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Porch Lights(5)
Dorothea Benton Frank

“One more thing: you don’t have to be sad every minute of the night and day, you know. And you can talk to me about it anytime you want.”

“That’s two things.”


I sighed then, realizing we were little more than two hurt birds flying back to the mother nest to heal. I hoped I had made a good decision. A long vacation of salted breezes, hammocks to while away steamy afternoons, building sand castles, and making ice cream with my sweet dad—all those things could go a long way to mend our broken hearts. I hoped.

Chapter 2

Near the western extremity, where Fort Moultrie stands . . . is covered with a dense undergrowth of the sweet myrtle . . . attains the height of fifteen or twenty feet . . . burthening the air with its fragrance.

—Edgar Allan Poe, “The Gold-Bug”

Meet Annie Britt

Frankly, we had precious little to say to each other, but because he actually took his Old Man and the Sea hand off his fishing rod long enough to call me, I spoke to him. I had not heard from my estranged husband since the funeral. Of course, I was very polite to him. If I hadn’t known better I’d have said the spirit of James McMullen was conspiring to have us kiss and make up, but I don’t believe in that kind of nonsense. Well, not as a general rule. And that’s not why he called anyway. Buster, as he was known to all, had been to visit our daughter, Jackie, and our adorable grandson, Charlie, way up the road in Brooklyn, New York, and he didn’t like what he found. Like I had? Who in the world would be happy to see their daughter and her little boy struggling under the weight of that kind of traumatic and horrendous loss?

I mean, I don’t want to sound judgmental, but Buster’s not exactly the expert of the world on the hearts of women and children. Apparently there had been a recent conversation between Jackie and Buster, and apparently Jackie had cried him a river. Weeping is not my daughter’s style. At all. She’s a soldier, for heaven’s sake! But everyone has a limit of what they can endure. His call truly alarmed me. Truly.

She told Buster that she’s very, very worried about Charlie. He wasn’t coping well. He was having terrible nightmares, he was lethargic and not eating well. Oh, my poor dear little grandson! And just the idea of my daughter sobbing made my chest tighten. Buster, unsure of how to handle her, did the right thing. He brought the problem to me. As! He! Should! Have! After all, I was still the mother of the family, even if our child was a military nurse, toting a loaded gun around the world and even though her father preferred the waters seventy-seven miles to the north.

I called Jackie immediately and pleaded with her to spend the balance of the summer with me on the island. Maybe beseech is the better word because it was more begging than pleading. Oh, she hemmed and hawed around for a while, and suddenly to my astonishment, she gave in, making me swear on a stack of Bibles not to spoil Charlie rotten. I promised enormous personal restraint and thought, Gosh, that wasn’t nearly as difficult as I thought it would be, which was an indication of how worried she must be. And if she was that worried, maybe she needed to stay here for longer than a few weeks. There was no reason I could fathom for her to go back to Brooklyn. Why would anyone want to live in a place like that anyway? Glory be to God! All that noise? And it’s so cold in the winter! And you take your life in your hands every time you cross the streets with cars and taxis and ambulances zipping all around you like madmen! And the subway? Let’s just say I’d rather walk ten miles in the pouring rain than go all the way underground just to get across town—I’d be underground for good soon enough.

She could practice nursing at the VA hospital right here in Charleston, and Aunt Maureen could visit anytime. I liked Maureen. Not spoil Charlie? Let me tell you this: if you were ever caught in those enormous blue eyes, flashing from behind his stick-straight black bangs that longed for a trim (in my estimation), you’d open your heart and your wallet and give the boy everything in the world.

I knew I drove my daughter out of her mind some of the time. To be honest, she drove me a little batty too. She internalizes every blessed thing and broods, while I like to think of myself as liberated from the shackles of social convention, you know, undaunted by anything life throws my way and unafraid to speak from my heart. She thinks I’m too dramatic, which is patently ridiculous, and I think she’s not dramatic enough. Cleopatra was dramatic. Holly Golightly was dramatic. Lady Gaga is dramatic. I was perfectly in control of my personal theater, but the truth? I was very excited they were coming.

Even my house was buzzing with anticipation as though the floors and walls and windows knew that Jackie and Charlie were coming home. The sun was shining, and gorgeous breezes drifted from room to room, laced with the smells of the sea. It was Saturday and a perfect summer day, barely a drop of humidity and somewhere around seventy-five degrees. Who needed air-conditioning? I hardly ever used it unless the temperature was over one hundred degrees.

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