Nantucket Essays

Summer’s End Standby

• by Robert P. Barsanti •

MorningFerryHe stands in board shorts and Yacht Club flip-flops at dawn on the Steamship Wharf and watches the colors spill over the eastern horizon.  Then he puts his sun glasses back on.

Summer can’t leave yet.  He remains on the stand-by list.  He parked his BMW in front of the terminal, waited in line, and watched two (only two? Are you serious?) cars get off of standby and onto the boat.  Summer stepped up to the window.

“Do you know who I am?” he demanded.

“Number 41 on Standby.”

He retreated back to the car, shook his head, and waited.
. . . . . .
Nantucket can be many things.  During July and August, it can be a refuge from the rest of the world.  Sitting out in the Atlantic, the air is ten degrees cooler and the water is ten degrees warmer.  It can also be a clubhouse.  Family, friends, and sorority sisters sail out here in the warm weather then meet in front of Lily Pulitzer with shrieks of pleasure and hugs of agony.  Fairfield foursomes split and then reform at Sankaty and Miacomet.  Three generations share the same damp Nascar towel at Cisco beach.  Nantucket can also be a banquet of sweet corn, chardonnay, and the last three swordfish steaks at the East Coast Seafood.  At its best, you feel as if you are always sitting down to lunch or getting up from dessert.  Nantucket can be many things, but it is always an island and Summer leaves on a boat.
. . . . . . .
She had to go early, but it wasn’t her fault.  Summer has a reservation on September 28, but she really, really needs to leave by, like, tomorrow at noon.  She crosses her hands across this cute white halter top and shifts her weight from one leg to the other and she sips from her water bottle and she waits.  Because she knows this can get done.  This can totally get done.  Summer knows how things work.

“I can put you on the standby list, but it is 200 names long.”

“Well, what does that mean?”

“There will be 200 people in front of you trying to get on.”

“I need to be up in Buffalo in two days.  I have to drive eight and a half hours.”

“I am sorry, but…”

“When I go on the computer, it lets me check off when I want to leave.  Why won’t you do that?”

“Perhaps you should go home and try it on your computer.”

Summer backs away from the window, smiles in that way that girls do when they have to, and then walks off for a cigarette.

She’ll be back.  She has to.
. . . . . . .
The season never goes as planned.  This year, it was hot and then it was wet and then it was over before the tomatoes were ready.  We got to the beach late each day and had to park farther and farther away.  But the water washed away the sweat, the grit, and the frustration of winter.  We didn’t get to Cisco Brewers, nor to the Juice Bar, nor five corners at the right time.  Instead, we lined up behind a Sequoia from New Jersey or a roaring Volvo from Pennsylvania.  For most of July, we watched someone else’s wedding.  When it was our turn, it was worth it.  We waited on a beach for fireworks that came late, but it was a beach and it was our friends and there would be fireworks soon enough.  Every Friday, Bob and Dave called with an invitation to golf and every Friday there was something else to do until there were no more Fridays.  Why did you keep inviting me?  We knew that sooner or later you would say yes.  Then you topped your drive on the fourth tee.  In the end, you finally fit it all in, but it was the end.  And Summer always leaves on a boat.
. . . . . . .
Summer stood with his arms crossed near the end of the line.  It was late at night, before the last boat, and he was deep down the list.  There were a lot better ways of doing this.  Hell, Denny’s managed a stand-by line better.  They should hand out those flashing coasters so you knew when to come down.  Summer wore his loafers and a dress shirt from work, along with his shorts from the summer drawer.  The kids and their mother had been here all summer.  He came down Thursday night, slept till noon Friday, played tennis on Saturday, ate dinner at the club, and then flew off on Sunday for most of August.  And it had been fine.  The kids had fun, Alexandra had fun, but fun didn’t have a reservation and needed to wait in line.  At night.  Still, stranger things had happened.  And, many times, the secret to success is showing up.

“That’s the end of the list.  I will see you for the 6:30 boat,” she said behind the desk.

Summer waited.  The woman got another call.  Then she covered the receiver on the phone.

“Does anyone have a small car?”

Summer raised his hand and grabbed the opportunity.

“I have a really short Suburban.”
. . . . . . .
By the end of August, the heat and humidity have sunk south.  They will rise once or twice more, before settling down on the hurricane coast.  The sun sets earlier now.  The evening no longer stretches out past the fifth inning of the Sox game, but comes sliding to a halt before the starter gets shelled. Most of the petal fall has passed, and only the well-tended and watered hydrangea will glow deep into September, the season of the Plutocrats.  Orion rises, the water cools, and the tomatoes and corn, finally, are ripe just as Summer drifts away.  And Summer always leaves on a boat.
. . . . . .
Summer had his hands in the pockets of his seersucker shorts.  His Tevas were worn, his face was tanned, and a thin line of sand stuck to his neck.  He could peer over the top of the glass partition, like a kindly brontosaurus.

“What about the night boat?”

“The cars on that boat are on the waitlist.”

“But will it take more cars?”

“Yes, but.” she hesitated behind the counter.  “The fastest you will get off island is using your reservation in two days.”

“Really.”

“Yes.”

“Is there a faster way off island?”

“No.”

Summer absorbed the information.  He eased outside into the alto blue sky and shaded his eyes against the dancing glare.  His wife looked up at him.

“Well,” Summer said.  “We are going to have to stay for a few more days.”