“And you remember nothing about the accident?”

Dash snapped back to the drab office and was immediately reminded of how uncomfortable he was. The ragged tear in the arm of his chair was directly under his right elbow, and there was no way to avoid it except to lean on the other arm, which was inexplicably lower.

“Sorry?” he asked.

The psychologist stared at him with hard eyes and scribbled on his yellow pad so forcefully the pad trembled as it seemed to resist the needle-like point of the pen.  Dash guessed that this written reminder was related to making good on the threat to prescribe Adderall for his attention deficit. He considered the probability that many of the doctor’s patients – particularly young patients like himself who had to endure the dry, methodically paced lectures – found themselves diagnosed with ADHD.

Finally Dr. Roose spoke, slower this time, giving every word its proper weight and then some.

“You remember nothing about the accident?”


“No, sir.”

“No, sir.”

The older man’s brow furrowed as he tried to work out whether his pupil was being obedient or facetious. He decided to let it go, but Dash knew he was adding it to all the other small incidents and would take his revenge when the sum reached its zenith.

“Strange. Given that it was such a traumatic experience for you, I would have thought even at that age you’d have some memory of it.”

“No. Sir.” he quickly corrected himself.

“That makes me wonder about the validity of your other memories. It’s not consistent, is it? That you’d remember your parents’ faces and your vacation. Perhaps you manufactured those memories, or perhaps you dreamed…”

“I can see their faces. I have pictures, so I know it was them.”

“Well, the memories could have come from the pictures.”

“No. Their expressions are different. And… Joe had a beard. Sir.”

At first, the good doctor wasn’t sure how to respond. But his training and his general estimation of himself remedied that problem fairly quickly.

“No need to be so defensive, Dashiell.”  He refused to abbreviate the boy’s name. He must have felt it was high time this kid learned to respond to his proper Christian moniker. “Everyone’s memory is flawed. Even mine.” He smiled a patronizing smile – possibly deducing this last proclamation should create some common ground.

It wasn’t the first time Dash heard that particular note ring in the other man’s voice and he knew there was no use arguing the point. He relaxed and tried to summon the waves and the fog.


“Certainly your vacation could’ve been manufactured. It’s possible you disguised the accident as a holiday.”


He stared at the man across from him with a thousand yard stare that was, frankly, troubling coming from a child of his tender years. “I was in Nantucket.”

“No, sir.”

Dash remained stubbornly mute, and the psychologist did not push the point but made another angry footnote.

“You wouldn’t remember the place though, would you? You were only two years old.”

“Two and a half.”

“That hardly makes any difference. It could’ve been any beach anywhere, if it actually existed. The place you’re talking about is very expensive. Your parents wouldn’t have had the means to travel there on their modest income unless they robbed a bank.” He chuckled softly at his little joke. An oldie but a goodie, he might have thought to himself.

Dash bristled against his better instincts. He was remarkably composed for a twelve-year-old, but he couldn’t resist the hook Dr. Roose had baited.

“I remember the house. I remember the windmill and the whale bones.”

“You could’ve seen those in a book.” His inquisitor smiled that smile that meant he was pleased with himself.

“I never saw any books on Nantucket.” This wasn’t strictly true, but Dr. Roose didn’t need to know that. Besides, the only books he’d seen had black-and-white pictures and he recollected the vivid colors as clearly as the images.

“You could have dreamed it. As I said.”

“You might not know the difference between the real world and a dream but I do.”

“Watch your tone”, the doctor growled.

“How could I remember it in such detail? How could I remember the pink flowers on the little trees? SIR?”

That one was definitely facetious. The yellow pad endured yet another scribble.

“Well, I’ve never been there, so I wouldn’t know. But my point is, you might not, either. Meaning, one, you might not know and two, you might not have been there. You see, Dashiell, we all take our paths in life, and you, sir, have to take care of that you aren’t traveling the road of least resistance just because…”

As his rant continued, Dash tried once again to drift out with the fog, but he found his anger and frustration prevented this. He managed a sideways glance at the clock… Fifteen minutes left. Fifteen whole minutes. Time had a way of slowing down in Dr. Roose’s presence, and his naturally slow, strangely pitched voice stabbed into every inch of Dash’s consciousness, a torture of Dash’s own making – when would he learn not to rise to every challenge, fall for every ploy?

Mercifully, his mind was finally distracted by those two stone markers, irrefutable proof of the boundaries of Nantucket, irrefutable proof that the town indeed existed outside his imagination, and, in his young mind, irrefutable proof that he had been there. He saw himself on that shrouded beach with all the other tourists flitting in and out, a ghost himself viewing his ghostly past life.

And as he watched himself it struck him that this exercise secured his sanity much more effectively than any ten of the sessions he was currently enduring.

Chapter 1: Two Stone Markers

The town of Nantucket is delineated to the north and to the south by two stone markers.


It wasn’t until he was much older that Dash realized he had been kidnapped.

That his kidnappers were relatives who were certain they were doing what was best for him was hardly germane to the issue. Upon his parents’ demise and as all the investigations died down there was great concern over his well being but little direction as to how that would be addressed.

