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The Autumnal Equinox

                                           Last rose petals linger....                                                               ...

Friday, August 31, 2012

The Bedroom Whately Prep p.55

Julia is waiting for me.  I have moved through this day like an automaton that was programmed long ago. I go through the motions. Review cost, schedule manhours on jobs, inventory supplies left from the school year.  It is a matter of making a list at 8 a.m. and putting checks next to each task until 4:30 p.m..  That is how I get through this day.  When I walk across the campus to my house, I know exactly what I will find.  
Julia will be upstairs, stretched out on the bed, her face cradled in my pillow, the pillow cradled in her arms.  She will be wearing something dusty rose or mauve or beige that covers her torso, leaving bare her shoulders, arms and half of her legs.  Her eyes will be open.  Always, open. She will be facing the window and the light will shower upon her, bathing her in illumination.
We have done this dance.
I read an author, Lee Child, who wrote about one of his characters that he subscribed to the “One Bullet” school of thought.  This theory contends that each of us gets just one, one great love, that pierces us to the core; it is a love from which we are forever and irreparably changed.  I subscribe to this belief.  I live it.  I met Julia when I was fifteen and she was turning fourteen.  She was it for me.  I had the common sense to let her come to me rather than scaring her off.  I had hunted with my father, how was this any different? When the bottom fell out of her world in high school, I was there for her.  She turned to me like a flower turns to rain.  
And even when that time together came to an end, I was not disconsolate.  I knew she was it for me.  We found each other again after college.  She had her lovers, I had mine, but they were not the one, the great one.  When two cars race, the observers never know who will blink first.  The racers do.  The person who cuts the wheel to save himself is the person who has the most to lose.  We were those racers. When it came time for me to ask her to marry me, I froze.  I thought I had too much to lose if she said, “No.” She asked me.  I never answered.  I packed my belongings and moved across the country, running scared as scared can be.
Julia picked up, brushed off her knees, and moved on. 
I was devastated by my own betrayal of myself.  Fear is a compelling reason to run. But after years of a deep sense that I was not whole, I returned. 
I returned to Whately Prep with a mere kernel of a hope that Julia would still want me. 
The malicious acts of violence over the past few days clouds our emotions. It crossed my mind at one point that Julia might consider that I have been orchestrating events.  After all, I seem to be the one benefiting most.  Conveniently, the woman I love is seeking my help and reassurance.
When Julia called me at noon and said she’d meet me at my house at five, I agreed without hesitation.  My prior plans to have dinner with local friends, be damned.
I notice I am slightly breathy when I arrive at the front doors to my home.  I lift the latch on the left, the key on the right is purely decorative.  I step inside, seeing dust motes dance on beams of light that enter through the transom over the door.  The long central hallway makes a sharp right and the stairs ascend to the second level.  My hand slides up the bannister -- the bannister has worn smooth, almost silky after all these years. With my hand on my bedroom door, I pause just a moment, then enter.  

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Cole Potter Reveals a Secret Whately Prep p.54

The Springfield branch of Bank of America does not open for another ten minutes.  I want to be back in Whately by 9 a.m. so that I am not late for work.  Hopefully, I can go in, cash the check and be headed north without much fuss.  The check in my wallet feels like blood money.  Well, quite literally, that is exactly what it is.  
When I first received an anonymous email pointing out that I was not fiscally sound, I deleted it.  The second, third and fourth arrived on consecutive days.  Each of the emails was worded slightly more threateningly.  The fifth one was the first to mention that there was a way out of debt.  I owe $26,000 on the Toyota pickup I drive. I owe $12,300 on a bank note, My wife has racked up nearly $28,300 in credit card debt.  wShe’s used to living large in Texas. Finally, the one debt of which I am most ashamed, there’s my mother; I owe my mother the $20,000 she gave me toward a down payment on the condominium.  The mortgage on the condominium is $75,600. My salary of $36,800 does not stretch very far.  My job at Whately Prep pays reasonably, has good benefits and most importantly, it gives me an identity.  
I received the first email in the beginning of June.  I tried tracing the server through which it was routed, but it was a blind route.  No chance of locating an IP address. It was not until the second week of receiving provoking emails that I seriously entertained the possibility of assessing what the sender was proposing.  I suppose that was the beginning of the end.  
I have lowered myself lower than any man wants to think he might.  I have lied, outright lied, to people I care about all to make a dime. In the bright light of day, it hardly seems like I was thinking rationally.  When I came to a yes, it was carefully  considered. I spent sleepless nights lying next to my wife, wide-eyed and desperate about the possibility of retaining my reputation, my belongings, my career.  Easy money?
No, I wouldn’t say this has been easy money, but it has been good money.  I haven’t stolen. I haven’t hurt anyone.  I had no idea Gillian’s ticker would give out like that. Nobody could say I was responsible.
I think if I ever had to defend myself, I could simply say it was necessary. 

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

All Bets are Off Whately Prep p.53


At last, after a five hour trip, we are back on Martha’s Vineyard, at my aunt's and uncle’s house. I’m happy to be sitting in a rocking chair on their wide, covered, front porch.  The world goes by and I can just rock. Whether I think or not  does not matter to a soul.  The entourage are all inside working on putting together an evening meal for everyone.  I am off the hook because I offered to do dishes.  
Ingrid and the girls are totally sold on Whately Prep.  I have my reservations; there was an undercurrent that neither Declan nor Julia explained to my liking.  Clearly, there was something more than a small act of mischief that precipitated Declan’s concern.  However, I was thoroughly impressed by the campus and the academic rigor of the place.  I can picture Kendra in New England.  Whately is bucolic and it feel like time stood still. There is tradition.  There are so many clear-headed reasons to allow her to attend Whately Prep.  Not the least of which is that she qualifies for the Edwina Goodwin Foundation Scholarship.  Free ride except spending money, books and transportation. 
When we were growing up, Declan and I were close. Every summer, we would hang out at each other’s houses on the Vineyard.  It was three months of condensed joy.  Being a kid, being a boy.  Now we tell tales about our escapades...the broken window at Giordano’s Restaurant, the tourist’s rental bicycle borrowed for one ride around Owen Park or the time we ate three pies my mother made that were earmarked for the Portuguese American Club.  He would be in Kendra’s life.  I know her would treat her like his own. Especially because Kendra was so close in age to Kelly.  Kelly’s burial was brutal; it was as if my own daughter died.  Yet, here she is, full of plans and pleads to attend school here in New England.  How can I let her go?
We have to make a decision within the week. There are other students hoping to get this coveted last-minute slot.  Suddenly, I have an inspiration.  I will let Ingrid be the deal-maker.   If she decides that she thinks it is best, I won’t stand in her way.  There should be better disclosure about the constant formula of letting go when you become a parent.  
I recall Ingrid’s friend dismissing her complaints during pregnancy. “Be grateful, it’s the time you have the most control over your child. Once they leave your womb, all bets are off.”  I have thought of Ingrid telling me that many times since. I am not even much of a betting man.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Frank Talk Whately Prep p 53


