Fiction | Misery Island

A Short Story

Between the man’s finding full-time work again and the boy’s playing park-league baseball and caddying at the Essex County Golf Club, they hardly saw each other all that summer. To make up for it before the boy had to return to the city, they planned to meet in Salem this August night and see a movie together.

The man was getting a ride over from Peabody, where he worked now. The boy caught the train from Manchester-by-the-Sea. On the outskirts of Salem, he noticed again the tin and tarpaper shacks alongside the tracks. When he’d first seen them, five summers ago during the war, the man, his grandfather, had told him what it was: a hobo jungle. “Mostly they’re just ordinary people who live there,” he had explained. “The Depression wiped them out and they haven’t got back on their feet yet. It can happen to anybody.”

The train plunged into the huge wooden depot, engine hissing. The boy spotted him right away, waiting on the crowded platform. His grandfather wore a tan sports jacket, dark green slacks, a tie with ice-cream colors, and a brownish soft hat. On the platform they shook hands grownup-style, instead of hugging, and the man did not come quite close enough for the boy to detect a telltale scent. He was just as glad not to know. Craning his neck, he looked to see if the long green snakes still hung from the rafters overhead. His grandfather had told him years ago that they were fake, put there to scare the pigeons away, but even at twelve Bud wasn’t so sure.

“Just like old times, huh, Bud?” his grandfather said.

They walked out into the heat of early evening. The boy knew it wasn’t exactly like old times. For one, he’d had to pay the train fare—his grandfather had lost his job on the B&M railroad over the winter, and the free family pass that went with it. But it didn’t pay to bring up sore subjects; and his grandfather seemed happy, whistling as they walked.

Halfway to the movie house they stopped at a men’s clothing store. His grandfather called it a haberdashery. To Bud the word sounded as swank as the shop looked. “You can wait outside if you want, I won’t be long.”

“That’s all right,” Bud said. “I’ll come with you.”

The store’s hushed interior reminded him of church. A few men and one woman quietly shopped. His grandfather greeted the sales clerk and removed his hat. Placing it on the counter, he told the man he’d like to try on some new models, please—size seven and a quarter.

“I’ve got some straw boaters marked down,” said the clerk. “If you might be interested.”

 “Maybe, but let’s see some dress hats first.” His grandfather smiled at the man. “Fall is just around the corner.”

Bud wandered off, roaming the aisles, eye-level with the displays of new slacks and shirts. He stopped at a long, locked glass case, its shelves covered with men’s jewelry. He moved slowly along, ogling the collar pins and tie tacks, the shirt studs, the French cuff links. When he was a man he intended to dress sharp, like his grandfather.

Back at the hat counter, the clerk was lowering a new brown fedora upside down into a gray box lined with black tissue paper. On the counter, five rejected new hats sat surrounding his grandfather’s old one. His grandfather was counting bills from his wallet and talking the whole time. He was shooting the bull with the clerk: fishing, the weather, the Red Sox and Braves, a new start-up basketball team called the Celtics. The salesman put the hatbox into a shopping bag and handed it to his grandfather, who took it, still chatting away. With a smile he took a hat from the counter and put it on his head, then put a hand on Bud’s shoulder, swiveling him around; and they left.

Back on the sidewalk, loud sirens went off inside Bud’s head. His ears burned and he ached to run. He was still seeing his grandfather picking the hat off the counter and putting it on his head, smiling all the while.      

“Slow down, champ,” his grandfather said. “Just act natural.”

Twice they stopped to look into store windows. Bud stared without seeing anything and didn’t dare speak. When they reached the movie theater, his grandfather took a cigarette from his jacket pocket and calmly lit it. For a moment he looked like a gangster, like George Raft in Each Dawn I Die. He grinned at Bud.

“For the switch to work,” he said, “the hat you wear in has to look almost new itself. So if anyone gets wise, it’ll look an innocent mistake. Oops, sorry, no harm done. See?” He spoke in his normal voice, matter-of-factly, as if describing how to load baggage onto a train. No explanations or excuses, nothing about right or wrong. He turned to the ticket window.

“Two, please,” he said to the ticket lady.

