At the Dune Shack

By Joan Kane Nichols

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Finalist : Terrain.org 3rd Annual Contest

Rose let the screen door close behind her. She pulled a dust rag from her waistband to wipe a cobweb from the gray hair fuzzing her scalp before collapsing into a canvas chair. Kicking off well-worn sandals, she lifted her face to the breeze blowing up from the ocean, cooling off the warmth of the late June day and ruffling the beach grass, bayberry bushes, and clusters of Rosa rugosa surrounding the dune shack’s splintery deck.

Behind the shack, one of 20 or so cubes of weathered board scattered along a bluff on the Outer Cape, stretched a rolling sea of sand; before it, the ocean intensified its steady boom boom as the day neared its close. In the sun’s withdrawing light a log of driftwood lying beside the chair cast a long shadow along the deck.

The faint pulsing under her scalp eased. The threat of pain subsided. She hoisted the log of wood, spiky with branches, to her lap. Not much driftwood along this beach. The waves smashed whatever came their way to smithereens. She’d had to look for days before finding this thick length of sun-bleached, wind-scoured scrub oak, now washed free of sand and left in the sun to dry. She cupped the driftwood in her palm, caressing its rough crevasses and curves.

Rose’s hands longed for the chisel, the thrust of its blade slowly transforming vision into the solidity of wood. What was it Michelangelo once said? I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free. She could feel the unborn creature imprisoned inside the wood, its shape flowing into the muscles of her wrists and hands. She breathed deeply, allowing the weight of the log to sink into her lap. Her eyes closed. The sun warmed her scalp. Her fingers probed, blindly searching answers to questions of balance, rhythm, line, and shape.

A shuffling in the sand made her look up. Footsteps? So far, no one had intruded on her solitude. Over a mile of thick sand and steep dunes—here and there muddy bogs, thickets of thorny trees—covered the path that led up from the road. A young female figure, slumped over with effort, emerged from behind the nearest dune.

Rose thrust the wood from her lap and stood, waiting, arms crossed, at the top of the steps. Lank hair plastered the girl’s neck. A safety pin joined her skirt’s ripped seam. Style or expediency, Rose didn’t know. Mud coated flip-flopped feet. Gold rings—ears, eyebrow, lips, belly button—glinted in the sun. A large embroidered bag flopped disconsolately at one side.

The girl lifted her head, caught sight of Rose, and waved. “Hi, Grams.”

“Jody, what are you doing here?” Rose scanned the horizon. “Is your mother with you?”

“Me and Mom had a fight.” Jody climbed the steps, dropping clumps of sand and mud in her wake, and hugged her grandmother’s rigid body. “I’ve come to live with you.”

Oh have you? Rose thought.

Jody fell into the vacated chair, draped her arms over the sides. “It was hard finding you.”

Not surprising. Rose had deliberately been vague as to her whereabouts. She ran her hand across her stubbly skull. The bristles pricked her palm. She said only, “How did you?”

“I took the bus to Provincetown. The driver said the dune shacks were up the path from Snail Road. It was a long walk. I’m beat.” The child did look exhausted. Rose checked her impulse to smooth the damp hair back from the peaked face.

Something loud and hip-hoppy shrilled from Jody’s bag. She pulled out a cell phone, scanned its face. “Mom keeps calling.”

“She knows where you are?”

Jody hugged her knees. “I left her a note.”

The shrilling continued. “Shouldn’t you tell her you’re safe?”

Jody handed the phone to her grandmother. “We’re not speaking.”

Rose sighed, put it to her ear. “Hello?”

“Mom?” Her daughter’s voice, pitched high with anxiety.

“She’s here, Karen. She just arrived.”

“Thank God. Let me talk to her.”

Rose raised her eyebrows at Jody, who had kicked off her flip-flops and was swiping sand from her feet onto the freshly swept deck, and proffered the phone. Jody shook her head vigorously. “Karen, she says she’d rather not right now.”

“I suppose she’s still angry about the tattoos. Oh well, she’ll get over that.”

When? was the question. “I’m sure you’re anxious to get her back,” Rose said. She wished this conversation wasn’t taking place in front of Jody, who, back and neck stiff with alertness, was examining her mosquito bites and pretending nonchalance.

“Not as much as you might think. Now that I know she’s safe. You can’t imagine what it’s like, these constant tussles.”

“I can imagine,” Rose said.

“I think she hates me.”

“Oh I’m sure not.”

