That perches in the soul --
And sings the tune without the words --
And never stops -- at all --
-- Emily Dickinson
"Nana!" I shout, bursting into Clancy's Candy. "I need your help. I just ran into Sam Gracemore, literally, and I invited him for a picnic on Memorial Day."
"Way to go, Willa," Nana laughs. "Now we're cooking with gas." She hands me a piece of yellow-and-green-striped taffy. "Try this. I'm calling it Lemmego Lime."
"Mmmm, nice, Nana." The smooth candy slides on my tongue and sticks to the roof of my mouth. "Almost as good as Cabot's, but really, what should we do?" I love saying "we." It's nice having a matchmaking accomplice. And Nana's pretty clever for an old bat. That's what Nana calls herself, "pretty clever for an old bat."
"I'm glad you invited him, honey. That ought to get the beach ball rolling."
"But Nana, Stella will be furious. She'll ground me for a week. And the Chatham soccer tournament is next weekend, and if I miss practice..."
"Tell Stella I invited him." This would be one of Nana's "little white lies that never hurt a sand flea."
"No, I can't."
"Sure you can. Tell Stella I ran into him in the Stop & Shop in Mashpee and the poor guy's cart was filled with frozen dinners and I felt sorry for him."
"Okay, Nana. I'll try."
Nana ties up a bag of Lemmego Lime. "Good luck, honey."
It's a perfect beach day, and Mother will be at the reception all afternoon. At home I make a tuna fish sandwich and pack a nectarine, chips, soda. I find my sunscreen, pull my towel off the line, then grab a sweatshirt in case it gets windy. Everybody talks about the wind on Cape. Northeast, southwest, gusty, gale. We've got as many words for wind as Eskimos have for snow. I throw my stuff in the basket of my bike and sail.
You can get to Sandy Beach down ten different streets, but I always take Bluff because of the words. At the end of Bluff, just before the beach stairs, is an old black chalkboard. Today it says:
Sea Temp: 59°
Life's a beach, enjoy.
I always wonder who writes the messages. A lonely old fisherman? A retired teacher who still loves the chalk in her hand? Whoever it is, thanks.
At the top of the stairs I rest my bike against a rock and bend down to smell the beach roses, the rugosas. The cinnamon-sweet pink flowers grow wild all over the Cape.
And then there's the sea. There's something amazing about that moment when you first see the water. You may have seen it a thousand times before, but each time is brand new. It makes my heart sing, it's so beautiful. And they say once you fall in love with old Cape Cod, you never get the sand out of your sneakers.
Today the waves roll calmly in and out. A red-striped umbrella flaps gently in the breeze. A curly-haired boy sticks a feather on a castle. A couple walk holding hands. A sailboat glides by. Terns scamper across the sand. One seagull lands and, like a relay, another takes off. Caw...caw...caw-caw-caw-caw-caw. I close my eyes and soak it in. Thank you.
I spread my beach towel on the sand and open my lunch. Nectarine juice dribbles down my chin. The tuna fish is perfect. I make it the way Nana does, just plain with mayonnaise. Stella makes it with tarragon, curry, and raisins. Too foo-fooey for me.
After lunch I walk along the water, sun shining on my face, searching for beach glass. Bottles left on the beach or thrown overboard get swept up by waves and smashed against rocks into small pieces. Over time the jagged edges are sanded smooth.
I have an old mayonnaise jar on my windowsill filled with the beach glass I've collected over the years. Mostly greens, whites, and browns, some blues and reds. I call it my rainbow jar because it's very good luck to find a pebble of beach glass amid all the sand and shells and stones onshore. You have to look closely.
Yes. A blue. My favorite. I wash it, dry it, and put it in my pocket. I keep walking to the end of the spit, nearly a mile, find an orange jingle shell, then head back.
Stomach down on my towel, I stretch and curl my toes in the sand, and open The Member of the Wedding, by Carson McCullers. This girl Frankie, who's twelve, feels left out. Like she's not a member of anything. Moving as often as we have, I never really felt like I belonged either.
Here in Bramble, though, it's different. I've got Tina and Nana, Mr. Tweed and Sulamina, and if things go well at the picnic, my impossible wish might just come true.
For as long as I can remember, I have wanted a father. Way back in nursery school there was this girl named Mattie Moran, and every day when her father came to pick her up, she'd giggle and run off to hide. Mattie's father would open cabinets and sort through the dress-up box, saying, "Did anybody see my Mattie? Where's Daddy's little girl?" When he found her, he'd swing her up high in the air and she'd giggle even louder.
Sam Gracemore would be a wonderful father. He's smart, kind, handsome, and funny without even trying. He's got a good job. I don't think there is any more important job in the world than being a teacher. He loves poetry and books, like me. And he made Stella smile. I've never seen Mother smile at a man the way she smiled at Sam that open-house night. I think the Poet has a hole in his heart, just like Stella, and if she'd just give him a chance, they could patch up those holes together.
The girl in the book, Frankie, is jealous that her older brother's getting married.
Someday I want to get married. Right now the only wedding I care about is the one that gets me a father. I wonder if Stella would plan another big, fancy wedding?
You should see Mother's work. It's amazing. Even though she tries to keep me away from the weddings, I've been sneaking in to watch for years. When people say how perfect everything is, I want to jump in and say, "That's my mom. My mom did that."
I love every ingredient -- the music, the flowers, the food, the dancing. The bride is always glowing. The groom is always nervous. The bridesmaids giggle. The ushers joke. The flower girls and ring bearers chase each other around.
And then there's the father of the bride.
I can take the look on the father's face when the music starts and he smiles and whispers, "Are you ready?" and his daughter looks up at him and nods like she's trying not to cry, and then he stiffens his arm and winks at her and they start processing. And I can take it when they reach the groom and the father kisses his daughter good-bye, shakes the groom's hand, and pats his back, then goes to sit with his wife. And I can even take it when the father sits up and straightens his shoulders and puts his arm around his wife when the bride and groom exchange vows. I can take all of those things.
But then later, at the reception, when the bandleader calls the bride and her father to the dance floor, and all the relatives and friends grab cameras and circle around to watch, and then it's all hushed, just that father and his little girl in the center of that big ring of love, and the singer starts, "You're the end of the rainbow, my pot of gold. You're Daddy's little girl to have and to hold...." Well, then I have to leave.
A school of fish skip across the water. A sand flea bites my leg. I pull on my sweatshirt. The sun's going down. I take the beach glass out of my pocket and squeeze it in the palm of my hand for luck. I bet the Poet is a good dancer. I bet he likes to walk the beach too. I bet he's great at spotting beach glass. Especially the blues. I bet he'd say, "Here's a nice one, Willa. Put it in your rainbow jar when we get home."
Copyright © 2005 by Coleen Murtagh Paratore