First off, I have a new book for you to check out. Actually, it isn’t new, but it is great. Another Vineyard novel, and this one is fantastic. I read Split Rock by Holly Hodder Eger not long ago. This book touched me as it has all the things, Martha’s Vineyard, love, loss, and survival of it all. Holly reached out to me recently after having just read my book, and her review of my baby, The Silence in the Sound, moved me to tears. (in the best way!). Check hers out… YOU WILL NOT BE DISAPPOINTED.
Here I am—still querying and waiting… and waiting… my second novel, The Summer Before. I’m also trying to write another book in this daunting process, but I’m so excited about this one, and I’m a bit crazed. But I did get a chance to recharge some in my favorite place, Martha’s Vineyard, last week and had a book signing at the best Vineyard Haven shop, Martha’s Vineyard Made. Check them out. I am certainly feeling more grounded now, but let’s see how long it lasts. I tend to become untethered easily.
So, a few agents have my full manuscript. This is good news, although waiting is enough to make you want to forget it all and self-publish, which every day sounds more and more like a better idea. If you’re a hustler with a bit of a following, why not keep your royalties and get your book out within the next century and limit your crushing blows to possibly just some bad reviews that we all get instead of the rejections, ghosting and waiting in the traditional publishing process. Then you have to go through it all again if an agent accepts you with publishing houses—more ghosting, rejections, and waiting. It’s a hamster wheel for sure, but when you have an ego imbalance, as I do, you want validation from others. Initially, that’s how it is for me. Later, when I have had enough and am exhausted, I realize I’m the only validation I need and am my fiercest opponent. But I have to tire myself out first and take a beating. It’s my own hamster wheel. That’s just how I roll.
In more uplifting news, I feel great about an agent who read my manuscript and gave me great feedback, which isn’t very common nowadays in publishing. She had a few suggestions and, if I agreed, wanted me to make some changes and resubmit. While it’s always a challenge to hear your work isn’t flawless and even more of one to work on again after hundreds of hours put in already, I am open to all critiques, and this one was spot on. It’s wild to me how someone can read your book in the development, editing, or querying stage and have a suggestion that changes the book’s whole dynamic. For me, this simple change increased the pacing and took you right into the plot. I’d love to know what you think. Agent X told me that Chapter 2 would be better as Chapter 1. While that seems like an easy enough change, it isn’t quite, as scenes and sequencing need adjusting, among other tedious things that can make you off your rocker. So let me know your thoughts: The Summer Before Chapter 1 original or Chapter 1 (formerly Chapter 2 revised).
Chapter 1 (REVISED)
The wind picked up, and the leaves danced down the sidewalks, filling the brownstone steps leading to the basement shops and apartments. I figured I’d walk before the snow fell, and it was too cold for the half-hour it took to my Kenmore Square apartment. The Green Line would be jammed with the rush-hour work crowd, and I enjoyed the time alone to think. Jay had been hovering over me since I came home from the hospital, even though I’d ended it. I only did it to save him because he loved me too much to save himself from me, which I couldn’t understand. It seemed we were back together, but nothing was discussed. I loved him. He was everything I’d ever wanted when I used to think about those things as a girl, but he deserved more than picking up my pieces. He said he’d come by tonight, and I needed my game face on to let him think I’m fine and normal, the way he wanted me to be, and that took some time, especially now after my once again infantile display at Doctor Harpers. I thought of myself curled up in a ball ten minutes ago, defiant and demonic, realizing I’d never be what Jay wanted or what I thought I should be, whom I used to be, or who I thought I was.
Fall is the perfect season in Boston; the crisp air cleanses the stagnant stink of summer in the city. Scarves and jackets cover in protection, and red wine warms the soul and erases memories. It’s exactly what I needed after a long, hot season of trying to convince everyone at the magazine, Jay, my mother, and myself, that I was okay. Darkness had arrived earlier, and the sun was nearly set over the Charles River. I hurried along Storrow Drive, guided by the giant Citgo sign illuminating the sky. I tried to think of some unique way to spin an article on the sign that was unlike the mountain of others every time I walked home this way. It was a Boston landmark slated to be taken down in the ’80s, but people were up in arms in typical Bostonian fashion, screaming about its value. The artists said it was irreplaceable pop art, popular in the ’60s, but the Red Sox fans were the most incensed. The sign overlooked Fenway Park, and not being there might mean lousy juju for the beloved team, so it stayed.