I am back at my desk. I wanted to go for a run this morning. Declan gave me a black look when he saw me dressing.  When I continued to ignore his 
judgmental gaze, he said, “Julia, you can’t be serious.” 
My plan was to dress myself and run.  Run, run, run.  I did not want to think about gravestones and deaths and bloody swan hearts. I did not want to replay Kelly’s head, her precious head, breaking on the river’s edge. A glance showeed me that Julian was engaged in Sunday morning cartoons.  Marshall made plans to grab a bagel with Kendra last night, so I knew he was covered.  I threw out an idea, “Declan, why don’t you run with me?”
“Come here, please, Julia.”
I moved back across the room, picking my way through the land mine of laundry, luggage and debris created by a family can make in a 160 foot space. My heart surged with love as I see them within the temporary embrace of that chair.  I turned back to Declan.  I thought carefully before speaking.
“I love you, Dec.  At the same time, I can’t run a prestigious school like Whately Prep, mother my children, play daughter to my dead aunt, and be a detective, while being the wife you want. I can’t be jolly and run off to the Vineyard and lie on the beach.”
“Where is this coming from? I am not asking that. I simply want to keep you safe. ”
He massages my shoulders.  
“You and the kids can’t hole up in the Hotel Northampton until the police figure out what’s going on at campus.  I have a school to run.  I need to go back. I prefer you and the boys go back to the Vineyard where I am not worried about you.  My fear for you and the kids is getting in the way of me doing a good job, or at least the kind of job, I want to be doing.”
Declan seemed incredulous. “I would think you would want us to rally by your side.”
“Can’t you see it scares me more to have the threat of anything happening to the kids or to you?”
“Well, Julia,” his hands come off my neck and settle in his own lap as he speaks, “maybe you can understand how it feels for me to leave you here.”
“I feel like you are making this some kind of contest about who loves whom more.”
“No, Julia, I just want you to acknowledge that by putting what you deem are the needs of the school ahead of us, you are making a choice that satisfies you. It is, in essence a selfish choice, because it doesn’t take into account how I, as your husband, feel.”
I bow my head.  His words hit home.  
I have not cried hard in a very long time. I reign in my emotion by biting my bottom lip.  
He shakes his head -- I assume at my obstinacy -- embraces me, then stands up.  The bed that we shared is now cool, most of the covers are on the floor. 
“We will leave after we have brunch with Marcus and Ingrid.”
I entered campus by one o’clock, after alerting Cole Potter that I was in my office. I have been here since...looking over the empty pond, mourning the many losses in my life.

I am back at my desk. I wanted to go for a run this morning. Declan gave me a black look when he saw me dressing.  When I continued to ignore his 
judgmental gaze, he said, “Julia, you can’t be serious.” 
My plan was to dress myself and run.  Run, run, run.  I did not want to think about gravestones and deaths and bloody swan hearts. I did not want to replay Kelly’s head, her precious head, breaking on the river’s edge. A glance showeed me that Julian was engaged in Sunday morning cartoons.  Marshall made plans to grab a bagel with Kendra last night, so I knew he was covered.  I threw out an idea, “Declan, why don’t you run with me?”
“Come here, please, Julia.”
I moved back across the room, picking my way through the land mine of laundry, luggage and debris created by a family can make in a 160 foot space. My heart surged with love as I see them within the temporary embrace of that chair.  I turned back to Declan.  I thought carefully before speaking.
“I love you, Dec.  At the same time, I can’t run a prestigious school like Whately Prep, mother my children, play daughter to my dead aunt, and be a detective, while being the wife you want. I can’t be jolly and run off to the Vineyard and lie on the beach.”
“Where is this coming from? I am not asking that. I simply want to keep you safe. ”
He massages my shoulders.  
“You and the kids can’t hole up in the Hotel Northampton until the police figure out what’s going on at campus.  I have a school to run.  I need to go back. I prefer you and the boys go back to the Vineyard where I am not worried about you.  My fear for you and the kids is getting in the way of me doing a good job, or at least the kind of job, I want to be doing.”
Declan seemed incredulous. “I would think you would want us to rally by your side.”
“Can’t you see it scares me more to have the threat of anything happening to the kids or to you?”
“Well, Julia,” his hands come off my neck and settle in his own lap as he speaks, “maybe you can understand how it feels for me to leave you here.”
“I feel like you are making this some kind of contest about who loves whom more.”
“No, Julia, I just want you to acknowledge that by putting what you deem are the needs of the school ahead of us, you are making a choice that satisfies you. It is, in essence a selfish choice, because it doesn’t take into account how I, as your husband, feel.”
I bow my head.  His words hit home.  
I have not cried hard in a very long time. I reign in my emotion by biting my bottom lip.  
He shakes his head -- I assume at my obstinacy -- embraces me, then stands up.  The bed that we shared is now cool, most of the covers are on the floor. 
“We will leave after we have brunch with Marcus and Ingrid.”
I entered campus by one o’clock, after alerting Cole Potter that I was in my office. I have been here since...looking over the empty pond, mourning the many losses in my life.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Dollhouses Whately Prep p. 52


