Prologue: August 20th

This is the first time Alice has been allowed to walk back to their campsite from the Kelp Shed alone.  She is fourteen, barefoot, her sneakers tied together by the laces and slung across her shoulder so she can feel the soft sandy dust of the single track road between her toes. Her sister Ellie fell asleep halfway through the square dance, dropping from hyper excitement to unconscious in a flash.  Her father carries Ellie draped over his shoulder and casually, or so it seems, her mother says, “Come home when the dance is done.”

She can hardly believe it.  The dance is still in her feet, still in her bones, the steps like an intricate game.  She danced with everyone and anyone at all, old and young, men and women, just to stay on the floor and moving.  The caller was a blind man with two fingers missing from his left hand.  His face was wrinkled and brown from the sun, his body heavy and the voice that called the steps strangely high and sweet.  A boy’s voice in a man’s body.  A boy’s wildness, as though he had no awareness of himself in his body.

She gave in, finally, and danced with her father — embarrassed to be asked by him, worried that everyone would be watching and judging and thinking her still a child.  But he surprises her.  He is a good dancer.  Precise.  His hands firm on her back or her hand or her arm.  She is suddenly dancing better than she has ever danced before, suddenly experiencing the freedom inside the squares.  She can let go because he is so confident.  She is tasting something adult, grown up, or almost tasting it.  It is just beyond her reach, this feeling, what it is, how to name it and understand it.  Now it is pure sensation, unadulterated fun. Years later she will remember his touch on her back, pulling her in, letting her go, her own helpless laughter, the way he guided her, his touch steady and strong, and how he held her close and let her go, over and over again.

The dust beneath her feet now is cool, the day’s heat long gone.  It is mid August and already you can feel fall coming with the way night rushes in.  She pulls on her sweater and as she crests the first hill she can see almost all of Small Point, the shape of the island dark against the water. She can hear the waves on the beach below her. There are fires still burning at a few campsites, but mostly it is true dark.  Alone on the road she stops.  What is she feeling?  Intensely awake.  Aware.  A bit scared.  She senses everything, her body open to the sky and the night, the smell of salt and pine and wood smoke, the wind, the scratchy wool of her old sweater, her hips loose in her jeans, her feet cool and tough and sure on the road.

In the distance she sees what look like stars on the water.  Following the dip in the road, she loses sight of them, but cresting the next hill she sees them again.  She breaks into a jog and follows the turn down to the water, away from her campsite.  There it is again.  Another curve and she can see where it is: the Devil’s Bathtub.  She is on the beach now, walking towards the outlying rock formation; a wide cleft in the rocks that becomes an eight foot pool at high tide and empties to sand at low tide.

There are fires on the water.  How can that be?  And now she sees them: a group of boys lighting small wooden rafts on fire and setting them afloat in this natural pool.  They are quiet, intent.  Why are they doing this?  It’s so beautiful, the small rafts floating, in flames, and then gone.

The boys have run out of boats; the last fire winks out.  Now they strip off their clothes, daring each other to dive in.  She crouches where she is, watching them, their pale bodies against the dark rock.  She has never seen a naked boy before; she is not close enough to see much; but their nakedness is loud in the dark.  Her eyes pass over each boy as though she could run a hand across a face or a chest, along a thigh.

She turns and lies in the sand, listening to their shouts as they dive and splash, listening as the cold and the search for their clothes quiets them.  And the sky overhead is raining stars.  These are the Perseids her father has told her about.  She wants to get up and go and find him, she wants to tell the boys, Look up!  Look up!  But she can’t move, there is magic occurring in front of her eyes.  The heavens are throwing jewels at her feet.  It is impossible, as impossible as fire on the water, as impossible as her hand on the chest of a naked boy, and yet here she is, seeing it with her own eyes.