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alice d’alessio | a place to be safe

The Washington Island /CR+Press Writing Workshop/Contest Awards

Norbert Blei

I’ve just come back from my daily trip to town—the Post Office, the Pioneer Store, etc. and my usual, meandering return home down favorite back roads on the tip of the peninsula.

Inevitably my car finds its way down the curving road toward the dock at Northport to see if a ferry’s in, coming in or just left for the Island. I can’t explain the attraction. Maybe just the idea I can travel still further, be in another place, an island existence, less than five minutes from my house. Maybe just the beauty of the setting, so compelling in all seasons, whatever the weather. Open water … snow and ice at this time of year. I seem to be the unofficial Island watchman, intrigued with ‘elsewhere.’

Maybe I’ll walk out on the dock to inspect the scene more closely. Maybe I’d like to board the ferry myself on a winter day like this and just drive around the snowy landscape all day till I’ve had my fill of snow and silence and isolation. Maybe Captain Dick Purinton will be in the wheelhouse and I’ll visit with him. Maybe I’ll meet some tourist, wondering what’s over there. Or maybe nothing’s doing, like today, and I’ll just look out over the frozen landscape, listen to the wind, feel its sharpness on my face. Maybe take the camera out of my coat pocket and add yet another photo to the hundreds I’ve taken from this perspective.

Heading back home minutes later, I’m savoring the ferry dock moment of that beautiful separation between land and water…how lucky I am to be living here. How to be in the midst of all this wonder lifts my spirit considerably. How I continue to think: I could easily become an Islander. Though I’m happy to be headed back to the coop with my mail…happy to continue where I left off with the writing. Happy to be going into the house a little early this afternoon to bake some bread, take in all the ‘ovenly’ aroma in the kitchen, listen to the Metropolitan Opera on public radio…gradually ease myself into the comfort of the living room, a favorite chair, peruse one of the many books I am reading—all the while keeping an eye on the silence and beauty of winter outside my window …thinking ‘island,’ separation, snow…drifting off myself momentarily. The “ah” of being.

I’ve thought about teaching a writing workshop in winter on the Island for many years but never seem to get around to it. Last fall, however, September 24-26, 2010 (still in my recuperation mode), I gathered what energy I could and met on the Island with some of my Clearing writers for an autumn workshop. Everything came together perfectly in place.

I took little to no part in organizing the event, given my health condition. I preferred to keep the class small, no more than a dozen people. No public announcement or promotion. Dick Purinton, provided not only his knowledge and love of the Island to the class members, but the space (his late father-in-law, Arni Richter’s house) where we met at three long tables in a comfortable living room with a stunning view of Lake Michigan . Karen Yancey (summertime Islander and writer) contributed much in spearheading the workshop, keeping people informed, handling lodging, creature comforts, etc. along with Jude Genereaux who provided her organizing expertise.

I spent a few weeks preparing for the workshop, finally settling on the idea of “island” as metaphor…perusing many books and authors, gathering work, copying materials that would serve as the groundwork to an island writing experience. I was satisfied with the course I came up with (to be taught all day Saturday), hoping I would have the energy to sustain my drive morning and afternoon, fearful my voice would not hold up. But all went well, though there were evenings and Sunday morning I was unable to attend.

In my final words to the class late Saturday afternoon, I surprised myself by announcing a writing contest. Something they might work on once they left the Island. An Island ‘story’ to be sent to me by Thanksgiving, even though we did not study the art of short story writing. There would be a First Place monetary award. A Second Place “lunch in the county” on me. And a Third Place award of either a book from my personal library, which I continue to downsize yet still passionately purchase new ones, or a watercolor of mine, also in the downsizing mode of my archives. The contest was optional. Just a little ‘homework’.

I told them to reflect upon what we had read, discussed, written, and learned about the setting from one specific Islander (based on a class interview I had arranged with Dick Purinton) …plus all that they might still discover about the people and place on their own. I wanted them to create fiction…a good story, reflecting some sense of island existence.