Inside, they got popcorn and found their favorite seats, near the front. His grandfather put the hatbox on the floor. Usually Bud loved waiting for the lights to dim and the tasseled satin curtain to part, feeling his anticipation rise. But tonight his mind spun. He was a Boy Scout and an altar boy. Stealing was a sin—the Sisters of Notre Dame had been teaching him that since first grade. And lying was just as bad. His parents were very strict about that. Like the time he walked into the carnival truck in Lincoln Park and hurt his knee, and a lawyer named Grillo came to the flat and asked him again and again, Hadn’t he just been standing there innocently? Hadn’t the truck hit him? Until finally his father said, “That’s enough. We’re not having the kid lie.” Bud assumed his whole family thought the same way, and his grandfather most of all. He was old. He was, in fact, a town selectman. A town selectman who stole hats.

The idea of it swarmed in his mind and threatened to spoil the show; but he decided not to let it. We don’t solve mysteries, the sisters said; we accept them. Jesus had risen from the dead, after all; he had made the blind man see with just dirt and spit. People accepted all that, didn’t they? The thought calmed him. The lights went down and the curtain parted. “I hope it’s got music,” he whispered, and moments later his grandfather whispered back: “You’re in luck, it does.”

It was nighttime when they got back to Manchester. Together they swung down off the train and walked up the railroad tracks, headed for home. His grandfather walked ahead of him, his voice floating back in the darkness. “I know I promised we’d go camp out on Misery Island this summer, Buddy, but it looks like we won’t make it. I’m sorry. Next summer for sure, OK?”

The tracks gleamed silvery in the moonlight, and they walked balancing on the rails, arms outstretched like tightrope artists, his grandfather dangling the shopping bag with the hatbox in it from the crook of one arm.

“Sure,” Bud said.

Strange noises from the kitchen snapped him awake. He opened his eyes to darkness and the sound of muffled voices, his mother’s and father’s. The luminous hands of the Baby Ben showed 5:30.

They’d been acting odd for several days. First his father had gone off somewhere one night; then two nights later his mother went with him, leaving Bud and his sister Jeannie with Ma from upstairs, their city grandmother. And now this. Normally, his father wasn’t out the door until 7 a.m., catching bus and trolleys to Chelsea in time to punch the shipyard time clock by 8:00 sharp. And his mother never got up earlier than she had to in order to send Bud off to school. So why were they up now? Had it snowed all night? Did Jeannie have another fever? Had the furnace died? Bud lay there in the dark. Something was wrong.

He heard his mother’s furry white Veronica Lake slippers scuff the linoleum, heard the soft tapping echoes of his father’s heels. Why was he wearing his good shoes on a Tuesday morning? Bud sat up on one elbow in his daybed, shutting his eyes to sharpen his hearing, a trick he’d learned in scouting. His parents were keeping their voices low. Straining, he thought he made out two words, a question: Kill himself? His mother ran tap water, then spooned coffee into the pot, scratched a match, lit the gas, and scuffed off into the pantry.

Bud’s bedroom was also the dining room, and it shared a wall with the pantry. He imagined his mother in the narrow room, taking bread and cereal from the shelves. Up in the shadows near the ceiling, unopened bottles of liquor filled the topmost shelf. The hooch came to his father each Christmas, gifts from suppliers who did business with the shipyard. Year after year, he’d bring the liquor home, along with hams and turkeys, cheeses, baskets of fruit both fresh and candied. Up the bottles would go, still sealed; his mother hated drinking of any kind, but she was too frugal to throw anything away. Bud liked climbing up on the wooden footstool and reading their labels, all those gins and rums, the liqueurs in fancy-shaped decanters, and the varieties of whiskey, some of which—the Old Crow, the Four Roses, and Schenley Reserve—he recognized from the secret stashes around his grandfather’s house in Manchester.

Back in the kitchen, his mother opened the refrigerator door. Her parakeet fluttered its wings nervously against the bars of its cage. The bird knows it too, Bud thought; it smells trouble. Then his door burst open, and a shaft of light came shooting across the dark dining room. “Buddy? You awake?” His mother’s scent reached him. He knew just what it was—Evening in Paris, from the dark blue glass bottle with silver letters. “Get up and get dressed now, Bud.”

“Now?” He propped himself up on his elbow again and squinted into the hard light. “But it’s only five-thirty!”

“Grandpa died,” she said. “We’re going to Manchester. Put on good clothes.” And with that she scuffed off to the bathroom.

Grand. Pa. Died. He tried to put these sounds together, to make sense of them, but his mind would not cooperate. In the kitchen he saw the shiny brass dome of the copper water boiler next to the stove, its surface gleaming a reddish gold. Polishing it was one of his Saturday-morning jobs; he thought of it as his own Flash Gordon rocket. In its disfiguring reflection his father scuttled hunchbacked across the kitchen, an enormous black crab in orange water. Bud felt similarly deformed. He wanted to call out, but his throat wouldn’t open. It hurt to breathe. What did his mother mean, Grandpa died? It couldn’t be. They had just seen each other two weeks ago at Thanksgiving, his grandfather taking him to the Laff Movie in Boston, stopping on the way for a quickie in his old railroaders joint at North Station. Mum’s the word, right Bud?