It is as hard to sleep as I can ever remember.  I think of Julia. I think of the string of events that have unfolded since I arrived back on campus; not one could I have predicted.  Perhaps the least of which was what happened at Gillian’s house.  What had been a smoldering, but unspoken tension, that exists between Julia and me has reached a feverish pitch.  I see her skin, and want to touch her.  I hear her voice, and I want to talk to her.  I smell her scent and I want to lay with her.  The struggle I have with morality, right and wrong, all but disappears when I am in her presence.  All there is us.
Declan and I have known each other since high school. If I could fault him, if I could find legitimate grounds to believe my moral superiority, I would.  But the truth is, he is as good as they come.  
I get up and snap on the harsh overhead light that sits  over the workbench in the corner of my bedroom.  My secret.  My little-known hobby is building dollhouses.  I like the detail, the exactitude. I plan the most lavish, detailed houses and build them.  If replicas were built based on my models, they would cost millions of dollars.  I put close to 500 hours into building these dollhouses.  Then, I donate them to Children’s Hospital in Boston.  There are people that see that they find homes with children and families who, during a difficult time in life, enjoy them.  My only stipulation is that the dollhouses be an anonymous gift.  This hobby forces me to slow down and appreciate the fine details of architecture, construction and the craft of building.  I find that I can lose myself in the pursuit.
Julia could have been mine.  I have spent the past twenty years knowing that, had I asked, she would have spent her life with me.
I believed myself unworthy, I believed myself underserving. Instead, I have had a string of unfulfilling and dissatisfying relationships.  Not through any part of the women, for sure,  but because none of them were Julia,  I want to know if she regrets it, If she would have me now. I do not want to life out my entire wondering.  I glue on a windowbox and examine my work.  Gently, I pry it off the facade. I replace each of the miniature geraniums with mounds of petunias.  Such attention to detail gives me pleasure.  This is a world in which I control the outcome of my actions.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Morning with Kendra Whately Prep p.51


I leave the hotel room about six a.m..  Sarah is not in her port-a-crib.  She is curled in a tight ball between Mom and Dad.  Julian whistles when he sleeps. There is such a whistle that a train could be coming through. I have been awake since around five this morning.  I woke up, then was afraid of oversleeping, so I listened to my iPod.  I am wearing the cutoffs from yesterday, a clean navy tee shirt that says Peace Happens, and a pair of brown Topsiders. My wallet is in my right back-pocket.  It contains $15, my driver’s permit, and a condom.  I expect to use only the money this morning.  
Kendra is waiting in the lobby by the front doors.  We move outside in unison, without saying a word.  It felt good.
We start toward Bruegger’s Bagels.  
“Did your parents hear you leave?” I ask her.
“Kanya did.  I had to bribe her to get her to be quiet.”
“So what did that cost you?”
“Chores for a week.”
“Wow, I am flattered.”
Kendra has an asymmetric face that appears beautiful from either side. Straight on, one eye is slightly higher than the other and her smile is just a tad crooked; one corner of her mouth lifts just millimeters more than the other. I am cursed with noticing this. I like walking beside her.  Her head comes up to my chin when I wear these shoes.  She glides along in a little plaid dress and pink sandals.  It’s confusing to have these feelings, jumbled and unfamiliar about a girl I barely know - who happens to be related to me, by the way. The idea that she may be going to Whately Prep next year is complicated for me. 
We pause in front of a small outside bistro on the side of the hotel. She says, “Photo Op.” Kendra throws her arm around my shoulder, holds up her phone and shoots the picture. We both lean in, heads touching, to see the image.  She demands my cell phone number so she can send it to me.   
Exactly what is Kendra to me?  What can she be to me?
When we get to the crosswalk, the light changes, Kendra grabs my hand and pulls me across the street.
I want to always remember that moment. The feel of the soft hand of a girl I like being in mine.  That one moment unrolls like a sensory-charged video -- frame by frame. The first warmth of a June day touching our skin.  The dingdong, dingdong of the traffic light bleating out its warning to the blind.  The scent of coffee, hanging in the air.  Our legs shuffling, shuffling in a half-trot to beat the light.  The day is full of promise and we are racing toward something new.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Falling Photos Whately Prep page 50

                     Falling photos of the past.           dee

The photographs spill out of the envelope, tumbling to the floor in a cascade of black and white faces, frozen stills from the past.  I meant simply to tidy the bookshelves in the guest room where Marcus and his wife, Ingrid stayed recently.  I replaced the book, The Old Man and the Sea, and in doing so, dislodged this manilla envelope.  I stoop to pick up the photos, when one demands my attention.  I sit down abruptly on the corner of the full-sized bed.  It squeaks as it absorbs my weight.  I pinch the edge of the photo.
Mostly, I am amazed by what I have willed myself to forget.  Now that I am in my sixties, and Declan, my only surviving child, is grown and has a family of his own, I have reinvented myself.  I have become an independent-minded potter who volunteers at the hospital and plays Mahjong on Wednesdays nights.  My friends call me Stella, though my given name in Elizabeth.  Go figure.  My husband, Claremont, is involved at the Portuguese American Club. He is the book-keeper as well as an active member.  He chases down donations and dues and contributions from people who use the facility for receptions and parties.  Claremont is one of the MV Hospital administrators; his days are full of helping people figure out how to pay for their medical care.  He is paid reasonably well and he has seniority that comes with four weeks of vacation.  If I mention retirement, he laughs at me. He says he doesn’t have time for it.  The two of us have established a good balance.
The picture I am holding harkens back to another age, another era.  It shows a time before we were Stella and Claremont. I was the daughter of a Polish farmer and his wife. My father farmed potatoes in Hadley, Ma.  On about ten acres of our own, and fifteen that he leased, my father perfected the art of growing potatoes in Hadley’s silty soil.  He was one of the first farmers to install an irrigation system using water from the Connecticut River to irrigate his acres of potato fields.  My mother was the true monarch of he Plodnyk Potato dynasty.  Silva Plodnyk made the decisions about how to raise my five brothers and sisters and me.  She did not believe in time for recreation.  We were meant to work, or rest in order to work. Whether is was farmwork or schoolwork, the Plodnyks were known as hardworkers.  The black and white photo is shot on our farm by the front gate.  I am standing on one side, Marshall Dickinson is standing on the other.  We are at least three feet apart, but even in the photo, the fifty-year old photo, I can feel the connection that existed between us.  I study it trying to discern what gives away our passion.  Was it how our eyes looked directly into each other’s eyes? Was it the slight leaning of my upper torso toward his?  Was it the way both of our mouths were soft and gently pursed?  I see it finally.  Our hands are just inches apart as we both grasp the fence rail.  We are standing on opposite sides of the fence and our hands are magnetically drawn to one another’s.  The familiar sorrow settles over me. In the old days, they called this melancholy. I wonder what might have been.  What if my mother had let me go to Wellesley on the scholarship I won? What if Marshall hadn’t gone to Harvard?  Marshall and I never talked about our emotion-laden past.  The only evidence that exists - as far as I know - is this one photograph.  We did not want to clutter the future with memories of our past, so we cut them out completely.  Now that Marshall is gone, I often wonder if that was the right thing to do.  I see so much of Marshall in Julia.  It astonishes me at times to see the daughter of the man I loved fill her father’s shoes so aptly.  I bless the twist of fate that brought our families together.  Marshall and I have grandchildren together. The irony of such a thing is something of a secret joy to me.  Marshall, Julian and Sarah are wonderful children; Declan and Julia are doing an outstanding job raising them.
I scoop up the photos and slip them back into the envelope.  Glancing around the room, I wonder what on earth to do with the evidence of my past.  I take two steps, bend at the waist, and life the corner of the mattress.  I slip the envelope between the mattress and the box spring.  It is unlikely anyone but I will flip the mattress.  I will be in the earth the day that such a thing happens.  The photos are safe for the time being.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Losing Kelly .... Again Whately Prep p. 49

