A Tone Poem
By Gail Horton
The half mile stretch from McCabe’s Beach in Southold to Horton’s Point challenged our skinny little bodies that strained against the strong currents of the Long Island Sound. It was great kid time and we had looked forward to this summer journey all week long. The freezing cold water and the terrifying visions of being surrounded by sea-monsters evoked by random air pockets that whipped against our bodies did not dampen our enthusiasm. We relished the struggle to reach the vast stand of ancient glacier-dumped rocks that awaited us. I got there at the head of the pack and picked my favorite of these granite flecked with mica and quartz behemoths – the peach colored, polished boulder with the little rounded pools filled with warm salty water. I was sure that this rock was a favorite of the mermaids to lounge on when the rest of us weren’t looking and as I struggled up its slippery sides, I was transported to another world. I stretched out in the delicious, watery rock ponds imagining that I, too, was a mermaid, able to spend all my days coursing through the water with my long, seaweed strewn hair flowing behind me; diving to the depths and exploring old wrecks; grabbing fresh fish and sea weed to eat, and scooping up handfuls of shimmering sea glass and swirling shells whenever I wished. Each of us alone on our chosen rock, we enjoyed our magical kingdoms, the sun baked away reality, our imaginations soared and we could be whomever we wanted to be. Then the afternoon zephyr and the cooling sun sounded the alarm. We had to be back at McCabe’s Beach at4PM. Reluctantly we climbed the many wooden steps sunk in the cliffs and headed downSoundview Avenue. The warm macadam road studded with small rocks kneaded our feet and the sun dappled cover of trees warmed our water soaked bodies as we trudged along our usual path back to reality.
After dinner Mom answered a phone call then returned to the kitchen, with a voice as tense as a newly tuned violin, she told me “Father Baker has a model for Danny, please go over to the rectory and pick it up for me.” I didn’t want to, the austere Father Baker didn’t seem to like me and I thought the rectory was creepy. I went, however. My widowed Mom had too much to do already – working, keeping up the house, and raising my little brother Danny and me alone – so I set off. I ignored the usual cross lots and took the long way there thinking about Father Baker’s frequent calls pestering my mother to have Danny become an altar boy. When she convinced him, finally, that he couldn’t because he was recovering from rheumatic fever, the priest’s calls continued. Often he was trying to get her to convert to Catholicism. No matter what the purpose – I knew these calls made Mom uneasy and I was even more uneasy being her substitute. The stories that he was shell-shocked from the war didn’t make me feel any more comfortable about my mission or him. Darkness chased away the day and I was shivering when I knocked on Saint Patricks’ rectory door. Father Baker quickly opened the door with a big smile. When he saw waif-like me standing there and not my good looking Mom, a thunderous scowl overtook his whole being. He gratingly asked, “Oh, it’s you. Where is your mother?” Then, caught in his folly, he held his breath as he collected himself and retreated to a stern priestliness, “Here, this is for your brother. Good night.” He shoved the model at me and slammed the door. I ran home, heart pounding, by the cross lots, the remnants of the warmth from the giant rock’s rounded pools filled with sun-warmed salty water slipped away. “Never again,” I told myself.