Duxbury Beach, 1991
by Susan T. Landry

For a moment I think I’ll fall. I don’t know how to find my way anymore in a tilted landscape; the world around me is as unstable and disturbing to my body as the pitch and roll of a dory lost at sea. The metal step that juts from the threshold of the truck-sized station wagon is high, higher than feels right. The friend called Jethro is sitting in the driver’s seat, and puts out a hand to steady me and at the same time lifts me up, until suddenly I am sitting in the wide seat beside him. Three little girls sit on the frayed maroon seat behind us with their mother, Donna, who is pregnant. A small boy freckled and stocky, with a crewcut the color of sand, sits astride the gearshift. His name is Nolan, named for the Hall of Fame pitcher; the new baby will be Dewey, after the Red Sox right fielder. The girls have names as soft and as meltingly sweet as pink cotton candy: Tiffany, Brittany, and Ashley.

I hardly know these people, although I have spent many long days sitting near them at the beach. I have never said more than a few words to Jethro, although I believe, in this dream state, that I know him well, and I have tender feelings for him. He is a large man, like the TV character for whom he’s nicknamed, and has strong, capable hands. Like many of my brother’s friends, he seems to have stalled in a more attractive station in life than full adulthood, somewhere in the long passageway after leaving high school.

He came to visit Mark once in the hospital when I was there. I was sitting quietly next to my brother’s bed, and it was just the two of us, a peaceful corner. Mark was drifting in and out of sleep, and I was
curled up in a large chair, content to be with him. I can’t remember why he was there, whether it was surgery, or more chemo; looking back it seems odd that we should have been enjoying such a restful time, there were usually nurses bustling about and monitors beeping. But I remember only tranquility, the room filled with white light from the curtained window.

Jethro walked into the room; I had never met him, and because he was so large and because I was half dozing myself, I was startled. He looked at the bed, and then sat down in the other chair. He said gruffly: "Hi, I’m Paul, I’m a buddy of Mark’s." I introduced myself as Mark’s sister, and Paul said, "Mark talks about you a lot. You’re from New York City, right?" He said New Yawk, the way some people in Massachusetts do, and in that slightly awed tone most of my brother’s friends used when they contemplated the idea of living in such a big, unfriendly place. I confessed that New York was my home, and we fell silent. Then, less than two minutes later, Paul stood up, and said, "Well, tell Mark I came by. I’ll catch him next time." And he left.

When Mark woke up, I said your friend Paul came to see you. Mark shook his head to wave away the chemical dullness and said, Paul…who the hell is that? Then he laughed, and he said, was he tall, and kind of heavy? I nodded, and Mark said, "That was Jethro!"

Jethro is driving the head car of the procession. The motor makes the chassis vibrate like a mastiff on a choke leash as the big Chevy lurches off the dirt road. The tires paw deep ruts as we idle for a moment while Jethro does something with the gears that will allow the animal inside the machine to run free. Suddenly, we roar into action, and the car surges forward; we roll along for a mile or two, slowly now but with all the power and grace of Hannibal’s great beasts of war. We rise to the crest of the highest dune, and Jethro releases the gas pedal as the ocean swells to meet us. The bottomless blue is blinding, too beautiful to take in, and I turn my head to look behind us.

The long train of jeeps, dune buggies, and pick-up trucks ripples in the sun, the light flashes off the flanks of solid metal and sheets of color shimmer and melt into rivers of warm, pale sand. The cars far away at the end of the line move in fits and starts, catching up; a parade of salt-beaten chrome and enamel sparkles in the early morning glow of this sad and brilliant June day.

I see Holly and Richard’s white jeep with the bleached-out canvas top, and the world starts to swim around me again, sucking me deep into a vortex of loss and grief so thick and airless that I gasp out loud. The white jeep: Holly had given us a ride out to this very spot just two weeks ago.

It was Memorial Day weekend, and I’d left New York at four in the morning to beat the holiday traffic. It had been cool and overcast when I got to my mother’s house, but Mark was already up and dressed in his jeans and his sweatshirt, sitting in his wheelchair, ready to go. Mark said, call Holly, we’re going to the beach. I looked at him dubiously as it didn’t really look like a beach day to me, and I knew his whole crowd was planning a beach party for the next day, Sunday. He glared at me and
rasped louder Call Holly. Although he had made progress since the stroke, his vocal chords had atrophied, and his voice was low and scratchy. Still, he made it known what he wanted. I called Holly and she agreed to take us out to High Pines, a crested dune marked by a few scrub pine--my brother’s favorite spot on the seven-mile stretch of beach. She warned us, though, that she could only drop us off as she had other plans, but Mark would not be deterred. He said other people would come later; we could always hitch a ride home. So I packed up the cooler with lunch and drinks, and off we went.

At first I was nervous, anxious that Mark would be too cold, the weather would turn on us, and rain would sweep in, there’d be nobody to give us a ride back... But finally, I stopped worrying and let the glory of the day carry us forward. The sun rose in the sky and the thin clouds dispersed, the sand heated up, and we unzipped our sweatshirts. We sat there on the beach, looking at the water, listening to the waves lap at the shore, and we watched the piping plovers skitter along in the tidal
rivulets. My brother and I sat there under the late May sun until the shadows of the scrub pine drew thin etchings on the silvery dunes. Every second of that day will live forever; I sat there with my brother until time stood still.

Mark died five days later.

The trucks and cars have all come to a stop on a strip of the beach that is wide and flat. The tide is low, and children are hopping down from the jeeps and leaping off the backs of pick-ups. The grownups move more slowly, they are more reluctant to join the gathering that begins to form at the slope of the dune. The plateau called High Pines shelters us from the light wind that flutters the tall dune grass. It is a bright green this early in the summer, not the sun-washed gold I associate with
the drier, dusty days of August.

I look at the faces around me, and although they all seem familiar, it is as though they are made of cardboard, like masks, or painted in tempera, like a child’s mural in a school corridor. I have a poem
written on a slip of paper and I start to read the words. It is a poem by Robert Louis Stevenson, and although I know it by heart, I am looking at the words as I say them. My eyes gather the symbols from the page and somehow translate them so that sounds are coming out of my mouth. Under
the wide and starry sky…

And then I scatter his ashes.

The friends go back to their cars and trucks and there is a low growl as the sparks reawake the slumbering engines; the big wide tires creep forward as the drivers maneuver their vehicles in the sand for the return journey. This time, Jethro’s car is last in line and I sit beside him and I stare out the window at the ocean. The sea has turned to the color of lead as a caravan of clouds obscures the sun for a moment, and I feel the chill as we move slowly away from the ceremony of sorrow. I look out at the dull sea and in a futile gesture, I grasp my left hand with my right hand and I dig my fingernails into my skin so hard that white crescents rise from the mounds of my palm. The solicitation of pain does no good; it is as though I, too, have departed from this world.


Author Biography
I grew up in southeastern Massachusetts, but lived for twenty years in New York City. After commuting back and forth to be with my brother during the last years of his life, and then the next year, to attend to my dying mother—I finally bought an old summer cottage and moved to a small town near Cape Cod. I am married to an artist, and have one son and four stepchildren.

I am a writer and editor by trade, specializing in medical and health information, but recently have begun to explore memoir writing. I have been published by the online journal Brevity and accepted for
publication in the Spring 2002 edition of New Works Review.

Loss  | Vashon | Services | Art | Poetry | Store | Contact

© 1999 KotaPress All rights reserved.  ISSN 1534-1410
Please direct comments regarding this web site to