He set about his weekday morning ritual. First he opened the window drapes above his daybed. Then he tucked the clock inside his pillow, slid the pillow under the daybed, smoothed sheets and blankets, pulled the knit cover over all four corners, moved the two embroidered pillows over from the chair, and presto!—his daily magic act, his disappearance, was complete. Just an ordinary dining room again, no sign of him anywhere.

From the bottom drawer of the glass-doored wall cabinet—the shelves still held china, and the top drawer silverware—he took out socks, underwear, and a shirt. From the hall closet he picked out a pair of gray flannel slacks, hanging next to his starched altar-boy surplice and his cassock. He wondered about Mass. Who would serve the 8 a.m.? In the bathroom he pulled off his T-shirt and ran a warm wet washcloth over his face, then across his chest and belly, under both armpits and, as his grandfather had taught him, “between your legs behind your works.” His image in the mirror shimmered, and a second later he heard the huge diesel engine go through the back yard, hurtling its train of passenger cars toward Boston. The glass in the airshaft window trembled. Dried putty dust snowed onto the windowsill. His mother was always fretting that the whole damn window was bound to shatter into the toilet bowl someday.

After the train passed, sounds of his father tending the furnace in the cellar came up through the iron floor register. Bud pictured him carrying shovelfuls of shiny new black coal from the bin beneath the cellar’s street window and tossing them in. Chased by the sudden heat, a cockroach scurried up out of the register and raced for the slit beneath the door. Bud’s right big toe crushed that dream. He scraped the corpse into a piece of toilet paper, dropped it into the bowl and pulled the chain. Water plummeted down the long pipe from the overhead box in a loud, wet crash. He watched the dead roach spin away down the whirlpool; he found himself strangely on the verge of tears.

Out in the kitchen, his mother had on her green satiny dress. Seeing Bud, she put a finger to her lips and pointed to his sister’s bedroom. He thought about Jeannie, dreaming her pink little dreams, still safe. His mother was jabbering at him in swift whispers: “I went to the rectory, so the pastor knows you won’t be serving this morning, and I called the brothers’ house and said you’d be out of class. Pa got a car from Mr. Ginsberg, God bless him. Just you, me, Dad, and Pa are going. Jeannie’s too young and anyhow she never really knew Grandpa, you know? Dad bought you and himself black ties, Buddy. He went to Leopold Morse in Harvard Square, I said Sears would do fine, but nothing but the best for Mr. Charge-it! Anyway, I put it on your desk last night.”


“The tie. It’s on your desk.”

Last night? He wanted to demand of her: How long have you known and not told me? But he knew he wouldn’t get an answer. His mother was setting the table and talking to him, still in that rushed and nervous way, as if he weren’t there. Escaping back into the dining room, Bud busied himself with putting on the new black tie. In the mirror over the buffet, he watched his hands make a Windsor knot, the same knot he’d made hundreds of times for school, as perfect as he could, to pass inspection by the sisters. He wondered how much the tie had cost. He imagined himself going into Leopold Morse’s and doing the hat switch, but with ties instead—walking out with one new one in a box and another around his neck. Then they’d have two for the price of one, and his mother wouldn’t have to worry so much about the money. The thought that he might never see his grandfather again made his stomach feel sick. He heard his grandfather’s voice, floating back to him along the tracks in the moonlight. We’ll go camp out on Misery Island, I promise. Next summer for sure, OK Buddy?

When he came out the kitchen was empty. His mother had gone back inside the bedroom. The cellar door was ajar, he noticed. Was his father still down there? Bud had heard the fourth shovelful of coal go into the furnace a long time ago. He descended the spongy old steps into the cellar, dark and damp as a coal mine. He found his father sitting on the chopping block past the woodpile, his head bent forward and his face buried in his hands. Bud had never seen his father cry before. He hovered there until his father uncovered his face and stood up. His father had shaved, Bud saw, and was wearing his navy blue suit pants with a white shirt and black necktie. His eyes were pink. Bud feared that his parents had decided for some reason of their own that they were not going to say one more word to him about what had happened. This was his last chance to get his father alone.

“Dad,” he said. He forced his throat open, pushed his own voice out. “What happened to Gramp?”

