“The Light in Springs”

Fiction by Dan Marsh

Part One

The Idea of a Boat

    Because our aunt’s home was in the Town of East Hampton, she was subject to town laws, one of which concerned where boats could be propped up on cinder blocks, or left rotting into trailers on one’s property. Because she lived in Springs, we had an unfloatable boat that I meant to repair (as most of our neighbors did) in plain view next to our garden patch, which was next to the garage. One year Etienne (who was often called Eh, pronounced as if we were Canadian hockey players) made a planter of it. He supplemented our indigenous soil with peat moss from the Joseph A. Hren Nursery. Eh filled that craft with tiger lilies.

    You see it had always been less a boat than the idea of a boat.

    One imagines two bathers at Albert’s Landing arising from their towels, one pointing toward the water. She will say to the other, “There goes the flower boat!”

Tridentine Mass

    If Dad had to come to Springs for the weekend, he would arrive about 8 o’clock on Friday night. But his cars, always bought secondhand with high mileage, were reliably unreliable. Mother was accustomed to variability on any given Friday. For a while he drove an English Ford — the model was called Zephyr, which he had bought from Tante with 119,000 miles on it for one dollar. The starting motor had what my father called a burn spot on it that more than occasionally prevented a circuit being completed. Dedek Brothers could have replaced it, but that repair was always just beyond his means. So my father would scramble underneath, I mean under the chassis, not under the hood (I should say bonnet as it was an English car), with the tire iron. With that tool he was able to rotate the troublesome part.

    Father always arose early on Sunday and headed back west by 9 so he could attend the Tridentine Mass at the cathedral at 11:45.

    He taught English as his full-time work, but tutored algebra to summer school students, and Latin to anyone during the year when he could. When the family took a trip together, he would call roll. We each were expected to answer “Adsum” — “I am present.”

    I think he liked the fact that the celebrant was facing away in the Latin Mass, toward the higher authority, not toward the penitents in the pews. He found this humbling and uplifting at the same time. This Mass took longer than the ones offered in the vernacular, but he didn’t mind that. He said the parish priest was the poor man’s psychiatrist.

    The rest of the family attended a service at Most Holy Trinity Church in East Hampton that was said in English, although Mom occasionally missed due to dizziness from fasting the night before. I prayed once that that starter would fall right out of the Zephyr. I hated on the coldest winter days sitting on the cracking vinyl seat, waiting for Dad to make the fix, and hating that he never made me do it.

Shinnecock Powwow

    At the Shinnecock Powwow one enters a winter gourd. Everything is infused with colors, everything, but the colors are muted, drained, attenuated.

    Seeds rattle like the sound of dead leaves in a dead tree. But the voices of the Indians are powerful and moving, though none of our band knows a word. So many of the homes here are turned inside out: tarpaper and the finished sides of interior wood paneling facing the elements. Indians have come here from all over this country, from the Plains, from the Pacific Northwest, from the Four Corners.

    We ran into Miss Ferris, teller at the County Federal Bank in Rockville Centre. Who knew her grandfather was Mohawk?

    Soon we were back on Montauk Highway. In Wainscott far south of the road three gigantic homes were being built, but distance made them small. They looked like bison might have, 500 miles south and west of Chicago, 150 years ago from a half-mile away.

Nuns in Water Mill

    If you looked to the right from Montauk Highway as the car was pulled by a powerful force to Springs, you would see behind a wrought-iron gate an imposing structure, Villa Maria. In times lost, it had been owned by New York City financiers, a doctor, a shipbuilder (who made a killing in the First World War), and an actress who used a stage name that I cannot now recall.

    During the years in question, it was owned by the Sisters of St. Dominic and used as a retirement home. The Sisters are the Order of Preachers; they are renowned as schoolteachers. Though they are not an order that takes a vow of silence, I imagined those retired nuns carrying tapers in brass holders in dark hallways behind the white limestone walls, passing one another quietly. They had said so much already.

    Dad was teaching Marie-Christine to drive. She took the wheel and was progressing too slowly for the drivers stretched back to Southampton, hard behind. There were horns and even shouts in Bridgehampton.

    I thought again of those good sisters in Villa Maria, some of them in wheelchairs praying the rosary, not for themselves, for someone they didn’t even know.

Dumm-Dumm, Dumm-Dumm

    The bee was dead to begin with. A has-bee, so to speak. Why was it in the middle of the kitchen floor though? No one had been in the house for six weeks and the house had been locked up tight. Pierette thought no more of it as she threw it out.

    She found another dead bee in the bathroom. This was the largest bee she had ever seen and she was a veteran Girl Scout camper. This was a museum-quality jumbo bee with an extra-long stinger protruding from its abdomen.

    A bee’s stinger is made up of an upper stylet and two lower lancets. The stylet has a wide bulb at the upper end and connects with a poison sac. When a bee stings, the entire apparatus works its way into the wound, continually discharging venom. Since muscles associated with the poison sac continue to pump venom as the stinger penetrates the wound, any delay in removing the stinger can allow additional venom to course into the victim. If she had been in a movie, right then the menacing music would have started: dumm-dumm, dumm-dumm, dumm-dumm. . . .

    Odd coincidence was all she thought. Then she saw still another bee inside the house, this one alive and crawling across the glass of the sliding door. She gingerly opened the door and out it flew. Curious now, she followed. She saw a lone flier buzzing back and forth above the crawl space cover. When she got close enough she could see that one screw that had held the metal frame to the house was missing. Through that hole went the bee.

    She went back inside to get a roll of duct tape. Young and easy (as the poet says) was she in the living room, on holiday. She was halfway down the hall when the sinister music started again, dumm-dumm, but she didn’t hear it. Her feet had already carried her to a back bedroom. Just then, the overhead light burned out. Her mind flashed back to the fall invasion of 10,000 ants in the kitchen. She stood unprotected in the bee-loud gloom, her hand on the doorknob. No. Oh, no. No, no, no, no, no.

    Dan Marsh, a native Long Islander and frequent contributor to The Star’s “Guestwords” column, writes from Garrett Park, Md.