“Inspired by Citgo. Is that a good title?”
I could interview some local artists and get their take on the sign.
“Nah, crap! I’m sure it’s been done.”
I had to get something to turn in to Jerry, or I was a goner. The magazine already had put up with me on leave while I had been in the nuthouse, and I had promised at least an idea for my next piece by this week.
Jay’s shoes sat neatly outside the door. I took a breath, tucking my hair behind my ears, pausing nervously before going in.
The door opened, startling me, and I stumbled, tripping over his size twelves.
“I thought I heard you.” He stood, towering over me. I’d always loved how tall he was and enjoyed feeling small, but that had changed just like everything else.
“You scared the shit out of me, Jay, Jesus.” I righted myself, brushing past him and avoiding his eyes.
He shut the door and followed behind me as I dumped my bag and coat on the table, seeing it knock over a glass. The smell of onions made my eyes water. He had set the table, I noticed as I picked up the glass. I wasn’t hungry but figured I’d have to eat or listen to him about it.
“Oh, sorry. I didn’t realize you were cooking…”
“It’s okay,” he interrupted, picking up my coat and kissing my forehead as he walked past me to the closet.
“I guess that goes in there, huh?’
He closed the door and turned to me, smiling, his right dimple on display. “So, dinner is on. Tell me about your day. Are you feeling better?”
I plopped down on the sofa, brushing off the coffee table to seem like I cared about things, although I didn’t. I cared about Jay and wanted to care about everything regular people did. I hoped that if I pretended and kept up the act, it would finally connect, and the want would become real.
“I’d like to think my life is more than Doctor Harper and the ‘incident.’ Let’s not talk about it, can we?”
I looked up at him, leaning against the kitchen island. His eyes looked through me, and I hated it. I wanted to look through him, but he was solid, and I was anything but.
“I wanted to bring something up to you and don’t want you to get mad.” He stirred whatever was in the pan, banging the wooden spoon against the side.
“Oh, God, Jay. I’m okay. Let’s be okay,” I moaned, laying down, tucking my legs under me, careful my shoes didn’t touch the couch, knowing he would cringe.
“I ran into someone today, my friend Ron.” He walked over and sat next to me. I closed my eyes, not caring. My head sunk into the pillow, and I felt my foot move. I looked, watching him take off my boots.
“Ron, the drunk lawyer? The guy who hit on me at your office?” I stared ahead, wishing the TV was on to distract one of us from the conversation.
“He’s sober now, and yes, that Ron.” He got up, put my shoes by the door, and returned to the kitchen, stirring.
“What about him?”
“He lives on the Vineyard now and works there too.”
“Not the best place for a sober person.” I rolled my eyes, hoping he didn’t see.
“Well, he told me something about trials; I guess I asked him, but…”
“Jay.” I sat up quickly, twisting toward him. “Stop worrying about me. Let’s leave it alone.”
“Leave it alone. Are you serious, Maddie?” He raised the spoon, letting sauce drip to the floor. “You tried to fucking kill yourself, and you want me to leave it alone?”
I got up, glaring at him as I passed, and headed into the bathroom. I wanted to lock the door but didn’t because I knew he’d worry, which infuriated me.
I can’t lock the fucking bathroom door in my own fucking house.
I turned the water on as hot as I could tolerate and enjoyed the burn on my skin. Sometimes, the shower felt like my only escape, where I could be alone when he was there.
“Mads,” he said, cracking the door. The steam dissipated like a clearing fog. I wiped off the small mirror he had hung for shaving, seeing a blurred image of my face. My skin was lobster red, making my eyes green like a dragon’s. I felt like a dragon, angry and destructive. I could make out the three freckles on my nose and remembered Summer naming them that day after school. “Venus, Saturn, and Jupiter. The largest is Jupiter,” she giggled, tapping on my nose. We were in third grade and had just learned about the solar system. Now, I tapped Jupiter as she did, staring at someone I didn’t recognize.
“Mads, listen,” Jay went on. “I want us to be okay, back together, and okay. I want you to be okay, Maddie. Isn’t that what you want?”
