by Mary K. Grant
[Any resemblance to persons living or dead, places or things in reality is purely coincidental.]
On the sandbar island of Long Beach on a windy fall day, along a 7 mile stretch of sand, a robust breeze washed across pure white dunes which were being erased by a storm tide of over 8 foot breakers. White and gray pipers danced on the soggy dark sands while seagulls merrily cracked cherrystones against the jetties to harvest the succulent meat within.
A short distance upland this bustling metropolis was an ongoing community of 200,000 people. Life was good to shopkeepers right after the summer. There were still some brisk sales around Thanksgiving, even though the city shrank down to 14,000 residents.
“Don’t think about winter until November. It will be wet, windy and mean by October.” Daniel Gable said to himself. He read the 2009 Farmer’s Almanac. The town had put on its glad summer face to attract casino gamblers, fisherman and tourists. But now, down by the Nautical Mile in Freeport, the gray sky with fog at the edge of the choppy bay waters way far out made for misery. The pleasure craft were idle.
On the wet black asphalt at the Francie’s Restaurant parking lot, a flock of ravenous sea gulls tore at some soaked bread bits left for them by a thoughtful walker. The puddles reflected the garish neon glow of the restaurant’s sign, even though it was still early in the afternoon.
“Brrr.” he said. As Daniel Gable sat and moped in his beat-up Ford, he barely noticed the motion of patrons walking in and out of Francie’s.
Daniel was well aware that he was supposed to make dinner for his daughter and her husband Brandel Wescott at home. Not hitting any lights on the way over from his business in Lynbrook, he had avoided them for another hour. Now, after checking his lean wallet, he decided on a better course of action: that of remaining in his car and freezing for a quarter hour. Helen, “the wife”, must already be bustling in her kitchen, cooking for tonight. She would have forced him to turn on the ignition and resume this trip. Thank God! He was alone relishing each minute of it.
The Gables had been very grateful when their daughter married. As Dan felt, Shirley’s choice of Brandel had been propitious. Brandel was not a talker. Dan smoothed his eyebrows, reaching for the Life-savers in his pocket. He wanted to be “minty fresh” for company. He shifted his weight, easing the seat back a notch to allow more room for his cramped stubby legs. His slacks were getting creased so he frowned. Quickly, he left the car and strode decisively into Francie’s, taking a seat near a window without waiting for the hostess to come over. He’d waste more time.
Daniel ordered a drink. He was a short heavy dark-haired man in horn rimmed glasses pushing seventy. Impersonating Bogart to the degree that he sometimes deliberately crumpled up his London Fog raincoat, he was an unimpressive figure who blended well with the local patrons. His dark beady eyes set close to his nose gazed at others with a chronic suspicion. Sometimes Daniel gave a big tip.
Sometime later Daniel’s Ford pulled up on his driveway. He gazed at the split-level colonial over 25 years old with its red aluminum siding. The lawns were brown and soaked with moisture. He glanced up at the roof and noted that the weather vane–a wrought iron rooster–was pointing north. Before he went inside Daniel opened the trunk and removed a carton of Dover books. They were from his business. As a small distributor of paper backs he was short-staffed this month and had taken over the jobs of both the external salesman and his assistant. Daniel let himself into the house, then placed the carton on top of a bookcase. Because the overcoat was soaking wet he removed a hangar from the front hall closet and tiptoed up to the bathroom where he hung it in the stall shower to dry. Looking in the mirror he frowned. He could hear his wife bustling and fussing in her kitchen. He took time to wash his face, brush his teeth, and slick back his hair.
When he went downstairs, she greeted him by saying “They cancelled tonight. The baby’s ill.” Daniel heaved a sigh of relief.
A month later, they rescheduled for a Sunday. On that day, the Gables were busy at home. Daniel was washing his car, anticipating a savory pot roast dinner cooked by Helen. She was in the house at a hot oven. There had been no such visit since last Thanksgiving and he figured that there would be a bit of tension over some past argument.