Karen said, “It might be a good idea for us to have a little vacation from each other. You know?” Rose closed her eyes. “Besides, I just met this guy, someone really nice this time. He could be the one. But Jody will screw it up. You know she will.”

Not my business, Rose wanted to say. She glanced past Jody to the driftwood, half-hidden in a shadowy corner of the deck. “What did you have in mind?”

Jody sat up, alert as a ferret.

“It will be nice for you,” Karen said, “having your granddaughter with you.”

Good old Karen, always thinking of others. It was true Rose hadn’t yet told her the cancer they’d thought was cured had returned and was now invading her brain. If she had, Karen, who wouldn’t care as much as she’d think she should, would try to bully her into continuous rounds of humiliating, ultimately useless, treatment to ease her guilt. “That’s impossible.”

“Why is doing something for me always impossible? Why do you always just think of yourself?” The self-pitying voice was loud enough that Jody couldn’t help hearing.

“I’m not sure she’d be happy here. I live very simply, you know. Primitive.”

“Oh she’ll love it.” Karen’s voice all sweetness now. “It will be like summer camp.”

Fourteen’s a bit old for summer camp, Rose was about to say, but Jody looked up at her through wet eyelashes and, “Two weeks,” she said instead.

“Right. Then we can see how it goes from there. Let me talk to her.”

Rose handed Jody the phone. “Hello, Mom?”

Rose stepped away to give her privacy, lit the one cigarette a day she allowed herself, felt its soothing fire coil through her lungs.

The cell phone clicked shut. Jody hugged her from behind. “Thanks, Grams.”

Rose deposited the pinched end of her cigarette into her shirt pocket, and opened the screen door. “Let’s go inside.”

She watched Jody take in what there was to see in the dim room, which wasn’t much. Bare boards, a long table facing the front windows, a small kitchen area, hooks for clothes, and a set of bunk beds hanging from the wall like shelves. The place belonged to Rose’s friends Jerry and TJ, who’d lent it, as they’d delicately put it, for as long as needed.

“I don’t see the TV,” Jody said.

Rose, who had dropped to her hands and knees to continue scrubbing mildew from the kitchen cupboards, rocked back on her heels. “That’s because there isn’t one.”

“No TV?” Jody gripped the edge of the table so hard her bracelets jangled.

“No electricity,” Rose said, and went back to her scrubbing.

“No electricity? But what about at night? No lights?”

Rose brushed the back of her hand against her forehead and pointed out three kerosene lamps. “They provide enough light to see your way around.”

Jody’s lips tightened. Her wary glance darted from wall to wall, a small animal not yet sure whether its new cage is refuge or trap. “Where’s the bathroom?”

Rose pointed to the window. “There’s a privy down at the end of that path. Very clean.”

“No bathroom?” Jody’s voice jumped in pitch. She looked about to throw up.

Rose forestalled the rest of the interrogation. “There’s a stove and small refrigerator that run on propane gas and a dry sink. Water has to be hauled from the outside pump. There’s no heat, no phone, and,” seeing Jody reach into her bag, “no way, of course, to charge a battery. We can wave that big signal flag over there in the corner in case of emergency.”

Jody let the phone fall back into the bag. Tears welled in her eyes.

“All the comforts of home.” Rose dipped her rag into the bucket, wrung it dry. “Takes work though. I’ll need your help. I hope you brought practical clothes.”

Jody swallowed. “Just what I’ve got on. I thought there’d be shops.”

“I’ve got something here that might fit.” Rose hauled herself to her feet, pulled a pair of faded denim overalls from a shelf, and tossed them over the back of a chair. “These should do. Please hurry. I need your help with the pump now that I have you here using extra water.”

Jody twitched her bracelets back and forth over her wrist bone. “Is it cause you’re poor you live like this?”

Rose laughed. “What? No.”

Jody blinked rapidly, smearing her mascara. “Mom said it was a seaside cottage.”

“So you thought what?—white walls, iced tea on the patio, maybe a swimming pool?”

“Yes!” and Jody dissolved into a small sobbing heap on the bottom bunk.

Rose went outside to dump the wash water on the Rosa rugosa, scour the bucket clean. The shadows had lengthened. Sandpipers skittered along the shore, pecking at patches of sand that flooded with each wave of incoming tide. Seagulls hawked louder this time of day, groups of ten or 12 spooked by the rare passing beachcomber into feathery mid-air explosions. What had she been at Jody’s age? Rose tried to remember. Not a skinny doll trying to be cool.

