Chapter One: July 1968
David's father is sure it will rain. Look up, he tells David. Those clouds will break soon. The sky hangs low and dark; the clouds sit heavy over dunes which are so high that David cannot see over them. When he does look up, David is surrounded by sand and sea and this murky sky that his father is sure will break. Incredible, David thinks. Incredible that water can suddenly pour from nowhere.
David lowers his gaze and watches his father and brother toss their fishing lines into the surf. In the split second before the lines sink under the waves, the sun shines sharply off their lures. David says, It looks like something you'd see in a kaleidoscope. David's father explains, The shine attracts the fish. David is six, his brother Will is ten, and they are spending the month on Nantucket with their parents. The boys fish and swim and eat lobster twice a week, and David is immensely interested in lures that look like mirror toys.
His father casts into the water and mumbles as he reels the line in. This lure won't do. He wants the blue-and-white bullet-shaped plugs that are in his fishing chest at the house. While he continues to cast into the ocean, he asks David to walk back to the house for the plugs. David, used to fetching his father's fishing supplies and tennis balls, drags himself up the beach and onto the path that cuts through the dune. After a minute the ocean is behind him, hidden by the mountains of sand. He continues up the path and is surrounded by beach grass as tall as he is. He thinks about the fish that his father promises they will catch, even though none has bit yet this afternoon. They'll come out at dusk, his father promised. We've just gotten an early start. Yesterday, on the motorboat, the fish bit all day. Using only cut squid and sea worms they caught scup and striped bass, and David's mother pulled in a bluefish that bent her rod completely against itself as she reeled it in. David continues along the path and thinks about the fish, about how his mother surprised them all, catching, with her first cast, the biggest fish of the day. David grins and then looks up at the path ahead of him, and when he takes a good look he sees that the house, atop a small hill, is farther away than it should be. And -- how can this be? he thinks -- the house is to his right instead of straight ahead, and he suddenly knows he is on the wrong trail. But there is only one trail, he is certain of this. He tries to gauge the distance to the house, usually just a short path-walk, now an incalculably far distance. How? How come? The house must be a mile away, he thinks, knowing only that a mile is a long way, too long to walk in time to get the plugs and return. Rising up the hill to his left he sees the paved road that stretches from town to the house. He knows he could walk to the road, this path must lead there, and then to the house. But the road is far away and small from where he stands in the reeds, and it will take hours to walk that roundabout route. What he knows then, is sure of, absolutely sure of, is that he may never get home. He is surrounded by the reeds and beach grass and is utterly lost when he sits in the sand and starts to cry.
He is so caught up in his sobs -- he is alone, he can cry as loud as he wants -- that for a moment he doesn't notice that his mother is there, laughing and holding him. David, she says, trying not to laugh now, did you think you were lost? She was on her way to the beach to check on her men when she heard David's wail. Look, she says, taking him by the hand and walking him ten steps back toward the ocean where the path he was on diverged from the main path. You were only ten steps from where you should have been. You could have backtracked if you couldn't find the house, the beach is right here, she says. And in a moment they are back on the beach. But David hadn't known that, didn't know you could backtrack. And there's his father, waiting for the plugs, listening to David's mother tell the story of how the boy got lost on the short walk back to the house, a walk they take every day to swim in the morning. Oh David, his mother and father are saying, and smiling. Will sits in the sand, waiting for the show to end so he can continue to fish.
Back at the house, David's mother gives him a cup of milk and a wool sweater to keep out the evening's approaching chill. When David is calm again, he and his mother walk together with the plugs back to the water and David is embarrassed, sees how silly he had been to think he was lost. Later, remembering this day, he will recall not the embarrassment, not his mother's good-natured laughter, but only the hard and true fright he felt, the very real terror in how easy it was to lose himself so close to home.
Copyright © 2004 by Allison Lynn