About half the class followed through. I had hoped for a few more. Then again I’m more than aware these days how impossible it is for me to meet deadlines and schedules. Most of their lives are a lot busier and more complicated than mine.

I took take myself out of judging the stories and scattered the critiquing among four other writers and/or good readers, in and out-of-state. I removed the names of the authors from their work. I read the stories myself for the first time only a few nights ago—without names as well.

I found myself mostly in agreement with the judges, though I might quibble a little here and there. The hardest choice seemed to be Third Place, which was a tie amongst the judges in more ways than one.

It was my decision to create a Third Place, High Honorable Mention category because all the work seemed deserving of such mention, as I carefully read each story more than three times, and in light of the fact the judges themselves considered multiple Third Place winners. A book or a watercolor for each writer.

Only the First Place story is featured online.

  • FIRST PLACE: “A Place to be Safe” by Alice D’Alessio

  • SECOND PLACE: ‘Island Life in Three Movements” by Maja Jurisic

  • THIRD PLACE, High Honorable Mention: “Infinite Possibilities” by Catherine Hovis, “Not Just The Usual Trip Home” by Jackie Langetieg, “Baker” by Ralph Murre, “Crossing Porte Des Mortes: A Tale of the Future” by Kris Thacher

A Place To Be Safe

Alice D’Alessio

The truth is, I was looking for someplace to hide. I didn’t tell Roz , when she invited me up to their place for the weekend, but she might have wondered why I blurted out YES almost before she’d finished the invite. To an island even. I’ve always had a fascination with islands, with water, with rocky outposts and crashing waves. But now, I needed to get away from the man who was ruining my life. I needed a safe place to think. I was trying to make sense out of the jagged sequence of the past few weeks.

So I felt an excitement, a sense of escape, as I climbed on the ferry to Washington Island where I’d never been before. I had stashed my home computer with a friend and turned off my cell. There wouldn’t be any way for him to trace me. Jake, who had been charming once, and now was not. He’d been lying to keep me from knowing he’d lost his job; he was stealing from me, drinking again, and god knows what else.. When I had told him to leave it was ugly. Threats, Police. All those things that make up TV drama and end up being crime scenes. Scenes you never expect to find yourself in.

“Nothing fancy,” Roz assured me. ” The season’s over and most of the tourists are gone.
We’ll be closing up the cabin soon ourselves.” I didn’t tell her how I was grasping at this trip like a drowning swimmer grabs for the life preserver. I’d checked out Washington Island on Google. The only way to get there was by ferry. Perfect! It was only about 6 miles long and about the same wide. And some 600 people lived there, full time. Did that mean 100 people every square mile? My math wasn’t good enough to figure that out; Jake could, but Jake was history.

The weather was wild, the wind frothing the waves, but it didn’t deter the ferry. Most of the passengers – maybe two dozen – were inside in a glassed-in cabin. I found a seat outside on the back deck, where I could be alone and watch the way the tattered clouds kept chasing each other across the sun. When I left Milwaukee that morning it was a lot warmer and I was wishing now I’d put on socks and maybe a sweater under my windbreaker.

We’d barely left the dock when a woman plopped down onto the seat next to me. She was zipped up to the neck in a turquoise quilted raincoat with a stocking cap pulled down to her eyebrows. I scrunched over so as not to be touching.

“Your first ride over?” she asked, nodding at my shorts and sandals and probably the goose bumps on my thighs.

“Ummm – yeah. I didn’t think about it being this cold…”

“Sorry we couldn’ta had some better weather for you,” she said cordially.

“Oh – I don’t mind it. Is it usually pretty rough?”

“Oh yah, you betcha. This ain’t nothin,’ really.” she said. ” It’ll settle down some when we get acrost this stretch and past Plum Island.” She pointed to a narrow island, like a long furry animal in the water ahead. “Our Cap’n now – we’ve got the head guy today, Eric Swenson – he knows this water back and for’rd. He’s a former Navy man , you know. Been runnin’ this ferry line for probably 30 years now.”