 “It was his heart, Buddy. His ticker gave out on him.” But he took so long before answering, and sighed so loud when he did, that Bud knew he wasn’t telling the truth. He didn’t have to be a genius to know that something was wrong. Even his mother’s parakeet knew that.

"Welcome to Manchester-by-the-Sea,” his mother read out the window. “First landing 1628.” His father was driving, his grandfather Pa sleeping in the back seat. The trip from Somerville took an hour, and as they passed the town line, they opened all the Packard’s windows. Icy ocean wind blasted in, carrying a scent of fish and clearing the cabin of warm air and cigarette smoke. “God, that feels good!” his mother said. Next to her, Pa jumped awake. Bud almost laughed, but stopped himself. How could anything be funny today?

Snow lay on both sides of Route 127. When the sidewalks began, they saw American flags standing in curb-holes along the road. Pa said, “Those flags for Charlie?”

“Pearl Harbor, more likely,” said his father.

“Oh, that’s right. It’s the seventh, isn’t it.”

“Well, the damn town should do something for him!” His mother sounded suddenly angry. “That man worked himself sick for this snooty old place! The least they could do is put out a few flags!” It always puzzled Bud, the way she stood up for his grandfather; normally she rendered harsh judgment on anyone known to drink. He remembered the night they’d made the same trip in the old Model A and had to stop in Salem and wait in the rain while his grandfather went into a tavern. Now they said he was dead. Bud had a thousand questions, but he kept them to himself. He resolved to stay mute until somebody told him the whole truth and nothing but.

They slowed and turned up Bennett Hill. At the top he saw the house where he’d lived until he was five. His friend George Jones lived just behind it, and he wondered if George had cleared the pond in the woods for hockey yet. Then it struck him: if his grandfather really was dead, then he, Bud, wouldn’t be coming down for any hockey-playing at all this winter—or ever again. Again that sick feeling came over him, a trapdoor opening in the floor of his stomach. His father turned onto Bridge Street and swung the Packard’s long nose into the drive behind the house. “They’re going to think we struck it rich,” Bud’s mother said, as Pa jumped out to guide the parking of the huge sedan.

Across the yard Bud saw his grandmother, Kate, standing at the back door. She always wore bright flowery dresses all year round, and it startled him to see her in black. His father intercepted her as she opened the storm door, putting his arm around her and turning her back into the house. Trailing behind, Bud heard his father speaking in that same nonstop way his mother had back home. “Mother, it’s freezing out here, let’s get you back inside, are you doing all right, did you get something to help you sleep?”

“Oh Joey,” Bud’s grandmother moaned. She looked pale, her hair silver against the black dress. She wore a hat like a big black cake box, and its veil fell across her face as she cried into his father’s chest. Bud and his mother followed them inside, Pa bringing up the rear. “Dad’s gone on us,” his grandmother murmured, “I don’t know what I’ll do.”

Bud looked through the dining room to the front parlor, where men in dark suits moved like shadows, busy at some task he knew was called undertaking. They were just like the funeral director’s men in Somerville, who carried a casket out to a hearse and then tipped Bud and the other altar boys. He looked in vain for his grandfather’s casket. The kitchen was hot, and fumes from the kerosene heater stung his eyes. This was strange too; they usually heated the kitchen by opening the oven door of the gas stove. Everything was wrong.

His grandmother Kate came to him. She bear-hugged him, her perfume smelling strongly of wildflowers, and wailed into his neck. “Buddy, Gramp was crazy about you, do you know that?” Her words strummed into his bones. “He loved you more than anything! I want you to remember that, no matter what! Promise?”

“I promise,” he said, breaking his vow of silence.

Through the veil he could see the pouches under her eyes; they glistened as if oiled. What did she mean, he wondered, by no matter what? His mother was standing to one side, and with a little twist he managed to turn his grandmother toward her. The two women leaned toward each other, raising their arms and hands to brush in midair. Like boxers touching gloves, Bud thought.

“I’m sorry for your loss, Kate,” said his mother.

“Oh, Loretta, it’s so good of you to come all this way.” She turned to Pa. “Mr. McCarthy, I can never thank you enough for bringing them down, and in such weather.”

“I’m sorry about Charlie, Missus,” Pa told her. “He was really a pistol.”

