Season of the Stick

by Robert P. Barsanti

The ocean chewed the dark. Miles from the beach, the crunching and biting hung in the immediate present, distinct and clear. Overhead, the calendar roared and the power lines hummed.

My boon companion and I were checking the fortifications as we do each night. We look for interlopers, check for trails and mysterious smells, and then mark our visit in an unmistakable way. Tonight, we paused. His back hair spiked in a mohawk.

The season of the stick had fallen. They littered the yard, with all of the leaves of summer and the growing bog waters of winter. No matter what the landscapers do or what the realtors say, no house on this island is more than a few feet from sand and water. In storms, the water rises up and reminds us of how it all ends.

On Nantucket, winter doesn’t so much as arrive, as it gets revealed. Summer grows and spreads like new skin. The grass glows, the buds pop, and the warm air breathes over us from Surfside and Cisco. In a moment, the boats arrive, the towels spread, and the corn grows high. In the warm, glowing nights of summer, you can sink down into the season and let it buoy you up. Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow will have waves, gentle breezes, and heavy tomatoes.

And it will.

Until it won’t. Then summer gets blown from the trees and drowned in the puddles.

My boon companion growled into the dark. Nothing rose to my eyes, however. He may have scented one of the Ninja bunnies or a lost raccoon. The neighbors had drained the pipes, removed the trash, and called the caretakers. The sump pump under their house gurgled.

Without the summer people, the street returned to comfortable darkness.

He growled again.

I loosened the leash and let him lead me. Two houses down, a single light glowed over a new garage. The sticks of some desperate tree thrashed and throttled in the wind, casting chaotic light over the driveway. We walked down to it. Water lined both sides of the street. On the far side, all of the rain had washed away a hill of topsoil from one project, and built dirt bars and beaches along the side of the pavement. Further along, three goodsized branches had been crushed and dragged to the side of the road.

This house had been a sandcastle for the summer. The project must have looked great on the computer screen. I could even see the happy couple looking at a very clever “fly through” on an iPad inside a chrome and crystal office. The project budded off of an upper income mall, with Anthropologie tags still on the handles. It had developed with the speed that the modern age brings— in two weeks a hole in the ground grew cement and beams, then was nailed weathertight by the beginning of June. But the modern world brings curses and blessings. The rest of the construction stumbled and stuttered to a conclusion in the evenings and on Saturdays. The yard was still mostly sand surrounding a green dumpster.

Outside of the driveway, we hung back in the shadow. The light came from a window over the garage. The main house sat dark and, presumably, empty. Inside the garage apartment, the TV light flickered. While we stood, a man walked by the window. Outside in the driveway, a Toyota 4-Runner with New Hampshire plates sat with its headlights on. A “Make America Great Again” sticker was affixed to the rear bumper.

Those stickers have become scarce as hen’s teeth on island. The pride and thrill many had with their red hats has faded away in the sullen reality of what a Great America would look like. I have been on a steady diet of headlines and pictures, but no articles nor news stories. My family has warmed their hearts with the New York Times and Rachel Maddow, but I can’t make that step just yet. I have more immediate challenges that, thankfully, require action and have solutions.

My Boon Companion lapped up the road water, then left some in the high grass before coming back, sitting down, and looking up at me. The air was getting wet again.

Were it not for the bumper sticker, I would have gone up to the car, opened the driver’s side door, and clicked the lights off, then tottered off into the night drunk on a good deed done in the anonymous dark. But the mischievous imp in the back of my mind wondered who he would call in the morning when the sun rose and the battery died. And I have a heart dark enough to imagine the scene in the blustery gray damp as he discovered that something else he had faith in had abandoned him and left him powerless. And, with that vision in my head, I noticed the car seat. Blue and plush, with cartoon bears along the bar, it had been secured behind the passenger seat, where the driver could retrieve pacifiers and toys dropped onto the floor. From the side of the car, the passenger could look to the driver with comfort and affection, then throw goldfish at him.

So.

I knocked on the door, then stepped back so that he could see the two of us in the light. A young man descended the stairs, looked at us oddly and I pointed out the mistake that would have abandoned him and his child to the elements in the morning. Then, after a respectful minute when he flicked off the lights (and locked the car), we waved each other and retreated.

The two of us walked a dark road home.

We are not who we are in the spring, when the future pushes up greenly into the waiting air. We are not who we are in the summer, when the waves roll in, the sky glistens, and the wind follows our wish. We are not who we are in the fall, when the sky hangs gold and purple in the sweatered air. We are who we are in the winter. In the dark. In the cold. In the wind.