An Island Point of View Nantucket Essays

Siasconset Ghosts

fiction by Robert P. Barsanti

She had come down to open the house for the summer, again.

When the boys were younger, they had all come down over spring break to take the shrouds off of the chairs, stock the pantry, and restart the water and the electricity. Her husband, Benjamin, was a marvelous Professor of Economics and a force to be dealt with in the Faculty Senate, but he was not particularly handy. A degree in economics and a hand full of thumbs meant that he tried to turn the water on himself, broke something, and she always called a plumber to make sure it was done right.

She heard him upstairs, today.

The school year continued, of course, and he would return to the college for finals and for grades and for defenses and all sorts of fussy things that kept the papers stacked and the door shut. The boys had school and lacrosse every Wednesday and Saturday all spring. And she would sit on the wet aluminum benches, with all of the other mothers, wearing that godawful lanyard and laminated card and cheer as the boys rode the pine. Then, after the season expired, they would come down to the house, in that chilly June fog, and zip the ball among them in the yard, never letting it into the bushes, never bouncing it off the house and she couldn’t believe they couldn’t see the field.

Jonathon, Alexander, and Tim barked at each other while the ball clucked into the nets on their stick and then, in an owlish silence, darted to another stick. The quiet staccato muttered under the wind, today.

She stood in the kitchen. She had left it clean. And Roberta came in, thanks to Theodore, and had cleaned it again a week before Memorial Day. She hated it. It had been redone entirely white, with an air fryer than might burn the whole place down and a Cuisinart. She hated the Cuisinart. What did she make that required that much chopping?

When they were younger, the Professor would contact Isky and make sure nothing had happened to the house in the winter. Later, he got off his wallet and paid the nice man for his trouble. Clearly, Isky had been by because that low hanging branch was gone and the flower beds bloomed without weeds or leaves. In addition, someone had put cream in the refrigerator and fresh coffee on the shelf. There was probably beer and Seagram’s nearby as well, she suspected.

Isky would be coming by, today, to meet with Benjamin and talk.

When the boys had gone to college, and Benjamin was amid his school papers, she decided that she would come down early. All she was doing was rattling around the big house, making messes that she had to clean later. She could do that down here. And in a fateful May, when the hedge had started to green and the forsythia glowed, she moved in weeks earlier.

She learned so much about the house. Not much of it good, so she wouldn’t share with the Professor of Economics. He had clear, rationale, economic answers for the drafts on the second floor, the dusty smell of the electric heat, and the sighs and mutters of the rooms. Never mind the mice. He had explained, patiently and carefully, that old houses had not been built as tight as the ones off island because they had to expand and contract in the fog. It was very ingenious of the builders.

She thought it was ghosts.

Alone on her street, with the moaning and muttering house, she went out one morning that May to borrow a cup of sugar from Tricia and Dottie up the way. They knew why she was there. They came by with sugar and cookies and wine and port wine cheese and salt water crackers. Everyone had a wonderful time, then they left and she fell onto a bed and felt it spin, for the first time in decades. After that, every time her little Toyota pulled in without his Mercedes, they came over with some Barefoot Chardonnay.

She heard the wicker of the porch screech. They might be out there, today.

Alexander’s family would be down first. One morning, when his three boys were up before dawn and they had gone off to the Sconset Playground, Benjamin had rolled over to her and said maybe they should see about converting the old chicken coop. Then, as usual, he went back to sleep and she had to get up and get things ready with the boys’ mother. The two of them did the rounds in the kitchen while the little ones were swinging in the early morning, or searching the sand, or getting donuts downtown. The mother, Amy, was a 90-pound lawyer; sharp, organized, and had everything her family needed in labeled zip-loc bags. In the wet grass, they had walked barefoot down to the coop, considered, weighed, and then parceled out the family’s future on-island. By the next spring, the Professor of Economics had built a guest house so that he could sleep and his kids could escape. Since then, there had always been one child or another bubbling with febrile noise from the edge of the property.

She heard them, today.

Opening the house was no longer a test of home making. Nobody needed her to bake and freeze cookies anymore, nor did she have to make all of the beds, or excavate last years beach toys, towels and chairs.

Her life had become very simple.

But she reintroduced herself to the house each spring. She called out their names, as she went from room to room, she spoke to her old friends on the porch and kept on eye open and a beer cold for Isky.

The neighbors were louder. They rented the property out by the week to cowboys who were up all night, slept most of the day, and parked on the yard. They used the house like a paper plate.

Alexander, who kept such good care, had also suggested renting the place by the week. She promised to think about it, but never did. She couldn’t.

Because everyone came to see her when she sat alone at her kitchen table. And what would they think if, one day, she just wasn’t there?

Articles by Date from 2012