BRIDE ISLAND: EXCERPT
All right, you have half," my daughter says. She parcels out the remaining grapes one by one. "Six for you, six for me." They are the last on the stalk, the ones we thought too tiny to eat before, some no bigger than raisins, one little pip the size of a pomegranate seed. I want to tell Monroe to keep them all, I'm half heart broken that she's so judicious, surely in a child greed and self-interest would be more appropriate? But Daniel, her father, has trained her well, and besides, I'm hungry and the rest of the food is in the trunk of the car. So I eat the tiny grapes, each one popping as my teeth pierce the sweet red skin.
We are sitting in my old car, a chartreuse CitroŽn 2CV, on the headland out by Marguerite Cove. Through the windshield we watch the small white capped waves of the bay. We should see Steven and the boat that will take us out to Bride Island any time now. Rays of afternoon sun slant through the open sunroof. The air smells of the sea and of cut grass. It is only the third Friday in August but already there are intimations of fall: roadside ditches bristle with goldenrod; corners of the blueberry fields have spread crimson; the nights are extra starry and cold. My last boyfriend, a gardener from California, charmed me by saying this was the most poignant landscape he'd ever seen.
The tape comes to an end and my daughter flips it. Monroe, who will turn seven in September, has discovered James Taylor this visit; this is the third time today we're hearing "You've Got a Friend." These are some of the things I have discovered about her: she weighs fifty pounds and is the third-tallest girl in her class. She wants to pierce her nose when she is ten. She likes the Spice Girls but thinks Pokemon is babyish. She can swing beneath the monkey bars but can't do a cartwheel. Purple is her favorite color and blueberries her favorite food.
"Excited?" I ask, rubbing her hand. Her fingers, tanned brown from earlier vacations at the beach with her father, have white patches between them. I myself have mixed feelings about this weekend, our annual visit to my mother and stepfather's island. Monnie and I have already spent two and a half of our allotted three weeks, and for me the visit marks the culmination of our time together, a shifting from anticipation to relinquishment.
She nods. "I would be more, except after that it's only two days."
"I know," I say. We're both very quiet for a minute, listening to the music.
"I wish I could live with you."
"You do?" This surprises me. She finds my life and tiny house in Rockhaven "weird"she told me so the first day of her visit. "But wouldn't you miss your dad and Chloe and your brothers?"
She rubs one tanned finger along the dashboard. "Not really." I'm secretly elated by this and allow myself a glow of pride. Take that, Daniel, I think, you and all your piano lessons and horseback riding.
"Well, what about your friends?"
"I'd e-mail them."
I don't remind her I don't have a computer. "But you said my house is a dump."
She thinks a moment. "I know, we could live in the car! We could drive all over and sleep on the seats. That would be so cool."
The funny thing is I can imagine it tooas it is, the Green Hornet is almost as much home as my houseand I feel all hopeful for a minute. But I know it's just a pipe dream, and Monroe doesn't really mean it either. I look over with affection at my daughter in bell-bottoms, her hair covered with plastic butterflies, a big sun smiling on her tie-dyed T-shirt. "What are you anyway, some kind of hippie chick?" I poke her belly. "I can't believe your dad lets you dress like this."
"Ouch," she giggles.
"Ask Dad about his hippie days sometime."
"Dad was a hippie?"
"Are we still listening to this tape? I can't believe it. You've got to put something else on." And speaking of putting something else on, I know my mother won't like the way Monroe is dressed, so under pretext of it being cold on the boat, I get her to change her clothes. Her body is so sturdy and fine. I have to stop myself sometimes from slapping her rump, I find it so cute. I have to remind myself that she is no longer a baby, that I can't tickle and hold her as if I own her. She's adamant about keeping the plastic butterfly clips intact though, and after a half-hearted argument, I let her. I've exercised enough maternal authority for one day.
As if my own mother's presence has invaded the car, I notice how filthy it is: crumbs, coffee cups, glue-hardened scraps of Monroe's projects, the detritus of the last two weeks. We've spent much of Monnie's visit driving, racking up miles along the secondary roads on the Maine peninsula I call home. Monroe sits shotgun, in charge of snacks and safety. "Batten down the hatches," she says when we fasten our seat belts. "Righto," I say. I know I should track down safer, more up-to-date straps, but I feel lucky the Green Hornet has any seat belts at all. And besides, I've always felt safe with Monroe. Even when she was tiny. As a baby buckled in her little seat in the back of the car, it seemed nothing bad could happen, as if a state of grace emanated from her very being, protecting us.
The Maine winters are hard on the Green Hornet and she shows her age. Last April I replaced the brakes. Next I'm angling for a new clutch. I like doing the work myself. It's not so difficultjust parts broken down, gathered up, rearranged to be in better harmony. This summer Monnie and I are interested in celestial harmony and realignment. We've attached glow-in-the-dark stars to the roof of the car, though we rarely see them because the days are so long. Sometimes, after dark when I sneak a smoke, I creep down to the car to look at them. It comforts me to think I'll still have them after Monnie's gone home to her dad.
© Alexandra Enders