Authors: Dennis Yates
After Ann helped carry Walter’s groceries to his car, she returned to the register and sat down with the local paper to finish an article she’d started earlier about minus tides. An extremely low minus tide was expected in two days, exposing places along the coastline and the bay that hadn’t been seen for years. When the last one occurred the remains of ancient trees had been unearthed—tar-black, seaweed-bearded stumps mostly—as well as the bleached skeletal remains of an old ship had been discovered. Ann was no stranger to the low tides, and when she was younger she would set her alarm clock so she could get down to the beach and see what she could find. The sensation was always unusual—to be able to finally walk around starfish-covered boulders and tide pools that were normally inaccessible.
It wasn’t surprising to Ann that the dramatically low tides had found a permanent niche in her subconscious. She would often dream about them—find herself walking ever further away from the beach she knew and into a subterranean world of unusual landscapes and sunken treasure. Normally such dreams were pleasant and hard to let go, but occasionally they would turn into nightmares. One in particular involved the large seamount that stood a quarter mile off the coast and provided a home to puffins and gulls. Ann dreamed that she was able to walk out to it and climb up it, and when she got to the top she discovered a secret house carved deep into the basalt. There was no one there when she went inside—only musty maps and brass telescopes—but fascinating anyway and in the dream she’d become so distracted that she’d forgotten to keep an eye out for the incoming tide. When she did finally look out of the stone turret, the tide was all the way in to shore and she’d been faced by the terrifying realization that she was trapped.
A couple of tourists from the Midwest came in to buy candy and postcards, peppered her with questions about the area and how bad the storms got. Ann told them about a battering winter storm a couple of years earlier. How the waves had broken through the picture windows of a beachfront restaurant and carried away an entire bar in the middle of the night. People were still finding full bottles, some crusted with barnacles from years at sea, but amazingly the contents were still drinkable. It was funny how the sea would hang on to things before letting them go. Some of the lost bottles that were returned to the restaurant were even put on display.
Not long after the couple left, a poorly kept muscle car pulled into the parking lot. Its hood was freckled with rust. There were several dents in the front bumper and part of the grill was reattached with balling wire. Ann had no idea who it belonged to. No one got out, but she could hear its throaty engine when the driver fed it gas. The headlights stayed on and the windshield was too fogged to see who was inside. Was the driver staking out the store? Am I going to get robbed while nobody’s around? She jumped when the phone rang, and as she lifted the receiver to her ear she noticed the car back out and speed away.
“What’s the matter, Ann?” asked her Aunt Kate.
“You sound out of breath.”
“I just got spooked is all. Someone must have changed their mind about coming inside. Or maybe they just pulled over to read their map. It’s already getting dark out. Must mean the storm is coming earlier than they thought.”
“Then why don’t you close up a little early?”
“But it’s only 4:15.”
“That’s fine honey. I just put some potatoes in the oven for dinner. I doubt if there’s going to be much more business today.”
“But Mrs. Notham always comes in just before I close to pick up something she forgot. Yesterday it was shortening, and the day before she needed aspirin.”
“Then why don’t I give her a call and check. If she needs something you could drop it off on your way home.”
“I’m sure there will be
. I think I’ll stop by the 101 for a few minutes and see how Tammy is doing. I’ve got a bunch of cinnamon rolls here that are going to be stale by tomorrow, thought I could bring for her and Mitch. Tammy loves to spread extra butter over the tops and put them back in the oven again.”
“That’s alright by me. God knows I don’t need any of those things lying around here. I didn’t realize you and Tammy were still close.”
“We’re not really. Just drifted apart I guess. But Mitch just came by for some coffee and he seemed kind of stressed out.”
“Well that would be very nice of you to stop by then. You need to spend more time with friends than always worrying about me and the store. Go ahead and start closing up. I’ll call you after I check in with Mrs. Notham.”
In the time it took Ann to balance the till and set the alarms, the storm had blown in off the ocean, causing the lights to flicker. The wind howled down through the wood stove where customers often gathered around in the winter to sip coffee and swap stories. Ann tucked the package of corn starch under her arm and grabbed the bag of cinnamon rolls before she stepped outside and locked the door behind her. She walked quickly around to the back of the store and got into her Volkswagen Bug. The car was cold inside and smelled of dampness. If there was one thing that continued to remind her that she needed to leave Traitor Bay, it was the continual assault of mold and mildew. Even the hottest days of summer were not enough to sear it out, and they’d had some record breaking summer days the last few years.
Mrs. Notham wanted her to come inside and visit of course, but Ann was able to convince her that she needed to get home and make sure the house was secure. The full weight of the storm was set to touch down close to midnight. Ann wanted to be sure to check the flashlights in case they needed fresh batteries, and she knew her aunt would want help corralling the cats. Aunt Kate doted constantly on them, putting out saucers of cream and other vet-forbidden foods. Ann thought the activity was good for her aunt, since the spoiled felines kept her from being too sedentary. Still, her aunt’s recovery was going slowly. Her heart was still very weak. She couldn’t stand for very long and would sometimes experience moments of vertigo or shortness of breath. Ann honestly didn’t believe her aunt would ever be able to run the store on her own like she’d done for the past twenty years. And as much as she knew her aunt would hate the idea, Ann hoped she would decide to hire someone soon.
