With a pinch of Lavender

Thesis Segment 2

November 1, 2009
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In the summer my father left for the harbor early, meeting Johnson or Bardier at the docks, talking in the salty fog that disappeared by midmorning. The weather wasn’t idle chat with the fishermen, and ‘red sky at night’ frequently set expectations for the day. My father’s office sounded like a robot. The three radios were tuned to different maritime channels, announcing craft warnings and weather reports. I liked to sit in the window seat of the harbor master building watching dinghies and rowboats navigate the cramped moorings close to the boat launch. On summer days when my mother needed us out of the house so she could make jam, or repaint the shingles, Chester and I sat at my father’s desk and listened to the robot voice tell us how many Knots the wind blew. On the wall there was a painting of a ship that my father said had sunk, the American flag on the stern unraveling in the wind. The only other wall decorations were a series of sticky-notes that held names and registration numbers.

Sometimes my father would let Chester and I sit in the front room with him and the fishermen and boaters that would stop by. We liked hearing them talk; sailing accents from Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, and Canada, the fishermen turning their r’s to ah’s.  Johnson and Bardier spent their mornings in the harbor master building, I don’t know if I ever found out what their first names were. They were both locals whose families had lived in Havret Harbor since it separated itself from the neighboring town of Jeterton, sometime around the war of 1812. They shared a lobster boat because it was “wicked expensive.” Her name was Red Lady and their buoys matched with red horizontal stripes. Johnson and Bardier smelled like fish and cigarettes. The fish used for lobsterpot bait has to be a little rotting so the lobsters can smell it. Their waders had little bits of old cod and halibut stuck to the bottoms.

My father used to haul pots, but grew up in Castine, where he and his brothers and his father and his father’s brothers had gone to Maine Maritime to become captains and shipbuilders. Before that the Sillmans were the Cielmonts in Montreal who built houses. My grandfather was trained to make boats but made chairs; he had his own store full of benches and stools. It was the kind of store that out-of-staters would have their Maine conversation pieces shipped from. His brother Dodge who my father was named after moved away to Port Clyde work on lobster boats, an extra set of hands, earning money and building a reputation among the fishermen until he could afford a used boat. He found a retiring fisherman who sold him the Bella Donna, who was never renamed, and pots with buoys whose colors stayed the same. My father spent summers in Port Clyde hauling for his uncle. The string of pots reached far into the ocean, soaking in the colder waters. He worked in the sun with his oil overalls and no shirt, leaving his French/Irish skin to burn and freckle. His brown freckles stretched from shoulders to wrists where his gloved hands were red from work, and not from sun; his usually chestnut hair bleached, his nose constantly peeling. When he was old enough his beard came in brown and coarse, and the only times he shaved it were for weddings and funerals when a clean face was respectful.

My father spent one summer saving his money to fix up an old Boston Whaler; Sundays were spent in his uncle’s backyard, scrubbing, sanding, painting, and refinishing the decayed boat. The outboard was a gift, all fifteen horses. Sundays were a day for staying home. You didn’t have to go to church, but you couldn’t do anything else either. The whole state closed on Sundays, except for some of the Chinese restaurants, the kind that had signs that said ‘Oriental.’ My father spent most of Sundays in bed, and the afternoons tooling around the inlets and coves in his whaler, spots he could see from Bella Donna, but not close.

Friday nights were when the fishermen, crewmen and dockworkers got paid, my father and his uncle included. The streets, bars and harbor full of drunken port men. His uncle would be angry if he knew he had taken the whaler out after dark to see a private cove one Friday night, late in July, when the air started being warm. It was trespassing, if he was caught, and only if they were home.

Before he could see the dock, my father killed the engine, coasting through the dark and quiet water. He tied the wet and weedy rope around the dock cleat in a figure-eight, pulling it tight. Bilge water sloshed around his feet in the bottom of his Boston Whaler. He put the stern light pole behind the gas tank. The newly varnished seats were red and still sticky; the heat and water kept them from setting. The white flotation pillow with the black mildew held tight to the plank seats. My father fished his keys from the floor attached to his unsinkable buoy key ring. He stood on the seat cushion, holding his tennis shoes in hand and stepped onto the dock. The skiff bobbed when his foot pushed off, pointing the fore into the harbor.