“Really?” I said, seeing that she wanted to talk. This was good because I realized I didn’t want to think. Anything she wanted to tell me about Washington Island or ferries was a lot better than what was jangling in my head like a bad soap opera. Not that the tape didn’t keep playing in the back of my brain, but it was muted.

She was moving right along – Mae, she said her name was, Mae Berenson. “Yep – he married old Olaf’s daughter . Olaf, he started the line. Died last winter. They say he didn’t want to give up, right to the end. That’s his name painted on the boat – the Olaf Nehlson. “

“Guess there’s lots of Norskis up here,” I laughed, and then wondered for a long moment if that was maybe an insulting term.

“Well yah – but mostly Icelanders. Some Norskis and Finns. Swedes too. We’re all Islanders now though. Don’t seem to matter what old country the ancestors come from.”

“So this Mr. Swenson, he owns these ferries and runs them back and forth? All winter too?” I had to speak directly at her, above the roar of the wind.

“Pretty much all year, now they’ve got the ice-breakers on front. Used to be when it froze over, you was just stuck till spring. Or you could skate or sled or drive acrost. They still close down when the ice gets 10 inches thick, and it’s snowing real hard and the winds blowin’.”

I felt a shiver of excitement. My kind of place. The waves had grown progressively higher, the water a deep slate, tinged with purple or green, depending on the shifting clouds. From time to time a particularly strong gust would blow spray as high as where we sat. The boat rolled and veered to stay crosswise of the swells.

“So what draws people up here?” I asked. “What does everybody do when the tourists go home?”

“Oh, that’s when we really have fun. You know, then there’s time for church socials and potlucks, there’s the holidays, and some folks go away, but mostly their family comes. I don’t know. There’s a quiet and peace and you kinda breathe a sigh. Maybe you have to be born here to understand…Or else, some are just drawn, and they find a way to enjoy it. Eric Swenson, now, he come up to marry Roseann. Her folks was against it. They sent her off to school in California to meet fancy folks, and didn’t she meet a Navy man from Wisconsin!

Well, Mr. Swenson, he’s just fitted right in; leads the parades, joined the Legion and the Stavkirche; volunteers for everything.” She said his name with a kind of reverence.

We had rounded the tip of Plum Island by now, and sure enough the waves were calmer.
Mae settled her shopping bags at her feet, and pulled the stocking cap back to reveal a welter of gray curls. As if on cue, a tall, burly white-haired man in captain’s hat came from the upper deck and stopped beside her.

“Hey there, Mae. Thought I’d find you on this run. Have a good trip?”

“Hey Cap’n Swenson. Who’s piloting this tub anyhow?”

“Oh I let Gunderson take the wheel. It’s easy from here.”

“This here’s Maggie Russell,” she said, nodding at me, “it’s her first trip to the island. She wants to know what we do in winter.”

They both laughed. Turned out that’s the most common question they get. I was embarrassed to be so predictable.

“She’s stayin’ with a friend – the Youngmans – bought that farmhouse on State Line, close to the Art and Nature Center.”

He processed that information for a moment, and then gave me a broad, blue-eyes-twinkling smile. “Oh, you’ll be spending the evening at the Fiddler’s Roost,” he said. “Tony Youngman likes to play with the band there. I think they’re still open. Enjoy your stay.” He grabbed my hand in an enormous paw, and gave it a warm squeeze.

I was hoping to ask him some more questions, to show that I wasn’t only a run-of-the mill tourist, but he went on into the interior cabin and was greeted by the handful of passengers and possibly a tourist or two.

“How many people live on the island, full time?” I asked Mae.

“Well now, if Betsy Olson had her baby that’ll be 661,” she said., promptly. “They hafta go to the mainland now for havin’ babies. Used to be a midwife here would handle it, but I guess they didn’t think that was good enough. We got our own doctor last year, but he’s just here a couple days a week in winter, or more if there’s a call. Lives down Sister Bay area. Yep – Doc Yanicek – all the way from Chicago. He had a little trouble gettin’ adjusted. But then he takes lots of time off, too.” Mae looked like she didn’t approve of that.

