“Oh. Right. Sorry.”

Abigail hastened to her Volvo and steered on deck. Moments later, the ferry growled to life and was off again. She wasn’t sure whether to get out or sit tight.

“You don’t have to stay in your vehicle, miss.”

Startled, Abigail’s hand flew to her chest. The kid in the sweatshirt was standing at her window.

“I didn’t know if it was safe,” she said, adjusting her collar to pretend she hadn’t been frightened.

“Hell, I don’t know if it’s safe myself. But it is a long ride. Wouldn’t want you going stir-crazy in there.”

He spoke in a sluggish Southern drawl, each syllable lagging behind the other as if they were freight cars in a slow-moving train. Abigail always took note of accents, slang, colloquialisms. Verbal affects were proof, from her perspective, of the capacity of the English language, the fortitude. It was a phenomenon in and of itself. The abuse it endured was awe-inspiring. Words were shortened, lengthened, plundered, and bastardized, yet they went on, ever resilient. Words had a strong constitution she envied.

“Round trip?” he asked.

“One way.”

The kid gave her a dubious glance. “That’ll be fifteen-fifty.”

Abigail handed over the money with vigor to convince him, as well as herself, that she knew what she was doing.

“Out of a hundred,” he said, eyeing the large bill. He peeled her change from a stack of tens and singles, counting each aloud tediously. She guessed he was about twenty-five, less than ten years her junior. Though she couldn’t see his eyes behind the plastic sunglasses, what Abigail could see was that his clothes needed washing and his hair needed cutting, like a child who’d been left to fend for himself for too long.

“So,” he said, “you a doctor or a lawyer?”

The odd question caught her off guard. “A doctor. Technically. I’m a—”

“Figured as much. If it ain’t summer, folks don’t come to Chapel Isle. Not unless they’re doctors or lawyers. Doctors for taking care of people. Lawyers for taking care of those the doctors didn’t take care of right.”

“You’re saying nobody visits in the fall or winter?”

“Yup.” His response was resolute.

Although the serenity of the island’s low season was part of its appeal, this kid had Abigail envisioning tumbleweeds rolling through the center of town.

“What sorta doctor are you?”

“I have a Ph.D., actually. I’m a lexicographer, not a—”

“Oh, X-ray stuff. Gotcha.”

Before she could correct him, the kid shoved his hand through the window, saying, “I’m Denny. Denny Meloch. I run the ferry. Pleased to meet you.”

Abigail introduced herself and shook his hand. “If you run the ferry, Denny, who’s steering?”

“That’d be my dad,” he answered sheepishly. “It’s his rig. Won’t let anybody forget it. Least of all me.”

The boat was picking up speed, and the revving engine filled the awkward silence that followed his comment. With the current growing more conspicuous the faster they went, Abigail realized she hadn’t removed her seat belt. Denny, however, was unfazed by the waves. He kept his stance wide, taking in every roll placidly.

“You have a lot of stuff in there.” Denny was giving her Volvo the once-over.

“It appears that way, doesn’t it?”

Bags, boxes, and luggage were pressed against the windows. The car held the last remaining possessions Abigail had in the world. While packing, she’d tried to imagine paring down an entire house to fit into the station wagon. Deciding what was worth keeping versus what wasn’t would have been daunting. Except Abigail didn’t have the luxury of choice. The fire had reduced her life to the lean mass she currently carried.

“You moving to the island for good?”

“How long is for good?” she asked, making light of his serious question.

Denny shrugged. “Either you’re here to stay or you’re here to leave. No two ways about it.”

“What do you mean, ‘here to leave’?”

“Tourists. They start pouring in when the weather gets sunny. Run for the hills once it turns. Don’t get me wrong. We need ’em. Couldn’t get by without ’em. Summer business is the only business we got besides fishing. That don’t mean we have to like ’em.”

“Denny,” someone yelled, interrupting him.

In her side mirror, Abigail saw a stout man peering from the wheelhouse. The brim of his cap cast his face in shadow.

“Is that your father?”

“Yup. That’s him.” Denny’s cheeks flushed. “As I said, you don’t have to sit in your car.”

With that, he scuttled off, his parting statement issued half as fact, half as a challenge. If Abigail stayed in her car, she wouldn’t last on the island. If she got out, she might be different.

The ocean was becoming choppier, the waves more brazen. Abigail unhooked her seat belt and her stomach instantly tightened. Was it seasickness or fear? She opted to believe it was the former.

Вы читаете The Language of Sand
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