The kite hovered like a gull, just high enough that I thought, for a moment, it might break from its string and glide over the Atlantic.
My father pointed out into the expanse and said, See kids, there’s Ireland.
The way he looked at the water, I believed he could see it. My cousins, Liz and Casey, were so damn gullible, hitting one another and pretending that the island took shape before them. I slapped my brother, Liam, in the back of the head, hoping to instigate something.
Not gonna happen, dipshit, he said.
I wondered if anything would break if I shoved him off the pool deck. The sand below appeared soft.
Uncle Gordon lumbered toward us, his flip-flops scraping against the wood. He sipped coffee from a large, white paper cup, and when he stopped beside me, I could smell his breath, something I imagined could only come from a dragon or Uruk-hai.
Who’s seen Mallory this morning? he asked as an announcement, tousling his daughters’ hair. Girls, where’s your mother?
They both shook their heads in such a way that it appeared Uncle Gordon had twisted them, back and forth, like a screw not quite fitting its grooves.
She’s down by the water, I called to him. Just follow the kite.
Aunt Mallory wasn’t flying the kite. Rather, she sat beside another woman who dug her toes into the ground where soapy waves ended and shore began. I imagined the two of them, these sisters, as girls—maybe like Liz and Casey—playing on the same beaches, chasing the young surfer boys along Ditch Plains, getting lost in the tall, tall grass around the Montauk Point Lighthouse. I liked to think about them this way, because now, as I watched them stare stoically up at the kite, each sipping their coffees, I saw something very, very different.
A hand landed hard on my shoulder.
Why don’t you head down there, Scooter? my father asked, though it felt more like a command. I’m sure your mother would love the company.
I let the stray piece of lox dangling from his mustache distract me. It clung to the thick middle, where the color of his facial hair shifted from auburn to dark chocolate. When the lox finally slipped free and dropped onto his forearm, it landed on his tattoo, the one he’d gotten back in the service, in Vietnam, a Celtic knot, comprised of the names of those he lost: a mutt his platoon adopted, four friends—buds, he called them, and two brothers.
I have nothing to say to her, I said. I kept my eyes locked on the fallen salmon.
This has to end, Roddy. You two can’t keep this up.
Without thinking, I flicked the lox from his arm. It landed in the brush below, to the delight of a bevy of gulls.
Everyone’s weekend will be ruined, he said. Is that what you want?
I’d like to be left alone, I said. That’s what I want. I don’t want her to look at me.
The two of you, my father said and shook his head. If I were gone, you’d kill each other.
She can’t be killed, I said, I know it. She’s immortal.
My father laughed, deep and full, and the sound seemed to carry down the beach. I pretended there was a sailboat, somewhere between here and Block Island, using my father’s mirth as a guide across the waves.
Liam ran down the stairs onto the beach, waving a football in the air at my father and me. The three of us hadn’t done much together since Liam went to college; a year ago, really, but it felt like longer. My father nudged me and we walked down to meet Liam. As we stood there, deciding what landmarks would represent each goal line—a rotted stump and line of desecrated horseshoe crabs, respectively—I felt everything had changed too fast, had grown and evolved into something I couldn’t yet comprehend, such that now, there was no trace left of the boys I hoped we’d always remain.
Author’s commentary: I began taking notes for what eventually became the novella, Memorial Day, (the opening section of which has been excerpted here) in 2010 while spending a gray, mist-filled holiday in Montauk, New York. The idea began not with Roddy—the novella’s protagonist—specifically, but rather with the Hughes family as a whole. They’re on the brink of something, of change, of movement, of fracture. I thought of little else that May as I made my way up and down the village streets.
Though this novella and family are works of fiction, I feel as if I’ve been trying to write about Montauk for most of my adult life. I spent parts of a great many summers in the small resort town at the eastern tip of Long Island. There’s something about the hominess of it all, the swell of salty sea air colliding with fresh-made fudge. Running down the sidewalks with abandon, paddle-boating on Fort Pond, burying my toes in the hot, hot sand of Ditch Plains. So much of my childhood, my adolescence, seems scattered along those Atlantic shores. Thus, it was the only place—Montauk—and time—Memorial Day weekend—appropriate for the disintegration of the Hughes family.
The novella itself, too, serves as a prologue of sorts for my novel-in-progress. Roddy, three years after the events of Memorial Day, continues as protagonist, and while some things are familiar (the novel also opens in Montauk), major changes have touched the Hughes family. After a series of unexpected events, seventeen-year-old Roddy ends up in New York City, taken in by an adopted family of new friends (led by Ben and other characters who appear in another novella, Somehow There Was More Here, and in my story collection).
Since those initial notes, I’ve become fascinated by and invested in the idiosyncrasies of the Hughes family. With young Roddy as guide, I’ve enjoyed exploring their shores, their depths, both in Memorial Day and, hopefully, the novel to come.