Ann Marie Gamble
When the kids were little, the mothers at the four summer houses north of the buoy convened for lunch on the Cartwrights’ dock. They reigned over an expanse of rocky beach, steps down to the swimming so the food and towels didn’t get splashed. Everyone brought something that added up to a meal, and if it seemed like all D. J. Cartwright ever contributed was picnic tables and lemonade mix, no one ever said anything—it was her dock they were appropriating, after all.
Once the sandwiches were made and the grapes sliced in half, the ladies took their glasses of (mostly) iced tea to the shady end of the picnic table and were silently glad that the rule about no swimming for an hour after eating had been exposed as myth. Enforcing that had driven their mothers grey.
“Tim bought a boat,” Kelsey Morgan announced over sandwich remains. She’d brought the loot from a trip with her in-laws to an artisanal bakery a couple of towns north. Joan Biedermann hadn’t made it up yet this summer.
“Where is he going to put it?” Heather Davis asked.
“I thought you nixed that.” D. J. pushed the silverware into triangles. “At least until Joe decides about Princeton.”
“Oh, it’s going to be their project,” Kelsey said. “Did anyone bring anything besides tea?”
“You mean it needs work?” D. J. laughed. “Can we see it?”
“It’s in the driveway. I don’t think it even floats at the moment,” Kelsey said.
“Is your brother really coming?” D. J. asked Joan. “Isn’t he a carpenter? He can help them.”
“He’s a fishing guide,” said Heather.
“Half-brother,” said Joan. Simon worked in fisheries management in Montana, telling the guides which streams still had fish in them.
“You said he might come this year,” Heather said.
“I’d rather get rid of the boat,” Kelsey said.
“I’d rather see the half-brother,” said D. J. “The guys at Marine Supply get crustier every summer.” The Cartwrights already had a boat, although Russell hadn’t been up enough to get it out of storage.
“When is Russell coming?” Joan asked. Her husband was going to ask about that boat as soon as he got here.
“Blah blah blah, depositions blah blah.” D. J. waved her hand. “Once the other guy blinks, they can get back to the usual summer mucking around.”
They gathered up the lunch things. Tim Morgan and the rest of the boys came up from the water to get Kelsey’s car keys in return for doing her grocery run. The girls had already left for the public beach in town. The children’s attire had changed, from swim diapers to baggy swim trunks for the boys, frilly one pieces for the girls. A few of them were on the swim team and wore the sleek Speedos all season. Several of the girls had switched to bikinis meant for anything but training. They and the boys could be convinced to put on shirts for lunch if they went to town to hang out with the other summering teenagers trying to re-form cliques. The mothers still wore serviceable maillots that could handle boating mishaps or a UPS man in need of a signature.
“Be home by dinner,” Joan told her son.
“I know, Mom,” he said in the exasperated tone that seemed to be the only one she ever heard from either of her children anymore. He did let her kiss his cheek as they left the dock.
Heather craned her face to the sun as they walked back to their houses. “If you were a fishing guide, you wouldn’t have to factor in tanning time.”
“Does he work outside?” Kelsey asked Joan. “If he’s the manager, it could be a desk job.”
“Why do they call them that? Rick is never at his desk, but he sure isn’t outside.” Heather held a branch aside so they could all pass.
“You should buy him a boat. Entice him out.” Kelsey’s tone was dry.
“It’ll have to be one of those party barges,” Heather said. “You can’t dump your project on me. Low maintenance, low chance of seasickness or any other excitement.”
One by one the women reached their houses as the path continued around the inlet. Joan was last; the Biedermann house was the first one past the channel buoy. Joan put away the remains of her lunch contribution—cold cuts and condiments—and wiped down the counters. She pushed a broom around the first floor as a salvo in the ongoing war on sand and hauled the current book club tome down to their beach, where an Adirondack chaise and an umbrella waited for her. It was warmer to sit on the sand, but the fine lines around her eyes no longer uncrinkled, no matter how silky or expensive the lotion, so shade it was.
She opened the book. She wasn’t going to go into hostess mode, not for a maybe visit, not even if Simon hadn’t been in years. Wherever he lived in Montana, he wouldn’t notice (or care) if the carpets were sandy.
She heard “Mommy” echo across the water but turned back to her book, resolutely keeping her head turned away from the shore. Kevin would be up from the office tomorrow, and her children hardly deigned to address her as “Mom.”
To mark the lap for her swim, Joan used the channel buoy and the buoy where the Cartwrights moored their boat, once Russell came up for his week and got it out of storage. Until then, she had a big orange marker visible from halfway across the bay, if she should ever drift that far. While swimming, she would see it at the top of vigorous strokes and pull harder on the left, to keep her in water over her head and on a line back toward their beach. Today, instead of veering back to the dock, she rolled into a sidestroke and went around the channel marker, scissor kicking until her toes brushed rocks and she could walk the rest of the way.
Andie was waiting for her at the ladder. “I thought you didn’t like swimming when it’s windy.”
“I need the exercise. Martha isn’t coming up till next week, so no tennis.”
“You ought to swim into the wind first, so you get the hard part done before you’re tired.”
