Monday Night Monopoly
I had come to Nantucket in the fall of 1997, running away from a marriage gone sour, a few thousand dollars in combined debts, and the well meaning intentions of my family. I was supposed to watch one lovely old home and six not so lovely cats until their owner returned to Nantucket in spring. She had been due to return early April of 1998, an event that would leave me homeless, adrift and broke once again.
That was five years ago, and I still had her house, her possessions, most of her cats, and more. Sometimes I think I had been born alone, and never learned otherwise in the twenty four years I had been alive. I had a family who loved me, but they never seemed to really touch the void in my soul. I had married in a vain attempt to conform, to feel right. That failed as well. Everything failed, until Nantucket had slipped through time one still, foggy March evening. I had slept through that occurrence, and may have just been one of the last of the island's inhabitants to learn of it, but that didn't change the obvious. Nantucket needed everybody, no matter how surly and solitary they were by nature. If you were whole and able, there was a job for you. Jobs meant contact, contact meant grudging respect, and respect meant friendship. Soon enough, I was hostess to the meanest game of Monday night Monopoly on the island, with an ever expanding circle of friends popping by to play, to trade, to gossip. I fit in for the first time in my life.
I had worried myself sick at first, still perverse enough to hope the opposite of everyone else. I worried that we would go back, that everything would be as it had been, that I would lose my new home, my new happiness, and my new livelihood... all those damned cats. It had taken me awhile to remember that, in the year 1250 BC, the Egyptians had a monopoly on domesticated felines. Every feral cat on Nantucket ended up in my care, and I turned their offspring into a handsome profit.
I was knee deep in Madaket Harbor, bent over double raking for oysters, when the wind abruptly changed. Human heads all over the island popped up like gophers looking for a coyote. The sky was studied, moistened thumbs held up. I stopped squinting into the sandy murk I was disturbing, absorbing the change. It had once been possible to live on Nantucket and not watch the weather with a sailor's eye. That had changed. Most of the resident population old enough to sail could and did. Even if one didn't join the great ships of Nantucket on their trips to Alba and further, there were friends and family colonizing the mainland to visit, fish to catch, goods to trade. That meant sailing, even for one like me, whose previous boating experience consisted of a tour boat on Lake Michigan. I had come to Nantucket knowing only that ships should be called ships and that ships were always referred to in the feminine pronouns. Since then, I had crewed two of Nantucket's schooners, Hale 'n Hearty and Glory Be, on four major trips, and it was that experience that had me staring into the ominous, freshening breeze. My mind catalogued speed and direction automatically. Speed, not so bad, but rising fast enough to bring Madaket's harbormaster out of the harbor house. Direction, south by southwest, driving over the western neck of the island from the airport. Florida lay in that direction, and beyond Florida, the Caribbean, spawning ground of the eastern seaboard hurricanes. My mind conjured an image, an image that I was one of the last generation to remember, a Weather Channel meteorologist sending out hurricane warnings, pointing at a cotton candy pinwheel crossing the ocean. Then Nantucket would have days of warning ahead of a major storm, now those satellites were gone, and we relied on rougher forms of weather prognostication.
I sighed, balancing the rake on my shoulder, hefting the bucket, and wading out from the harbor. I had a good distance to walk, and should get started if I wanted to put dinner on and set out my precious Monopoly board for tonight's game.
There was a man shaped form on the widow's walk of my home when I drew within sight of the house, and I frowned. John was not back, I would have noticed Glory Be's return to Madaket Harbor, having been knee deep in it most of the morning. If it wasn't John... who could it be? Nantucket was pretty safe, if one discounted the constant threat of invasion by the sea, but we'd had our fair share of people who just hadn't handled the Event well at all.
I closed on the house slowly, only somewhat mollified when the form raised a hand in greeting. "'Lo! Rache!" It bellowed in a voice recently smoothed out from adolescence.
I waved the rake in response, but grumbled internally. Cob Barrett, helping himself to my house. What else was the world coming to? Cob was John's younger brother, and I didn't qualify as one of his favorite people.