The screen door creaked. Jody emerged, tripping over overalls that ballooned around her frame. Damp eyes. Wispy voice. “I’m ready to help pump.” Rose bit her inner lip to keep from smiling. A drama queen, just like her mother. Like herself, at times, if it came to that.

Rose pointed to a huddle of empty, gallon-size plastic milk bottles. “Grab a few and let’s get going,” adding, in a voice that must have been gentler than she intended for Jody gave her a shy smile, “You might want to roll up those pants legs first.”

Going down the steps, Rose lost sensation in her legs and grabbed the railing until it returned. She’d done too much today. But she had so little time. Best to get it done while she had the energy. Jody’s brief visit might be a blessing in disguise. She’d put that young strength to use while it was available. Which wouldn’t be for long. Not after a few days of Granny’s boot camp.

Rose sloshed water into the pump to prime it, pointed to the handle. “You pump.”

Jody quickly got the hang of it, was soon pumping rhythmically for all she was worth. Rose saw she’d been right. Under her apparent frailness, Jody’s muscles were sinewy and strong.

Rose capped each bottle as it filled, quickly replaced it with another. When they were done, she showed Jody how to replace the white plastic pail on the pump to keep it free of poop from any resting seagull. They struggled up the path with the filled containers, one in each hand.

“Like Jack and Jill,” Jody said, “and those other nursery rhymes you read me? I never realized they were about what people really did.”

“Mmm,” Rose said. “We’ll be doing this three times a day, now you’re here. Leave your bottles on the deck. We’ll use those for washing.”

Rose refilled the plastic container on the sink with water for washing dishes. Jody drifted in and stood by the front windows examining a shelf’s display—jewelry, shells, a little seal Rose had carved to get a feel for its shape. Seals, oddly enough, were the first thing she’d been able to focus on after she heard the news. She could probably handle one more round of radiation and chemotherapy, the oncologist had told her. It would stop the cancer for a while. He’d hemmed and hawed about putting the “while” into months and/or years.

Finally he’d said a year maybe two with treatment, less than six months without. She’d said she’d think about it, as though deciding on a new car. She didn’t remember the walk from Mass General to the waterfront, only standing before the seal tank outside the aquarium.

Feeding time. Attendants threw fish. Seals clapped and barked. Her skin felt chafed even through her coat. She’d edged back to the harbor wall to keep the crowd of laughing, pointing children from rubbing against her and gazed at the seam joining water and sky. Three years since the sonogram, when she’d seen a black lump prowling like a U-boat through her breast. The only other sonogram she’d ever seen had been of Jody, a wriggly eel in Karen’s belly, safely delivered, squirming and intact, a few months later. Rose’s oncology surgeon had assured her an equally successful outcome. “We got it all,” he said. Only he hadn’t. For three years she’d let herself hope, had dithered instead of working toward her goal. And now it might be too late.

“I like that.”

Rose looked where Jody was pointing, smiled. “The seal?”

“No, behind it. The bracelet.” A cheap little affair of multicolored glass beads.

“Ah yes,” Rose said. “That’s nice, too.”

Jody slumped into a chair, head flung back. “I’m beat.”

She did look pale. Feverish spots of red on her cheeks. Rose felt a twinge of guilt. She didn’t want to kill the child. “Lie down while I make dinner. You can have the top bunk.”

Jody tossed her floppy bag over the railing, climbed the steps. Rose was about to offer a book, but Jody pulled Entertainment Weekly from her bag, was soon immersed in interchangeable stories of interchangeable blondes.


Dishes cleared away, floor swept, and Jody, her face smeared with the mascara and lipstick she never seemed to take off, asleep in the top bunk. Moths flapped against the small windowscreens that kept out bugs, let in the sweet night air. Light from a kerosene lamp pooled on the driftwood spread-eagled across the table where Rose sat, chisel in hand, probing the wood for rot. Wood had become her medium soon after she married, when she’d set up a studio in the attic. Terence didn’t mind. His studio—originally the barn—housed his welding equipment, his monumental structures that only a man, or so it was believed, had the power, the vision (and the funding) to create. No matter. To her, stone and metals seemed dead. Paper, paint, even canvas, too flimsy. She liked wood’s solidity, the vitality of its grain’s twists and turns, its warmth.