“He wrote a book, you know, Cap’n Swenson.” she nodded toward the inside cabin.

“The captain?” I asked, surprised.

“Yep – some publisher down the mainland got hold of him and had him keep a diary for a year, and didn’t it turn out to be a best seller! “

I knew I’d have to get hold of a copy. Probably Roz would have one, or there would be some on sale at one of the shops. It felt good to be curious about something, after so many weeks of surviving bad stuff.

The wind was just as strong as ever, which made pulling alongside the dock a challenge. Waves swashed against the pilings, but the ferry sidled in as neat as if it were a calm day. Probably Captain Swenson had taken over. I said goodbye to Mae as we descended the metal stairs to the ramp. A clutch of people in coats and scarves waited on the dock. I could make out Roz in her long purple coat, and felt a bit silly to be wobbling down the steps in sandals and windbreaker .

“Well – look at you!” She hugged me. “Did you think this was Miami?”

She found a warm sweater in her trunk, and we made a quick tour of the island before dark. There seemed to be only about five roads, stretching beside farm fields, some with cows, some with wheat. A few stores, banks, gift shops and coffee houses were dotted along Main Road. Along the east and west sides of the island driveways led into wooded areas and waterfront vacation homes. Roz was talking a mile a minute so I hardly had time to put in my questions in, and then we pulled in by a white-painted farmhouse set back in some trees. “Here’s the digs,” she said, with more than a little self-conscious pride.

I sat at a counter with an Island Wheat – a beer made from local wheat, she told me – while she heated up a big pot of chili and made cornbread. Their “farmhouse” was a rustic place, obviously re-done, but not too designer-perfect or cutsie. Roz had repainted and put in her usual eclectic pots and baskets and art from friends at the fairs where she showed her watercolors..

We dragged Tony out of his study – where he does something on a computer – and dug into the chili and cornbread, all the while talking and asking questions and I realized how good it is to have friends, old friends, that do interesting things and don’t require lots of explanations. I didn’t want to say too much about Jake. They’d never met him anyhow, just knew I was living with someone – a new guy, I said; someone I’d met in the long gray aftermath of losing my husband Evan in Iraq. Evan had been Tony’s friend, which was how we’d all gotten together in the first place, back in Chicago. I’d lost touch with them for awhile; lost touch with everything. Moved to Milwaukee.

So I told them it hadn’t worked out with Jake, and then told them about Mae Berenson, and of course they knew her, and I wondered what it would be like to live in a place where everybody knew everybody else, their quirks and health and whereabouts.

“Of course, it’s different for us,” Roz pointed out. “We’re not Islanders – just summer people, but since we’ve been coming for over 15 years, we’re almost accepted.”

“They’re only a little suspicious, ” Tony explained, “we’re maybe not the real authentic item – but not aliens either.”

“How long do you have to live here before you’re an Islander?” I asked.

“Oh you can’t ‘become’ one, you have to be born here. Even Swenson isn’t an Islander, and he’s been running that ferry line for 30 years, I’ll bet!”

“He told me you’d joined a band here, Tony.”

“Oh yeah – I riff with them a little. Are you game to go over to the Fiddler tonight? There’ll be some folks there. It’s probably the last week they’re open.”

I settled my stuff in an upstairs room under a gable, There was a single bed, and lots of kid gear and posters. “Randy’s room,” Roz apologized. They had a couple of teenagers who’d stayed home in Chicago with their grandma. Just out of curiosity I checked my cell and immediately wished I hadn’t. There were seven or eight text messages from Jake, with varying degrees of hostility, from “Hey what the hell? We got to talk. miss you, ” all the way to “Where R U bitch? U know U can’t hide from me!” Also one message from Margo, the friend with my computer, who said he’d stopped by her place to find out where I was. She told him she had no idea, but her message sounded uneasy. She was locking her door and turning off the lights, she said. My stomach took an unhappy lurch.