I repeatedly traced Jupiter to the two other planets, connecting them until the fog returned, and I couldn’t see.
“Yes, Jay,” I groaned robotically, unsure what I was answering.
I heard him move close, just outside the shower curtain. He was so close, and I’d never felt farther away from him.
“I know you want to know, hear her voice, and what happened— Summer’s words. You never got to because you had to testify and were not allowed to be in the courtroom. I know that’s killing you, Mads. You believe her now, just from the sentencing, but you didn’t until you stopped believing him. I know you want to hear her words, Maddie.”
I wanted to scream or run, and I wasn’t sure which. He was right about it, and I hated that he was. I hated that he knew me so well when I didn’t because everything I knew was a lie. I shut the water off and stood behind the curtain, covering my breasts, shivering as the water dripped rhythmically down to the tub.
“Maddie.” He paused, letting out a long breath. “Ron said you can listen to the trial; every trial’s recorded. I looked it up, and it’s there. I got it.”
The wind raced from me as if someone had punched me in the gut. I tore the curtain back. Jay moved back, and we stared silently at each other, and I cried, shaking and nodding. He grabbed my robe from the door hook and covered me, taking my hand. I stepped over the tub, my feet feeling like weighted blocks.
“Jay,” I whispered, putting my head on his chest. It was the closest I’d felt to him in forever. “Thank you.”
Chapter 1 (ORIGINAL)
“I trust everyone. I just don’t trust the devil inside them.” -Troy Kennedy Martin
On the day of his sentencing, her face became forever tattooed in my mind. Whenever I’d blink, it’s all that I’d see. I hadn’t seen her since that night on the island, our island—when we rode the Flying Horses, which we did every summer, and it didn’t matter that we were older now. We swore we’d always ride it again, at least once, somehow trying to recreate that night when we were small, both getting the brass ring at the same time. The night our sisterhood was sealed, or so we thought. If I’d known it would be our last ride, I’d have studied her face more, her movements, and everything she’d said. I’d have clung to it…to her, but I didn’t know our world was about to implode. I wondered if she knew it would happen the next day. Her world had already turned on its head, and she had kept it a secret. I’ll never know how she did. But maybe I couldn’t or wouldn’t see. I know that now, but by then, I hated her. With every ounce of my being, I despised her. Her corn-colored hair, turned-up nose, smirky smile, and how she pulled on her lip when thinking. The things I had liked about her by then I hated the most.
I tried my hardest not to look when the judge called for her to read her statement, feeling I’d burst into flames if I did. Everything about her sickened me, and I could not understand why she’d do this to him, to us, to everything. Still, I couldn’t stop loving and missing her, loving us, and longing for before. Even that day, the truth was there in all my hate and rage. I loved her, and I knew she’d never lie. Not about this. It was true—all of it.
Here’s the thing about evil; fear fuels it—giving it life and allowing it to linger, seeping into everything around you, ruining everything good and normal. And once evil has possessed your life in the way it has mine, there is no escape hatch except one. At least, that’s how it seemed. My years of blindness and flat-out refusal to believe only increased its strength. Slowly, it killed everything around me and everything in me, unhurried and smothering. Strangely, I still couldn’t see, and I wouldn’t until I let go of my belief in the past and all that I had ever known to be real. The devil was so close, and he had been all along, and I never even knew, but how could I when he was God to me? The accusation hit like a bullet, one echoing shot that triggered a rockslide, crushing us all when it came out. Summer, he destroyed once and then again. But my hate and denial, I fear, killed her the most. I was convinced of it now…now that it was too late. When her eyes met mine that day in the courtroom, I saw the tiniest glimmer of life in hers. The way we used to be was there, but only for a second, and I crushed it. It was soon destroying me, too, over the years—the evil, leaving me a shell of nothing, and I figured I’d finish the job for her and me. It was the least that I could do.
The trees moved in a rhythmic pattern, back and forth, then pausing, and then back and forth again. Their pauses were perfectly timed, like they’d practiced the dance. I imagined the rustling sound as they swung together, and wished I was there with them instead of in here. I didn’t want to be here, but I guess no one did because if you were, that meant you were nuts, fucked, or both. It didn’t matter because I had lost my say when Ms. Janson entered my unlocked apartment and found me, reporting she had heard a noise. She had described it as a screaming moan to the police, but I don’t remember. Now I’m stuck coming here three times a week, the deal I made with Doctor Harper and Jay that allowed me to be discharged from McLean’s Hospital, someplace I never thought I’d be.