The Connecticut River runs.             dee

Kelly arcs far out over the water, her hair flying behind her as the tire swing reaches the end of the rope and, after a trembling pause, glides back to shore.  Kelly has been using this rope swing since she first learned to swim.  In the beginning, Declan would hold her on his lap, securely between his arms.  She would laugh and laugh at the feeling of flight and movement.  When she began to get stronger as a swimmer, I would swim out in the river and we would let Kelly -- suited up in an inflatable life preserver, jump out of Declan’s arms to me in the river below.  It took three tries before she would do it.  Once she did it, it was all she wanted.  We hung a rope swing at home.  It took the better part of a Saturday morning to suspend the tire from the tallest tree behind the house.  While Declan was working on that, I was raking leaves out of the garden. It must have been fall... We watched Kelly and Marshall playing on the swing then went inside.  Not ten minutes later, Marshall came inside crying.  I looked him over expecting an injury, but couldn’t find anything. It took a few minutes to realize that he wanted to take me to Kelly. It was Kelly, ashen white, who was hurt.  Her lips were trembling and tears rimmed her eyes, but she refused to cry.  She held her arm on a pillow in her lap all the way to the hospital.  Kelly broke her arm when she launched from the swing into the large pile of maple leaves I left in the garden.  She expected the leaves would break her fall as readily as the water had.  I expected Kelly would show some reticence about taking another leap on land, but with snow came Kelly’s exploits.  By the next summer, she was somersaulting backward off the river rope swing into the water below. 
On this perfect early summer day, I call Kelly to come ashore, we need to get home.  She yells out, “I love you, too, Mommy.”
Laughing, I say, “One more jump.  That will make an even one hundred today.”
Her legs are outstretched, she pushes off the stones along the river bank.
“Okay, one more.”
I watch her face closely, she is intent and focused.  I see her gauging distance and speed before she makes her leap. She pushes off backward, like she has done five hundred times before.  Her body starts the tumble toward the river as the rope swing follows its arc, moving back to shore.  However, something has gone wrong.  Her foot is somehow snagged inside the tire and she is dangling upside down.  I race toward the bank. I urge every part of my body to reach the collision point before she does.  In the second just before the tire swing reaches shore, Kelly frees her foot and she tumbles with a scream that is cut short.  The silence is far worse than the scream.  I find her body, limp and unmoving on the rocks. The rope swing continues to make small oscillations, then stops. Blood is flowing out of Kelly’s head, staining the rock and turning the water red.  The current races over the part of her that is submerged.
I know better than to move her, but I do, slightly.  I do not want her carried away by the force of the current.  I strip off my shirt and compress the head wound. I check for breathing, not seeing her chest move, I start CPR.  While I breathe for her, I try to figure out how to get help.  I don’t want to risk stopping the resuscitation, but I need to call 911.  I check my watch.  It has been four minutes.  I have to call. I practice the motions before I do them. Take my sneakers off, stabilize her head with my sneakers. Race up the bank, grab my phone, race down to Kelly, breathe. After several breaths, push 911, send. Breathe.  After several breaths for Kelly i must give our exact location, leave phone open. Continue breathing for Kelly until help comes.  I  can do this.  
When it is all over, I will remember how beautiful her face was.  I will remember how joyful she was when she was flying and try, try, try not to recall her face when she crashed.

I wake up.  I have dreamed another version of Kelly’s dying.  Declan is trying to tiptoe quietly through the hotel room.  He gets undressed, leaving his clothes at the end of the bed. When he climbs into bed, I stretch out my arms to him. He kisses me and enfolds me in his embrace.  I try to cry silently.  He strokes my hair.  This is a scene we have played hundreds of times.  I had no idea my sorrow could run so deep or so infinite.
Slowly, my breathing calms. I hear Sarah, Justin and Marshall make their nighttime noises  -- a hiccup, a little rattle, a wheeze every fourth breath.  Declan’s grip on me relaxes and I feel him drift off.  I lay still and wait for morning.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The Blue Bonnet Whately Prep p.48