My father sat on the dock, pulling his shoes on, his bottom numb from the wooden seat, barely braced against the pounding of the waves. His wavy hair heavy on his scalp with salt and sweat, rising with the breeze when it picked up. He stood, seeing that the lights were out in the big white Victorian house at the top of the hill that overlooked the cove. The cove and the house were owned by a family from Connecticut who came up for long weekends and the week of the Fourth of July. Their Sunfish lay on the beach, the sails still in their red sheath. My father walked across the beach, feeling the sharp rocks through his tennis shoes, thin from wear. The light at the end of the dock turned on. He climbed up the large rocks that sat between the beach and the pine trees sloping up the hill. His knees crunched old pine needles under them. He sat in the dark of the trees while a girl in shorts and a tee shirt walked down the dock. She leaned over his whaler, and shouted “I know your registration number now, whoever you are! I’m going to the cops, and you’ll get arrested.” She stood crossing her arms, waiting. “Really? You’re going to let yourself get arrested? How stupid are you?”

“Okay, I’m sorry, please don’t repoht me.” My father stepped onto the rocks.

“Because you said you’re sorry?” The girl kicked his skiff.

“Hey, come on now, that’s nowt nice.”

“And neither is going on someone else’s property when it’s clearly marked.”

“I didn’t see nothing.”

“There are signs on the trees over there, and both ends of the dock.”

“It’s really dahk.”

“Which makes it all the creepier that you’re sneaking around here.” She kicked his skiff again.

“Hey now, I just came down heah to see if they was any of the glowin jellyfish I heuhd about.” My father had his hands up.

“I’ve never heard of any glowing jellyfish around here.” The girl kept her foot on the fore of the whaler, moving it back and forth like rocking a baby cradle.

“Yeah, see, some of the fishamin say that in the summah around this time, the jellyfish come in the coves to spawn, and they glow like fiahflies but in the watah.”

“You’re putting me on.”

“No, sweah to god, but I don’t think they’ll be comin anytime soon from the looks of it.” He looked at the water, black except for the yellow reflection of the dock light.

“Well that sucks, especially since you’ll be in jail and won’t get to see them ever.”

“Hey, come on now, I really am sorry, what can I do?”

“You could…” the girl thought about it for a while. “You could give me your boat.”

“I can’t give you my boat, no way.”

“Hope you like jail.” The girl kicked the whaler again.

“Isn’t theyah something else I can do? I could give you a ride, sometime?” My father shoved his hands into his pockets.

“Fine, you have to give me rides whenever I want, for the rest of the summer.” She smiled and took her foot off the boat.

“I weuk fuh  a living, I don’t got time except Sundays.”

“Fine, Sundays it is Mr…” She reached her hand out.

“Dodge Sillman.” He stepped up to the dock and shook her hand.

“Nice to meet you Dodge, my name is Marian Webbly.” She stepped back, letting him get to his whaler. “See you Sunday then.”

“Yup.” My father unhooked the rope from the cleat and started the motor. Marian walked back to the house, turning off the dock light. He put up the navigational lights so other boats wouldn’t hit him.

When he got back to his uncle’s dock, the hems of his pants were wet, even though he’d rolled them up. His whaler made a light tapping sound, pressing against the dock with its rubber bumpers. He decided to wait until his pants dried before walking back to the house to avoid questions. He walked a bit up the hill to the main road.  Next to the lamppost was an old fashioned lobsterpot, arched with a flat bottom, a net slung in a round opening between pine slats, facing inward, like a navel. He could see where the lobsters would crawl in, and into the next room with the bait bag. The whole point of a lobsterpot was to get them to come in, the net would let the small ones back out, but the big lobsters would get stuck, only able to move backwards. The lobsterpot had two miniature pilings thrust through it, the cheap pine slats sawn in jagged circles. He felt that was wrong, since they didn’t even make wooden pots any more, they had to be made by hand, they had to be strong and well built or a fisherman could lose a whole string of pots.

My father wanted that lobsterpot. He didn’t know what he wanted it for, or what he would do with it if he had it. He crouched and tested it by pulling gently upwards; pushing his legs against the wooden platform it was screwed into. After checking to see if anyone was around and finding no one, he ran back down the hill and grabbed a wooden paddle from his whaler. It was supposed to be used in case the motor died, but he wedged it under one corner and rammed it, the old wood of the platform separating from that of the pot. He hoped no one would hear the creaking of the rusted screws, he didn’t know how he would explain it. When he got home later, he would tell his uncle that a drunken captain gave it to him. His uncle would know where it came from but not say anything.

