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 –
- Wherever Dash went, his guardians should agree with the deceased parents philosophically and theologically.
- 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.
- 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.