I like the Whately Prep campus. I could really see myself going to school here.  The best thing of all is the gym.  I would be able to compete on the Whately Prep Swim Team.  In California, both Kayla and I have been on swim teams since we were about seven years old.  My mother said it was going to be swimming, dance or tennis.  We liked the bathing suit colors and chose the sport simply because of a little purple and a lot of teal.  The irony that Whately Prep's school colors are purple and teal does not escape me.  I want to get away from my parents, in particular, I am over arguing with my mother.  The surprise is going to be on her. I think Mom believes that I am trying to legitimize running away from home. There is so much more.  We have not been getting along. She has been more controlling than ever before. I means, she came down to the pool two weeks ago because she was calling me and I didn't pick up. I was in a meeting with Coach -- who, by the way, does not allow us to have our cell phones on when we are in team meetings.  You would think she'd be embarrassed, but no, she SAT DOWN and stayed for the rest of the meeting.  I wanted to disappear into the floor.  She and Dad have been arguing a lot lately, too. I think it's because she can't just leave him alone. She is always following him saying, "Why are you doing it (mowing, doing a crossword puzzle, loading the dishwasher, addressing bills) like that?  Let me show you how I do it."
So Whately Prep, where kids rule, that sounds cool to me.  I met some students who are ambassadors. They live near campus and they come a couple hours every day to take visitors on tours.  Their parents go talk to the Dean of Admissions, and the ambassadors talk to the visiting students. I was there on International Day. I was the only native English speaker in the bunch of students.  But, weirdly, it was fine.  I felt humbled by how worldly these kids from Russia and Korea and China were.  I guess I kind of appreciated my life a little more when this Russian girl said in her heavily accented English, "Are there this many choices every day?" when we went to the dining common buffet.
The student ambassador leading my tour took us to hang out at the Student Center. We grabbed sodas and candy bars (and the school paid)!  He told us that Northampton is the closest town - about eight miles straight down the road. He said we should try to visit - it's got a lot of restaurants and bookstores.
Julia said something about us moving to the Hotel Northampton this afternoon, then BAM!
We are checked into the Hotel in two rooms.  Mom is letting Kayla and me walk around downtown. She handed us each a twenty to spend.  I barely recognized her on this trip.
As we are leaving the swanky hotel lobby, Kayla spies a store called A 2 Z.  It's a combination toy, book, game, science store for kids.  I promise her we'd come back after we get the lay of the land.   No use spending all our cash at the first store.  There is an extensive art store I like; it holds so much possibility.  Kayla drags me into what looks like the first mall ever.  Thorne's Market. It is about four stories high and filled with shops and services.  The wooden floors creak when we walk on them, but the place is kept up.  Again, Kayla almost spends her money on earrings, but thinks better of it when I remind her to keep looking.  We see an Urban Outfitters on the other side of the street.  We do not cross. The local stores are so much more interesting to us.  We walk up Main street until we come to the main gate of Smith College.  I stand at the gate for a long time, thinking about my chances for getting in.  Would they be better if I graduated from Whately Prep or my high school at home?
Kayla tugs on my sleeve, "Let's goooo...."
We stop in Starbuck's and treat ourselves to lavish, frozen drinks with piles of whipped cream.  I pay for both of them, using my twenty. After tip, that leaves me with eight dollars.  Kayla drags me into this store called Faces. It has stuff. Lots and lots of stuff that, when you see it, you want it. There are clothes and books and toys and novelty gifts and greeting cards.  I buy a magnet that says, "Rubber duckies do it in the tub."  Mom will either laugh, or take it away from me. No in-between ground.
Kayla buys a lacy purple tee shirt from American Apparel.  Good choice.  She has exactly a nickel left.  I shake my head.  When we get outside, she hands me the bag. "Here," she says, "that's for you. It's a going away gift."
"I'm not going anywhere!"
"Yes, you are. You are going to Whately Prep."
"I haven't even gotten in."
"You're going.  Face it."
I suddenly feel like I have let Kayla down by dreaming my own dreams.
"Wherever I go, wherever I am, if I wear this tee, I'll think of you. Hugs?" We pantomime hugs and air kisses. The moment passes.
When we get back to our room at the Hotel Northampton, Julia offers to take us to dinner anywhere we would like. She suggests Indian, Italian, Chinese, Japanese, Vegetarian options.  Timidly, Kayla asks,
"Was that a diner we drove by when we came into town?"
"The Blue Bonnet? Yes.  Why, does that appeal to all of you?"
With heads nodding all around, she says, "Blue Bonnet it is." She leans down to whisper to Kayla, "I love diner food, myself.  Good call!"

Monday, August 20, 2012

The Long Ride Home Whately Prep p. 47

Life ring on the ferry Martha's Vineyard  dee

I have Julian and Marshall in the way back -- the third seat -- of the van.  Marcus is sitting up front, riding shotgun, and Sarah is buckled into her carseat in the middle of the backseat.  The boys aren’t fighting because they are engrossed in a Transformer video.  Sarah is asleep.  The only way off the Island was to wait in standby for the ferry since four this afternoon.  We hit the lottery and there was a spot for the car on the 8:30 boat.  We will get back to Whately just after midnight.  The decision to leave was easy.
When Julia called, her tone was devoid of affect.  She recited facts with no emotional  inflection at all.  Most people believe that she is a bit cold and aloof because that is what she does when she feels out of control. She if from the “just-the-facts, m’am, just-the-facts school of crisis management.  It is her ability to separate emotion from fact that allow her to make executive decisions and to lead confidently wearing the mantle of responsibility.  It is not how many people operate.  
Julia called me on the landlinefrom the Whately Prep garage.  
“Hi Declan.  How’s it going?’
“We were just playing a rousing game of Yahtzee and Sarah is blowing bubbles -- Not in your mouth, sweetie! Julian, please take the bottle from Sarah. How’s your day going?”
“Actually, that’s why I am calling.  First, I don’t want you to come home.  It would add to my worries to have you here. “
“That doesn’t sound good.”
“It’s not. I told you about the swan this morning.  Well, this afternoon, the swan’s heart was delivered by messenger to our house.  I called the State Police and I have hired a P.I. as a body guard while we straighten out things.”
“Are you serious?  Was the box addressed to you?”
“Yes, and for the time being, the police want to err on the side of caution.  They have experience dealing with these things. They may call in the FBI.”
“I am coming home.  I am not leaving you there alone.”
“I am staying in the Hotel Northampton for the time being.  That is not being distributed to anyone at school except Cole, Carl, and my assistant.  Better to keep it on a need-to-know basis, they say.”
“Get another room.  We are coming.”
“Please, Declan, I have enough to worry about. I need to get Ingrid and her daughters out of here without totaling freaking them out.  I need to assess the risk to other people on campus, and I have to try to make sense of someone’s motives for doing these violent things.  I would prefer not to add my terror that the children or you might be hurt.”
“Julia, you are thinking logically and that’s great, but I can’t be here and simply look the other way.  As a guy, I am hard-wired to DO something.”
“Are you still, there, Julia?”
“Okay, here’s what would be great.  It will involve a lot of driving.  You will want to rent DVDs for the kids.  Come out to Whately with Marcus.  Spend the night and then head back to the Island with Ingrid, Kayla and Kendra in the morning. I would tell Marcus that a lot has come up at work and there has been some vandalism that I have to deal with right away. That covers everything.  Does that work for you?”
“Yes.  We’ll be there on the first boat out of here.  However, I’m going to make reservations to come back to the Island for Monday morning.”
“Not the vacation we planned three months ago, is it?”
“Not at all.”
“Declan, thank you. You know I appreciate it.  You get that I want you here, but I just...”
“I get it, Julia. Do what you have to do to get rid of this crazy and we can get back to normal.  Please, be careful.  Don’t go anywhere alone.”
“The cops have done a run through on this stuff.  That’s why I am calling on a land line. There is sophisticated software that can triangulate my position using a cell tower and the GPS in my iPhone.  Hackers can use it to find out exactly where people are. “
“Don’t trust anyone, Julia.”
“Come to the Hotel Northampton.  I’ll get another larger room for our family and Ingrid and Marcus can have this one.  So far as the kids go, I think we should tell them there was a water leak in the house for the time being.  Agreed?”
“Works, why not?  Okay - see you tonight. I love you. Be safe.”
“Drive carefully.  Text me when you get on a boat.”

