Abigail returned to her car, her stomach in knots. Denny hadn’t been exaggerating. The ocean was noticeably rougher, with whitecaps dappling the surface. The pitch and yaw made her queasier.

She took refuge in the station wagon, rubbing her arms to get warm. She was about to start the motor to run the heater, except a sign on the side of the boat ordered her not to: Engines off until ferry is docked.

Breaking the rules wasn’t Abigail’s style. She was chilly enough to entertain the notion but didn’t want to make trouble for Denny. Of course, rules, like definitions, could have exceptions. She’d spent the better part of her adulthood in pursuit of definitions. To understand the exception was to understand the meaning. As she sat shivering in her car, Abigail chose not to turn on the motor. The posted rule could have been inconsequential. The consequences of breaking it may not have been.

Heat or no heat, the seasickness had gotten to her. A cold sweat was slinking along her neck, and her mouth was bone-dry. Abigail hitched her gaze to the bottom of the steering wheel, blocking any movement from her vision. Having set out before daybreak that morning, the journey from Boston had been grueling. She half-expected to find grip marks in the wheel from her fingers. The goal of getting to Chapel Isle in a single day made the trip slightly more bearable. With expectation pecking away at her, Abigail wished she’d asked Denny what time they would arrive. She purposefully hadn’t checked the horizon since leaving the dock. When at last she looked up from the steering wheel, a dim line was separating the ocean from the sky.


The band of darkness in the distance broadened, a lapse amid the breadth of blue. It wasn’t the horizon line. It was Chapel Isle.

As the ferry drew closer, the contours of trees and the silhouettes of rooftops came into focus. Abigail’s gut cinched. This was no longer seasickness. This was anticipation.

Without warning, the ferry plunged between two deep swells. Abigail clenched the steering wheel as the boat bucked. She considered how ridiculous she must look, white-knuckling the Volvo’s wheel while it sat, stationary, on the ferry’s deck. Though she was happy there was no one to see her, the relief twisted into a twinge. She was very much on her own.

Chapel Isle was close, less than a half mile away. However, the ocean was making it difficult to reach.

“Should I take this personally?”

Another wave sent the ferry lunging.

“I’ll interpret that as a yes.”

Cold and nauseous, she did the one thing that would calm her. She recited Latin, conjugating verbs from rote and enumerating each tense in a monotone chant.

“Sum, esse, fui, futurus.

“Habeo, habere, habui, habitus.”

The verbs were transformed into a soothing hum, a distraction. She had picked up the practice as a young girl, from her father. A prominent surgeon specializing in patients with lung cancer, he’d helmed early research into the link between smoking and lung disease. “Gray is rarely a good thing,” he would say in reference to the color of a patient’s lungs, a philosophy he applied to most matters. He was a pragmatic man, unflaggingly precise, and he categorized life in terms of what was a good thing or a bad thing. For her father, there was rarely any room in between.

When the world did dim to a shade of gray for some reason or other, her father would retreat to his study and retrieve his beloved Latin textbook from his school days. In spite of its age, the book remained in pristine condition. The binding was slightly broken, the spine no longer stiff, but there were no torn pages, no dog-ears, no pencil marks in the margins. As a child, Abigail would peek in the doorway while he pored over the pages of the tome as if it were a photo album. She longed to see what he saw.

Once she was old enough to read, Abigail’s father invited her into his study, sat her on his lap, and allowed her to open the book.

“I want you to listen to the words before I teach you what they mean,” he had said. “That will make them easier to learn, my sweet. Trust me.”

So began her Latin lessons, her father reading root upon root upon root. The rhythmic flick of the turning pages mingled with the Latin to form a melody that became the background music of her youth. As if hearing a fairy tale in a foreign language, Abigail intuited meaning beneath the words, and her love of language took hold there in her father’s study. It was a love that carried on through the books that filled the boxes cramming her station wagon. The chassis rode low because of the weight. She found reassurance in how heavy a book could be. Even paperbacks had heft in the palm. The fact that letters printed on paper could amass such gravity was a marvel. It made words even mightier to Abigail.

The books in the boxes were from her parents’ house, the stored surplus and castoffs of a once-substantial collection spanning a gamut of subjects from fiction to history, classics to the esoteric, first editions and signed copies, a private library she had spent years assembling. These books were the lone survivors of her collection. They were all Abigail had left.


  blandish (blan?dish), v.t. 1. to coax or influence by gentle flattery; cajole: They blandished the guard into letting them through the gate. —v.i. 2. to use flattery or cajolery. [1350–1400; ME blandisshen < AF, MF blandiss–, long s. of blandir < L blandiri to soothe, flatter. See BLAND, –ISH2] –blan ?disher, n.bland?dishingly, adv.

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