Two days later Mother was wearing those shorts again, even though it was a rather cool day. This time when Evan arrived, her smile was spontaneous, and she had a look of reckless joy on her face. This time, along with the fish, Evan brought Mother a bouquet of wild lupines that he’d picked along the way to our cottage. He confessed it proudly, then handed the flowers to her with a look of school-boy innocence. But there was something more in those aqua eyes of his, and Sonja pulled a chair up alongside our Monopoly table and took a sudden interest in the game.
From that day on, whenever he delivered the fish, Mother asked Evan in for lunch and a cup of King Cole tea. And she told him to call her June. One day he brought her a cookbook of East Coast recipes, another day a basket brimming with wild berries. Sometimes he brought us children curious shells or lobster claws, or tiny living crabs that had gotten tangled in his nets. He was friendly and open with all of us, relating tales of his voyages “out to sea” in his father’s boat, storms he’d encountered, rescues he’d assisted in, friends he had lost. He spoke softly in his lilting East Coast accent, his voice washing over us like a warm tide. We were all drawn to his salty, sunburned smell, his reckless smile and his astonishing aqua eyes. And always, day after day, Mother’s radio station would be playing on in the background.
As Mother grew more accustomed to his presence, she would go about her household chores, washing up dishes, baking dessert for dinner, or sweeping sand out the door. And she would sand dance with her broom, fully aware of Evan’s eyes following the graceful curves of her body as she spun effortlessly about the room. Sitting inattentively at our Monopoly table, feigning interest in the game, Sonja would watch them furtively, and frown.
It was on one of the days when Mother was sand dancing that everything changed again. Evan cut in on the broom. She was only flustered for a moment, but as Evan’s hands gripped her waist, the thrill of actually dancing with someone overcame her, and she threw back her head, shook her chestnut mane and laughed out loud.
“He wants her,” Sonja whispered to us with alarm. We didn’t know what she meant.
“Yeah. He wants to dance with her. Aren’t they great together,” I said. Peter and I started to clap, and Sonja stared at both of us with horrified amazement.
After that they sand danced every day. Whenever the screen door slammed atnoon, Mother would look up with a new spark in her eyes and an eager smile on her full coral lips. Something was going on between them, yet our presence made it benign in a way–something that would never truly take root. On the day he slipped his hand up the back of her pop top and she let out a startled gasp, Sonja whispered “cool”, and the three of us watched in stunned silence. She didn’t move his hand, either.
Where was Father while all of this was happening? Watching birds, of course, as inattentive as ever towards our mother. He had contacted ornithological societies in the region and was always racing off to reported sightings by other avid birders. He was gone most of the day, but on the days that he did arrive early, the slam of his car door would alert Mother and Evan. They would part nonchalantly if they’d been dancing, and sit innocently at the table to continue their idle chatter.
“Father is clueless,” Sonja whispered to us once, after he’d virtually exploded into the kitchen, his face joyous and animated, and begun describing to all of us the coveted specimen that he’d spotted earlier that afternoon. “Totally clueless,” she said.
“Why?” I asked, and she stared at me in disbelief.
Even though Father had begun to question the over-consumption of fish at our meals (fish sandwiches packed for his bird-watching expeditions, fish chowder, fish baked, barbecued, fried, broiled, fish salad, fish everything) he even went so far as to ask how Evan was doing, and to comment on what a charming lad he was.
“Oh, he’s charming all right,” Sonja would say, and Mother would stare her down with an icy smile and add, “He certainly is, William.”
I suppose Peter and I were as naive and unsuspecting as our father. We enjoyed Evan’s company and his fond attentiveness, and it wasn’t until years later, when I understood what irrepressible longing was all about, that the true intent of his visits became clear to me. But it all ended one day, just as suddenly as it had all begun.
As usual, they were sand dancing after lunch. It had become a customary part of Evan’s visits, but now there wasn’t any space between their bodies. He had trouble keeping his hands off our mother by the end of the third week, too. His eyes seemed to absorb her, to drink her in like some powerful elixir. His gaze was heavy and penetrating, full of an emotion which Peter and I couldn’t understand. Mother absorbed his attention like a dried-up sea sponge, and it was beginning to overpower her as well.
Sonja was asleep on a towel out in the hot sand—a part of her lazy vacation routine. So when the screen door slammed, we all thought she coming inside to cool off. Evan and Mother just kept on dancing, and Peter and I didn’t even glance up from our Monopoly game, until we heard Father’s voice.
“I ran out of gas down the road and…” He stopped.
We looked up to see Sonja standing in the doorway behind him, in shocked silence. Mother and Evan froze in their steps. Mother’s eyes had the look of a wary sparrow. It was clear that they had been touching. Father saw Evan’s hands dropping quickly from Mother’s waist. He stood watching, assessing the damage, perhaps. And something changed in his face, a flood of insight that rushed in like a tidal bore.
Father took a measured step forward and set his field guide carefully on the countertop. Then he did the proper and gentlemanly thing. He cut in on Evan with a polite bow. From where we were sitting, we saw Mother’s shaken face blossom into a coy smile, as Evan, flushed now, stepped aside. And then our father did something completely contrary to his nature. He pulled Mother in close, placed his hand on her buttock and gently nuzzled her neck!
“William,” Mother whispered, and I saw her blush for the second time in my life. Evan slipped out the door without slamming it. We didn’t even see him leave.
Father never objected to Mother’s music after that. Sometimes he even danced with her right there in the kitchen, the two of them swirling and sliding barefoot across the gritty floor, laughing and embracing as they second-guessed each other’s moves. She took to wearing filmy cotton dresses, and those shorts were put into retirement. And he invited all of us along on his bird watching expeditions, an opportunity which Sonja politely declined, but Peter and I leapt at for the sake of going somewhere.
Even though our father never did learn to dance a step without looking as clumsy as a blue-footed booby out of water (as he described himself), and even though our mother never could tell a plover from a sandpiper, somehow the final weeks of that summer by the sea brought all of us closer together.
My most vivid memory is the sight of Mother in a billowy sun dress, sashaying barefoot across the sand beside Father as we set off to watch birds. With one hand she clasped her straw hat in the brisk sea breeze. Father? He had his field guide tucked under his arm, as usual. And he clutched our mother’s free hand as if he feared she might flutter off suddenly, like one of his coveted specimens.