Don handed the letters over my gate, asked how things were going. All I had to say was, “It’s today.”
I nodded and looked toward the water. Small clouds billowed in herds all afternoon.
“Those there are nice,” Don looked at the flower patch, “I’ll visit later.”
I nodded. There were some carnations, peppermint-specked, so I took out my pocket knife, said, “Might see you there,” and passed Don a stalk or two.
“I was thinking of him yesterday,” Don added. “Funny.”
Grief is of the earth because it approaches in a round way. I first spy its mainmast, then its spars, and as it keeps sailing toward me — the luff of its sails, hauling the weight. Sometimes when I’m feeling low about myself, Nathaniel comes waving from the deck, like lemon juice on some burning paper in my brain, a flashing, like these moonless nights when the surface of the living water teems with visitors from the deep, things only seen if you put a thimble of it under a microscope. Things that amaze.
Don has a share in a crabbing and lobster operation. His small crew oversees pots in the morning, and one was also in charge of deeper kennels. This time of year, lobsters are lean in their shells.
“I always loved summers when Nathaniel asked to come check the pots. Such good company, so observant,” Don put a hand on a hip and shifted his weight. “And smart. He’d notice things in the water I’d never known. Tell me dolphins were once cats, and whales were once wolves, and I’d never have believed it if any other kid said it.”
“What did he used to say…?”
Don laughed. “They have EARS in their JAWS!”
That was it. “He loved the sea,” I folded my arms.
“We all love Nathaniel.”
I looked down the lane to the harbor. I could see silvered tips of waves intermingled with bobbing masts and spars. Vessels for floating, for sailing. If you don’t know what an AAV is, it’s a tank and boat. Its 22 tons roll over land very well, but how does such a thing float? Its bilge pumps operate constantly, must continually displace water. Troops travel in a hold below watertight hatches. Those inside have no sense of time. Someone sometime said the pilot might open his watertight hatch and gun the engine for a cool spray of water. Maybe miscalculate. God knows it’s terrible the California coastline drops off so hysterically.
“I’ve got a migraine,” I said. My head was pounding.
My eyes shut.
“Does he visit?”
“Do you talk to him? It helps.”
“Keep talking to him.”
Don stood there a minute under the sun. “Well, I’ll see you.” He put the carnations across the dashboard of his Jeep. “Best get out of this sun.”
“Hmm.” I knocked on his hood and turned.
By evening, the moon glitched, hovered like a hologram behind fizzy clouds, creating tension in all my thoughts. I dropped things. All this week, the moon was a dry, cold prophet.
My dog was anxious and frantic when I walked up the lane toward Old Camp Hill. His paws scored the window ledge. The cemetery is a half-mile inland, a slight incline to a soft, ancient lane. There were British, Irish, and Spanish headstones, men whose barks had run aground, trapping them until life was lost. Nathaniel’s stone was new. Don’s soldier was in Arlington, far from here.
As I got to the row, I spotted the carnations. Six feet from the stone was Don in a lawn chair. When he saw me approach, he got up and retrieved another. There was a little cooler. I sat, and Don handed me a bottle of ale and his church-key.
“To Nathaniel,” Don said. Our bottles tapped.
We sat there, finished a second beer. Nathaniel’s pilot had turned up a suicide last week, all these years later. The bloom of it. The earth turned. The Milky Way glistered. The limbs above us, their black panes held washes of pale light.
A.E. Weisgerber is from Orange, NJ, and is a Chesapeake Writer, Frost Place Scholar, Reynolds Fellow, and Assistant Series Editor for the Wigleaf Top 50. Follow @aeweisgerber or visit neutralspaces.co/aeweisgerber
Photograph by Maxmillian Weisbecker