No rot. The wood was sound. She ran her hand along it. Still rough in patches, like the rough-coated seal she’d seen earlier this spring. She picked up a square of sandpaper, enjoyed its familiar grittiness as she stroked. She’d been with Jerry and TJ in the dune buggy, still too weak to walk far in sand. They’d come up from Boston to view the shack. She’d decided to spend her last summer working on the Cape but hadn’t yet chosen her subject. Along a deserted stretch of the beach, they’d come upon a female harbor seal, stretched out halfway up the shore, its gray-splotched body slumped sideways into the sand, underbelly exposed, front flippers stuck straight out like a toddler’s arms in a snowsuit. Seeing them, the seal raised its head, let it fall back.

They clambered out of the buggy. Jerry called the park rangers on his cell phone. Rose stared at the seal as Jerry described its appearance. Its filmed eyes, opening and closing, stared back. Probably dying, the ranger said. Seals often climbed on shore to wait for the end. Rose stepped closer. The seal, flippers trembling, heaved up an inch, sank down. Rose thought of the plump, oily seals outside the Boston aquarium, plunging, flipping, shooting the length of the tank belly-up. Or erect on their fins, brown eyes bright and humorous above the waterline.

Best to let it be, the ranger said. Ignoring TJ’s lifted eyebrow, Rose made rapid sketches, trying to capture the way the line of the seal’s forward-reaching head opposed the mass of its body sinking into sand. Then they’d climbed into the buggy, driven away.

Rose stroked the driftwood. Its shape was ideal—long and thick, slender at one end. A branch stuck out at the same angle that flippers attach to the trunk. She’d begin there and work outward, stay sensitive to the wood. She’d have to unlearn much of what she knew. Simplify. Use only a few tools. “Hold onto one impression as you work,” Grete, her old instructor, had said. “Feel the emotion you want to convey.” The trick would be to capture the tensions in the seal’s body that expressed its pain and fear, its knowledge of impending doom. And something else. What—resignation? Not exactly. Acceptance? Words failed, as they usually did. Only wood didn’t lie.

She picked up her chalk and drew a rough outline. Her head felt heavy. She pressed a finger to her scalp to still the painful throbbing. It was the malignancy in her brain, which, in her darkest moments, she envisioned as a host of greedy cells entangling her neurons and synapses, sucking out their juice. She leaned her elbows on the table, held her heavy head in her hand, pressed her fingers to her scalp—here, here, and here.

Fear cramped her shoulders. She forced herself to breathe slowly. A late bloomer, she’d told herself. Some artists produced into their 90s. She still had ten, maybe 20 good years, she’d thought, enough time to move from craftwork to art.

Now she was lucky if she had ten weeks. Perhaps all her life she’d lied to herself. Perhaps it wasn’t Terence’s arrogant assumptions, or her difficult, demanding child, or her father’s descent in Parkinson’s disease, but her own cowardice that had caused her to push her real work aside. She’d reached the bargaining stage. Give her one summer and she would do it. She’d release the angel from the marble, the seal from the wood.

Jody stirred behind her, muttering in her sleep. The chalk slipped from Rose’s fingers. The world outside the pool of light rushed back in. She’d almost forgotten. With Jody around she’d never be able to work, not on something this difficult and important, requiring so much concentration, so much time to dream, to let the truth within the depths of her unconscious mind work its way into her shaping hands. Even two weeks with Jody here was too long.

Rose placed the driftwood on the floor beneath the table. And it wasn’t as though the child wanted to be here. She’d be happier at home with her friends, her cell phone, her TV. Granny’s boot camp would have to step up the pace. She stood up, extinguished the wick, stretched. One of Jody’s feet, still grimy from the cranberry bog she’d stepped into, hung over the edge of her bunk. Rose tucked it in.


“Time to get up!” Rose yanked the covers from around Jody’s head. Jody groaned, turned over to the far side of the bunk where Rose couldn’t reach her, pulled the covers back up again, exposing her silver-painted toes. Rose tweaked them. “Come on, twinkletoes. Rise and shine.”

“Ow, you’re hurting me.” Jody jerked her toes away, sat straight up so fast she banged her forehead against the ceiling. She yawned prodigiously as she rubbed her head.

Rose stood before her, arms crossed over her chest. “Lots of laundry to do today, including those sheets.” She yanked the bottom sheet so hard Jody almost tumbled over.

“Okay. Okay.” She slid down from the bunk, thrust her feet into her flip-flops. “Am I allowed to go to the john first, sergeant?” She flounced out, letting the door slam behind her.

Rose shook her head, grinned. Just like her mother. Well, better a squawky sparrow than a dying swan. She heated water, poured it into a bucket with the dirty laundry. Jody returned. Rose handed her the bucket and a sawed-off broomstick. “Take them to the porch and slosh.”

