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Good Harbor

Anita Diamant

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  This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

  Copyright © 2001 by Anita Diamant

  All rights reserved, including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form.

  SCRIBNER and design are trademarks of Macmillan Library Reference USA, Inc., used under license by Simon & Schuster, the publisher of this work.

  ISBN-10: 0-7432-2976-2

  ISBN-13: 978-0-7432-2976-0

  For Jim



  KATHLEEN lay on the massage table and looked up at the casement windows high above her. The sashes were fashioned of rough oak, the glass uneven and bottle-thick. Propped open on green sapling sticks, they were windows from an enchanted castle. Having been a children’s librarian for twenty-five years, Kathleen Levine considered herself something of an expert on the subject of enchanted castles.

  She smiled and closed her eyes. The massage was a birthday present from her coworkers at Edison Elementary. They’d given her the gift certificate at a surprise party for her fifty-ninth birthday, almost five months ago. When Madge Feeney, the school secretary, had learned that Kathleen still hadn’t used it, Madge had harrumphed and made the appointment for her.

  Kathleen stretched her neck from side to side. “Comfortable?” asked Marla, who stood at the far end of the table, kneading Kathleen’s left instep. Marla Fletcher, who was nearly six feet tall, sounded as though she were far, far away. Like the giant wife in the castle of “Jack and the Beanstalk,” Kathleen thought, and smiled again.

  She sighed, letting go of the tension of driving from school to this odd, out-of-the-way place. Kathleen had thought she knew every last side street on Cape Ann, but Marla’s directions had taken her along unfamiliar roads leading, finally, up a rutted, one-way lane that looped around the steep hills overlooking Mill Pond. She nearly turned back once, convinced she’d lost the way. But then she spotted the landmark: a stone gate, half-hidden by overgrown lilac bushes, weeks away from blooming.

  It must have been a stunning estate in its day. Much as she hated being late, Kathleen slowed down for a better look. The great lawn had been designed to show off the pond, which shone platinum in the spring sun. Beyond it, Mill River glittered into the distance, silver on mauve.

  She turned the car toward the sprawling hewn-granite mansion. Those windows seemed piteously small to be facing such a magnificent scene, she thought. And the four smaller outbuildings, made of the same majestic stones, with the same slate turrets, seemed oddly grand for servants’ quarters.

  Kathleen drove past two young couples in tennis whites standing by the net on a pristine clay court. They turned to watch as she pulled up beside the round stone tower, where Marla waited by the door. Rapunzel, thought Kathleen, at the sight of her waist-length golden hair.

  Lying on the massage table, Kathleen wondered whether she could translate this amazing place into “once upon a time.” She had tried to write children’s books, she had even taken classes. But that was not her gift. Kathleen was good at matching children to books. She could find just the right story to catch any child’s imagination — even the wildest boys, who were her pet projects, her special successes. It wasn’t as grand a gift as writing, but it was a gift. And in her own private way, Kathleen was proud of it.

  Yet, here she was, in a castle on a hill in the woods, stroked and kneaded like a happy lump of dough by a kind lady; it seemed like an engraved invitation. Was this the kind of scene that had inspired Charles Dodgson to become Lewis Carroll? Was this the world that Maurice Sendak visited whenever he set out on a new book?

  “Time to turn over,” Marla said, draping the sheet so Kathleen remained covered. Warm oil trickled over Kathleen’s sloping shoulders, velvet drops that soothed and tickled. “Nice,” she said, overcome by gratitude to this pleasant stranger who made her feel so well cared for, so . . . cradled. Curious word, Kathleen thought. Curiouser and curiouser. She closed her eyes.

  The next thing she knew, two warm hands cupped her face. “Take your time getting dressed,” Marla whispered. “I’m going to get you a glass of water.”

  But Kathleen was no dawdler. She saw from the clock beside her that nearly two hours had passed since she had lain down. She swung her legs over the edge of the table and reached for her bra, fastening the hooks in front, bottom to top, just as her sister had shown her when Kathleen was twelve years old, before she needed a bra at all. She had no idea she was weeping until Marla raced back up the winding stone staircase, an empty glass in her hand.

  Kathleen tried to regain control of her breathing. “I have breast cancer,” she said, staring down at her chest.

  “Oh my God,” Marla said softly. She sat down and took Kathleen’s hand. “I wish you’d told me. I would have brought up my amethyst crystal. I could have burned myrrh instead of sage.”

  Kathleen sniffed and stifled a laugh. “That’s okay. It was a wonderful massage.”

  “Do you want to make an appointment for another one? That might be a good thing to do.”

  Kathleen wiped her nose on her slippery forearm and turned the bra around, filling it with her breasts — first the good one, and then the traitor. “I’ll call you after I know when . . . After . . .” Her throat closed. Marla put an arm around her shoulders.

  The only sound was the volley on the tennis court below. The juicy pop of ball hitting racket, court, racket, sounded back and forth for a long time before someone finally missed a shot. The players’ laughter filtered up through the windows, like an echo from another day, another story.