“So, it’s evil,” Doctor Harper paused, shifting in his seat. “Do you think that’s the cause of this? The reason this happened?” He tapped my journal with his pen. “The reason for your father’s actions?” He furrowed his brow.
I sighed, tilting my head back and staring at the ceiling.
“Aren’t journals supposed to be private?” I asked, twirling my hair, glancing down at the dead ashen ends, then over to him.
He crossed his legs tightly as a woman does, not like a man, where an ankle rests across a knee.
“Usually, but you know this is different, and you agreed to keep track of your feelings for our sessions here that I could read.” He attempted a smile.
I breathed, reaching my hands behind my head, talking slowly and methodically. “That’s what Sister Margaret said.” I enjoyed being difficult. “It’s evil—the devil.”
“Sister? You’re Catholic? You hadn’t mentioned that before,” he said curiously.
I slumped down, still looking at him, then above at his diploma on the wall Harvard Medical School Psychiatry 2002.
“Catholic?” I laughed, smoothing my hair back. “Raised, I guess. Not an active participant.”
He put my journal on the side table, tucking the pen inside the cover. He was meticulous with everything he did and took his time. I knew it was a strategy, but I needed to determine its purpose.
“Madeline, you brought up evil in that entry. Why?”
“Why?” I stiffened. “Are you seriously asking me this?” I said, shaking my head. “You know why. The devil is evil. He’s the keeper of it all, and I guess it’s his fault.” I looked out again at the trees.
“Do you believe that?”
I refused to make eye contact. “So Sister is a liar?” I whispered loudly, screwing with him now.
He said nothing, and neither did I, letting him linger. I didn’t believe it at all, at least not today. But sometimes I did because I couldn’t believe the alternative, that it was just him who did it. Thinking that made me want to be on the bathroom floor again, except I’d lock the door this time, making sure to keep Mrs. Janson out.
“Madeline?” He leaned toward me.
I turned, meeting his eyes. “I don’t know what I believe.”
“Tell me about your thoughts on evil. When did you first learn about it?”
I swept my sleeve across my face, wiping a developing tear.
“Indulge me, Madeline.” He smiled.
I stood and walked to the window, turning my back to him, pausing, and letting out a long sigh before I spoke. “Satan, Lucifer, the devil—this religious entity is supposedly around to entice humans to sin,” I said, touching one fingertip to the glass and then going on. “Red-faced with black eyes and horns, scary as hell,” I emphasized, half glancing back. “And he is hell—the devil, right?” I turned back to the window again. “So, they say anyway, or he’s in charge of it,” I whispered. “You know the guy, Doctor Harper.” I glanced back again. “Maybe you’ve met him. I have.”
I often wondered if he was real growing up—the devil—or just a figure we humans made up not to take responsibility for the horror we are capable of, making it other than us because we want to see ourselves as inherently good. To make it seem like this “thing” took over us, causing us to lose ourselves. But even at a young age, I knew we weren’t good, at least not all of us. I’m unsure how I knew because my world was good, and the people in it seemed perfect—too perfect. Maybe that’s how I knew.
“So, when did you learn about it—evil?” he asked again, his voice calm and smooth.
“I don’t know.” I sighed, pulling my hair in front of my face. “Everyone learns this at some point in life. I guess the lucky ones are those who get to believe we are good for as long as they can. Even when we realize there’s evil, it’s usually not close enough to affect us.”
“What do you mean?” he asked.
He knew what I meant but just wanted me to keep me talking. I knew the game, and I had to play.
I clamped onto my bangs, moving them like windshield wipers back and forth, pulling the ends and covering my eyes. Whenever I came to a session, I immediately turned defiant and childlike. I’d often leave feeling embarrassed and wondering why I did it, but I didn’t care enough to change it. It was freeing somehow, and I thrived on the rebellion.
“Like the evil in houses, cities, and countries that don’t touch our own are tragic, but someone must have known somehow. Someone must have looked the other way, or something caused the person to do the unspeakable act, the evil. But then it’s in your life; it’s there, it’s been there all along, lurking and hiding in the shadows. It’s all around you, and you don’t even know it.” I shrugged. “You can’t see it, feel it, anything,” I emphasized, tossing my head and throwing my hands up.