“I don’t go that far.”
Andie stood up so her mother could climb the ladder to the dock. Joan got a towel out of the bin she kept there—it was windy, enough that she hadn’t trusted the towel to be on the dock when she got back—and patted herself down. She was warm enough from the swim, but there was no reason to leave a trail of puddles through the house.
“You had a phone call,” Andie said when Joan slung the towel over her shoulder.
“Is your dad on his way?”
“It was your half-brother. You didn’t say he was coming.”
“Simon? He wasn’t sure of his plans. I should call him back.”
“He’s on the train. I wrote the stuff down.”
“He’s on his way? He’s coming?”
Andie was already on the path. Her abruptness could be due to being forced to take a phone message rather than any sentiment about the impending visit.
Joan mentally inventoried the pantry as she walked. There was no tonic, and Kevin wouldn’t want to start his weekend with the mojitos she’d switched to when Heather Davis brought over the seltzer maker. The chicken she’d gotten out to grill could be stretched to five, likewise the veggies and corn. Was Simon still vegetarian? She thought not, but he’d always managed in those days, even with their steak-and-potatoes father dictating the menu. Breakfast she hadn’t begun to assemble, nor a guest room. She picked up the pace. If she was lucky, she could fit in a trip to the store on the way to the train station.
She made the shower quick—add shower gel to the shopping list—and pulled on jeans and a flannel shirt. She left her hair damp and met Kevin halfway up the stairs.
“We’re out of tonic.” He pecked her on the cheek. “You’re dressed like you’re going hunting with Simon, not picking him up.”
“Did you talk to him? Andie said he left a message.”
“Typical. Do you want me to get the tonic? If Davis is around, we could hit them up—you don’t have to go all the way to town.”
“She brought me one of those carbonating things. We’ve been having mojitos.”
“Aren’t they rum? Sure, what’s vacation for? A little walk on the wild side.” He ruffled her wet hair. “I’m going to take a quick swim and wash the road off, unless you need help. I’d let your brother deal with the bed in the guest room, though—the wages of short notice.”
“It’s windy,” she told his back.
Joan set a tray of drinks on the coffee table, untangled the throw blankets on the sofa, and moved them into a chest that doubled as a footstool for the club chair by the fireplace. Andie came in, followed by Kevin, already in khakis and polo, his weekend uniform.
He mock-punched Andie’s shoulder. “I’m not going to ask you about college essays because it’s vacation.”
Andie rolled her eyes. “I told Blake he had to come back for dinner since we have company,” she told Joan. “They’re all at the Morgans.”
Kevin took a sip and swirled his glass. “There are leaves in this drink. Eat them? Fish them out?”
“Next you’ll want to take salsa lessons. So your brother really is on his way—from Iowa? Idaho?”
“You forgot Illinois or Indiana,” Andie said.
“Feierhauser said he went heli skiing last winter, but I thought that was in Banff.”
“Which is in Canada.”
“That’s enough, young lady.” Kevin swallowed the cocktail.
The front door banged shut. Blake shouted some greeting and pounded up the stairs.
“Don’t slam the door,” Joan said reflexively as she went back to the kitchen, Andie trailing behind her. When Joan set the pitcher in the sink, Andie washed it and the glasses left over from the afternoon without being asked.
Andie’s circle of summer friends had grown smaller and smaller, or the gaggle of girls hanging around town had grown more noticeable. She spent less time than ever at the public beach and rarely went out in the evenings, even to the other houses on the inlet. Joan needed down time just thinking about Andie’s school schedule, so she didn’t want to press the issue too hard, but the covers on the novels got more lurid as her daughter withdrew.
She looked at the clock. No point in starting charcoal until they knew the train had arrived.
“I don’t see what’s so hard to remember about Montana,” Andie said while she put dishes away.
“Your dad has a lot on his mind.”
“He has all the same stuff on his mind. He can’t get anything else into his mind.” Andie shoved the dishtowel through the loop on which it hung. “If it’s not a bank job or an Ivy League college, he doesn’t know what to do with it.”
Joan watched her vacationing daughter clean the kitchen. Had she also expected Andie to work on college essays while they were here? “What are you thinking about colleges these days?”
“Simon went to college in Montana,” Joan said. “He said it was the only way to make sure he didn’t end up in law school, but I think he knew already that he wanted to be a biologist.”
“I have no idea what I want to do.”
Joan got down her keys from the hook by the back door. “Pick up some shower gel and breakfast rolls at the market. You ought to have enough time before the train arrives. Or you can wait and take Simon—I have no idea what he’ll want for breakfast.”
“You want me to get him?”
Sometimes, Joan thought, it was a question of knowing what you didn’t want. “This way I can get to work on dinner. If you want to give him the tour on the way back, there’s plenty of time.”
“I ought to change.” Andie said thoughtfully.
Joan watched her freshly lanky daughter head for the stairs. She’d never be curvy like the other bikini girls. But there were plenty of things she didn’t have to be.
* * * * *
Ann Marie Gamble is an editor of short pieces at an advertising agency and long works for university presses, and she has previously published at Nanoism.net, Devilfish Review, and other venues.