  I AM THE QUEEN of compromise, Joyce thought as she walked into the empty house. “Lowered Expectations ‘R’ Us,” she muttered.

  The sound of her heels — somehow it had seemed necessary to wear good shoes to the closing — echoed against the bare surfaces. She wandered from room to room, reminding herself that the roof and furnace were new, and that there wasn’t a shred of shag carpeting anywhere. The house was on a corner lot, and most of the yard faced south, which meant Frank could have the garden of his dreams.

  She told people it was a sweet little house, but in the light of day, it was six pinched rooms, aluminum siding, and small windows that cranked open and shut. The kitchen had been mercilessly updated with avocado-green appliances in the 1960s by the Loquasto family, who had bought the house new in 1957 and raised five kids
in it.

  There was no ocean view, no fireplace, not even a porch. Her Gloucester dream house was a boxy Cape on a residential street three blocks up from the oily moorings of Smith’s Cove, on the way to Rocky Neck.

  “Aren’t you sweet?” Joyce said to the green refrigerator.

  Maybe someday she would write a best-seller, and she and Frank could afford a white refrigerator with an icemaker in the door. They would knock down walls and hire an architect to design a loft and porches and a widow’s walk, so she could see the water.

  Nah. If she had that kind of money, they could just buy the million-dollar condo on Marten Road she had looked at “just for fun.” Two fireplaces and water views from floor-to-ceiling windows in every room.

  “Get a grip!” said Joyce, who caught sight of her scowling face in the bathroom mirror. She tucked her curly, dark hair behind her ears and sighed. She looked okay for a forty-two-year-old woman with five extra pounds on her backside and a slight overbite. “What have you got to bitch about?” she scolded, widening her striking gray eyes. “You just bought a vacation house for God’s sake. Nine-tenths of the world’s population would kill to live in your garage!”

  So what if it wasn’t a big, fancy dream house? It was on Cape Ann, and she could smell the ocean. At night she would hear foghorns and halyards, and it was only a short bike ride to Good Harbor beach.

  Maybe she and Frank would start cycling again. They had taken bike trips all over New England when they’d first met, making love in cheap little motels, eating peanut butter sandwiches every day for lunch. People sometimes took them for brother and sister, because they both had dark hair and gray eyes. Maybe they could take a little trip while Nina was at camp this summer.

  Or maybe she would take a watercolor class, and Nina could come along with her.

  No matter what, Joyce promised herself, this house would be her own private writers’ colony. She would get up early every morning and write five pages. And not a sequel to Magnolia’s Heart, either. This book would have her real name on the cover.

  Joyce Tabachnik didn’t sound like the name of a romance novelist. So she had had no objection when her agent suggested a pseudonym; after all, this book was just a means to an end. She and her journalist friends had complained for years about their finances and vowed that someday they’d write a mystery or a thriller that would pay their kids’ college tuition and buy them early retirement in the south of France. Joyce’s dream was a house on Cape Ann — her favorite place on earth, less than an hour’s drive north of Boston but still somehow off the tourist track.

  On her fortieth birthday, Joyce had gotten depressed. “I am such a cliché,” she had moaned into her pillow. She wanted a dramatic change in her life, but what? She couldn’t bear the idea of revisiting the high-tech hell of infertility medicine for a second child. And, as she told her book group, years of freelance freedom had ruined her for the office politics that go with a “real” job. She decided that a house by the sea would cure what ailed her, so between assignments for Parent Life (“How to Tell If Your Baby Is a Brat”) and AnnaLise (“Who Fakes Orgasm and Why”), she devoted Tuesdays and Thursdays to writing a romance novel.

  Romances were a secret pleasure she had acquired during the last trimester of her pregnancy with Nina, when a near-hemorrhage had landed her in the hospital on bed rest. One sleepless night, a nurse had loaned her a few old Silhouette paperbacks, and she was immediately hooked on the fast-lane plots, the dependable triumph of good over evil, and the sex, which was a little rough but always satisfying.

  For years, she made a Memorial Day ritual out of shopping for a bathing suit for her daughter, a new tube of sunscreen, and a pile of well-thumbed paperbacks from a malodorous thrift store in downtown Waltham. She read them all, fitfully, while Nina played on the beach. But once Nina turned nine and started going to day camp, Joyce set aside the bodice rippers and joined a book group dedicated to reading serious literature.

  Even so, she never stopped searching for the right premise for her romance novel. Nina’s fourth-grade Black History Month report on women and slavery provided the setting. Joyce read all the women’s slave narratives she could find, engineered a family vacation to Charleston, South Carolina, and studied the cuisine of the Old South, as well as the layered striptease of nineteenth-century lingerie: wrappers, corsets, crinolines, bloomers, petticoats, shifts.