It was a short walk to the sprawling wooden roadhouse called Fiddler’s Roost. Unpretentious, neon beer sign in the window, long deck in front, long dark wood bar inside, deer heads on the walls. A handful of people turned from their seats and waved, and the two waitresses came over to greet us. At least you’d never feel like a stranger, I thought. But would it get suffocating? Right now, lonely and kind-of adrift in my life, it seemed warm and reassuring.

Tony put his guitar on the “stage” – a corner with a mike, next to the bar. “Are the guys coming over?” he asked the blond girl – Missy, they called her. She pointed over at the door, where a straggling of people were just arriving, including several with instruments.

The music was good; bass, fiddle, and a couple guitars, playing something between folk and blues, and having a wonderful time. After a couple gulps of beer I felt better. Meanwhile friends of Roz had joined us, including one introduced as Roy Yanicek, who turned out to be the island doctor. He was a short, sandy-haired guy who didn’t look old enough to have finished Med school yet. He pulled up a chair next to mine.

“Milwaukee girl? First time here?” He had a short, choppy way of talking, and never really met your eyes. Which is unnerving, and not a habit you want in your doctor.

I told him I was visiting, the Youngmans, and he nodded. “Out of curiosity,” I said, “how did you get here, and how’s it working out? Being the only doctor and all.”

He sighed and took a long draft on his beer. “Well, it’s not quite what I expected,” he said, looking around warily. He seemed not to want to elaborate, and after all, these were all his patients , so what could he say? Even though I was curious, I backed off.

“I was just trying to figure out what would draw people to live on an island, I mean, there’s got to be disadvantages” I said. ” But for some reason, I’m always attracted to islands or, like, rocky cliffs overlooking the ocean.” I told him about how I loved Nova Scotia, and Montauk Point, and the Oregon coast and Maine– these rocky places where the water and land meet, and how appealing I was finding Washington Island, how I felt safe here. He looked at me straight on then, with an ironic half smile.

“You’re a romantic,” he said somewhat disparagingly, I thought. “It’s not like what you think. People always think it’s like Lake Woebegone or something – all friendly and wholesome. It’s not like that.” His looked off toward the corner. His eyes were a pale hazel, red-rimmed as though from lack of sleep.

“It’s not where I expected to be, god knows!” he went on. “All those grueling years f medical school, the sleepless nights of internship; you always think there’ll be a payoff. I thought Park Avenue or at least Evanston or Grosse Point. But things happen, you know?” Yeah, I knew about that too.

“So you make one little mistake, and all at once the options close up, and you’re just looking for someplace that’ll give you a decent pay check. And I’m here on this godforsaken slab of limestone freezing my ass and trying to look happy about it. It’s a job. They needed a doctor and I needed a place to be, where maybe they wouldn’t expect too much. Well, you can’t look back. “

He downed his beer and looked around for the waitress. I was still nursing my first one, and trying to fit this new story into my island patchwork. Islands were places to be when you ran out of options?

Yanicek was looking morosely into his refilled beer glass. The band started an Irish jig.
“I can deliver babies, if there’s an emergency,” he said, as if talking to himself. “I can sew up the worst cuts, stop bleeding, do shots, set a broken bone. On an island, what else do they need? In the summer the tourists come. Sometimes there’s a fever. Jesus, that blond last summer, what a piece! I wanted that fever to go on and on. I wanted to share that fever!

But they leave, you know. Every September they’re gone, and the dark comes down like a curtain and I’ve got to keep going to the church socials and smile at the old ladies.”

When the band took a break and Tony joined us, I detected a less than friendly greeting to Dr. Yanicek. I realized then how tired I was, and strung as tight as one of the guitars. My jaw ached, aggravated from my nightly teeth grinding. I looked across at Roz, and tried to send a message by mental telepathy, and fortunately she glanced my way and picked up on it.

“Tired?” she mouthed.

“Can I go back to the house,” I pantomimed. “You don’t have to leave.”

She got up then and came around Yanicek. “I’ll come too,” she said. “I’ve got a busy day packing up tomorrow. He’ll be here,” she nodded toward Tony, ” till god knows when.”