I heard him scribbling on his notepad but didn’t turn around. It was easier to talk to the trees.
“Madeline, tell me, are you upset that you never knew? Should you have?”
My face felt on fire as I held back from crying. It was more tears of frustration in being here than the mess of what had become my life. I lifted my head to the ceiling, encouraging gravity to stop the dam from breaking.
“And what if you love him?” I blew out after holding my breath. “The evil one. This person, the devil, who has infected or not infected. And what if there isn’t any devil to blame, and it’s just your person, connected to you, who is the devil himself? Who then?” I breathed, feeling my lip quiver. “Who then are you?”
I watched the trees again, suddenly feeling peaceful, and it stunned me because I hadn’t felt that in forever. Then Sister Margaret’s virile voice spoke as clearly in my head as it had that day, what seemed like a million years ago, in confirmation class.
“The devil’s only power is the power we give him,” she snarled, glaring at me. Her pupils widened as she waited for a reaction. We had just finished learning about temptation, and then, of course, the story of Adam and Eve came up. It came up a lot with Sister. She reminded us how Eve was so awful and weak that she ate the apple in the Garden of Eden, even after God told them both not to. I wasn’t sure Sister realized she was a woman because she disdained them—at least the biblical ones. Even Mary, Jesus’s mother, she wasn’t impressed with. She once said the innocent virgin was just a vessel for Jesus’s birth, making her seem like she could have been anyone or any womb. And maybe she could have; what did I know? Most of Catholicism didn’t sit right with me anyway.
“Eve could eat anything she wanted—except the fruit from that tree, and if she or Adam did, God told them they would die.” She slapped the desk with her masculine hand, startling us.
I stared at her knuckles, thick and leathery; they reminded me of Big George’s, my grandfather’s hands. I put my head down, seeing where this was going. She’d be on a tirade about Eve and how she ruined everything. The whole story was nonsense anyway. Eve made from Adams’s rib; girls were inferior, and I wasn’t biting. Then she, of course, wants to eat the apple. Adam is so innocent in all of it. At least, that’s what St. Mary’s of the Sea Parish wanted us to think, with Sister Margaret leading the charge.
All the women’s fault.
“Okay, time for some questions. I need to see if you’re listening.” Her eyes squinted, and she darted them around the room, searching for a victim. “Father Francis may want to quiz you before allowing you to receive the sacrament.” She made a noise, which was her attempt to laugh, but it sounded like she was choking.
Immediately, I put my head down, hoping she wouldn’t call on me. Her cracked brown loafers squeaked against the linoleum as she shuffled over to us, stopping directly in front of me.
She cleared her throat, prompting me to look up. I didn’t. “Tell me about the devil, Madeline Plympton.” Her fat fingers moved toward my face, touching just under my chin. They smelled like chalk and cigarettes. We all knew she smoked. Sometimes we’d see her on the side of the rectory. She’d see us coming for class after church and scurry behind the bushes.
She lifted my chin, so my eyes met hers, cold dirty icicles. I shifted in my seat, looking away.
“Is the devil in your life, Madeline? Do you allow him in?” She breathed, and her hot, stale coffee breath stung my eyes.
She shuffled the length of the room slowly in front of us, squeaking with each step, making sure not to speak, creating fear in our bellies as we anticipated what she might say. I looked up at the clock, relieved there were only minutes left of class. She quickly shuffled back toward me and leaned over, putting her meaty hand on my shoulder, looking left and right for her next victim…but just then, the bell chimed out.
Everyone jumped up and ran toward the door, except me, still pinned under the weight of her hand.
She put her face up to mine again, and I pleaded with God for this to end. “Remember, Madeline. The devil not only exists in you but also in people around you,” she whispered. Lifting her hand, I sprung from my seat and pushed past her to the door.
“Do you have any devils around you, Madeline?” she called after me.
“Thank you, Sister. I’ll think about that tonight,” I shouted, headed out of the room, hurried to the stairs, and pulled open the metal door, feeling the rush of cold air on my face.
The trees were still, except for one leaf spinning its way to the ground, and I jealously watched its descent.