Less than a half mile away in the upscale section of Long Beach called “the canals”, was the modest home of Brandel and Shirley Wescott. It set on Curley canal with a dock. This one-story affair was surrounded by dense hedges. In a side yard was a large doghouse. A black Honda Civic sat on a driveway, flanked on either side by lawn.
“Hi Mom! Where are you?” Don said, slamming the front screen door. He removed his scarf and threw it on a wall peg in the foyer. His sweater and coat were tossed on the hall bench.
“We are in here!” Shirley’s voice replied from the kitchen. There, he found a tray of cooling apple cinnamon pop-overs. Don picked one up, burning his hand, noticing that Mom wasn’t there. He glanced out the rear bay window at the choppy waters on the canal. He noticed how all of the cabin cruisers from his neighbors’ docks were pulling at their rope moorings.
“You must be in the den, right?” he said. He moved swiftly past the old beat up walnut dinette set, stainless steel dishwasher and refrigerator ensemble, through a narrow doorway into the TV room. Brandel sat on one leg of the L-shaped sofa, with Shirley on the other, her lips pursed and pink. Don’s face was pale, his blue eyes blazing at her.
Rising, Brandel recovered his poise almost immediately. “How are you son?” he asked.
“Fine.” Don said. He noticed Mom’s clenched hands. He didn’t know what to say. They didn’t fight often.
“Guess what! We’re going to your grandparents for dinner! Better get ready. Do your homework real fast.” Brandel said.
“Where is Joyce?” Shirley asked. “I want her to come too. Phone her, Donny.”
“Waitressing at Ferns, I suppose.” Donny said. “I’ll give her a call on my cell phone.”
“Thank you, Son.” Brandel said.
“What’s going on, Mom? Dad?” Don glanced his mother’s way, but she wouldn’t meet his gaze. She walked into the kitchen and glanced down at the counter.
“Nothing, Son.” Brandel said, leaving his seat and moving to sit at the computer in the corner.
“You’d better stop filching those pop-overs!” Shirley said, “Save your appetite for later.” She laughed and Don relaxed.
While they were talking, Brandel glanced at his wife. He took a close look at her. It was hard to believe that Shirley was in her thirties. She still had few wrinkles. Her pert nose and freckled cheeks were set off by a pageboy which was usually in need of a trim. What he liked best about her was her comfortable figure which he loved to hug. That hadn’t happened lately.
“You’re the best baker in the world.” Don said, “I’ll tell her to get ready and we’ll pick her up alright mom?”
“Yes. We’ll pick her up at the front door, as her shift should be over.” Shirley said.
The back door slammed, the storm door closing after it and Brandel entered the kitchen. Before anyone could speak he picked up a popover and started chomping. Don was glad to hear his mom chuckle.
The black Honda Civic pulled up sometime later and parked on the Gables’ driveway. Shirley recalled how much her parents were devoted to each other. She anticipated a sumptuous feast – perhaps a pot roast and sentimental moments over coffee. Her parents always made their home a delight for guests. Even though some of the neighbors had lived on the Boulevard for 35 years they still hadn’t met each other. Daniel Gable liked it that way. Helen would have preferred the old “borrow a cup of sugar” routine from her neighbor Sarah but she realized that would be wishful thinking. Hospitality was very important to her. She liked to say that she was an old-fashioned girl.
“My mother Lucille raised me the right way – the old-fashioned way!” Shirley said.
Their house had been bought on the G.I. Bill for about $15,000. Over the years, Daniel had added many additions. It’s perfect setting, Long Beach, was cool in the summer and warm in the winter.
Daniel ushered the Wescotts into the large comfortable living room and they all sat. The pine coffee table carried heavy plates of cheese and crackers, raw vegetables with yogurt dip, and chips.
Their host took their coats and warmly hugged the children. He sat down with them.
“So glad you came. It’s been a while and we have a lot of catching up to do. Helen’s in the kitchen and I will get you anything you like to drink as long as it’s not alcohol – Donny!” Daniel said.
“Oh grandpa, you are such a tease!” Joyce said.
