MUSED
BellaOnline Literary Review
A Whale of a Tale by Kim Rumford

Fiction


Salt Air

Hall Jameson

Susan made the trek up Route 1 from Portland every August, eager to pick blueberries. Empty milk jugs rattled about the bed of her pickup (they were eager as well). She loved Downeast Maine. You could wrap yourself in the tidy air, with its palatable tang of salt.

On the passenger seat, hiding somewhere among the tattered maps and newspapers, was a postcard she´d received two weeks prior—a mystery of sorts. Anxious to solve it, she pulled into the parking lot of her first destination.

The Machias Historical Society sat on Front Street in a crooked building with salt-and-pepper shingles. The screen door swung shut behind her, and the string of bells hanging from the knob jingled merrily, delighted at having a visitor. She smelled mold and musty books, with a dash of lily from the fresh blooms arranged on the counter.

Finding the main room unattended, Susan cleared her throat and fingered the postcard in her pocket nervously. She walked over to the display case that ran along the right side of the room. An antique cash register sat atop the case, and inside held an array of treasures: worn sea glass in greens and browns, the toothy jaw from some mysterious sea dweller, a stereoscope with a tooled leather viewer, a Raggedy Ann doll with faded, candy-striped legs, and stacks of tin types and old postcards.

"Hello, dear," a voice sang.

"Oh…hello..." Susan started. A man stood behind the counter watching her with lively hazel eyes. A neat silver beard covered his cheeks and chin. He wore a crisp white shirt tucked into trousers held up by suspenders. A blue fedora—a peacock feather sprouting from the band—sat atop his head.

The man’s smile widened and Susan realized that she had reached out to touch the peacock feather. She jerked her hand back, embarrassed.

"I’m so sorry! I don´t know what I was thinking," she laughed. "That feather is so pretty."

"That’s all right, dear." The word ´dear´ came out as dee-yah, as was typical in northern New England. "So, how can I help you?"

"I’m not sure you can." She fumbled in her pocket for the postcard and placed it on the counter. "I got this postcard in the mail. I think it’s from this town. See? The postmark says it’s from Machias, Maine." She turned the card towards him, so he could examine the picture of a scenic fishing village with the caption: Salt Air.

"Ayuh. That’s our pretty little village. That might even be from this very building." He plucked a card from the center of a rack filled with postcards. "Sure. Here it is." He handed Susan a glossy copy. "You can keep that new one if you’d like, dear. Yours is pretty worn out." He smiled. "Someone very special must have sent it to you."

"Well, that’s why I’m here. My father died when I was very young, and I never got to know his side of the family. I know my grandparents were from this part of Maine, but I figured they died long ago. Then I got this postcard last week, with the most curious message on the back." She flipped the postcard over, revealing a note written in shaky script.

We miss you Susie! Please come for a visit anytime.
Much love,
Grandma & Grandpa

The man read the note and beamed. "You must be the Taylor girl. You’re here to see your grand-folks, Susan and Elijah. They told me you´d be coming for a visit."

Susan stepped back from the counter. "Yes…I...my name is Taylor...my grandparents names are Susan and Elijah…I´m named after my grandma," she stammered. "They told you I´d be coming? But how would they know that? I wasn´t even sure I was coming!"

"Grandparents know these things, dear. I know that they´ve been looking for you for a very long time."

"They´ve been looking for me? Really?"

"Ayuh. For years."

"So, you´re telling me my grandparents…they’re really here? In this town? Are you sure?"

"Ayuh. The Taylors are definitely here. I´ve known them my whole life. Old man Taylor´s a bit eccentric. He loves to play pranks on folks, but all in good fun. Mrs. Taylor, she´s a gem of a woman, smart and beautiful."

"Wow. This is unbelievable! I had no idea…I mean…I come here every year to pick berries, and you´re telling me that my grandparents have lived here the whole time?" She laughed. "I thought that postcard was a joke. My girlfriend, Ruth, lives up this way, in Meddybemps. She´s been nagging me to visit the next time I picked berries. I thought for sure that she sent it."

"But you stopped here first, so a part of you must have believed it was real. I´m glad. You´re going to make your grandparents very happy. Particularly your grandma, she´s been a little blue lately. You look just like her, by the way. You´ve got her eyes."

Susan touched her face. "Really? Oh my! This is incredible! My mother always told me I looked like my father´s side of the family."

The old man smiled. "The Taylor land is just up the road a ways, out on the peninsula. You’ll have to hike a bit to get to the property, but it is very pretty. Their homestead is up on the bluff. There are some blueberry patches up there as well. Do you have a pencil?" The man rattled off directions and Susan scratched them down on the back of her gas receipt.

"Thank you so much, sir."

"You’re welcome, sweetheart." The man held her hand for a moment, giving it a brief squeeze before letting go. "Good luck, dear," he said, as she turned to go. "It was nice to meet you. You´re a nice young lady. I hope you find what you’re looking for."