Doctor Harper cleared his throat and then spoke. “So, who are you, Madeline? Are you different because your father is not who he seemed?”
I ignored him, still feeling that day in the rectory, the sunlight, and frigid air bursting into the dark staircase when I had escaped, feeling free. Maybe Sister sensed something then, I thought.
I walked back to the chair, circling it, running my hands over the smooth red leather, wondering how many people like me—who tried to off themselves—sat here. Or was it mainly just people moaning about their relationship or mother? A large picture of Brant Point Lighthouse on Nantucket hung above his head, and I caught a glimpse of myself in the glass, wondering when my hair had gotten so long and when I’d lost my shape. I’d gotten so thin. I looked down at my ends again, resting just over my chest, feeling the dry brown strands.
“I was just a Vineyard kid with a mom and dad, who I loved, just like everyone else, or so I thought. I don’t know that person anymore. I don’t think I ever did, and nothing is simple,” I said, collapsing into the chair. Tucking my legs up under me, I stared at the lighthouse. “Can I ask you something?” I said, resting my chin in my palm.
“Of course.” He raised his right eyebrow, intrigued.
“Why do I see a shrink with a picture of Nantucket in his office? I mean, this doesn’t seem right.”
His eyes widened as I kept my composure, having him believe I was serious. I partly was because Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket are rivals of sorts, but regarding mental health, I figured it didn’t matter where my doctor had a summer house.
My face cracked, and I laughed, letting him off the hook. He let out a noise I assumed was a laugh, but it seemed forced and uncomfortable. I figured that took a lot for this stolid man, and I appreciated the effort.
Regaining my composure, I exhaled, letting out a long breath. Something felt odd. I had an empty sensation, not a lost or lonely empty one, but a good and freeing kind as if I were new and fresh. The tightness in my neck and shoulders eased, and I felt weightless for a few seconds.
“I think I needed that.” I shrugged.
He adjusted his glasses. “Laughter is the best medicine, they say.”
“Yeah, maybe.” I stared out the window again. It was the first time in forever that I cared about what I needed. Tears filled my eyes again, and I suddenly felt sorry for myself. Then the guilt came, predictable and lugging behind like a ball and chain. I had no business feeling sorry for anyone except for Summer, only ever sorry for her.
“I forgot what that felt like—laughter.” I turned back to him, noticing his bushy brows.
He cleared his throat and took a sip of water. “Do you ever plan on going back to the island?”
I’d thought about the island a million times. My mother asked me whenever we spoke, which nowadays was rare. I could no longer be on board with the denials and the la la land mentality she used to save herself. In that, she’s culpable now. It’s been too long, and I can’t look at her the same way. But I was guilty too, and I couldn’t let myself off the hook because my opinion changed, and I realized what had been true all along. I wasn’t even sure that I entirely accepted the fact—that he did it, which made me sick. I never looked for the truth, only believing in him blindly, just like my mother, until somehow, I woke from my pathetic slumber far too late for it to matter.
He never once said he was innocent, and I never assumed that he couldn’t be. He’d say everything but that to anyone who would listen, except that he didn’t do it. Of course, his lawyer said he didn’t, but he never took the stand to say it either. He never tried to defend himself, and we never asked, Mom or I, because we were monsters now. Or maybe we had always been. I didn’t know. We were co-conspirators, unknowingly blinded by our history, me by my blood. If he was guilty, we might be too. For so long, I wouldn’t allow the thought of anything but his innocence and Summer’s betrayal to enter my head. It was never possible until I couldn’t not see it years later in college when the Me-Too movement exploded, and the dreams came. Women everywhere dug up ancient burial spots and old keys they’d long tossed, unlocking all the secrets opening Pandora’s box. I didn’t realize I had a key until the dreams.
I’m a fucking fraud.
“I’m not sure I’d go back for anything more than a quick visit since college. I’ve been here in the city for a while, only visiting sparingly. Maybe Jay and I…” My voice trailed off, unable to finish the thought. Thinking about Jay was second in line to the guilt of Summer, and he deserved so much more than the mess who was me.
“It’s clear you love it there,” he went on. “You spoke about it often in the hospital and wrote about it in your journal,” he continued softly as if I needed soothing. It annoyed me, but I liked it because I did.