I dropped the bucket and rake off in the kitchen, cutting through the quiet house. Most of the usual furry underfoot ruckus had gone east with John earlier in the season, as he had taken my batch of eight week old kittens on an Alba run. The only cats actually loose in the house were the two older queens, in usual residence on the back of the aged couch. They looked at me to acknowledge my presence, but went right back to clicking harmlessly at the birds right outside of the parlor window.
I climbed to the widow's walk, stepping out into the breeze and blinking against the bright light. Nantucket spread out underneath me, sage green giving into silver dun, silver dun bleeding into indigo blue, and the clear horizon bending downwards as it met the sea. "Jacob." I greeted tersely, using Cob's full name to express my exasperation.
"Rachel." He returned, facing north easterly towards Madaket, binoculars plastered to his face. "The weather's turning." There was a challenge under his words.
"I know that." I snapped, fighting down both the urge to answer 'ayup' and the urge to argue right out of the gate.
"Madaket's harbormaster has raised a pennant."
That I didn't know. There hadn't been one up when I had walked by on my way home, only about fifteen minutes ago. "Yeah?"
"Ayup." he agreed, lowering to binoculars to look at me. Jacob was seven years John's junior, only now reaching adulthood. Their parents had not been on the island that fateful day in March, five years ago, which had left the nineteen year old John Barrett de facto guardian of his twelve year old brother. Cob deified John, and that fact was the bottom line of his argument with me. Cob worshipped John, John worshipped me. "You're not worried?" He demanded, his lips tightening.
"'Bout?" I asked.
"John." His voice cracked desperately on the name, but his stare was intensely adult. He was much better looking than John, now that he was almost completely baked. He was clad in the khaki uniform of the Nantucket marine corps, wearing it proudly and well.
"John can take care of himself." I asserted. "Glory Be's a good ship. He won't do anything stupid."
"It's Monday." Cob disagreed, and I knew exactly what he was getting at. John Barrett would try to move heaven and earth to be here on a Monopoly night. It was his habit to show up with some pretty he'd acquired while traveling, a token courtship gift, and some necessary supplies, his real courtship gift. We'd regressed back to the point where a man's real selling point wasn't the diamond he could put on a finger, but the food he could put in a belly, and John was a good provider.
"He..." I paused. Eagle had left Nantucket Harbor, running for the mainland. One part of me admired her; the other part knew all too well what this could mean. Eagle needed a deeper harbor than Nantucket to ride out a real storm. Cob followed my stare silently. "He'll be okay." The words shook slightly, and I could feel Cob's eyes, the same green hazel as his brother's, on me. "If there's weather, then Eagle, or somebody else, will be on the top of the watch reports with it." Glory Be, as every other Nantucket vessel, carried a transceiver radio with her, although she had been built after the Event, but battery power was so rationed that she only tuned in on the top of each watch for information. John was religious about tuning in, if Eagle called in bad weather, he'd know. No matter how badly he wanted to be here, he'd alter course to avoid trouble. He was smitten, not brain dead.
"Do you like him?" Cob asked, watching my expression intently. My refusal to fall instantly head over heels in love with John had been a stab to his younger brother's hero worship. John handled his courting with the same usual good humor and steady perseverance that he handled everything else in his life. He knew it would work, if he tried hard enough. I knew it would work, if he tried hard enough. Everyone else knew it would work, if he remained stubborn. The only one left out of the understanding loop would have to be Cob.
I smiled wryly, feeling thick moisture on the incoming wind. "Of course, Cob. I'd've run him off long ago if I didn't." My eyes caught a dot of parchment white just appearing on the seaward horizon, and I squinted at it. "Is that Glory?" I demanded, when the dot had clarified enough for me to recognize the low mast high mast configuration of a Nantucket schooner. She was running fast for harbor, sails trimmed tight to use every ounce of wind.
Cob raised the binoculars again, peering for a long moment. I knew the answer when the sharp, worried line between his eyebrows faded and he expelled the breath he'd been holding. "Well, then." I sighed. "I've got a great, big lump of salted butter and a whole bucket full of oysters, so it's oyster stew tonight. You go and meet him, help him tie down Glory, and I'll get the house locked down. Doesn't matter what the weather's like... it's Monday, and there'll be company."