By E. Sayre De Castro
We did not realize she was filming us all summer. Up early before our summer jobs, Dave and I would find the flattest water right off of Holmes Hill in North Sea. My Father’s 13’ Boston Whaler was outfitted with a black 20 horsepower Mercury outboard. They said Mercury’s were really for fresh water, but it was reliable enough for us. At low tide Dave would stand on the bow to raise the propeller up and allow us to skim over the dense seaweed at North Sea Harbor. The low tide stench in the still morning air was our wake up.
Weather permitting we tried to get out at least twice a week. They say you need three to water ski but it was easy to tell when someone fell. Our under powered boat would lurch forward right away. Dave and I developed a sling shot approach to get the boat moving fast enough for slalom skiing. We’d gather up about ½ of the tow rope into a coil, yell to the driver to “hit it” and apprehensively stand ankle deep shore side with the immense mass of Holm’s Hill behind us, watching the line quickly pay out, feeling an adrenalin serge and bracing for the bronco ride to pull you up on top of the water.
In these early moments we are bathed in golden light. We skim across the bay focusing on our cuts, turns, and jumps, and were oblivious to a woman with an 8mm handheld camera. As the days grew shorter and Labor Day neared, I was surprised to swivel around from the steering wheel to see Dave not ready to launch but instead talking to that woman.
She had invited us up to her white shingled cottage a few nights later to show us what she made. The simple one bedroom combined kitchen-living room bungalow was up above the road and had a view across the bay to Robin’s Island. With a gentle breeze sorting itself through the windows, I could hear seagulls in the distance as she asks Dave if he wants a beer while offering me a soda, sensing I was younger than Dave. As she served grilled hamburgers I scanned the room and took in the numerous oil pictures hanging on the wall. They were all fairly small with views of the water with shorebirds and shells, except for one. That one held the image of a standing nude woman looking straight out from the canvass. She catches my eyes lingering on that portrait and volunteers she painted them all, including the one in front of me. I blush and avoid eye contact. Her self-portrait was filled with an intricate network of fine black curly lines emanating from her private region expanding all the way up, down, and around to nearly the edge of the frame, threatening to engulf the entire canvass and obscure her face.
She continues to talk to Dave, getting the projector out and threading the celluloid film through the sprockets. On the wall our summer of skiing is projected in black and white. No roaring of the outboard; no sound of the foam streaks as we slice through the brine. We are entranced by the two kids gliding serenely across a mirror of water, with clouds appearing above and below, Robin’s Island in the background highlighted in the early morning light of Little Peconic Bay.
By the third time we scaled the face of Holmes Hill, we were exhausted and out of breath. Between running up the steep 100’ of sand and consuming a case of beer, Rick, Wayne, Freddy and I were gasping for air and covered in gritty sand that clung to our sweat. After getting to the top we would start down as fast as possible in an almost controlled fall, pretending to be snow skiing through Utah powder as the fluidized sand carried us on gravity’s mission.
At least at the top it was cooling off from this hot August day. Wayne, tall and thin was talking about the internship he won at Grumman Aerospace and how he painted white stripes on their runway for the test fighters. Rick and Freddy worked repairing fishing reels, but sometimes crewed sport-fishing charters out to the Gulf Steam. There was a guy they knew, one of the “rich” people that would go offshore in an open boat and catch 160 pound Marlin on twenty pound test line. The trick according to Rick was to mount a seat in the front of the boat and follow the Marlin for hours until it tired running. Then you could slowly drift up and gaff the game fish – hopefully landing a record weight for light test lines. It was the record not the fish he was after.