- All Life’s Grandeur
The summer I turned thirteen, my father fell in love. At least, that was what I thought; later I learned he and Shirley had already spent two years sleeping together in various hotel rooms, dodging their spouses and sons and early-morning checkouts. But that summer, freshly divorced, they lay on the veranda of the little cottage massaging cocoa oil into each other's shoulders, interspersing conversation with kisses on the neck and earlobes.
My mother was off at her parents' house, "recovering." In fact she was taking pills, lying on the livingroom floor all day with her head under the coffee table. That's what they told us later. I was focused on my own problems: my body doing things I'd not expected. My voice had finally stabilized in a new, lower register, but the hair on my legs kept growing. And then there were the frequent, boisterous erections. Though the temperature was at least eighty degrees every day, and though no one came to visit us - we knew nobody in that summer town - I always wore jeans around the cottage, removing them only when I decided to enter the frigid river.
I was thin and flat-footed, arches limp as dead trout. When I came shivering out of the water, my footprints left oval splashes on the dock. The wood was dry and splintered. Neglect had loosed the giant nails that held it together, inched them out like rusty mushrooms. You had to be careful not to trip on them or step between the planks; some of the gaps could swallow your ankle whole. Others were narrower, filled with spiders and purple-topped weeds.
To one side of the dock, a bay had formed, with sand soft as mud. It felt like a silk pillow when I waded there, bending down to catch guppies in my hands. Where the water ended, the ground was dark and mossy, with frogs that sat there and never blinked. To the other side of the dock, the shoreline was pebbles, the kind [End Page 128] that call for rubber soles. Some nights Dad and Shirley would build bonfires there, and I'd hear Shirley say how she wished her Geoff were with us; she was sure we would get along. In blatant inconsideration, she had named her son Geoff, too. But he was only eight and lived with his dad in Schenectady.
I just left the two of them alone. I read mysteries and swam, and worried about my body. In yellow swim trunks, I would wrap a long towel around my waist to walk to the dock. My father laughed at me, and Shirley said, "Oh, honey."
I was lying on the dock one afternoon in early July, sun-drying after a swim, when a stranger caught me towel-less. "How much'll you give for these worms?"
I quickly covered myself. A few feet away was a suntanned girl, her wispy brown hair pulled back in a plastic clip. She was still skinny the way little kids are, legs like sticks, over which she wore denim shorts with turtle patches on the pockets. Her flip-flops were orange and her tank suit green, her bony shoulders poking out from the straps. She seemed a whole world younger from the girls in seventh grade, who wore eyeshadow and sometimes bras. The sun lit her from behind. "Your dad said I'd find you down here," she told me. "He said you might be interested."
"Worms. You fish, don't you? I've seen you fishing from the dock, and in your canoe. I live up there." She pointed vaguely upstream. "Hanlam's Bay. See that little gray house by the communal dock? Next to the one with the motor boat. That's where I live. With the grass and trees up top. We're neighbors." She tilted her head and squinted at me. "So how about it? You want some worms?"
As she well knew, worms were a hot commodity in that summer haven. The only place to buy any was Arno's Live Bait, which entailed a trip into town...