Bud heard a commotion behind him, and turning he saw the chief of police, Big Jack Connors, filling the narrow kitchen doorway, enormous in his black leather motorcycle coat, leggings, and boots. “Hello Joe, hello Loretta,” he said. “Wish this was better circumstances.” He looked over at Bud. “Holdin’ up there, slugger?” Bud had hit four-for-four against Ipswich last summer; it had made the papers. He nodded. He wanted to tell them that his grandfather wasn’t dead. Hey, quit it everybody! he wanted to say. Gramp just flew the coop again! He’s off on a toot somewhere! Did you try the state hospitals? Danvers or Westboro? Did you look on Misery Island? He could barely resist shouting at them.

But he did resist, remaining silent as they followed the chief single-file through the house, past the dining-room table piled with covered platters and casserole dishes, and out the front door. On Bridge Street Bud counted seventeen cars lined up along the curb, bumper to bumper, their headlights on. Exhaust pipes puffed out gusts of white smoke. Small gray pennants tied to radio antennas fluttered in the wind. At the front of the convoy, the chief’s immense Harley leaned on its kickstand, chrome parts glinting in the winter light. Behind the hearse a black Cadillac limousine waited. They piled in, his father and Pa taking the backward-facing jump seats. The Harley roared awake with a backfire that sent icicles plunging from roof gutters, and the convoy started its slow procession. Wedged between the women, Bud glimpsed the hearse in front of them, with its little oval rear window and stupid dollhouse drapes, and the coffin inside. The box was empty, he was convinced. It was all a bad joke, and someone would be sorry.

The cars inched forward. Tidy house-fronts passed, along with a few stores; between them Bud saw the iced-in harbor below. The houses looked dark and empty, everyone up and out to school or work, reminding Bud that in everyone else’s lives, it was just another Tuesday morning. By the town common, clumps of people stood along the flag-lined street, bundled up and stamping their feet against the cold. Bud studied their faces. Their breaths looked to him like cartoon talk-balloons. Overhead, the low ceiling of clouds cracked open and let fall the first specks of new snow. They passed the fire station on Pleasant Street. Bud had been inside with his grandfather many times, had even slid down the pole. The open garage doorway framed the silver snouts of two fire trucks. Uniformed firemen stood lined up outside. At the approach of the Harley, they came to attention and saluted the passing hearse.

“Buddy?” his mother said, “you feeling OK, honey?”

He nodded. Maybe his grandfather was out there somewhere, he thought, watching them, like Tom Sawyer at his own funeral. Later, when the coast was clear, he would come out, in disguise. Bud would keep his eyes peeled. Send him a signal, meet up with him somewhere.

At the burial site, the Old Rosedale Cemetery near the country club, mourners faced the family in a half-circle that fanned out through the cemetery—downcast people among the gravestones, huddling against the raw, gray air. A town selectman gave a short speech. A Baptist minister apologized for not having known “the deceased” better, then read from Scripture. The wind turned biting cold. Falling snow shifted to hail and back again. When the undertakers removed the cloth covering the casket, the drizzle formed beads on the waxed wood. Bud watched them run down the sides and over the edge. He raised his eyes to read the polished granite headstone. Chiseled in large letters at the top was their family’s name, and below it, in smaller letters: Katherine E. 1922. That was their daughter, Gram’s namesake, lost to influenza at age three. Bud thought about her, dead all these years, age three forever, and how whenever Gram mentioned her it was with a small intake of breath. He wondered when they would carve Charles E. Sr. 1948 into the stone; he imagined how his grandmother would talk about him from now on, with that same little breathy sound.

A man offered his grandmother a chair, but she shook her head. She preferred to remain standing; and stand she did, erect like a statue between Bud and his father, at the edge of the open trench into which they eventually lowered the coffin holding—as everyone in the whole graveyard but Bud believed—his grandfather’s cold dead body.

Outdoors the day held dark, but inside the house blazed with light. He had never seen the rooms holding so many people—sitting and standing, moving from corner to corner, eating, talking, weeping, even laughing. What a kick his grandfather would have got out of having such a mob milling about his house; the only thing missing was music and dancing. Bud kept being introduced to men who shook his hand and women who gave him small hugs or brushed his cheeks with sad fingertips. At last he slipped away, up the kitchen stairs to hide out in the den. But it was crowded with men jawing and smoking. A man he’d never met before but knew was one of his grandfather’s brothers waved him over. He was sitting in Bud’s grandfather’s captain’s chair and leaning on Bud’s grandfather’s desk. “Son,” he said, “I just want you to know your grandfather helped a lot of needy people in his time. He was an honest politician and a good man too—do you know that?”

Bud nodded.

“And don’t you believe anything you might hear otherwise. Just don’t you believe it. OK?”