The road was pitch black walking back, and the wind kept picking up leaves and hurling them in our faces. “What’s with the doctor?” I asked her. “He doesn’t seem very happy.”

“Oh, I’m afraid we made a mistake in hiring that one,” she said. “Turns out he’s a womanizer as well as a drunk. He had some trouble that way in Chicago, but we found out too late.”

I checked my cell again when I got up to my room, and couldn’t repress a cry. There were over twenty messages, some from Jake, but others from old friends, work friends, my boss, even my brother in California! Jake had called them all, looking for me, ‘drunk as a skunk, ‘ as my brother said. But how? He didn’t know these people! How…? And then it came to me. He’d copied the list from my cell, sometime when I was asleep, or down at the deli. The walls of the room seemed to crash in on me and I couldn’t keep from moaning.

Roz came running in. “What?” she asked, and I poured out the story, between gulps and sobs. “He’ll get to your number soon,” I said, “if he doesn’t pass out first. You’re at the end of the alphabet.”

” What does he want? Is he… dangerous? ”

“I don’t know. I don’t know. I’ve got to call the police. I’ve got to go home, tomorrow.”

“Wait,” she said. “If they can pick him up, they can confiscate his phone and hold him at least overnight.” She sounded as though she were trying to be sure. “He still won’t know where you are. You’re safe here.”

“How will the police find him? Oh God. It’s such a mess! I didn’t want you to know what a mess….I thought I could get away.”

“You can. Call the police, right now. Do you have a number?”

“Milwaukee police. Do I do 911?”

“Try it!”

My phone crackled ominously, and I could barely hear the voice that squawked in and out on the other end. I shook my head.

“Oh damn,” she said. “The reception is so bad when it’s stormy. We don’t have a land line up here…let me think. I know! Swensons have an emergency line that ‘s cable and can get through to the mainland…we’ll go over there. I’ll call him”

Within minutes we were in her car, charging off into the night . We pulled into a driveway next to a big farmhouse surrounded by wildly waving trees. A porch light was on, and Captain Swenson himself opened the door.

“Miz Russell! Got some trouble I hear,” he said, “come in, come in.”

On the way down a hallway to a small office I got a glimpse of high-ceilinged rooms, comfortable and cluttered with old furniture, ship models, books and magazines. A dark-eyed woman, probably his wife, was curled up on the sofa with a swath of knitting in her lap. She looked up and smiled.

“Hi Roseann,” Roz greeted her.

Once in the office, I felt all at once foolish and alarmist. “I’m sorry to bother you…” I blurted.

“No problem,” he said. “let’s see if I can help.”

I repeated the bare essentials of the story, including the bit about my friend Margo and her fears, and told him I needed to get a message to the Milwaukee police. ” I’d like them to pick him up and get a restraining order or something,” I said , realizing as I said it how foolish it sounded, how almost impossible. How could they find him? Could they even be bothered if there hadn’t been some kind of outright threat or physical violence?

“Has he threatened you? He doesn’t know where you are, right?”

“Yes, he has threatened me. I’ve called the police before. He doesn’t know where I am, but he keeps calling all my friends; he stole their numbers off my phone. He went to a friend’s apartment…drunk. I don’t know what he’s capable of…This has been going on for …awhile. “

“How about calling your friend first to see if he’s contacted her again?”

Of course. A sensible plan. But Margo didn’t answer her phone. Which could mean
– probably meant – that she was scared. Or she’d gone somewhere and had her phone off.

It was like a bad movie – I was caught in a maze and couldn’t find my way out. My head throbbed and I sagged in the knees. Swenson caught me by the shoulders and steered me to a big soft chair.

“Let’s do this,” he said. “We’ll put in a call to the police and let them know the story. At least it’ll be on record. They may need you to come in and sign something, of course. So I’d guess you’ll have to go back. But surely it can wait till tomorrow, or even Sunday.”

