Rick Boyer: Billingsgate Shoal

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I went into the sauna. The temperature was 190 degrees. Perfect. I baked in there three times, coming out only long enough to shower under cold water each time. Finally I showered for good. I felt so laid back I couldn't have gotten it up even if I were naked in the sack with all three of Charlie's Angels.

No, wait. I take that back.

I made the chowder. Soon the big iron pot was simmering away and I tended to it as I sipped a Gosser beer.

"Isn't that Jack, Charlie?" shouted Mary from the bathroom. The cream colored Toyota Land Cruiser swept into the gravel driveway, and number one son climbed out. On his back bumper is a sticker that reads: STOP THE WHALE KILLERS! BOYCOTT JAPANESE GOODS!

Now you don't stop to think about this until you realize that the sticker is affixed to none other than a Toyota, for Chrissake, and that we've been guilty of laying nine grand on the

"killers." Not to worry though, not to worry: there's another sticker on the other side, saying: IF I'D KNOEN ABOUT THE WHALES, I WOULDN'T HAVE BOUGHT THIS CAR.

Oh, well, the kid's heart is in the right place.

Number-two son, Tony, was working a summer job as a grounds keeper at a resort in Franconia Notch, N.H. He called a few times, to say the job was crummy, it didn't pay well, and was hard work, but that he was having "a great time, especially at night," which meant, I suppose, that he was mostly getting laid. But then, what are summer jobs for? Jack was doing graduate work in biology at the oceanographic center at Woods Hole, and so was at The Breakers fairly regularly.

He sauntered, in, snagging a beer from the refrigerator. He stirred and tasted the chowder, nodding his head and grunting. I walked with him back out onto the deck, and scanned Billingsgate with the marine glasses. It stood on the horizon, a dark streak surrounded by red shiny water. We had a drink and watched the sun and listened to the gulls. We waited for Allan, then gave up on him.

"Probably forgot," said Jack, thrusting a big paw into the nut dish that sat in the middle of the picnic table. "He's got a new girlfriend down in Chatham."

"Yes, I remember him saying he had a dinner date," said Mary.

"Have you heard from Tony? How is number-two son?" I asked.

He looked up quickly and stared at me level for an instant with his turquoise eyes. He took after the Adams side of the family-the Nordic side. Tony looked like his mother: with deep olive skin and coal black eyes-eyes so dark you could never see the pupils. Jack was blond, and wore a bright yellow beard to match his hair. He had medium skin and pale blue-gray eyes. Both boy-men are enormously handsome. But then what would you expect their daddy to say?

"Huh? Why do you want to know?"

"Because he usually writes us or calls regularly," said Mary, "and he hasn't been lately. Well?"

He shrugged and munched more nuts, swigged at the mug. of beer in his left hand. He looked out over the sand flats and ocean.


"Jack, I know you pretty well," I said. "Sure there's nothing you-"

"Nope. Let's eat. I'll call Allan first thing tomorrow."

We ate on the deck: the chowder accompanied by asparagus in lemon and butter, fresh sugar-and-butter corn on the cob and chablis. Of course afterward I realized that the quarter-pound of butter that had made everything so delicious had probably more than undone the 'afternoon's running. Oh, to hell with it. I did a little writing after that, working on a paper to be presented at the next meeting of the New England Oral Surgeons. Its working title was "The Use of Epoxy Hardeners and Porcelain-Resin Compounds in the Cosmetic Capping of Peg-Lateral Incisors." It was as exciting as cold oatmeal.

I went in and nestled up against Mary's warm, soft flank, and slept. As I dozed off l heard the sound of the tide easing back in: slow cadence of crump and hiss, and wind blowing through the dune grass.


Time: 5:45 A.M. Low ceiling. Wind: north-northeast, 12 knots and freshening. Barometer: 29.8 and falling. Temperature: 68°. Sky: leaden and darkening.

It did not look promising. The scattered rows of stratocumulus clouds of the previous day that had almost cleared had regrouped into an ominous thick gray goop. The barometer and wind gauges also foretold unpleasant weather. The wind was turning eastward by the minute, and an east wind almost always is "an ill wind that blows no good."

Over after-breakfast coffee Mary and I decided to flee the Cape and head back to the main domicile in Concord for the a day. There were assorted bits of house husbandry that needed taking care of, and Mary had a batch of pots and ceramic sculpture that needed glazing and fixing. So we went. I mowed the lawn, collected mail and magazines, and developed the film I'd shot over·the. past two weeks. I didn't make prints; just left the celluloid strips hanging in the dust-free dryer until I had more time. Mary busied herself in her workshop annex. She does this thing called rock salt glazing which takes immense heat and long periods in the kiln. We built specially constructed kilns for the process in the backyard, beehive-shaped domes that draw their heat from bottled gas. When the temperature reaches some astronomical figure, and certain clay cones inside the structures bend and dissolve,

Mary throws in handfuls of coarse kosher rock salt, which promptly vaporize and affix themselves., in the form of a slick finish, to the pots on the racks above. It is an ancient glazing process, she tells me, but produces pots and vases with a finish that is distinctive, simple, and very handsome.

After lunch we headed back and picked up our three dogs who had just been dipped to prevent ticks, which are common on the Cape. They attack Angel and Flack, the two wire-haired dachshunds, especially, since they are low-slung and furry. Danny, the yellow Lab, is more immune. Anyway we gathered them in the car, all smelling like new telephone poles, and headed for the cottage.

Call it intuition, a hunch, or clairvoyance. Whatever it is, I sensed it as we swung into the driveway at half past three.

Something wasn't right.

Sure enough, Jack was pacing the deck when we showed up. He didn't wave as usual. Instead he waved his arm backward, motioning us to hurry. He met us in the front hallway.

'Allan Hart's dead," he said. "He drowned in the harbor."

I was hearing him but I wasn't; his voice was coming to me from far, far away, as if he were speaking into one end of the Alaskan pipeline up in Barrow and I was sticking my head in the other end down in the Lower Forty-Eight. I remember looking at the lampshade and thinking how nicely they'd rendered the nautical chart on it, and that I had some tobacco ash still left in my pewter ashtray. I realized everything but what was actually told me. Like a time-delay fuse, my mind had stopped momentarily to absorb the jolt. Then Jack handed me a paper.

Then I was looking at the article-at the picture of Allan. But I wasn't at the cottage when I found myself reading it; I was half a mile down the beach. My three dogs were staring up at me, concerned. They whined and wagged their tails slowly, tentatively, as if in fear of rebuke.

I shooed them away and walked, read, walked again,

I sometimes slapping the paper against my thigh. The gulls were low, diving and wheeling about. The dogs scampered after them, barking. It was all a dream. I returned to the wooden stairs, and suddenly was up them, all thirty-nine of them, without doing it.

Then the two of them were sitting in the living room staring at me.

Mary's crying brought me back to the real world for good. I sat next to her on the couch and we read the article together, overland over again. But no matter how many times we read it, it stayed the same.

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