“I haven’t even brushed my teeth yet.”

“You can do that out on the porch, too.” She raised her own eyebrows in response to Jody’s. “It’s traditional. I’ll bring you a cup of water.”

The sun was halfway up, a fertile egg yolk of a sun, streaked with red. Breezes brisked in off the ocean. Rose handed Jody the cup, toothpaste, and brush. “Spit off the side of the porch.”


Rose set about making breakfast, noticed a dirty dishtowel, brought it outside. Jody, back to the door, knelt by the side of the porch, brushing her teeth, her spine’s vertebrae stuck up in a curved line under her pink top. She arched her neck, took a sip of water from the cup, spat.

“Aargh.” She jumped up. Foamy flecks covered cheeks and chin, the front of her top.

Rose bit her lip to keep from laughing. “Next time, don’t spit into the wind.”

“You might have told me.”

Rose dropped the towel into the bucket. “Start sloshing. Breakfast will be ready soon.”

Jody ate her eggs and bacon in a cloud of adolescent funk. Rose worked on her sudoko and ignored her. Afterwards, still silent, they cleared the table and stacked the dishes in the sink.

Rose grabbed another bucket, poured in some water, showed Jody how to souse each article in the clear water, then wring it dry. She stood over Jody as the girl’s slender wrists twisted around a pair of soggy shorts. “Harder. Put your muscles into it.” Jody clenched her lips —from effort or anger Rose couldn’t say. She took the wrung-out shorts, pinned them to the line.

They established a rhythm, Jody wringing, Rose hanging. Cottonball clouds drifted across a sky intensely blue. A sharp breeze, angling from the distant dunes across the shrubs of bayberry and pine, tugged at sheets, shirts, socks, and underpants, billowing, flapping, twirling them in a giddy dance. Rose inhaled. “I love the smell of clean laundry hung out to dry.”

Something whizzed by overhead. Rose pointed. “The marsh hawk.”

Jody looked up, her sullen face suddenly alive with surprise. “A real hawk?”

“He lives here all summer, so they say. I haven’t seen his mate.”

“How do you know it’s a he?”

“As a matter of fact, I don’t. A female hawk, then, spending her summer on the Cape.”

“She must be lonely,” Jody said.

Not necessarily, Rose was about to say but thought better of it. She picked up the empty basket, led the way back to the shack. They washed and dried the tin laundry bucket.

“Have you ever picked blueberries?” Rose said. Jody shook her head.

“There should be some ripe ones left. Let’s see.”

Rose clapped her raggedy straw hat on her head, dug her walking stick into the sand, and set off over the dunes. How much longer would she be able to do this? She thrust the thought away. For as long as she could. A few minutes walk and they came to a fork in the path, marked by a log of driftwood some misguided person had festooned with ribbons, shells, and beads. Perhaps, Rose thought, they considered it art. “This way.” She pointed to a stand of scrub pines and a side path hemmed in by blueberry bushes. “Let’s see if the birds have left any.”

They had. Plump, dark-blue berries pushed through the leaves, congregated on branches. Rose plucked a clump, dropped them into the tin pail. “Kuplink, kuplank, kuplunk!” Jody said. “Like the book. Hope there’s no bears around.”

“What are you talking about?”

Blueberries for Sal. Don’t you remember?” Jody looked shocked. “When I was little you bought it for me and read it to me. It was my favorite book.”

A weekend when she’d visited. “It was winter. We went out in the snow.”

Jody shook her head. “I just remember you reading me the book.”

One of those moments that stick in the mind. Jody had been three, a serious little girl, brown eyes, a tangle of honey-blonde hair. They were headed for the bookstore. Karen had dressed Jody in her snowsuit, but Jody refused to put her mittens on, crying and wriggling away, so Karen handed them to Rose. “Here, Mom, you try.”

She’d waited for Jody to stop crying, held out the mittens for her to see. “Will you let Grandma put these on?” Jody gazed up, eyes damp with tears, considering. How big I must seem flashed across Rose’s mind. Solemnly, Jody’s eyes widened. She nodded and held out her hands.

Absolute trust. That’s what Rose had never forgotten.

By the time blueberries brimmed the pail, Rose was exhausted. She dropped onto a nearby log, mopped her face. Jody, whose energy seemed undimmed, plopped beside her.

“Can I show you something?” Jody reached into her bag, drew out a small chamois pouch and spilled earrings, bracelets, strings of glass beads onto her lap. The pair of earrings she held up twinkled pink, blue, pale green in the sun. “I made them.”