Another thrust into the gap between platform and pot pushed the paddle a few inches deeper into the breach. The pilings didn’t come up, but my father didn’t want them. He was sweating in the damp July sea air, his dark shirt sticking to his chest as he used his weight to leverage the progress. After a few more shoves, he cracked his paddle and pulled the pot from the platform. He put the paddle back in the whaler, careful not to further damage it in the process. The lobsterpot was heavier than a few slats of pine and some old rope netting should have been, but it went under his arm as he walked with what he hoped looked like purpose and not guilt. The dark streets beyond the bright of the dock yawned at him. That’s how my father always remembered the night he met my mother; the night he also stole a lobster pot from the township of Port Clyde.



February 3, 2009
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Mercer kept salt water in a jar next to the window over the sink. It wasn’t the same as the water she scooped it from. This was clear, with sand in the bottom and bits of seaweed or fish parts settled. Mercer liked the thick glass, with the smooth letters that spelled a cursive ‘mason.’ The jar was clear, and the water was clear, and it was wrong. Her mother Hannah kept old bits of china and sea glass. They were splayed with gray rocks that had white veins in them. They were wrong, sitting on wood instead of being polished and smoothed and worn down to bits of sand. Mercer thought of what should have been little piles of sand on her mother’s dresser.

Mercer secretly climbed a tree. She wanted to look over the pond, see where it met the ocean. Her grandmother’s house was mildew and pine. Hannah spent her summers there until an orphan burned it down along with five other houses near the beach. The fireplace was old; the rest was rebuilt while Hannah was in school. Mercer climbed down, the dry bark crackling. The beach was past the pond, but she had seen snapping turtles crawl onto the lawn. She climbed up the rock face instead of walking around the house to the lane, and closed the faulty screen door that let mosquitoes in. Lucas poked a snapping turtle with a stick on the front lawn, smiling up at the living room and reaching his foot toward the turtle’s mouth. She didn’t watch him taunt their mother.

The kitchen was connected to the living room by a slate pathway shouldered by windows. Her grandmother had jars with nothing in them. Mercer fit the jars into each other like Russian dolls. She slipped her sandals on in case her grandmother came into the kitchen. Her feet were dirty, and scratched between the light calluses.

Mercer went to the beach with Hannah, her grandparents stayed under the overhang of the clubhouse. Hannah told her about diving off the elephant with the boys, her swimsuit snapping when she hit the water, spending the entire summer with her bikinis held together with safety pins. Mercer wanted to climb the elephant. To see what the beach looked like from up there. To step around dried barnacles and touch the warm rock with her hands as she maneuvered up the tail and onto the back. To shoo the sea birds off, trying not to step in their droppings, thirty years of baked seagull scat.

* * *

She tried to swim to the elephant when she was little, with Lucas, both of them in life vests. Hers had dolphins on it. The undertow started, it was hurricane season, and the jellyfish were coming to the shoreline. The sign on the beach said that they were only allowed in the water if accompanied by at least one other person. Hannah held Mercer and Lucas by the nylon tethers on the backs of their life vests. They were floating on their stomachs, paddling, tipping right and left to crawl, necks sticking out as far as they could go to keep their chins out of the water. Lucas had a red life vest with yellow piping, she knew it was red, because Hannah’s feet got knocked by a wave, and she didn’t let go. Mercer saw Lucas’ red life vest through the sand and the seaweed. She saw Hannah’s blue swimsuit and her own white life vest with the pink and purple dolphins on it. They all looked darker under the water; the sand was between her and the sky. She saw legs and sand and sand again. When Mercer’s head came out of the water, Lucas was crying.

“Why do you want to kill me?” His cheek was already pink from where his knee hit.

“I didn’t try to kill you.” Hannah pulled her yellow hair out of her face.
“Yes you did! I saw! You went under and wouldn’t let go! I was going to die!” His other cheek was blushing, and his eyebrows arched in a ‘why?’
“If I let go, then you’d be dead. The riptide would pull you out far, far out to sea, and you’d be gone. You’d go one way and Mercer would go another way, and I’d lose you both. Would you prefer that?” Hannah turned them back to the shore.
“Yes! My head wouldn’t be underwater.”

* * *

Mercer left her sandals by the door, and closed it slowly. In the dark she almost couldn’t see where the tears were in the screen were. The dog stared at her, pacing. She hoped animals could receive telepathic messages, because she promised him a treat if he didn’t bark. Apparently he could, because he sat and tilted his smooshed face to the side to ask ‘now?’

Every pad of her toes slicked with the dew on the slate stairway. She walked in the grass until the driveway met the road, and took a right. The honeysuckle draped itself over the stonewalls like balloons filled with dough. She pulled the flowers and sucked the stamens clean, leaving empty petals. Her red brown hair was littered with leaves on the right side where it snagged twigs. She passed the sleeping beach houses with road bikes in the front yard. Mercer walked through the hurricane damage from before her grandmother was born, over the felled chimneys and sunken bathtubs. The fence on the dunes was missing a section where the pallets were stacked end to end around the clubhouse. She folded her shorts and shirt next to the lifeguard chair, the sand fine and cool, squeaking against her metatarsals. She retied her bikini with a double knot, the dark green matching the dune grass.

