A burst of clammy air caught her on the chin when she opened her door. Droplets of water seeped through her clothes, prickling the flesh beneath. Maintaining her balance for the short walk from the station wagon to the railing took effort. It was as though her body was drunk but she wasn’t. The ferry slogged heavily through the water, and by the sound of it, the engine was battling to make headway.

Abigail got to the side, then plunked down on a bench, happy to have it hold her. As gusts of wind whipped her hair into her mouth and eyes, she brushed aside the strands, only to have them flung back at her, an exercise in frustration. She wasn’t a let-the-wind-comb-your-hair kind of woman, not figuratively or literally. The free and easy spirit didn’t apply to Abigail. Few things in the world were free and not many were easy, including getting from the car to the bench. Yet she had. It wasn’t much. It would have to be enough.

The rocking of the boat made her dizzy, so Abigail fixed her eyes downward on the bench where she sat. A flurry of names, dates, curses, and epithets were carved into the wood, a roster of who had come and gone, trapped under layers of shellac. Swarms of hearts in every size were etched around initials, each crowding the other. She traced the outline of some letters, feeling the deep indentations in the wood and letting her fingertip linger along the craggy curve of a heart.

The need to be remembered was an instinct. No one wanted to be forgotten, to slip away, to be lost from memory. That was why people scrawled words on everything from benches to turnpike overpasses to wet concrete sidewalks. The scars they left made them unforgettable. Sometimes, though, remembering could be worse than being forgotten. Abigail knew that well. Remembering left a different kind of scar.

The afternoon sun was buried under a bale of dull clouds, night poised to push the day aside. Abigail had lost track of how long she’d been sitting on the bench in the wind. Her clothes were damp, her stomach ached, and the horizon line remained absent. She needed to get out of the elements. There was an enclosed seating area behind the wheelhouse. Using the railing to reclaim her balance, Abigail forged toward the door, doing her best to keep her footing.

More benches and a measly snack bar awaited inside. The snack bar was closed, the glass candy case empty, save for three boxes of saltwater taffy that slid from one end of the case to the other in tempo with the waves. On the walls were posters of yachts and schooners, each yellowed with age, as well as a cork bulletin board speckled with bits of paper pinned under staples from signs that had been pulled loose. A handful of flyers remained. Some advertised half-priced fishing trips for Labor Day weekend. Others pitched holiday bicycle rentals, fresh corn, and strawberries. Another read, Dinghy for sale. Will take best offer. Vestiges of the bygone summer, the month-old signs were already obsolete.

Next to the bulletin board was a large map of the Outer Banks, framed and bolted to the wall with a protective sheet of plastic over the top. The dull sheen of smudged fingerprints gave the map a hazy glow. Hovering beneath the surface of the plastic was a string of barrier islands that fringed the coast, each dotted with towns that had names like Nag’s Head, Whalebone, Frisco, and Ocracoke. The name Chapel Isle stood apart among them, its tenor starched, ringing primly in the ear. The reference to religion made it less adventuresome in comparison to the rest. That suited Abigail fine.

Beyond Chapel Isle’s eastern shore was a dashed outline, Ship’s Graveyard, written inside. An inscription hung below. Abigail couldn’t make it out. The plastic covering the map had been rubbed thin there, touched by so many hands that the words blurred. She wiped at the spot with her sleeve and picked at it with her nail. The plastic wouldn’t clear.

“I was worried you fell overboard,” Denny said, surprising Abigail again.

“I needed a break from that wind.”

He cringed. “If you think this is windy, you might not want to stay on the island after all.”

Abigail thought she’d passed the first test. She wasn’t prepared for another.

“What does this say?” she asked, tapping the obscured inscription on the map.

“Says, Not at rest, but at peace. The men who died in the Ship’s Graveyard, who went down with their ships, they never got a proper burial. Never got to be put to rest, so to speak. Means they’re at peace because they died at sea. The place they loved.”

The explanation sent Abigail sinking into her memory. She struggled to stay in the present. Denny was oblivious. His gaze had slid down her body to her hands. He was checking to see if she wore a wedding ring. It dawned on Abigail that he was trying to impress her, that he found her attractive. She automatically tucked her left hand behind her hip.

“That’s, uh, how Chapel Isle got its name,” he continued, clearing his throat. “Since there weren’t bodies to bury, the families would go and stand on the beach dressed in their black clothes and have the funerals right there in the sand. Wouldn’t be no coffins. A preacher would just say the prayers. More proper, I s’pose.”

Abigail could tell that her strange demeanor was starting to make Denny uncomfortable. Since the fire, she would sometimes slip into a sort of fugue, rendering her the opposite of a ghost, a body momentarily devoid of soul. That unnerved people. She couldn’t help it.

“Chop’s kicking a bit. Isn’t much further ’til home.” Denny shifted on his heels self-consciously. “I should get back to work.”

“Okay,” Abigail said, eventually recovering. “I wouldn’t want to keep you.”

“Okay,” he echoed, then turned to go.


“Yeah?” He spun around eagerly.

“Thanks for telling me about the map.”

He held in a smile. “It was nothing.”

The door swung closed behind him, wafting the briny odor of the ocean through the room. The smell summoned Abigail’s childhood memories of summer weekends spent with her family on the shores of Massachusetts—picnics at the beach, pails full of shells, the sticky feel of the salt water as it dried on her skin. The scent had always been synonymous with happiness. That was one of the reasons she’d come to Chapel Isle. To see if it still was.

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