Cold March Saturday mornings were made for sleeping late. Garland Durrell knew that. But here she was, snuggled under her down quilt, eyes resolutely shut against the coronas of light around her windows—and wide awake.
She would have been happily snoozing if it hadn’t been for a freak storm that no one had predicted blowing in off the Atlantic during the night. She’d never heard the wind make sounds like that, shrieking and howling so fiercely that she’d half-dreamed it was trying to smash her windows and seize her. Not the best way to spend the first night of the rest of her life in Mattaquason, on Cape Cod’s outer arm. If she believed in omens— but she didn’t. Not anymore. Her wedding day had been gloriously sunny, and look how her marriage had ended up.
Though the storm had screamed itself back out to sea some time before dawn, she’d only been able to doze fitfully since then…and now, not at all. Well, if she couldn’t sleep, then she might as well get up and do something about unpacking all the boxes stacked around the house.
Garland threw aside the quilt and went to the bank of windows to open the curtains. Past the grass and a long, low dune, the beach’s creamy white sand spread enticingly before her. Hmm. Maybe a walk would be a good idea before she began excavating her life out of moving boxes and reassembling it into its new form.
She yanked off her nightshirt and dressed quickly in jeans and a turtleneck sweater and a heavy, violet-colored flannel shirt on which she’d appliquéd a Compass Rose quilt square, along with a down vest. She almost ran down the stairs and through the garage where her little sailing dinghy sat on its trailer. Bigger sailboats were handsomer, but this one was so much closer to the wind and water, so much closer to what really mattered about sailing. Derek had always called it “Garland’s toy boat.” His own tastes ran to motorboats with more horsepower than was decent—and damn it, why did everything have to remind her of Derek? Had moving to this house been a mistake? Should she have sold it and gone someplace where memories wouldn’t leap out at her unexpectedly like ugly Halloween spooks?
She slammed the garage door behind her and strode across the terrace to the back lawn. Once away from the protection of the house, the wind hit her like a fist to the stomach. But the sky was a soft, milky blue and the sunshine was so bright that instead of scooting back inside she paused to breathe deeply, expanding her chest as far as it would go.
Past the lawn the beach was still damp and smooth from the receding tide. Off to her left, the long, narrow finger of Monomoyick Island poked into the ocean off the end of Cape Cod, pointing south toward Nantucket. The water was deep blue and choppy this morning but sparkling in the sun, making her squint as she stepped onto the sand.
Beachcombing after a storm was fun. Smashed lobster pots weren’t uncommon, or broken oars, or other detritus tossed or lost off fishing boats. But sometimes the oddest things washed up. Once she’d found a waterlogged, two-foot long Winnie-the-Pooh half-buried in the sand, its red shirt faded to rose pink. And after another storm, a lacy, bright fuchsia bra from Victoria’s Secret, size 46 DD. That find had sent her best friend in Mattaquason, Kathy Hayes, into gales of laughter, speculating whether any of the local fishermen had a secret lingerie fetish.
The memory made Garland smile. Kathy hadn’t been home when she called last night. Out on a date, perhaps? Kathy often lamented the dearth of eligible men—whom she defined as “over six feet and without a substance abuse problem”—who lived year-round on the Cape, but maybe she’d found someone new. Hopefully she’d be in later, just in case Garland found the panties to match the bra.
Kathy had been delighted when she’d called to tell her that she’d be moving to the Cape. “Without Derek, I’m assuming,” she’d said in the dry tone she always used when talking about Garland’s husband. “It’s about damn time. He was smothering you, Garland. Every year when you came down for the summer, you looked a little paler and flatter. No, don’t laugh. It was true. He was a mistake, and it was time you cut your losses and started over. So when are you going to start quilting again? I told you, I’m keeping a space in the gallery for you, and Mrs. Feinberg asked again last summer if you’d made anything new.”
Starting quilting again. She thought of the boxes of fabric and threads and the new long-arm quilting machine waiting for her at the house. She was free to create with cloth again—free of Derek’s disapproval and his feigned dust allergies. She could festoon the house with fat quarters and leave pads of graph paper and piles of colored pencils in every room, and no one would care. It would be wonderful.
A sharp, barking call made her shade her eyes and stare out at the water. Was that a seal? Sometimes in summer she would see them a little way off the beach, lounging on the sandbar at low tide. Yes, there they were—three, no, four seals swimming parallel to the shore and looking at her with their liquid brown eyes. She’d always loved to watch them with their whiskery, inquiring faces, so at home in the water.
A houseguest had once given her a fancifully illustrated children’s book about seals who could take off their skins and dance on the beach on moonlit nights in the form of beautiful men and women. Selkies, they were called. She often thought about them on the full moon nights in July and August, but Derek had never wanted to use them as a pretext for a romantic walk on to the beach. How well she remembered the patronizing smile he would give her as he told her to “run along and enjoy herself” while he logged into his portfolio account.
One of the seals barked again. A gull, handsome in its sober gray and white feathers, cackled as it landed a few dozen yards up the beach before her. Something edible must have been tossed up in the storm, for another gull was already there.
Garland blinked away the tears in her eyes brought by the wind and squinted at the sand. There was something on the beach ahead—something large and pale, almost blending into the sand itself. The two gulls regarded it quizzically, as if wondering if it were tasty or not. She took three more steps, then froze.
The something was a naked body sprawled on its stomach, partly buried in the sand.