Joe Roman hated the whole idea of writing out a will, figuring out how his things would be divided, drafting an inventory of his life entire, claiming once and for all this was who he was in material form… that concept of worth and value disturbed him. But here we must note that Joe was, in some respects, an incredibly lazy man. He might work tirelessly and late into the wee hours on a project for days at a time, and he had an adverse reaction to letting anyone down, but he would rather piss the bed than take the short walk to the bathroom at 2 am. It never came to that (finally he forced himself up when the pressure of the smooth muscle against his bladder refused to relent) but there were more than a few close calls. So some combination of dread and laziness led to procrastination and the will he left was incomplete and nonspecific.

Margot, Dash’s mother, was more pragmatic… there had been many late night conversations with her lackadaisical husband on the subject and she had made notes based on those conversations. So their will for their WILL was determined, but there was no legal force behind these scribblings and no notary public was ever involved. If anyone cared to investigate, their wishes could be divined and their central wish was that in the unlikely event that something might happen to them Dash would be sent to live with their dear friends in Astoria, Queens.

For Margot there was no deliberation over this, it was an obvious notion. Joe, on the other hand, picked over the subject endlessly.

Among the prerequisites for his possible successors –

  1. Wherever Dash went, his guardians should agree with the deceased parents philosophically and theologically.
  2. Dash needed to be surrounded by a vibrant culture, by many cultures, in point of fact, in a place where he would have access to the world. If ever Dash prepared for his second grade history test recounting the events of Gettysburg or Valley Forge, Joe had always imagined he would take his young son to see those very sites firsthand so the boy could picture Pickett’s Charge or the men nursing their frostbitten toes. And a Picasso or Van Gogh would always be close at hand in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where you could get so close you could count the brush strokes on the canvas.
  3. Joe didn’t want Dash going to one of his sisters or his wife’s brother… they already had children, and Dash needed to know he was special, loved specifically, and not feel he was an add-on or a burden to a family that already felt the press of whatever the current economy was.

While Margot and Joe took different routes to arrive at their choice of guardian for their tiny jewel they independently arrived at the same doorstep and took this as a sign that the boy was destined to this fate should the unthinkable happen. Their dear friends, Henrique and Juliana, agreed in principal to the arrangement, and all that was left was the organization of these thoughts into a draft that a lawyer could look over, that would then be redrafted and stamped by a notary public, but the holiday in Nantucket (from which there was no return) came sooner than Joe or Margot expected.

Dashiell, who was only months into his second year, remembered the funeral in flashes. Henrique led the services, along with two other pastors, and into his adulthood Dash could still summon the image of his intended guardian, arms above his head, hands wafting through the air as if they were conducting a holy orchestra or conjuring a spell that opened the doors of heaven. He saw the two tightly closed coffins stretching out in front of the altar. He could picture, or imagined he could picture, Juliana looking at him, her eyes streaming with tears as some authority or other carted him away. Where exactly? He couldn’t remember that part. To some cold office where he would sit until someone finally came to claim him? To a sort of group home for wayward toddlers? Prison? After all, it was his fault that one of the two people resting in one of the two coffins would soon be dipped into the cold ground outside the church.

These memories danced at the periphery of his imagination, never solid but not dreamlike, either… more like old film projected on a billowing curtain, the Super 8 film of his father’s youth, with all the scratches and pops and the focus warped by the constantly moving surface so that certain parts of the picture were solid and the rest was diffused. Those flashes from the funeral weren’t the only images, or even his earliest memories. He remembered his mother’s smile, patient or longsuffering… he couldn’t decide which. He remembered his father better, a large man with twinkling eyes leaning over him, demonstrating one toy after another then flying him through the air like Superman, around corners and over counter tops. Always laughing and always warm to the touch as though he had an internal furnace which ran constantly. Dash could feel the rise and fall of his father’s chest and stomach when father and son rested together, and he remembered the view across the room, a white chair tucked under a tiny desk, undulating to Joe’s deep breathing like one of those buoys you’d see at the beach.

And of course he remembered Nantucket.

Those memories were different from the others, somehow. Sharper. Real and surreal at the same time. Green fields with tiny flames of red flowers sprinkled throughout. Lonely roads that cut through the pink blossoms and the divided wilderness closing in on both sides. The backs of Joe’s legs pumping as he peddled the blue bicycle – all Dash could see through the mesh of his covered child trailer – while the bike grudgingly pressed forward, towing him.

He could still imagine Madaket Beach at the end of that bike trail,  muted by the fog that made the couples walking hand in hand along the wet sand appear as some spectral phenomenon, spirits slipping in and out of a distant past. And candy cane colored Sankaty lighthouse, where he buried his face in his mother’s blue dress to protect his tiny face from the wind. And the woods and ocean beyond viewed from the widow’s walk atop the enormous house with the typical grey siding and white trim.

Finally, he recollected the two worn stone markers that defined the north and south ends of the town, placed twenty years before the Union and the Confederacy clashed. He couldn’t recall who had shown him, or how he knew they marked the boundaries of Nantucket proper.