The thought of going back made me downright nauseous, but that was tomorrow. Tonight I’d be safe. Tonight, I was on an island with no way to get from there to here.

“How about a cup of tea?” asked Swenson, standing up from the desk, and I marveled again at how large the man was – how his height and breadth filled the little room. “Rosie” – he called, “I’m gonna put the teapot on..”

And then the phone rang. For some reason, it was an ominous ring. Some rings can express their bad news just by their shrillness.

“Yeah – here. This is Swenson. Hey Charlie – what’s up? Uh -huh. Yeah. Did they check out the guy to see if he was telling the truth? How did they find …Oh, the car. Yeah. Yeah. Doesn’t smell right to me, Charlie. Nope – not tonight. We’ll talk about it and I’ll give you a call back.”

He looked at me then with a sigh and a sad frown. “Guess he tracked you up here.”

“But how could he?” I sank back into the overstuffed chair.

“Seems he’s been masquerading as your brother – claimed he was worried about you; got the police to put out a missing person. And someone they contacted told them Washington Island.” That would be Margo; she was the only one who knew. “The Door County police found your car in the parking lot..”

“Why would the Milwaukee police believe him after we just called in and told them what he was up to?”

He shrugged. “Can’t say – that’s big city precincts; messages get missed, other guys come on duty – who knows?”

“So is he still on the loose? Is he on his way up here?”

“He hasn’t been picked up yet, but I think another call to the police is in order. What’s his car like? Do you know the license number?”

Of course I didn’t. Numbers didn’t stay with me. “It’s a dark gray-blue – umm Dodge or something. Has a banged in front fender.” I talked to the police. I told them I wasn’t missing, it wasn’t my brother who’d been reporting that, that I needed protection from the man who was looking for me.

So that was the most we could do that night. I think we had a cup of hot tea, and I met Roseann, and don’t know what I said or anyone else said, and then we were in the car back to Roz’s and she gave me a pill and put me to bed.

Eric Swenson had told me to sleep late. He’d be piloting the 11 am ferry, he told me, and I should be at the dock by 10:30. We’d all agreed, I had to go. I couldn’t get Jake stopped without putting in an appearance, signing papers. I was groggy-numb in the morning, saying my farewells, my apologies, my thank-yous in some kind of garbled spillover. The only thing that stuck in my mind was that Roz said we’d do it again, next summer. I could come up there, I could stay. It was a small beacon on a dark horizon. Like a lighthouse I could steer toward. Even though I knew now that you can’t get away, even on an island.

It was a smooth crossing in the morning, and Swenson invited me up to the wheel house to show me what he was doing, how he navigated. In the sparkle of the gently rolling water, the calm of his voice naming off the various instruments, I felt strangely at peace. No matter what was to come. He pointed out to me an amazing sight: monarch butterflies – so fragile and delicate – one, then two, separated by a distance, fluttering south on the light breeze. Every year, he said, they migrate along about this time to Mexico! And the next year, they – or their descendents – find their way back. Somehow. Against all odds.


  1. Jackie

    Congrats, Alice–great story. I especially liked your rendering of the doc–he was jumping off the page, particularly his eyes, pale hazel and red-rimmed; eerie. Thanks Norb for such a fun weekend.

  2. Ralph Murre

    Congratulations Alice! We are becoming quite accustomed to being outclassed in this class, and once again, you do not disappoint.
    ~ R.

  3. Tim Stone

    Great story indeed. Alice you pulled me right in. Congratulations!

  4. Kris Thacher

    Alice, thanks for this short trip back to the Island. For a few minutes, I was transported away. Your comfortable writing style made it so easy.

  5. Sharon Auberle

    Great story, Alice, I love your excellent rendering of details…congrats!

  6. Phil Hansotia

    Rich in detail and interest. I felt like an evesdropper. Phil

  7. Karen Yancey

    Amazing how you captured the island after only one weekend — the winter “question” and the “dark that comes down like a curtain” when all the summer people leave. There was something familiar about Roz and Tony. Like, the monarch, I hope you’ll find your way back next year.

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