The boat just docked.  I wait for the doors to open to begin the long ride home.  

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Smiarowski Farm Stand Whately Prep p. 46


I offer to take Ingrid, Kayla and Kendra for ice cream. 
“I”m about to leave my office now. I’ll just put on something less formal and we can head down to the Smiarowski’s Farm Stand in Sunderland.”
 “I would love that.  I was looking at the map. Is that on the other side of the River?”
“Yes, it will give you a different view of the area.  And Smiarowski’s had both hard and soft serve.  They’ve got you covered. On another note, did the girls like the campus?”
“We want to tell you all about our impressions when we see you.  Do you think we could see one of the boarder’s rooms before we head back to the Vineyard?”
“Absolutely.  If you are willing to stay until Monday, I can have Kendra talk to our Admissions Director and she can have an informal interview.  That will give you time to learn about the nuts and bolts.  I hate to steal you away from Martha’s Vineyard, though.”
“No, this makes me a lot more comfortable.  Let’s talk about staying. So the girls and I will be ready to go in about twenty minutes, that about right?”
“Perfect. I’ll toot my horn when I’ m all set to go. You should hear it up in the guest apartment.” 
I  had spent the early part of the afternoon writing up reports as well as a community email about the swan’s brutal murder. How am I going to put a “spin” on that for Ingrid, I wonder?  Would I let my child attend school where there was an incident such as this one? Whenever I am faced with difficult questions and challenging decisions, I find myself reflecting upon what my father would have done were he here.  Often, that helps.  I have a great deal of respect for the Head of Emma Willard School in Troy, N.Y..  We call each other from time to time to discuss topics that range from improving the quality of food, plagiarism on campus and finding professional clothes that flatter and do not look frumpy.  I did not call today because I did not want to disrupt her weekend anymore than necessary.
Whately Prep is starting to have a trickle of administrators and staff arrive.  They are officially due on campus tomorrow. We lease space to an English as a Second Language Program for students from the Pacific Rim countries as well as a nationally known Tennis Academy.  The Academy raises the bar for large numbers of students over the course of he summer.  Both programs last about eight weeks.  They will be clearing out, dorms will be turning over, in the third week of August.  Pre-season athletes return to campus a week later.  The academic year starts two weeks later.  This cycle of comings and goings stays fairly fixed year-to-year.  The current addition of graveyard mischief and fowl mayhem adds a wrinkle that will have to be addressed aggressively so it does not get out of hand.  My instinct is to call in outside help.  Robert Parker has done some work for us in the past; he’s a P.I. who finds run-aways, truant spouses, missing money.  He’s the kind of guy whom it is nice to have on your side.  I will call him from the house.
As I start up the walk to my front door, I see UPS must have delivered a package. As I get closer, I see that the small, brown box is wrapped and addressed with my name.  It strikes me as odd that there is no return address, However, we are relaxed on our campus.  Perhaps, too lax.  If I stepped over the package and unlatched the door, I am ninety percent sure that I left it unlocked.  I reach in my purse and pull out my set of keys.  I use one to break the seal of the tape. I set the box on a small outdoor table that fits nicely on the porch. As I pry back the flaps of the box, it takes me several beats before I process what I am seeing.  When I am certain that I have identified it correctly, I drop the box, vault down the steps, and lose my lunch in the bushes in front of the house.  I fumble with my phone and call Carl.  
“I need you.”
I edge back to the porch where the box lay on its side.  The contents have spilled out; the swan’s heart is sealed in a ziplock bag with a note. “Yours next.”
My legs wobble. I sit down hard on the front steps, with my hands folded,  elbows on knees.  I suppose this means no Smiarowki’s Farm.  

Friday, August 17, 2012

Some Plans for the Future Whately Prep. p.44


Cole Potter drags out every minute he can of the State Police’s visit on campus.  You can see that he wants to rub elbows with the big kids on the block.  His puppy-dog enthusiasm embarrasses me. I am unusually silent.
The deep hole I wanted to dig in order to respectfully bury the swan will not be dug; the police remove the swan’s body in a white van bearing the seal of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.  Gomez Schwartz is finally able to head home at least three hours after his shift ended. I make a mental note to ask Cole if Gomez will be paid for his time.  When you make an hourly wage, such things become very important.  
Though it is Saturday, I decide to purge the space my father once used for his office in preparation for it becoming mine.  Only one person held the job after him so I am not surprised to find his name on many of the memos that I am tossing.  A few odd files surface; they are not labeled by Building Name or Project Name. They each are identified by a string of numbers. I was reluctant to admit it, but it appeared to be a code.  The papers inside are not helpful.  The photographs my father saved left more questions than they answered.  The first file set are black and white images of the Head’s house. Bartlett Dormitory is featured on the second set.  The final group of photos in the first file are a cluster of various gravestones out at the cemetery.  I wonder if more is going on than I realize.  It is quite possible that there are other forces at wok than simple vandalism. I place a stack of about five folders on the upper right hand corner of my desk after highlighting the labels on each one.  I suspect there will prove to be some valuable information in at least one of these files.  I bag up all the paper for recycling.  I toss an assortment of tchotchkes such as a mug, a paperweight, a stone with a bird painted on it, a four-inch, copper paperclip and a massive collection of buttons with slogans (WWJD?) in a box I found in the garage.  There is now surface area exposed on the filing cabinet. When I throw out the dead plant, the broken creamer, the coffee pot that no longer works and a few other odds and items, I have a curious amount of empty space on the small table under the clock.  I am thinking a Keurig coffee maker will fit nicely -- out in the garage, not in my office.  I need to get a printer and update the computer.  I don’ t think I will meet resistance moving the place into the 21st century -- I just think no one has thought to do so until now.  The next year is going to be spent simply getting all the systems up to speed so that the construction and changes at Whately Prep don’t swamp the boat.  I like losing myself in work.  I grab a pad of yellow lined paper.  Using my favorite -- a flair pen -- I write the words TO DO at the top.  With two short strokes, I underline the words and set to work imagining what comes next.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