I crossed my legs, turning my ankle around like my father when frustrated. As soon as I realized it, I stopped, feeling sick that I had any trace of him.
“I’m not sure I can go back anymore; I haven’t been in a while.” I grabbed my ankle, holding it still.
“What are you sure of, Madeline?”
“It’s Maddie. Please call me Maddie,” I said, cutting him off.
“Does your name bother you?”
I let go of my leg, spinning my ankle wildly and purposefully, feeling myself spiraling.
“What’s with all the questions? You know the answers. Most of them, anyway. It all stems back to him. Everything is fucking him, and I want that to stop.” I tapped my other foot, losing any remnant of composure I held. “Can you make that happen? Can anyone?” I launched, bursting from my seat. “Fuck.” I clutched my head and moved toward the window. “He called me Madeline. He was never anything but perfect. I was perfect—fucking Mom in her perfect pants with the iron crease like fucking 1955. He and his fucking fancy car without a speck of dirt to be seen anywhere.” I spun around, holding up my finger and pointing, “Not even a crumb!” I yelled, seething, pacing back and forth. “Church, degrees, volunteering. The whole island thought we were saints. We were so fucking perfect, all of us.” I turned to the window, pressing my hands to the glass. Staring down, feeling dizzy, I closed my eyes, wishing I could peel it open and jump right in front of Doctor Harper and splatter on the ground. Maybe then he’d get it.
“So, you’re saying it was all pretend?” His voice came from behind me, close, out of his chair. I touched my nose to the glass. An overwhelming sense of thirst overcame me, and I licked my lips, then the glass, seeing how it tasted, and I had no idea why.
“What?” I sucked my tongue back in.
“You’re okay, Maddie.”
“The window. It tastes like snow, newly fallen snow,” I said, turning to him.
“Maddie,” he said again, coming close and touching my shoulder. I pulled away as if it burned.
“Tell me more about that day. The day of his sentencing that you wrote about. It seemed you stopped writing abruptly. Why?”
Breathing in deeply, I turned to face the window again. Just five stories down, I could be free. If only the window would open. I framed my hands around my saliva spot, enjoying the mess.
I hesitated to answer and closed my eyes, thinking it might help. “I never expected Summer to speak.” It was all I could muster.
He said nothing—one of his long, awful pauses. The silence between us was maddening.
I wasn’t sure why I didn’t expect her to speak because it’s common for victims to do so during the sentencing of their perpetrator. But what did I know then, being seventeen and in the bowels of hell? I looked at her once, only once, and saw it. Our eyes met as she stumbled on her words, talking of nightmares, then shifting her gaze to him. She spoke to him as tears spilled down her cheeks, as mine did saying this now. He looked ahead, my father, not acknowledging her existence as if it was all somehow beneath him. I remembered Cat grabbing Summer’s hand and squeezing it supportively while looking at me with the heartbreak of a mother whose child has been violated by another. It was then I turned away. He didn’t move, not a shift in his seat or a tilt of the head, nothing, and I wasn’t sure I recognized him. I didn’t know it yet, but I believed her. After one look, one sentence, I knew she was telling the truth, and the truth and my refusal to allow it in began smothering everything around me: relationships, jobs, and, finally, my sanity. Until eventually, I felt nothing, not even pain, and the only thing I could think about was that day when the light went out of her eyes when I turned my head from her forever like she never existed—like we never did.
“And what did she say?” he uttered, breaking the quiet, stifling us. I clasped my hands behind my back, resting my forehead on the window.
“She asked him a question,” I answered, closing my eyes tight and wishing it all away.
“Okay, what was the question?”
I felt him close again. I envisioned myself falling backward to see if he’d catch me. I wondered if anyone could catch me.
I didn’t think I could say it, but the words came from my mouth, as if, somehow, she was inside me, saying it herself. I’d never been closer to anyone in my life than to her. She was my life; I felt her in me every day and still do. They say friendships when you are young are the truest kind, and we were more than friends. We were sisters, not by blood, but in every sense of the word. I was happy she didn’t have my blood, but she might have been spared if she did.
I gritted my teeth and clenched my fist, hissing out the words. “She asked him, why her?” I said, pressing my face wet with tears against the window, watching the fog spread from my breath, trying to get her from my mind, but I never could. I thought of Jay’s words—”Not that day, Mads; think of all the good ones. The you and Summer before days.”
