• by Robert P. Barsanti •
He finally accepted the invitation and came down for the week. Linus lived in one of those far off Vermont towns that you drive through when you are on your way to Jay Peak or Montreal or you are on the run from the Feds. He had children. He had a wife. He had horses that would create havoc in their boredom. Professionally, he spent his career reminding people that they were the adults in the room when they wanted to eat paste and throw erasers.
I had made the summertime offer to Linus, and then to his wife every year for a decade. Then I made the offer several more times until I passed beyond polite and into the zone of forceful and annoying behavior. Finally, this summer, as his boys hit middle school and the humidity dripped from the refrigerator onto a green puddle in the middle of the kitchen, he accepted.
They arrived with a car, several sets of underwear, and one hat between the four of them. We loaned them towels, gave them our sunscreen, made their lunch, drove them to the beach, and taught the mountain folk how to enjoy a five foot high surf. They got burned, they ran out of money, the boys tracked sand into the house, a chair broke, and the dog barked at them each time they slammed the screen door. They had a wonderful time.
The expiration date on houseguests is only a day longer than it is on the three filets of striped bass in the vegetable bins. Their vacation does not play well with our busy season. Further, they are always running with scissors both in town and at home. They drive the wrong way, park in the wrong direction, and eat the Heath Bar Crunch you were saving.
To be on vacation is to have a clock spinning in your head; you know how fast the sand runs through the hour glass. You can only go out to dinner tonight, you can only go to the museum tomorrow, you might only play golf on the next day. But, one way or another, the alarm will ring on Friday morning and the 6:30 boat will take you back to the highway, the hassles, and the humidity.
The same clock spins for us, the hosts. When the guests leave, we think that we can get back to normal. Having guests is not normal; they put you in their vacation. As a result, they reintroduce the island to you. To stand in the surf off Nobadeer in the middle of the afternoon; to walk the dog off of Barrett Farm road; to dig and eat your own littlenecks; all of these are the everyday luxuries that we let pass on our way to Normal. When the houseguests go, we will return to the patterns we wove before. The noises in the house will mutter the usual whines and creaks, the dog will settle himself under the table, and we can walk around in our underwear again. Our normal but comfortable life will rise from the grasses and slip back in the doors.
After a week of chaos, Linus and I sat on the back porch on Thursday evening and watched the summer stars spin in a moonless night. Small birds darted back and forth, feeding on the clouds of bugs. The house had been dipped in aloe, then trundled off to bed. We sipped cheap beer, settled into the dark, and let the years wash away.
The two of us have heard the chimes at midnight. I had brought him down to Rosie’s for Tequila Night all of those years ago, and then the days built up into months and years. Together, the two of us have buried hundreds of golf balls into the underbrush of New England, emptied hundreds of beer glasses, and watched a thousand miles pass. We have seen women come and go; we have seen children come; we have seen parents go. He is an old book; unfinished, but not forgotten. When I pick the work up again, everything reappears as familiar and sure as yesterday.
Linus has unsettling knowledge of my life, as if he were a time traveler stopping in at different points of my life. He may not know me better than anyone else, but he knows things that nobody else can learn. We traveled through Scotland and spent a night in Mrs. Pemmington’s Bunkhouse. As often as I tell the story, I can’t convey to anyone else what it smelled like amid all that rotting hay or what conditions the bathrooms were in. He keeps this, and other things, in a place where there are no words. He knew me back when my t-shirts fit and when my shoes were new. Everyone else in my life knows my today, but he knows yesterday. And he will know tomorrow. After the kids have moved out and this house has passed to the next house, and this chair has become the next chair, Linus will reappear.
Our friends are the best things we have. They are the people who chose us so many years ago and the people who have chosen us again and again. They knew us when we were fat, when we were rich, when we were married to others, and now, at this stage of our decline, they reaffirm their connection to us again. We can’t be that bad if they still can come by.
Linus and I spent the evening checking accounts. We polished the silverware of the past, then looked off into the spinning night. There would be other, darker, evenings. For this night, the air was warm, the beer was cold, and the police were interested in others. Our lives clasped together again, in the settling dark of an island night.