Summer House: Ch. 8


Late in the evening on July 3, the family that had rented the other half of the duplex showed up on the front porch. At least, most of the family did: Sonya Minor and her teen daughter, Elise, and young son, Bernard. Chet Minor, Sonya’s husband and the children’s father, was not with them.

Rain had begun to fall that afternoon–not a gentle drizzle, as was typical during the beach summers of my childhood, but a drenching downpour with lightning and thunder. I’d gone next door to check for leaks when the family arrived.

“Come on in,” I said, after Sonya introduced herself. They looked tired, chilled, and bedraggled. “How was the ferry crossing?”

I suppose this type of summer storm is what we can expect now that the jet stream has fizzled. Clouds linger without a current to drive them.

I helped the family with their luggage, then fetched fresh linens from my place. Sonya and I made the beds while Elise hopped into a bath and Bernard took a hot shower.

“I can put their jammies in the dryer so they’re warm when they get out,” I suggested.

“That would be nice,” Sonya replied. “They’ve had a rough day.”

From the way Sonya’s face drooped, it looked like she’d had a tough time of late, too.

“So rent’s all paid up?” Sonya asked me when I met her in the room that would be Bernard’s. We pulled the quilt tight. “This is a nice pattern,” she added. “Was it made by your kin?”

“My grandma, yes,” I said. It was a log-cabin quilt, with green and blue patches. I called it the forest quilt. “And yes! Rent is all paid up, through Labor Day.”

“Through Labor Day!” sighed Sonya, as if this were a gift from heaven. “And did it clear? The check?”

It had.

“And what about the deposit?” she asked.

“It cleared, too.”

“And it’s refundable?”

“Sure is,” I said, “provided the place is clean and undamaged.”

“And how do you usually pay it?”

“The deposit? By check, usually,” I said. “But you know, I could always give you a cashier’s check for it, if that’s helpful. It’s for quite a lot, you know, $2500.”

Sonya’s lips smiled while a dart of fear dashed through her eyes. “Yes, cashier’s check. That would be useful.”

We walked into Elise’s room.

“So. Until Labor Day,” Sonya said softly, more to herself than to me, “and a check for $2500 then. That’s something, at least.”

I woke early the next morning to take Turtle for a run. At dawn, the sun peeked through a crack in the clouds, and the light strung out in ribbons. As we returned to the duplex, I realized I hadn’t stocked the fridge in the rental, and all the stores would be closed for the 4th of July.

I left a note on their kitchen counter:

Pancakes and scrambled eggs! Hot coffee! Fresh, squeezed orange juice!

Please join me for a holiday breakfast to welcome you to summer.

–Cathy, next door

I didn’t know if they’d accept–it tells a lot about a family and their boundaries how they respond to a neighbor’s invitation. Of course, I was the landlady, too, which complicated the relationship, a bit. But Sonya had been so grateful last night that I felt hopeful as I stirred the pancake batter and ground the coffee.

I’d finished eating when Bernard came in, still wearing his PJs. He’d slipped on an oversized pair of red rubber rainboots that we kept in the guest closet next door.

“I’m hungry,” he said.

“Sit there,” I pointed at the stool at the counter and poured him a glass of juice.

“I’ll have coffee,” he said.

“Are you allowed?

He nodded. “Lotsa milk. Lotsa sugar.”

“We don’t have sugar,” I replied. “Do you like honey?”

I found a big red mug and filled it a quarter with coffee and three-quarters with milk.

“What’s that?” He pointed at the plate with the honeycomb on it.

“It’s fresh honey. From the farmer’s market. This is how it comes from the hive.”

I showed him how to break off a chunk of comb and chew on it. When his pancakes were done, we spread the honeycomb on them.

“Will you still have this when my dad comes?” he asked. “I hope my dad gets to eat this.”

Elise came in as he said that. “Dad’s not coming,” she said.

“He is,” said Bernard, “when he’s done with work.”

“It’s not work that’s keeping him,” she replied.

“What’s this about work?” Sonya entered, shaking off her umbrella on the doorstep. “This is vacation, children! Nobody’s working! We are resting and rejuvenating and relishing!”

We sat at the kitchen table while the rain poured down and the garden space between the two houses filled with puddles. Tree frogs croaked, and one tiny one, fluorescent green with orange toe pads, climbed up the window.

“There’ll be pollywogs in a few days,” I said, and Bernard’s eyes grew wide.

“Oh, I love tadpoles and pollywogs,” said Sonya. “Did I ever tell you?” She launched into a childhood story, and I realized that we had that in common–long years of childhood roaming through the natural world. Energy filled her as she spoke, and the weariness she wore last night had left her completely. Bernard laughed, and even his sister smiled.

We spent the day together. When the storm broke, we raced outside to check the puddles for frog eggs, to play wild games of tag, to slip and slide on the wet grass in the meadow. My anachronisms raced alongside us, barking and smiling and leaping. When the rain fell again, we ran back inside, trying to dodge the fat raindrops, jumping at the thunder.

I made pots of tea, and Elise and I baked batches of cookies. Bernard told us stories of “The First Fourth of July,” which seemed to be an amalgam of Star Wars, the Lone Ranger, and Raiders of the Lost Ark. “It all happened a really long time ago,” he said.

At nightfall, after a supper of grilled fruit and veggie burgers, we stood under the back porch and watched the lightning over the bay.

“Guess there won’t be any fireworks this summer,” I said, “because of the rain. Usually, they shoot them off from Lighthouse Island, and we can see them real well from here.”

A bolt of lightning cracked and in the split second when it lit up the bay, we could see the fishing boats and the buoys from crab pots tossed on the waves.

“I like this better than fireworks,” said Elise.

Sonya stood between her children, an arm around each, and the rain drew curtains around the porch.

Maybe this summer would do this family good even if–especially if?–their father couldn’t join them.

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