“OK.” Bud looked down, away from the man’s red mottled face and beseeching gaze. “I think my father wants me,” he mumbled, and fled.

Downstairs he dug his overcoat and watch cap from the pile in the kitchen and sidled out the back door. As soon as he was far enough away, he took out one of the three Lucky Strike cigarettes stashed in his pocket. He lit it and inhaled to the soles of his feet, feeling instantly better. Then he walked down Bridge Street, heading for Frank Floyd’s stationery store. He had decided to check the newspapers. He’d get the Manchester Cricket, a weekly. He’d get a Gloucester Times and a Beverly Times. And if they didn’t have what he was after, he’d buy the Boston and Salem papers.

But at the stationery store he quickly discovered that they did have what he was after, right there in printed lines of black and white—the thing he was looking for and also praying to God not to find. Manchester Selectman Found Dead, said the headline. According to police reports, the cause of death was asphyxiation by illuminating gas. He went from one paper to another, his eyes raking the columns of print.

Self-inflicted, he read. And then: suicide.

He read until there was nothing more to find out. Then he put the newspapers back on the rack and started back up the hill. It was sleeting now, and he lit a second smoke, cupping his hands around the flame like GIs in war movies. He wondered, Had they all thought he wouldn’t find out? He was a straight-A student in eighth grade. Did they think he couldn’t read a newspaper?

Reaching the yard, he stood before his grandparents’ house. Through its windows he watched the throng of people talking, laughing, and eating. He didn’t want to go back in; he’d had enough of sympathy from strangers. Instead, he pulled harder on the cigarette. His mind kept circling back to the voice of his grandfather’s brother in the den, repeating don’t you believe it, don’t you believe it. Bud said it to himself, over and over.

Illuminating gas. He wondered what it meant. He would look it up in his dictionary, he decided, when they got back to Somerville. He already knew what gas was and what it did. He’d just never heard anyone call it illuminating. He guessed that meant the old days, when they had gas lamps on the streets and in the houses for light, and not just in stoves for cooking and heat. He knew what asphyxiation was, too. But how? Whoever said his grandfather did it on purpose was crazy. He didn’t believe it, no matter how many newspapers said so. Not when the two of them had plans.

Standing there smoking his cigarette, he thought about Misery Island and all that his grandfather had told him about it. How it was actually two islands, Great Misery and Little Misery. How a steamship, The City of Rockland, had run aground and been scuttled there in 1923, and when the tides were right you could still see her bones. How Indians had lived there once, and an English ship’s captain turned farmer had tried to graze livestock and plant crops there and seen his grand plans destroyed by a winter storm. “Folks like to think the island’s called Misery after shipwrecks,” his grandfather said, “but they’re wrong. That captain was the one!”

When the two of them went out to Misery to go camping, his grandfather had promised, they’d have an adventure to remember. “We’ll spend the afternoon hiking the trails. We’ll backpack some grub and eat it by the ruins.” That was the remnants of what had been a fancy resort, some fifty years back, a summer colony where fabulously wealthy people would come from Beacon Hill and all over to rest in private cottages and take the salt air from the Misery Island clubhouse veranda.

“It all went broke and up in smoke,” his grandfather had told him. “But you and me, Bud, when we go out to Misery, we’ll stand on the very same spot where all those poor rich folks came to play.” As for the resort, he said nothing remained but pillars of stones. “It’s a place for ghosts now. But if you stand in the right spot and listen, you can almost see them hitting their tennis balls and drinking their long drinks on porch swings!”

And that had been their plan. They would go out and pitch their tent and sleep among the ruins and the ghosts of Misery Island. But now none of that would ever happen.

His cigarette was done, and he flicked the butt back over his shoulder into the darkness of the snow behind him. He looked again through the windows at the people still talking and laughing in the house. When they’re all ghosts and the house is ruins, he wondered, will somebody come and stand in the right spot and try to see and hear them all again? One more mystery, he decided, another secret. Secrets are secrets, mysteries are mysteries. And the dead are the dead.

Hard bits of sleet fell like steel arrows from the sky, stinging his face and neck. He pulled his cap lower on his forehead, tugged it down the way a man would, tightening down on himself, and he walked across the yard toward the house, thinking don’t you believe it.


Art by Sarah Baumann


Read more fiction from Commonweal here.

Published in the 2011-07-15 issue: 

Edward Hannibal is the author of the novel Chocolate Days, Popsicle Weeks, among other works of fiction.

Please email comments to [email protected] and join the conversation on our Facebook page.

Must Reads