- Kitty Hawk
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Until her father died, Sissy Willard’s parents took her and her two brothers out of school every year at the end of April to spend a week in Kitty Hawk, and every year they stayed in the same old beachfront high-rise, the Ocean Vista. Every year they rented the same suite, 509. In every room hung paintings of lighthouses and old-timey airplanes viewed from below. The ceilings were stained, and although it had been years since smoking was allowed inside the hotel, every room smelled like old cigarettes, just like all the rooms of their house in Chester, South Carolina, and all their clothes always smelled like old cigarettes.
The year she was fifteen Sissy decided that the ocean in April was too cold to swim in, and she sat on the lumpy blanket under the parasol and listened to her mother saw away at her father. Where did he want to go to dinner? Had he heard anything yet about the county HVAC contract? Was he upset about something? And it seemed to Sissy strange, but typical, that they’d sit here with their backs to the world, watching the water like they were waiting for something to come out of it, or for it to change somehow, when it hadn’t changed for millions of years. Her little brothers, the twins Randall and Jeff, frolicked together in the choppy gray waves. They were the only swimmers, the only life you could see in the whole noisy mess. Once, when she was a little girl here, she had asked her mother what was on the other side, and her mother had told her, “If I had to guess, I’d say France,” and Sissy thought about it: France. She imagined a place so lively and [End Page 152] strange that it seemed unlikely it could be out there, directly in front of them.
“Skip, what’s bothering you?” said her mother.
Sissy looked at her father, sunk in his beach chair, hooded in smoke. He looked out ahead so far that if anyone could see what was on the other side, he could. He winced when her mother pecked at him, and Sissy got why. Sometimes her mother’s voice was like a snore you’d been listening to all night; just the sound of it made you grind your teeth. And he hated coming here. Being trapped in the car and the hotel and the crummy restaurant booths with four other people, throwing away a year’s savings on a week of lost work. Some of these things Sissy had heard him say, and some things you could just feel, in his silence and in that long gaze. It annoyed her that her mother was blind to it.
She went back up to the suite alone. She stood in the bathtub and washed the sand from between her toes. She tried to read, and then she watched TV for a while, but she couldn’t sit still. She felt like a bumper car stuck in a corner. So she went out again. She went to the elevator, and rode it to the top, the ninth floor, and came out onto the breezy walkway that looked out across the parking lot and the shops and restaurants along the beach road, which even in the off-season trembled with cars, their roofs flashing in the sun.
But the walkway was quiet, like the halls at school when everyone was in class. She hardly ever saw any other guests here. She put her old-fashioned metal room key into the first door she came to, just to see. It scraped into the slot, but of course the dead bolt wouldn’t turn. She moved on to the next door, and idly twisted the doorknob, and she gave a little gasp as the door fell open.
She peered into the entryway. The air in there was like a held breath. She poked her head in, and the smell of a baking cake surprised her. It seemed to invite her. She bowed in farther. Nothing...