The adults enjoyed some cocktails and reminisced about their city. Donny and Joyce got fidgety and with permission went down the back-porch stairs to play in the rear yard. The dog run was occupied and Smoky was waiting, grandpa’s spoiled rotten pooch.
Helen entered the living room. She kissed the children. Her husband offered her a rocking chair. She was matronly, a large pear-shaped figure in an apron, with a high silver gray pompadour. Daniel took her hand and squeezed it as they sat and reminisced together.
“We are glad we moved here 20 years ago.” he said.
Long Beach was perfect for many reasons especially economy. Considering his marriage, Daniel really didn’t have to worry about that or so he thought when he proposed to Helen. Helen’s mother was a distant cousin to Richard Gould. And the Goulds had dominated North Shore Great Gatsby high society in the Roaring Twenties. Even after a decade, he still had believed there was trust money hidden somewhere in some brokers office file but this never materialized.
Daniel loved Helen enough to buy the home in Lido even though she was not an heiress. Then he gave her a daughter who was like a high Renaissance puttee. That topped the cake.
The Gables lived in the suburbs of this famous resort town on the South Shore of Long Island. Buried in dunes and showcased for a beautiful 4-mile boardwalk, the town had provided comfort seclusion and a prime location for the parent’s store. Now retired, Daniel spent most of his time watching television, listening to his bones harden and sitting on the back porch high above a golf course observing birds with binoculars–a favorite hobby. They had but the one daughter and believed that she had happily married. At least she was out of the house now. Daniel had been able to convert her bedroom into a little office where he sometimes attempted to sit at a computer and write his memoirs – another hobby.
Soon Shirley Gable Wescott would arrive along with Brandel and the two grandchildren, Don and his sister Joyce. If the weather held there might be a nice family get-together. Daniel was certain however that there would be at least one fight or someone would leave the table and a half and he would wind up sitting in front of the boob tube hiding out upstairs.
Around five o’clock the yellow Honda owned by the Wescott’s turned into the driveway. Joyce was the first one up the stairs and embraced her father at the door. Daniel marveled at how well she looked. She still had that cherubic blond appearance with blue eyes that had so enchanted him when she was a baby. He also greeted Brandel warmly and shook his hand. Boy, am I ever glad you took her off my hands he thought to himself.
A social circle formed in the living room and the young couple were immersed in plates of hors d’oeuvre and cold sodas.
“We are so glad to see you,” Mrs. Gable said glancing at her husband. “What have you both been up to?”
“Not much mom” said Shirley “we are trying to have a baby.” Her husband looked a little uneasy. “We’ve also been shopping for furniture. Perhaps on a layaway plan we will be able to get a new bedroom set.” She shifted on the sofa cushion.
“And you son?” Asked Mr. Gable “How have things been going at the office?”
“I really don’t wish to talk about that right now!” Brandel Wescott said. He stood up excused himself and when else the storm door on the back porch. They herded slam behind him.
“Is everything okay dear?” Helen asked her daughter.
“Mom, there’s very little new. Most of the time Joyce and Donald are out of the house. They are now teenagers, spending most of their time with friends. I think they are fine but who knows?”
A moment of tension passed between the Gables. This big old house had seen a lot of fights and arguments in its time. Daniel called himself “old man river” because no matter what happened he just kept flowing along, taking each day as it came. Helen was a woman of sorrows because she had been passed over in an inheritance from wealthy grandparents in the old country. Even so, with the family business in town and a lot of work over the years the Gables had prospered. Although they wouldn’t be traveling to Palm Beach in their old age, Daniel and Helen would enjoy retirement. They felt guilty deep down because it would be enjoyed at their daughter’s expense. Why this was so was known in silence. They gazed at each other now and shared that secret.
Joyce had followed her husband onto the porch and they were seated in patio chairs, their hands clasped loosely. As Helen looked through the screen door having returned to her pot roast she could see that there was real affection between them.
to be continued…
Mary K. Grant is a local author and teacher in the Rochester Public Schools. She has a background in communications, psychology, education and publishing. Before coming to Rochester she spent most of her life on Long Island.