Summer House: Ch. 9


The doors between our two homes stay open. On the island, no one locks doors, anyway.

A custom of knocking never even began for us, not since Bernard raced over for pancakes and “white honey coffee” his first morning here.

I’ve discovered it’s just as convenient to make a meal for four as it is for one, and I appreciate not having so many left-overs.

Bernard has taken it upon himself to keep the anachronisms’ supper bowls filled, and Elise has decided that walking Dixie each morning and taking Crystal with her on her evening jog fits into her exercise regime.

“I am going to get so fit this summer,” she said. “When I get back to school, everyone will think we got a new athlete, or something. Track star! That’s me!”

I love becoming immersed in the rhythms of a family. It reminds me of the best parts of the childhood summers here. Voices call from room to room. The sounds of chairs scraping against the floor when someone sits at a table, the gurgles of water running through the pipes, the hiss of the kettle on the stove, the dissonant explorations of small fingers across the piano’s keyboard, the distant strain from a radio–this bustle of family life brings a feeling of belonging, even if this isn’t my family.

My favorite times are when Sonya joins me at the porch while the children splash in the pool, or when she stops by late at night, after they’re tucked into bed.  When I was a little girl, my room was above the kitchen, and on hot nights, we kept all the windows open. I often woke late at night when the moon shone in, and I heard, below me, at the kitchen table, the voices of my mother and aunts, sharing all the secrets that women share. These evenings with Sonya remind me of that.

Only Sonya has not yet begun to share secrets. I can hear them, waiting for expression, behind every full stop and pause. I can see them in the dark semi-circle that rings the brown iris of her eyes, as she glances down or away.

Secrets can wait. There is a time for secrets to be kept, and a time for them to be divulged. We’ve only known each other a week now. We’re just getting the feel for what we each value, for what we share in confidence and at large.

Friendships grow at their own paces, depending, perhaps, on how much is at stake. With Shingo, neither of us had anything to lose, anything to protect, and so our trust of each other happened instantly. It’s a rare friendship, and an easy one, too–easy to gain, easy to keep.

This friendship that’s developing with Sonya, what feels like a sistership to me who’s never had a sister, comes with a great deal to risk for Sonya. What’s keeping her husband away: what’s in store for her and her children–how to keep them safe, healthy, and feeling loved–all of that is at risk. I view the family with tenderness, seeing how fragile they are, how vulnerable during this summer of change and uncertainty.

And so Sonya shields the harsh truths, and I proceed tentatively. But this quiet, gentle time brings a poignant sense of the ripening of love.

“I never knew my grandfather,” Sonya said, after I’d made a casual reference to mine. She poured the tea from the steeping pot into the serving pot. “Mmmm. Darjeeling! Smell. It’s fruity.”

“Spicy,” I said. “You didn’t know either grandfather?”

“Oh!” Sonya laughed. “I forgot there were two! No, I never knew my father’s father, either, not surprising.”

She added the last words under her breath and looked away, the way she does when closing the door to secrets.

“My grandfather was everything to me,” I said. “My mother’s step-father, actually. I never knew her birth-father. But the man I knew as my grandfather, he felt like kin to me more than any of my other family. He got me.”

“Soul family?” Sonya asked.

“Yeah, like that. Like our souls knew each other from lifetimes and lifetimes of connection.”

“Now that’s family,” Sonya said.

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