Mercer planted herself at the edge, the water sucking the sand from under her, leaving foot shaped pools, the pale and lacy foam ankleting. The elephant was between her and the lights from the harbor, glowing, the beached side black and wrinkled. She squatted, picking up a hollow green crab, flicking it onto the beach for the gulls. She climbed into the ocean, her arms sunk to her elbows, toes curling into the sand and shells at the shore. She gripped the bottom, the shells and old seaweed clinking against her bracelet, crawling.

Crow Finished

November 10, 2008
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I asked my mother to dream about swans, and in the morning she would tell me about how beautiful they were. I told my mother about my dreams in the morning at breakfast. The dreams would be dreams until I made them stories at the end. I made my dreams about dancing in ballrooms, but I never dreamed about ballrooms. I usually dreamed about a mummy coming out of my radiator. My mother told me that if I couldn’t sleep, I could have worry dolls under my pillow. I had four, and they lived in an earrings box. I could feel the lump under my pillow, which made me a princess. My brother had worry dolls, but they lived in his nightstand.

If I grew corn on a deserted island, I would make smoke signals, the way my mother told me, with blankets over the fire up down hold hold up down up. I would wait for responses – I would wait with my corn, holding my blankets – my red, purple and blue blankets. My mother told me that special flowers were for the blue – and collected berries were for the red and purple. She told me a story about how crow brought the fire to earth, how beautiful crow was with his colors, and how the bringing of the fire covered his colors with soot. We drew pictures of crow with his colors and covered them in black crayon, so we could scratch the wax away, showing little lines of color underneath, like crow’s feathers in the sunshine. My mother told me that crow had a beautiful singing voice, but the smoke from the fire hurt his voice, all he could say was “caw.”

I wonder if crow would come to my corn and take and eat it. I told my mother that crow brought me corn, and I ate it. But I was very small. I wonder if crow would bring me anything. My mother told me that crow was the messenger between the human beings and the sky. My mother told me about his fire, and how it scattered seeds that made the blue flowers. My mother told me that the blue flowers were from a sacrifice of a doll with two jay feathers, and after it was burned, there were blue flowers everywhere, and there wasn’t any more drought. My mother told me the drought was ended with fire, because that is the way all droughts end. I wonder if crow would see my signals I made with his fire, in the corn he gave me. Up down hold hold up down up.

In the fall, the hills were black where the blueberries caught fire. My mother told me that blueberries can’t grow unless they are burned every two or three years. But every blueberry field owner had a different year to burn. One hill didn’t grow well at all, it was burned every year. The best blueberries were on a mountain, and my father and his family would climb the mountain every year, and wouldn’t leave until they filled their buckets. My grandmother fell off the mountain with her bucket. She rolled until she got to the bottom. My father and his family ran down the mountain, and she was waiting for them. My grandmother picked up her bucket and went home to pick the leaves and twigs out of all the blueberries. I tried to see my grandmother falling down a mountain, but I’d only seen her in a pink kitchen. My grandmother was very small, and I didn’t know that it was because she was Irish. I wonder if I’d be taller than her today. She was so small, in a cornfield, she would get very lost.

I got lost in the corn, because I was very small. I practiced in real mazes, but in real mazes there are footprints. There aren’t any footprints in corn, but there are hoof prints. I think we gave the corn to deer, he didn’t take it from us. We spent the summer tilling the field, and sowing the seeds. In the morning, I got up very early, and could see deer eating the corn and peas and beans. Deer could see me, but I didn’t bother him. My mother told me deer came at night too. My father built a scarecrow out of an old pair of pants and shirts. Crow sat on it and ate peas. My father shot his gun in the air to scare deer away, but deer came back. In the fall, we found three ears of corn left, deer had eaten some, but left those for us. My mother didn’t till the field, but made a tiny garden just for me and my brother to eat from. We could play outside, and eat tiny carrots, because we didn’t give them time to grow.

Dark pink ribbon was special. My mother only had a little bit, and I tied dried grass from our old house in it. When I picked it, I was Cinderella, because I had a blue dress on. I wanted to remember our old house when we moved, and I tried to fill my suitcase with grass from the yard, but my mother told me I shouldn’t. I started filling it when my mother told me we might move. I told my mother that I wanted to move, and I started packing the yard. When we got to the new house, I could take the yard out of my tiny suitcase, and it would be the same.