All in a Name Whately Prep p. 42


Kendra is only fifteen!  I am really not sure she is ready to go away to boarding school. It is all so New England. These families send their children off to be raised by someone else.  Marcus thinks it will build independence and that Kendra will make lifelong friends.  He says the network is invaluable.  What do I know? I am a California girl. Sunshine, fast cars, beaches, families who argue loudly and with spirit and families who  never stop talk to each other. Marcus would let Kendra go in a heartbeat.  And I wonder how life would be for Kayla, at home with just the two of us?  Would that be a good thing for her?  
This is a freakin’ big decision.  Julia brought us to Whately Prep and has made certain we have had a tour of the entire campus.  She suggested that the three of us walk up to the apiary.  It’s near the top of the hill heading toward Quonquont Farm.  The many names that are from Native American roots leave me awkwardly shaping words in my mouth. Hammonassett, Mohegan, Narragansett,  Pequot, Wampanoag, Pocumtuck, Metacomet.  The Polish immigrants brought with them their diligent work ethic and names consisting of many vowels.  Krakowski, Janowitch, Wcislo, Nowak, Paskevich.  Julia suggested we all meet for lunch in the school's dining common.
“Are you girls ready?”  I ask Kayla and Kendra.  It’s a short walk, let’s go buy some honey.”
“Buy honey?  I thought we were going to an apiary,” says Kayla.
“And what do they have at apiaries, Kayla?”  
“Birds, of course.”
I quickly turn away so she doesn’t catch my smile.  Oh, the drama if she thinks I am laughing at her!
Kendra uses a condescending tone when she drawls, “Don’t you mean an aviaary?”
“Whatever. Let’s go, already.”
We walked single file up the narrow road leading toward the center of Whately.  As I took in the bucolic view of this town, I could imagine Kendra making a life here.  

A Phone Call Whately Prep p. 41


“Julia?  Slow down.  Take a breath.  Where are you?”
“I’m in my office.  Declan, the swan was butchered.  I mean it was terrible.  Almost worst is watching its mate swim around and around in the pond.  It is not acting right at all. I called the people from the farm to come get her.  I am hoping she will do better on their property with other birds.”  I am at the window of my office, dressed for the day. Clara was good enough to come in.  We are going to plow through my correspondence this morning.  Catch up on that, then I will review the new daily schedule we are introducing this Fall semester.
“Aren’t you spending the day with Ingrid?” 
“Declan, this is a major deal.  Do you get that? Ingrid is fine.  She and the girls are on the Saturday campus tour.”  
“I am worried about this, Declan.  Bad things come in threes.  The gravestone mischief, “Aunt Gillian’s death, and now this. You don’t think....”
“I don’t think what?”
“You don’t think these events are -- in some crazy way -- related, do you?”
“Absolutely not. Do not go there.”
“But Declan, Kelly isn’t around much.  Even now, she would usually be in my office. Not today -- again.  Something feels off around here. I’m telling you.”
“This could easily be a town vs. gown thing, you know.  Whately Prep recently got the final approval to build the library.  Don’t overlook that possibility, Julia. Why don’t you take Ingrid for a bike ride? Who knows, maybe her daughters will want to come, too.”
“Now THAT is a great idea.  When I get done this morning, I want to do just that.  Declan, you are the best.  Thanks.  What’s going on, there? Is Sarah up and fed?”
“Of course.  She is already at my mother’s.  Mom loves having Sarah around. Says it keeps her young. Pop took Marshall and Julian fishing out on the Boston Whaler.  I would be on my lonesome, but Marcus is keeping me company.  He misses his family.”
“Boohoo. Hi, Julia.” I hear Marcus call in the background.  I suddenly realized that I must be on speaker phone. This was obviously a private conversation.  Man, that irks me.
“Take care, Marcus.”
I hear the phone go off speaker.
“Julia? “ Declan’s voice is close and in my ear.
“I can come home. Do you want me to come home?”  
“No, I’ll let you know if I need you. Thanks alot, Dec. You are my sweetheart.”
“Talk to you later, Jules.”
A bike ride will grant me a change of perspective.  

