There are no streetlights between the old slaughterhouse and the edge of town. The road that links them feels longer than its few hundred barren meters, proceeding above a rocky slope that ends in channel water—the former landing place of blood and entrails, arriving by chute while dogfish gathered. Six nights per week, a young woman makes her way along this route, tiny phone-light in hand, walking toward the main village on the Greek island of Hydra. Her name is Marina. I’ve known her since she was a child.
Interior of a silver Volvo wagon, back door pockets stuffed with Candy Ring wrappers, pencils, and rocks; I am looking in the rear-view mirror or over my right shoulder into the backseat, my left hand on the wheel, right hand on the seat back next to me. Two small boys, both with eyes the exact color as my own, stare back at me, pleading or explaining or demanding or questioning or laughing or crying or sulking or fighting or trying to hide. The car smells vaguely Cheerio-like. No matter the music, the soundtrack is chatter and the rhythmic kicking of a seat back. They also like punching each other’s seat warmer buttons with their feet to be annoying.
My late husband was a man who invented facts. He was Danish by birth, and at a dinner party he mentioned that aardvark was Danish for hard work. “Copenhagen households keep them to clean the floors,” he said. Our otherwise intelligent friends, who hadn’t been to Denmark, believed him.
your evergreen forest
knit from pine boughs and hemlock
frayed by even the gentlest winds
without the swell of your breath
to shelter beneath
roots loosen quicker than I can tie them
slipping through my fingers to tangle
deeper into the earth
still, I forage in circles
The neighbor children are in the Evangelical cult that Vice and The Guardian wrote about last year. They’re not allowed to speak to us, which is a thing no one has ever said aloud but is true, nonetheless. This town is full of true things that no one says aloud because we can’t or wouldn’t dare or because no one would believe us anyway.
Marilynne Robinson, I think, or maybe Ruth Ozeki, wrote something about how the wheat here is green before it’s yellow and everyone from elsewhere gets to selectively forget that and picture us golden and glowing year-round.
From my window I see a boy shaking the bougainvillea for flowers. My parents talk of pruning it. They talk of little else. The tree, spilling wildly past our house into the gulley—where boys come to smoke or piss, lanky against betel-dyed walls—acrid ammonia, posters begging for votes, pink crowning above them. The boys linger even when it rains. Each drop caught briefly under the golden streetlight, and me, holding my breath.
We are losing this place twice over: first to money, and then to sea. There are ways to quantify these losses: only 3,200 bushels of scallops were caught this past winter and more than $2 billion in real estate transactions were recorded last year. My parents aren’t sure where they should be buried; all the graveyards in all the towns we have ever lived will one day be inundated. I imagine horseshoe crabs trolling along the bottom, pausing to read the names etched on headstones.
All over the island, it looms: this is the end of something. I walk along the dune-tops, what’s left of them, at the very end of South Shore Road. Over one shoulder is the Atlantic; endless. Over the other are the sewer beds. A sandy strip separates the two. Second homes are not the only creatures perched precariously on eroding shorelines. Our wastewater treatment facility hangs in the balance.