Plagued by chronic pot holes, the road was a desperate patchwork of asphalt and followed the contours of the bay. It had once been part of the old highway before the new one came through and blasted a straight path through rock and forest. Most locals preferred the quiet of the winding road, with its turn offs and easy access to reliable clam beds. Ann decided to pull over at one of her favorite viewpoints. She had always been fascinated by storms and enjoyed being out in them. When she was a child, her mother often struggled to keep her inside, safe from the snapping trees and downed power lines.
The tide was out, exposing a slate mudflat that stretched to the riffled green water lapping at its dimpled edge. Ancient stumps and logs mired in the bay bottom glistened with shaggy coats of seaweed. Taking in the great breadth of the approaching storm, Ann noticed a hint of blood-orange sunset in a rift of clouds above the horizon and felt a stir of unnamable emotion. For a moment she even saw a sliver of blue, like a shard of stained glass held in a jaw of dark cloud. But soon the jaw closed, erasing what she’d seen much like the fate of dreams when one is suddenly awakened, crumbling back into the indefinite sea of her subconscious. She felt momentarily saddened, but didn’t know why. She usually found that the ever-changing forces of nature brightened her mood, but ever since the discovery of the arm she hadn’t been able to shake off a sense of restless gloom behind everything she saw.
While lost in thought, her eyes landed on something stuffed behind the open ashtray where she kept spare change. She pulled the ashtray all the way out and set it on the passenger seat. Jammed inside was a bent marijuana cigarette. She fished it out with her fingers and straightened it out, slid it next to her nose. Still smelled good, she thought. A little stale maybe, but it reminded her of good times. James must have left it for her when she’d dropped him off at the Greyhound bus station nearly a year ago. He’d tired of commercial fishing and of being bullied by his hard-drinking father, had joined the Navy in order to make a clean break of Traitor Bay. I know it might be a big mistake, he’d told her. But I can’t think of anything else I can do. I didn’t make the kind of grades you did, Ann.
They’d already been broken up for a while when she’d driven him that day, yet they’d remained close. On a whim they’d once moved to Portland and worked hotel jobs and lived in a downtown apartment. Ann had found a job as a hotel operator. For once she wasn’t under pressure to recognize people, and in two weeks she knew everyone by the sounds of their voices. When she worked graveyard shift she would sneak in some precious reading time. James had found a position working as a bellman, and always had a good story for her when he got off shift.
After a year they concluded that the city life wasn’t something they’d ever grow to enjoy. They couldn’t sleep well without the lull of the ocean outside, drank coffee until their hands shook and bit their nails. It was difficult to save money and the air could get so dusty from never-ending construction projects that they developed rattling coughs. But that wasn’t all of it. There were other things in the city that reached into you, gave you chills. To Ann it seemed as if there were an unnatural amount of people loitering on the street at all hours and sometimes they’d stop what they were doing and watch you, as if they were taking notes. Until Ann brought it up, James hadn’t paid them much attention. They live around here, he’d told her—do you think they want to stay inside their crappy apartments all the time? Ann had felt a little foolish when James told her that, back before he’d come around to the idea of scraping up some funds to move to some place on the coast, so long as it wasn’t anywhere near his father.
During their stint in the city Ann had learned to push her fear down, knowing that James would have worried about her if he’d known how terrified she’d felt. She’d been through so much, having to deal with her mother’s disappearance and seeing her stepdad sent to prison for holding up a string of liquor stores and community banks. But on the night James was mugged in front of their apartment, it was Ann who’d quietly packed and loaded up his pickup with only their suitcases while James lay on the bathroom floor moaning. She’d insisted on driving the hundred-some miles west, worried that he might lose an eye if they didn’t get to a hospital soon. They’d arrived at the Buoy City clinic just after the morning shift change. By then he was really out of it and she’d had to half- carry him inside.
He was kept overnight for observation. So out of it that Ann doubted if he’d even heard her talking to him. Her aunt came and took her home, and the next morning James’ mother and younger brother did the same for him. While James recovered, they saw little of one another and soon it felt as if their year in Portland had never happened and they were back in the exact same places they were before they’d left. There were numerous attempts to revive what they’d shared, but it was never the same after that. New tensions never let up and they’d begun to argue. After a while Ann couldn’t help imagining that a foul spirit from the city had followed them back to torment them. James’ mother, who’d always been fond of Ann, had changed the most. She seemed to believe that Ann had been responsible for the idea of moving to the city and almost getting her son killed. As Ann began to feel less welcome in James’ home, she gradually stopped visiting altogether. A few weeks later they found themselves dating other people.
She left the joint untouched, closed the ashtray and started her car. A dark shadow had swallowed the bay. Rain rumbled over the metal above her like a stampede of well-fed mice. The wind reached below her and lifted up the car so that for a second the front wheels spun with no road below them.
They weren’t kidding; this is going to be a serious one.
The 101 café was open at all hours and drew a steady flow of long haul truckers and local deliverymen. Town regulars camped in the booths toward the back so they could keep an eye on the action at the counter where unlikely folk were sometimes forced to interact. A trucker who’d been awake for two days straight, for instance, might offer a compliment to a tourist’s wife before realizing he’d crossed a line. And depending on the subjects involved, such collisions of civility or lack thereof were known to restage themselves in the back parking lot. But as each troublemaker who walked into the 101 had gotten an opportunity to spend some time with the sheriff, such excitement was rare anymore. Word had spread quickly. You either agreed to play by Dawkin’s rules or stayed clear of his county. It was that simple.