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

A Swan’s Death Whately Prep p. 41


Cole Potter looks redder, rounder and more uncomfortable than ever before.  I am in the  Garage at an absurdly hour in the morning.  Cole called me over around 5a.m..  He reported the findings of the rent-a-cop that patrols the Whately Prep grounds all night. He sits, riding around in his electric cart, looking for trouble.  This morning, he heard wild honking about 4:17a.m. according to Cole.  When the rent-a-cop went to the pond “from which the subject’s sound seemed to be emanating,”  he found the lifeless and blood-streaked body of one of the swans.  The other one was in attack mode.  The mate of the dead swan was hissing and lunging at anyone who came close to the dead swan’t body. 
“So where is it now?” I demand.  I feel my face flush red.  I am furious.
Carl interjects -- I didn’t notice that he was there at first.  He gestures at Cole with his head, “When the three of us worked together, we were able to distract the mate and remove the swan.  It’s over on those pallets.”
A drop-cloth was thrown over the stack of pallets in the corner.  I walk over and draw back the cloth. 
Involuntarily, I gasp.  Someone has deliberately and violently mutilated this bird.  
I hear my own words, “This was slaughter.”
The swan’s chest is criss-crossed with stab marks.  Crimson red blood stains the white feathers and the white down of the bird.  It’s long neck, so gracefulI, lays slack.  I place  my hand on the bird -- still warm.  My eyes well with tears.  In a flash, my grief turns to anger.
“Something untoward is going on here and I will not allow, I WILL NOT tolerate this.  Cole, have you checked the security cams?  Have you notified both the Whately and the State Police.  Those swans are paid for by a Federal Grant that Declan initiated.  That makes this swan’s death a federal case.  I want action and I want answers.”  
Cole’s eyes shift nervously.  I read that as not prepared.  I know what students look like when they haven’t done the work.
The rent-a-cop, whose name badge reads Gomez Schwartz, is nodding as if in agreement with everything I have said.  When I turn in his direction, he steps forward,
“Assignment, M’am?”  I barely contain an eye-roll.  
“Better ask Mr. Potter here.”
Carl interjects, “You could come help me dig a hole.”
“We can’t bury it until the Staties have their say, Carl.  You all had better just slow down. This is no race.”
This time, my eye roll can’t be helped. They can work this out without my assistance, that is for sure.
“Please come get me when the police make some determination or if they need me.”
I walk home, the long way, around the pond.  I see one swan swimming in circles, around and around and around.  I am saddened by the unnecessary death and feel determined to find the person responsible.  I want to throw all the laws on the books at this person.  
My head swivels, looking, looking, for a single glimpse of Kelly.  I don’t see her.  With these escalating acts of violence and the disturbing discovery at Aunt Gillian’s house,
Kelly seems to be more and more scarce.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Welcome Home, Julia Whately Prep p. 40


I was on the riding lawn mower when Julia returned.  I thought she was going to be gone for the weekend, so I was surprised to see her black Saab pull into the short drive off of Swamp Road.  
The Head’s house has a barn out the back door of the house.  It was renovated sometime in the seventies.  The 1970’s.  It has an apartment upstairs. A set of stairs hang somewhat perilously off the outside of the barn.  The door opens into a small studio apartment with amenities, including a washer and a drier.  Below the apartment is room for their two cars and a small workshop/shed that Declan uses pretty regularly.  He is a neat and methodical man in all things.  No place you see it as plainly as in a man’s workshop.  
I chose to mow because it helps me learn the lay of the land, literally.  The weather has been threatening all day.  The clouds have been gathering in an ominous fashion.  A sensible man would take cover.  I am waiting for the first, fat drops of rain to herald the deluge that is bound to follow.  I pride myself on the straight lines I leave behind me as I mow the grass to a perfect 2.5 inches.  As tempting as it is to go shorter and reduce the time until the next mow, if we go much shorter, it is bound to burn. I like the curiously mindless nature of this task.  It’s a lot like driving.  You can do it on autopilot and have absolutely no recollection of having driven to your destination.  
Each time I pass the Head’s house, I see another installment in the drama of Julia and her guests arrival.  Julia emptying the trunk of a few things.  Julia leading a woman and two girls up to the guest quarters. Julia entering the back door of her own house.
Julia in running clothes. Julia gone.
I circle in on the very last strip of lawn that requires cutting on the common and .... plop.
The first, heavy drop of water falls.  I head the mower toward the service garage on the back of Whately Prep’s property.  Within one hundred feet of the garage, the skies open and the rain falls in a torrent.  Welcome home, Julia.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Rain Whately Prep p. 39

Rain    Whately Prep  p. 39
Day 311


The rain started last night. Sarah and I will travel home today.  Our trip to Whately will include the most of the Scotts -- Ingrid, Kendra and Kayla.  We are leaving on the 10:30 boat. The rain is coming down as if to punish us. Hard, furious, unrelenting.  Could so much water be stored overhead?  If it continues to rain like this the whole way, it’s going to be slow going.  The transfer from boat to bus to car when we arrive in Woods Hole is always cumbersome.  It is even more difficult when there is torrential rain.  I wonder how much rain Ingrid and Marcus see in California. One of the charms of New England is that after the worst Nor’Easters, there are days of piercing clarity and breathtaking beauty. The worst serves to underscore the best. 
To make the trip, I have only my shoulder bag and Sarah’s diaper bag. She has a small country in her diaper bag; there are toys, food, cream, medicine, change of clothes, and, oh, yes, diapers. She has plenty of snacks and beverages to last the trip.  I pack a snack-bag for the car, certain that we will all want food along the way. There is always the rest stop along the Mass Pike,

We gather at the front door at precisely 9:50 a.m.  That will allow us ten minutes to get to the ferry. We need to be at the terminal half an hour before sailing.  I stop short when I see their luggage. The Scotts have packed one bag each.  The problem is that each of their bags is HUGE.  They are coming for two nights in Whately, and they each appear to have packed more than my entire wardrobe... in both houses.  
“Hey, guys?”
They spin around, all three of them with their blond hair and high cheekbones looking inutterably lovely, and slightly alarmed.
“I hate to tell you, but your bags won’t all fit in my car that’s over in Falmouth.”
“I thought the boat gets in at Woods Hole. Why is your car in Falmouth.”
“I told you we have too many clothes.”
“Our time is very short, so here’s what would help.  Each of you pull out two shirts, another pair of pants, a sweater, a bathing suit, a nightgown, a pair of flip-flops or sandals, another bra, three panties and your toiletries bags.”
While they unzip and sort, I move through to the kitchen and grab three cloth shopping bags, bright and colorful.  I hand one to each of them.  In four minutes, we have rezipped their suitcases and shoved them over to the corner of the room.  Julian and Marshall lift their heads from the movie they are watching just long enough to say, “Bye.”
Declan and Marcus are out. They said their goodbyes before they set off on their adventure. The trip to the Polly Hill Arboretum had to be scrapped, they adapted.  
And so did we.  Sporting a Thayer’s Market, a World Eye Bookstore and a Gazebo shopping bag, the Scotts women are ready to roll.  I allowed ten minutes to get to the ferry, it will take us less than two. Once a mother, always a mother. These small calculations and prevarications are all in a mother's toolbag.
I grab some extra umbrellas.  With a little bit of luck,  the rain will let up before we get to Whately in five hours.  With a great deal of effort, I consciously switch off my worry switch and head out the door with my row of ducklings following in close succession.