It snowed a lot the first winter in the new house. I didn’t live on a mountain anymore. The snow near the ocean was fat and sticky. It snowed to my waist. My mother told me it only snows that much every five years. I knew when I was nine it would snow deep again. We walked through the apple orchard next door. The snow was in the wind, so the neighbors couldn’t see us. The trees were old, I don’t think they had apples anymore. We had our scarves wrapped around our faces, my mother, my brother and me. We just wanted to see the apple trees. We had to walk through our part of the woods, where there was less snow, and I could still see the pine needles. I wonder if we ever met our neighbors with the apple orchard. My mother told me if I was in the woods, not to let the neighbors see me.

I tried to disappear when I was in the woods. My mother told me about Geronimo, how he was a medicine man who could disappear. He would escape the cavalry by disappearing, or by bringing the dust storms around his people. I saw a picture of Geronimo, with his rifle. My mother told me he became a great warrior because soldiers came and killed the women and children in his village. He wasn’t a warrior before. My mother told me it was proven that he was magic. His people stayed away from the cavalry for longer than any one thought they could, and the cavalry thought he was magic too. My mother told me that Geronimo knew first president Roosevelt, the one with the mustache. The cavalry didn’t catch Geronimo until he was very old, and they made him live in Oklahoma. After he surrendered, his hair was short. I asked my mother why he always looked angry, and she said that it took a long time to take a picture, he had to be serious. My mother told me that Geronimo wasn’t a chief, but he still had to lead. I tried to disappear in the woods, but Geronimo disappeared in a cave.

I didn’t have a cave, but we had a bat house. It was so they wouldn’t live in our barn. My mother told me woodpecker. She told me that my father was feeding the animals when woodpecker started looking for grubs in the roof of our barn. Woodpecker couldn’t peck through tin, but he didn’t know that. My father thought that someone was shooting at him and ran out of the barn. When he saw that there was no one there, he went back in. Woodpecker tried a second time to get grubs out of our roof, and a second time, my father thought someone was shooting at him. My mother told me that my father never ran as fast in his life. When he saw that it was woodpecker, my father went inside to get his gun, but woodpecker flew to a tree, and hid in the leaves. Owl is smarter than woodpecker, but I never get to see owl. My mother didn’t have any stories about owl, because owl is so quiet, and wise that she doesn’t get into trouble like the rest of the animals. I wanted to be like owl, but I was more like woodpecker. My cousin told me that when I was very small I would breathe in the middle of words, because I would forget. Owl wouldn’t forget.

Before summer started, my mother would tell us that it was hooky day, and we would go to the secret beach, and swim in the ocean. It was so cold that our bones hurt, but we wouldn’t forget the cold. Every time we went swimming for the rest of the year, the water was warm. There were tidal pools full in the rocks that were bath water warm. We sang to the periwinkles, asking them to come out. My mother would take our dog behind the beach by the crabapple trees, so no one could see her. It was our secret beach, so our dog was allowed. The secret beach was hidden behind the harbor master’s office and a marine salvage shop. There were no other people but us. My mother braided tall grass together to make crowns for us. Me and my brother would harvest the seaweed so we could sell it. We tried eating it, but it was salty and slimy. When we waded into the water, my brother would try to catch the minnows, but they were fast. My brother and me would go home and eat sardines and pretend we caught them. They were never as good as the fish we really caught. My father knew how to clean a fish with two rocks. I saw him using a Swiss army knife when I was disappearing in the woods. My brother and me caught our fish in the morning and had them for breakfast.

I dreamed about eating fish, in the winter, when the ice wasn’t thick enough to sit on. My mother told me that my father drove his jeep across ice that wasn’t thick enough, and it cracked behind him. If he had turned the wheel, his jeep would have sunk. I dreamed about our car rolling backwards up hills, down icy mountains, and across lakes that weren’t thick enough to sit on. My mother told me in the dreams to be patient, like a little doll. But I didn’t know how to be patient in a rolling car when my car seat was unbuckled. Crow would sit on the telephone lines and yell at me as I rolled past. I always woke up right before our neighbor saved us.

I told my mother about my dreams, and she said that maybe I was afraid of moving to our new house. I told my mother I wasn’t afraid of moving, because I wanted to live near the ocean, and pick blueberries. My mother would ask me what kind of story I wanted her to tell me. My father sold windows and doors, and I would ask my mother to tell me a story about windows. My mother would tell me about windows, and I would dream about flying.

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