But he remembered nothing… after. Nothing until the visions of coffins and hands dancing in the air and tears pouring out of a kind face (like water trickling down one of those fountains you’d see on the counter of a Chinese restaurant). And nothing for a long time past that.

He returned to the cemetery some years later to visit the graves. The stones that had been chosen weren’t fancy, just two monoliths side by side…  not paired on one larger, fancier stone as many of the families had been. Margot, ever practical, would have approved.

Dash found this concept of tombstones with a single family name confusing — usually names of great local significance, cut deep and bold, as though to say, remember we were important here. Remember we ran this church once (the preacher’s stones were never so gaudy or important, only the families that started the church or had great influence. Preachers tended to move from church to church in those days, possibly because they felt they were needed elsewhere, or because the congregation thought they were needed elsewhere).

Inside the church the pews are dedicated, row by row, to the same families, a little bronze plaque noting who sat where. Who wanted the next to last row, Dash would later wonder. Who was so determined to have a pew that they affixed their name to the least significant bench? Was it that important to be remembered? Maybe. Maybe it was. Death is the great equalizer, goes the cliché, but don’t we value Alexander Hamilton more than the poor soul in the pauper’s grave? Death may make the dead equal but the living assign value even to the tomb.

These earlier memories had been poured over in session after session with Dr. Roose, who seemed obsessed with stretching the lurking symbolism he assigned to its breaking point.  Did he remember any conversations?  No, he was too young to understand English.  How did he know his mother was patient or long-suffering or that his father was lazy?  He had heard stories, and the rest he had extracted from sketches of their personalities.  Why was the site of their final family vacation so important?

Dash felt that answer should be obvious to the psychologist, but he stayed silent… in truth, he didn’t have a clear path to this particular why.

His mind drifted in the sessions.  He hadn’t asked to be there and he didn’t think anything was broken in his brain.  The visits didn’t seem to settle his id… To the contrary he usually left the office feeling muddled and by the time he readjusted it was time for another appointment.  His best defense, therefore, was not to listen, and the good doctor didn’t seem to mind… Dr. Roose treated these tête-à-têtes as a classroom lecture, droning on and on while Dash let his consciousness drift, his body tethered to the pleather chair, his mind fixed on wave after ghostly wave breaking through the fog of a distant beach.


Prologue: What Might Have Been


While the fact that he killed his father cast a shade over his life, what Dashiell Roman failed to comprehend was that his father, given a list of choices, died exactly as he might have hoped.

If at some juncture in Dash’s youth some kindly soul had casually intimated the notion that “Joe wouldn’t’ve had it any other way” the boy might have –- might have, mind you, there’s no certainty of this — lived as many of his peers lived. Not free from worry. Not easier, even. But the trials, traumas, tribulations and terrors might have been closer to the norm of the human condition, if norms there be… Not underlined by the erroneous understanding that Josiah Roman died wishing the child might not have been born, or that his son might not have accompanied him and his wife on holiday (that his mother had died at roughly the same moment was not his doing, at least he didn’t haul that burden).

But the benevolent community that formed around him in the aftermath of “all that unpleasantness” set the mold early on by simply avoiding the subject, as they believed this action the only christian thing to do. He was raised in the church and he retained some belief in the grand institution, but not one question ever arose that he didn’t ask the Almighty why things must come to pass as they did.   So for Dash Roman, God was more reminder than comfort.

And then there was analysis. Perhaps if the psychologist assigned to him by his community (again, out of compassion) possessed some sliver of competence, Dash might have accepted or even owned the event. A relative recollected that Pastor Bart, in one of his winding sermons, waxed nostalgic about a seminary chum who had “drifted from the divine call” to pursue the mysteries of the mind. This wannabe but not-to-be man of the cloth maintained a practice not ten miles from the church. Dash’s guardians were easily impressed… In their minds, every doctor was akin to Freud, every detective akin to Sherlock, every chef akin to Julia.

Alas, the aggregate of skilled and successful doctors share closer ties with the aggregate of skilled and successful educators, librarians or janitors. That is to say a small fraction can be referred to truthfully as “geniuses” and a somewhat larger fraction “good”. The great majority fall into the “reliable enough” or the “adequate”. Somewhere between the overall count of the “genius” and the “good” number the QUACKS. It cannot be fairly ascertained that Dr. Roose was a QUACK — the term shifts from instance to instance — but neither could he place himself in the category of the “good” or even the “reliable” or “adequate”. In any case, the “inadequate” therapist had never known Joe and possibly opined that Dash’s life was the bane of his father’s.

The measure of damage inflicted to young Dash’s psyche cannot be told, but damage there was, and that damage carried through to maturity. Finally, the suggestion that his father might have wanted to end in such a manner, given any method available, constituted offense in the elder Dash’s mind. Thus that damaged mind would have discarded the suggestion along with any association to the “suggestor”.

This, then, is not a story about what might have been, though it wishes it were. No, this is the story of what happened. As with all stories, moments of sadness are punctuated by joy and moments of joy by sadness, but one theme underscores every line that follows… This is the story of a boy who, much as he might have tried, could not bring back his father.