Cheap, amateurish, a dime a dozen at any street fair. “Very nice,” Rose said.

“That’s what I want to be—a jewelry maker, but Mom says I have to go to college first.”

“Silly old Mom. Wants you to go to college, won’t let you get tattooed.”

One by one, Jody silently returned the jewelry to its bag. “I don’t want tattoos.”

“I thought that’s what the big fight was about?”

“It’s Mom wants to get tattooed. For that guy she’s going out with.”

“Oh.” The breeze had dropped. The overhead sun was intense. Rose fanned her face with her hat. Some days the foolishness of the young was more than she could bear. She squeezed Jody’s shoulder, heaved herself up. “Let’s get some lunch.”

After they ate, Rose put Jody to work cleaning blueberries and lay down on her bunk for a nap. This need to sleep frightened her. Did it mean the cancer was already taking her over? Or was it just the strain of putting up with Jody, who showed no signs of wanting to go home. Hard to blame her, with Karen acting like an idiot. Tattoos!

When she woke, darkness was already creeping through the windows. She stared up at the underside of the top bunk, her mind gradually sloughing off bad dreams. She thought about her seal. That tension she wanted wasn’t there yet. Maybe the angle was wrong. If she turned the wood on its side, let that branch be the flipper the seal supported itself on, as though trying to raise itself up as its body sank into the sand? She glanced under the table at the piece of driftwood to check. It was gone. Had she forgotten, left it outside? She shoved herself up, slipped her feet into her sandals, stumbled across the floor, banged open the door.

The driftwood lay on the deck at her feet, its branches draped with earrings, bracelets, and gaudy strings of beads, twirling and tinkling in the breeze. The seashells scattered along its length alternated with bouquets of wilting Rosa rugosa—ripped from the earth, tawdry bits of ribbon wrapped around the squashed stems. Smiley faces replaced her chalk outlines.

Rose crumpled into the canvas chair, her chest aching as though a truck had plowed into it. Terence once, climbing on a table she’d just refinished to reach a shelf. Karen’s childish scribbles obliterating the sketches she’d made for a piece of work. Her father had never taken her work seriously, not when he was old and sick, not when he was young. Nor her mother.

The deck’s wooden steps creaked. Rose opened her eyes. Jody, empty jewelry bag in hand, smiled tentatively. “Do you like it?”

Rose stared at her, clenched her teeth, felt her nostrils flare. “That’s my piece of wood.”

Jody’s smile crumbled.

“You, your mother, all of you—all you care about is your own damn bloody selves.”

Jody’s eyes widened, filled. “It’s a present.”

Rose clamped her lips, looked away. She couldn’t let the anger go.

“I didn’t know your old piece of wood was so freaking important.” Jody fell to her knees, ripping and tossing the flowers and shells, sobbing. A string of beads hurtled across the deck, struck the railing. The string broke. Dazzling particles of pink, blue, green skittered across the deck, jumping and popping in a frenetic dance. Words choked out through the sobs. “You’re the one doesn’t care about anybody but yourself.”


A screech of rage. “Don’t talk to me!”

“Jody, honey. I’m sorry.”

Jody reared up, a mess of tears, snot, hiccups, disheveled hair. “You don’t care!”

Rose closed her eyes. She was dark and heavy and wet. She had almost struggled free of the sea, but the sea was pulling her back. If she gave in, she’d drown. But the waves were too strong. Defeated, she held out her arms. “Oh, baby, of course I do.”

Jody howled, lunged, buried her face in her grandmother’s lap.

Rose smoothed the limp strands of hair from the child’s damp cheeks, breathing deep to ease the ache in her head. The dunes, shrouded in shadow but still warm from the sun, enfolded her. Beneath the ocean’s steady boom boom, she thought she could hear the harbor seals barking, faint and far away. In the shadows made by the sun’s withdrawing light the desecrated driftwood took this shape, then that, now a dying seal, now a child in a snowsuit, arms stuck straight out.


Joan Kane Nichols, a lifelong New Yorker currently living in Philadelphia, has also lived in New Orleans, Boston, and Cape Cod. A writer for children and adults, she was awarded a grant from the Money for Women/Barbara Deming Award for her novel-in-progress, The Yellow House, also set on Cape Code, as well as a scholarship to the Norman Mailer Writers Colony in Provincetown. A short story was published in the August 2012 issue of The Drum. Joan blogs at joankanenichols.wordpress.com and bornbeforetheboom.blogspot.com.
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