  Her heroine was Magnolia Dukes. The blue-black daughter of an African prince, Magnolia survived her master’s various cruelties, learned to read, and triumphed in love with Jordan LeMieux, the second son of a down-and-out white landowner. Magnolia was wild and brave in ways that Joyce hadn’t planned. Frank confessed to being shocked by the violence (especially the beheading), the vertiginous foreplay, the operatic orgasms.

  Joyce took Frank’s discomfort as a good sign, which was confirmed by an enthusiastic phone call from the first literary agent she tried. Mario Romano III, a local man, new to the business, actually brought a copy of his birth certificate to their introductory lunch, just to prove that his name was no figment of a genre-fevered imagination. For Joyce, he suggested a nom de romance at that first meeting. “Any ideas?” he asked over salad in Harvard Square. She shrugged.

  Mario, short, dark, and very handsome, offered a method reputedly used by drag queens to concoct stage names: combine the name of your first pet with the street you lived on as a kid.

  “That would make me Cleo Lehigh,” said Joyce.

  “Very nice,” Mario said. “Was Cleo a dog or a cat?”


  Mario nodded. “Nice to meet you, Cleo.” He raised his glass.

  Within a few months, they had a modest but respectable offer, with an option for three more Magnolia titles. And when Lifetime

  TV bought the rights to produce a miniseries, Joyce’s Cape Ann fantasy shifted from pipe dream to Plan A.

  Frank, always cautious about their finances, wanted to put the entire windfall into IRAs and bond funds. After months of arguing, he finally conceded that seaside real estate would be a solid investment, too. There was no disagreement about where to focus their search on Cape Ann; both preferred Gloucester to Rockport, which seemed too Waspy for a family of Tabachniks. A remnant of Gloucester still fished for a living, and the city smelled of it.

  Which is how Joyce came to be standing in a ten-by-twelve-foot living room covered in blue cornflower wallpaper, staring out at the neatly raked yard.

  “Oh, shit,” she said, feeling her mood suddenly plummet.

  What on earth had she done? Joyce and Frank hadn’t gone cycling for ten years. Nina would never agree to a painting class with her mother; her daughter was a jock, not an artist. And spending time alone here would only prove that Joyce couldn’t write “serious” fiction.

  She was a cliché, a bored and boring suburban baby boomer. With a statue of the Virgin Mary in her front yard.

  The five-foot-tall cement statue had nearly kept Joyce from looking at the house. Frank said don’t be silly, but she wasn’t being silly. Just put off.

  Joyce was not religious. When asked about her affiliation, she quoted her grandmother’s line: “We’re lox-and-bagel Jews.” She and Frank lit a menorah for Hanukkah and ate too much at their friends’ Passover seder, and that was pretty much the extent of her family’s Judaism. Even so, that statue gave her the creeps. From the window, Joyce had a great view of its modestly draped backside. “The Holy Mother’s tushy,” Joyce whispered to herself.

  A warm breeze wafted in through the windows, which gleamed spotless in the bright sunlight. Joyce inhaled the ocean air. There was a sudden blast from a big ship in the harbor.

  Reminded of her great good fortune, Joyce looked up at the ceiling and said, “Okay, God, I get it.”

  BACK IN HER OLD green Taurus, Kathleen looked down at the seat belt between her breasts. Why on earth had she kept this appointment?

  All that Catholic-school training dies hard, she thought. But crying and blurting
out her troubles to a stranger like that? She could imagine her grandmother’s reaction: “Family business stays in the family.” The loud echo of Gran’s disapproval surprised Kathleen. But then, she wasn’t herself.

  She hadn’t been herself for a week, since the radiologist had used the word cancer. Five years ago, after the first needle biopsy, she’d been ready for that pronouncement. In fact, she’d been so sure of a cancer diagnosis, she had reread her will before the appointment. She had searched through the filing cabinet for the deeds to their funeral plots — hers and Buddy’s.

  But after that lump had turned out to be benign, she’d gone for her regular mammograms without dread. That was stupid, she now realized. What had made her think she was going to get away with it? Breast cancer had killed her sister; it was bound to get her sooner or later.

  When he’d delivered the bad news, Dr. Barlow had tried to be reassuring. “All we see so far is DCIS,” he’d said. “Hopefully, the surgeon won’t find anything else.”

  Back from the doctor’s office that afternoon, she called her sons in New York and California. She left a message for her friend Jeanette, in Florida. But she waited to tell Buddy until he got home. They sat at the kitchen table, and Kathleen watched the lines on her husband’s face grow deeper.

  Lying in bed that first night, Kathleen realized that she had already left the world of small talk and gardening and current events. She was in the airless, out-of-time place she knew from the long, murderous months of Pat’s breast cancer. She’d been to that place with Danny, too, though it had been much quicker with her little boy. It was only that one horrible week in the hospital. Not even a week.

  In the morning, Buddy sat beside her as she called the surgeon, Dr. Cooperman. And when she got home from school that afternoon, Jack was in the kitchen, a pot of soup and a pan of frying onions on the stove. “Mom,” he said, and swept her into a hug.