Jennifer Dunn Stewart

Home from Nantucket

What she will remember about that morning won’t be the sky, though this will be what so many will remember. How it was so blue and cloudless. She won’t remember the ocean either, though the Atlantic was emerald colored and dolphins braided the ferry wake, which was rare. She won’t remember the static on the radio in the Celica, buried six rows deep on the vehicle deck, before it stuttered into clarity as the ferry shouldered the shoreline at Hyannis, coming into range of Route 6 toward home.

Two decades later, a whole new generation will be drinking in the same bar off Boston Common she and Emmet will frequent on Sundays, the one near the duplex they’ll buy during the market crash. A whole new generation will be doing things like falling in love and voting and preparing for medical school, and they won’t think of that morning as any more historically significant than Pearl Harbor or the Bay of Pigs. Even as far into the future as that, all she will remember is that it was the morning she realized she should never have married Emmet at all.

Emmet said, are we at war? His cheeks were ruddy with wind. They had only come below deck to sit in the Celica and wait to disembark moments before. He fiddled with the radio dial. The coupe was hot and their luggage piled in the backseat made the space feel collapsed and near. She rolled down her window, smelling nothing but exhaust and oil, the sea as separate from them on the vehicle deck as if they were in a parking garage in Waltham. Other passengers were in their cars too, adjusting their radios and peering around as if the state of the ferry itself might illuminate something. But nothing was yet new. The deckhands waited on the loading ramp, a giant chain between them and the bank of cars. The ferry slowed, fumes and water churning as if through a gut.

What the fuck, Emmet repeated, are we at war? He reached for her hand and they interlaced their fingers. They squeezed so tightly their knuckles went white. She loved him. This is what she thought, even as the first tower fell and she lost herself in the fantasy of being in New York City instead of on the ferry with Emmet. Somewhere very near, like Tribeca or Battery Park. Near enough that everyone would assume she was dead, but instead she would escape on foot across the Brooklyn Bridge all the way to Montauk, then travel south along the shoreline and settle someplace hectic— Atlantic City maybe, or Miami.

Over the decades, books will be written and movies made with characters in them who do this. She will read and watch them all. Of course, they will only be fictions. All the real people who actually had the opportunity will have long been assumed dead. Eventually, this will obsess her— at the organ level, like a bacteria or cancer— all those anonymous people out there who might be so free.

The ferry bumped the dock. Emmet didn’t let go of her hand, but instead started the engine by reaching his left arm across his lap. He said Jesus, we’ve got to get to a TV. The deckhands lifted the chain, and row by row the cars rolled out into the world.

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Jennifer Dunn Stewart’s work appears or is forthcoming in Monkeybicycle, decomP magazinE, Eclectica, The Los Angeles Review, Night Train, and elsewhere. Jennifer Is the fiction editor at River Styx.