The dawn of another summer day. Mamaw tightened the soft cashmere throw around her thin shoulders. Slivers of light pierced the velvety blackness over the Cove, and pewter-colored shadows danced on the spiky marsh grass like ethereal ghosts.
Mamaw sat huddled on an oversize, black wicker chair on her back porch, her legs tucked beneath her. The fog was moist on her face and the predawn chill seemed to penetrate straight to her bones. She couldn’t seem to get warm with Lucille gone. Since her dear friend’s death, many nights she’d awakened from a fitful sleep and come outdoors hoping the fresh air would settle her. She’d found scant warmth or peace in the chill of predawn. In the distance, the Atlantic Ocean, her mercurial friend, roared like a hungry beast. The waves were devouring the dunes in a relentless rhythm. Echoes reverberated over Sullivan’s Island.
Over a week had passed since Lucille’s death. Yet she still felt her old friend’s presence around her, hovering in death as she had in life. Dear Lucille. Death came to us all. She knew that. Mamaw was no stranger to death. At eighty years of age, she could hardly have been spared the loss of loved ones. She’d buried her parents, and, too early, her son and husband. Tonight she felt the past was more alive than the present. Memories of her loved ones played vividly in her mind.
Mamaw drew a long, ragged breath. From far away, she heard the mournful bellowing of a ship’s foghorn. From a nearby tree, a bird began calling out his strident dawn whistles . . . a cardinal, she thought.
She listened, stirred from her lethargy by the dawn song. She watched as the morning light, in degrees, brightened the skyline, revealing the ragged tips of green sea grass, palm trees clustered on a hammock, and the towering Ravenel Bridge, appearing as two great sailing vessels, in the distance. Slowly, the rising sun illuminated the darkness, peeling away the shroud from her heart. She felt her despair dissipate with the mist. Mamaw said a prayer of thanks to the rising sun and took a deep breath of the cool, mud-scented air.
Another day was dawning. The worst was over.
Foolish old woman, she chided herself as the gray sky shifted to blue. Look at yourself, sitting in the dark, mourning your friend. Wouldn’t Lucille give you what for if she spied you moping like this outdoors in the damp chill, still in your nightclothes? Who had time to lollygag? Their plan for the summer was not finished! She’d invited her three nearly estranged granddaughters to Sea Breeze in May—and they’d come. The first time they’d been together in over a decade. True, it had so far been a tumultuous summer of change and growth, ups and downs, joys and heartaches. But it was her triumph that they’d weathered the vicissitudes together. Eudora, Carson, and Harper had rediscovered the sisterly love they’d shared as children when they played together during the summers here on Sullivan’s Island. Howling at the moon? She should be crowing like a rooster!
Yet, much was still to be done and she was running out of time. It was already August. The sea turtles were finishing another season, the children would be heading back to school, the ospreys would soon head south with the other migrating birds and butterflies. Summer’s end was fast approaching. Soon, too, her Summer Girls would be leaving.
Mamaw felt a twinge of loss at just the thought. She would miss them—their sweet faces, their chatter, tears, laughter. The footfalls in the house, the drama, the hugs and kisses liberally offered. What a summer it had been!
Her smile slipped. Not only would her granddaughters leave in the fall. She, too, would be leaving Sea Breeze. Moving to a retirement home when Sea Breeze was sold. With her granddaughters and Lucille gone, she would, she thought with a shudder, be utterly alone.
Mamaw lowered her cheek to her palm. She at least knew where she would go at summer’s end, but where would her girls go? Each of the women was unsure of what her next step would be when she left the safe embrace of Sea Breeze. Dora’s divorce was pending, Carson was pregnant, and Harper was, for lack of a better term, completely adrift.
“Ah, Lucille,” she said aloud to the presence she felt hovering in the pearly light. “You were the one who always rallied me in my dark moments. We lured them here. And there is still much yet to do to finish our plan.” She sighed. “I don’t know if I can do it alone. But I must try.”
Mamaw’s eyes rose to the sky, where great shafts of pink and blue continued to break through the horizon. A smile eased across her face. The moon might be gone, she thought. But the sun was rising on another day.
In another room of Sea Breeze, Harper lay on her bed in the steely light, her hands tucked beneath her head, listening to the mighty roar of the ocean. How loud the sound of the waves was this morning, she thought. The echoes reverberated in the still night. She thrilled to the sound, so different from what she was accustomed to in the city.
In New York, Harper awoke to the blare of police sirens, honking horns, and banging garbage trucks. So much was different here. She was different here. Over the past few months since she’d arrived on Sullivan’s Island, her body had slowly acclimated from the fast pace and sense of urgency she experienced in the city to the slower, quieter rhythm of the lowcountry. She no longer went out to parties or bars until late at night, nor did she charge out of bed in the morning at the sound of an alarm. At Sea Breeze her days were ruled by the sun. Early to bed, early to rise.
Harper smiled, wondering if she’d ever foreseen how much she’d enjoy this lifestyle. No, she didn’t think she had. In fact, initially she had quite dreaded the prospect of spending time at Sea Breeze this summer. She recalled her outrage when, only a few days after her and her sisters’ arrival, Mamaw had announced her true intentions: that the women stay the entire summer. Harper stretched languidly while the light brightened to give the room a pearly glow. As she turned to her side to look out the window, her hand brushed against something. Surprised, she sat up to investigate. Sheets of paper lay strewn across her bed and scattered on the floor.
She rubbed her eyes as understanding took hold. Her book . . .
She must’ve fallen asleep while reading her manuscript, she realized, yawning. She rose from her bed and gathered the two-hundred-some sheets into a pile, taking her time to put the pages in order. As she did, her eyes reread a sentence here and there. Not bad, she thought to herself. The emotions in the words felt true. Then again, she was a biased judge. Her mother had made it brutally clear when she was just a girl that she didn’t have talent. Just like her father, her mother had said dismissively, waving away Harper’s fledgling attempts at short stories and poems. Her mother was a renowned editor, so Harper had taken her words as fact. Those fateful words still stung, even after decades.