Years passed, but I stood stuck forever in that day, no matter how far I moved. I left the island, sickened by the house, my mother, and the perfection, but missed the Vineyard’s peace and beauty. It was my home, the only one I’d ever known. I’d never planned on leaving, at least for long. I left for Boston and went to college as expected, attempting to be normal. To defy my father somehow, I chose Boston University, not Boston College, his alma mater. To those on the outside, I looked fine. Jay seemed impressed. We met in creative writing class. He hated it, liking nothing but the facts, as he was studying to be a journalist and was all about nonfiction. But he couldn’t escape the class.
I worked as an intern then at the magazine and loved assisting with its weekly exposés of art in the city. Jerry, whose name couldn’t have been more perfect, as he looked like Jerry Garcia but acted the opposite of the free-spirited musician: he was more a disgruntled postman type, about to blow at any moment. He took me under his wing, seeing potential. I was glad someone did. Jay took notice, starting up a conversation after class. He said he liked my “whimsy” in the short story I’d written—having read it to the class for a project. I wasn’t sure what he meant because there was nothing whimsical about it, but his smile accented his right dimple when he said it, and I liked that. We got through an assigned essay on Byron, then drank and danced the night away at McGinty’s, the local college haunt. It all seemed like an act. Life hadn’t felt real in forever until that night with Jay. He felt real, he was real, but my darkness smothered that just like everything else. He couldn’t fix it, and he tried, but nothing could. Nothing could fix any of it unless someone could erase what had happened—or at least have made me see the truth so that I could have been there for Summer then, so we could still exist despite him. Jay couldn’t, and I left him, setting him free once I realized the way out.
“Maddie, what are you thinking?” Doctor Harper asked. I ignored him, thinking of how I got here and that day in the bathroom, scared of who I had been and terrified of who I am.
By then, I so loathed being in my skin that I felt excited to get my father gone, no matter the consequences. As far as I could see, purging him from my veins was the only way out, and I was okay with the choice because it was mine. Something was finally mine, and I’d never felt freer. Then I did it or tried, but neighbors can be nosy. Mrs. Janson was the worst offender. I’d sometimes see her at the mailbox, and she’d smile. It was the only nice thing in my life anymore: her smile. It reminded me of Summer’s—half-turned up at the corner, almost smirking, but you could tell the difference by the crinkles near her eyes.
“Come sit, Maddie.” Doctor Harper said, touching my shoulder again.
I didn’t want to be touched and suddenly felt rabid, like a dog. I wanted to bite. Spinning around, my eyes locked sternly with his.
“I’m not sitting, Doctor Harper. I don’t want to,” I fumed. “I’m unsure what to do, but I don’t want to sit.”
“Maddie, why are you upset? Did I upset you?” he asked in his serene way.
I side-stepped away from him, sliding along the glass, moving my feet. “You don’t seem to get it, Doctor Harper; what he did, do you?” I felt myself coming unhinged, “And you know what else she said?” I raised my voice, feeling my knees weaken. I looked up, attempting to blink back more tears. Snot fell from my nose, and I wiped my face forcefully with my sleeve.
“Maddie, calm down. I do get it. I do. What did Summer say that day?” He leaned against the bookshelf, keeping his distance.
The words made me sick, her words, my father didn’t deserve them, and he never did from any of us—especially her.
I shielded my face with my hand as I spoke. “She said she loved him,” I repeated it twice and let the tears tumble to my chest. “I’m not sure of anything anymore. Nothing!” I sobbed.
After a moment, I collected myself, feeling relief but hating that I broke, feeling he broke me, my father, and is still breaking me again and again.
Doctor Harper was still, leaning against the bookcase, arms crossed, watching me as if I were a specimen in a lab experiment.
“I am sure of one thing, though.” I smoothed my hair and wiped under my eyes with my fingers.
“What’s that?” He stepped toward me. “What are you sure of?”
I looked at the clock, walked past him to the chair, grabbed my purse, headed for the door, and turned back to him. A scorching fire flew up from my belly, breaking free in my throat. I swallowed hard but couldn’t extinguish it, and the words flowed like lava oozing off my tongue.
“He’s a fucking monster, and so am I.