***

The drive out to the peninsula was spectacular: The dazzling surface of the sea on her left; the sky peppered with black-backed gulls. Meeting with the old man had left her feeling buzzed. She was about to meet her grandparents!

After a turn here and a jog there, she backtracked, locating an old cement marker that marked the property line. An ancient road led into the trees.

Well, I might as well look around. At the very least, this could turn into a very pleasant hike.

After a mile, the ruts deepened and the ground became swampy. Her feet sank into the soft earth. Hummocks fanned out on either side of the road, edged by a pine grove on her right, and a rocky hillside on her left. Mosquitoes, the size of sparrows, formed a cloud around her head. The road dissolved into a wall of brambles and weeds. Her elation evaporated.

There was nothing here!

Susan studied the marsh, the woods, and the hillside. A generous swatch of wild blueberries covered the latter, disappearing around the bend where the Maine woods swallowed them up. At least the old man had been right about something: there were blueberries here. Of course, she´d left her milk jugs in the truck.

She wandered towards the woods, sampling the berries. The fruit thinned out into a trail carpeted with pine needles. She followed the path to a circular clearing. Two headstones stood in the center of the clearing. Lichen covered the epitaphs on both stones. She began to scrape the growth from the face of the first stone until the name was readable.

Elijah Taylor, it read. Her grandfather. She ran her hand over the partially-concealed name on the other stone, able to make out ´Sus´—Susan—her name.

Her grandmother´s name.

She sat back heavily. She could see the glint of the ocean through the trees.

***

Susan shoved the door of the Historical Society open, the bells clanking in dismay.

An old woman stood behind the counter, looking pale and tired. "Hello, dear. How can I help you?" she asked in a tired voice.

"I was in here earlier today. I spoke with a gentleman, and I was hoping to talk to him again. He had information about my grandparents. Misleading information."

"We just opened, dear, and we´ve been locked up as tight as a drum since the weekend. Are you sure you weren’t in a different building when you met with your gentleman?"

"He wasn´t my gentleman," she snapped. The woman took a startled step back, and Susan softened her tone. "Yes, I´m sure I was in this building. I didn’t get his name, but you probably know him. He was tall with a white beard, and wore a fedora with a peacock feather. He sent me out to the peninsula. He said my grandparents lived there, but all I found were their headstones. Apparently, it was some kind of joke. I don´t know why he would do that," she stopped. "Why are you smiling? You must think I´m crazy."

The woman was not just smiling, she was beaming. A light sparked in her dark eyes, and Susan realized how stunning she was. Silver hair fell to her shoulders; her skin had a rosy glow, matching the pink scarf around her neck.

"Ah! My Elijah always did like his pranks," she mused.

Susan looked at her, aghast. "Excuse me? I don´t understand..."

"Your grandfather was always such an imp."

"My grandfather? That man couldn´t have been my grandfather! I just saw his headstone." But she looked around the room hopefully. "Where is he? Is he still here?"

"Oh, I´m sure he´s nearby, having a good laugh."

"I don´t understand—" Susan started, but the woman cut her off.

"It´s so nice to see you, my beautiful granddaughter. I´m so glad you finally found us."

"Wait a minute! What is happening? I talked to him. I reached out and touched the peacock feather on his hat."

"He was always so proud of that hat and pretty feather. He used to say it was his lucky hat. He even wore it on our wedding day. We laid him to rest in it, years ago."

"Who sent me this, then?" Susan slapped the postcard down on the counter. The old woman bent over to examine the writing, sliding her glasses up her nose.

"My heavens! That is definitely Elijah´s handwriting," she laughed. "He´s a clever old soul. I´ve been waiting for him to pay me a visit. I was wondering what was taking so long, but now, I know: He was working on you."

"Working on me?"

"Yes. We´ve been trying to find you for a long time, Susie."

"That´s what he said." The two women stared at each other for a moment. One smiling, the other stunned.

"Are you…ah…are you real?" Susan´s voice shook.

The old woman took her hand and placed it against her cheek.

"I assure you, I am very real."

"But I saw your grave…"

"Oh, I´m just reserving my spot, dear. The date of death on the stone is blank, and I´d like to keep it that way for awhile," she chuckled. "It´s beautiful up there, isn´t it? The ocean air is perfect. Elijah and I were married on that bluff."

The old woman set a photograph on the counter. In the picture, a smiling young couple in wedding attire looked back at the camera. The man in the photograph was handsome. He had light colored eyes, maybe hazel, most certainly devilish. He wore a fedora, a peacock feather sprouting from its band. The woman, who looked very much like Susan, stood next to him, her dark eyes shining.

Her eyes.

Her grandmother´s eyes.



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Fall Equinox 2011 Table of Contents