A story by Geoffrey Bush

On the charts the Rock has another name. “Eel Island.” Though there isn’t really enough of it to be an island, and it doesn’t look anything like an eel. More like an elephant—a small, gray elephant.

Four hundred years ago it belonged to the Indians. Then the French arrived. Then the English. Fortyseven years ago the first of us came up here, the first summer people.

They say the name “Eel” comes from the French îie. Though “Isle Island” doesn’t make much sense, either.

We call it “the Rock.”

Every Labor Day on the Rock we have a gettogether. We call it “the Picnic.”

High tide this year was a few minutes after two o’clock. By 11:30 just about everybody had sailed over from Grand Island, the larger of the two islands closer to the mainland, and Leroy’s Island—Le roi, according to the names-from-the-French theory. Twenty-one families. Sixty-five stomachs, if everybody had come, ready for clam stew.

The weather was clear and bright. There was a steady breeze from the northwest that had made the sail over pretty easy. The men, though, as usual, seemed to feel they had accomplished something special, gazing out at the rest of the Atlantic Ocean with bottles of beer in their hands, squinty-eyed, as if they were considering sailing on to Europe, now that they’d come this far. The ladies were spreading their blankets over the flatter spots on the Rock and unpacking their sandwiches. Some of the children were chasing one another around in their bathing suits, and some were in the water, on the south side, where the current isn’t so strong. Amazing how those little creatures don’t feel the cold.

I felt warm myself. I had awakened early with a chill in my seventy-nine-year-old bones. But it was a good day.

It was going to be a good Picnic.

I climbed up over the lichen and bare rock to where Tim was standing with his binoculars. The whole Rock isn’t more than a hundred yards across, at high tide. From up here, at the top, I could see Doc’s red hunting hat, in a fold in the rock, where he and Joe, out of the breeze, were putting the finishing touches to the pot of stew. Doc’s and Joe’s finishing touches consist of adding the right amount of rum to the stew, where it immediately boils away, and to themselves. They’d probably been adding finishing touches for the last two or three hours.

Tim didn’t put his binoculars down. He knew it was me standing beside him.

“Mrs. Alex is just rounding the point,” he said.

Tim likes to look through things. Sometimes it’s his binoculars, sometimes it’s one of his cameras. He feels better with something expensive around his neck.

We call him “the Lookout.”

I could see Mrs. Alex’s sail perfectly well with my own two eyes. It was coming past the tip of Leroy’s Island and starting the long, open stretch to the Rock. Thirty-four years ago the Alexanders bought the Rock for next to nothing from a French-Canadian family. When Mrs. Alexander arrives, the Picnic begins. Since her husband’s death she’s been a kind of Dowager Queen to us.

As well as the Hostess.

“Right on schedule,” I said. “I’ll let them know.”

Meaning Doc and Joe.

“Are the rest of us here?”

Tim put down his binoculars, took a piece of paper out of his pocket, and unfolded it. Most of the names on it had checks after them. Three had lines through them.

“Except the Fishers.

Their little girl has a summer cold.”

“Have you got their regrets?”

“Emily has.” Emily is Tim’s wife, and the Secretary. “Back at the house.”

Around us we could hear the happy sounds, the talking and joking and calling back and forth, and once in a while a not-so-happy sound, a child protesting or a mother losing her patience. While I watched Doc’s hunting hat, it tilted back and a Bacardi bottle took its place.

“That leaves the new people,” I said.

“What kind of a boat do they have?” Tim asked.

“I don’t believe they’ve got one.”

He turned and looked at me.

“How are they going to get here?”

“They’ll get here.”

“They know?”

“Know?”

“About the Picnic?”

“They know, all right.”

Now that I could see his face, it didn’t look quite right. Maybe that was why he had kept his binoculars up to it. Tim’s what you’d think of as a tall, handsome, military-looking, bankerlike man, which is what he is. The breeze had blown his thin gray hair around, and he hadn’t brushed it back. He looked older than fiftywhatever-he-is.

“Charles—”

If I were the touching kind, I might have put a hand on his shoulder. I’m not, though.

“We’ll manage.” I smiled at him. “Let’s enjoy ourselves.”

This was the last time we’d be seeing each other, after all, until next year. We’d be running into each other before then, of course. We belong to at least two of the same clubs. But in the winter we say hello, and ask each other how we are, and wonder what to talk about next, as if we hardly know each other.

It’s the same with all of us. It’s not something we’ve decided, or even discussed. It’s just one of our ways.

For the rest of the year we’re different people.

I climbed down the fold in the rock.

“Mrs. A.’s in sight,” I told Doc and Joe. “Good-oh,” Doc said, in his English accent.

Doc has a variety of accents. There’s something about a comical fellow like Doc, with his bony face and his hawk nose and his wooden expression, that makes him a first-class Cook.

As long as it’s a matter of bringing liquid to a boil. And he keeps his mind on it.

“Give her fifteen minutes to get here,” I said, “and a few minutes to get settled, and visit a bit, and you can start serving.”

“Fifteen minutes?”

“With this wind.”

Doc glanced up to see which way the steam from the pot was blowing. Which, of course, he couldn’t tell, being in the cleft of the rock, where the steam was blowing chiefly in his face. He appeared to have forgotten which way the wind had been blowing on their trip over.

Joe tossed back his black hair, pulled a heavy glove over one hand—not a kitchen glove, naturally; more like a glove you’d wear to shovel coal with—stepped up to the pot with a concentrated look in his black eyes, partly from coming so close to the fire, and lifted the lid off.

He takes it pretty seriously being Chief Bottlewasher.

Inside the pot the stew bubbled gently. He looked at it. Doc looked at it. I looked at it. It was a light gray color, like a cloudy sky that’s not quite able to rain. Bits of clam and potato and God-knows-what-else rose and sank and swam around in it.

The ladies, of course, are the ones who make it, chopping and cooking and mixing and seasoning the night before. But after Doc and Joe have spent Labor Day morning sailing the pot out to the Rock, lighting a fire under it, and pouring the rum into it, they’re under the impression that they’ve done the really hard part.

For two or three days beforehand they don’t even get around to shaving. They looked like a couple of pirates.

“One more touch?” Doc said to Joe.

“One more touch,” Joe said.

Doc held the bottle over the pot. A drop or two fell out.

“I’d say that stew was about ready.”

We never call it “chowder.” It’s always “stew.” I don’t know why.

“What’s the price?” Doc asked.

“Seventy-five,” I said. “Inflation. Some year somebody’s going to put it to a vote.”

He was about to say something else facetious when we heard the noise.

We looked at the water. Standing where we were, we couldn’t see the stretch between us and Grand and Leroy Islands. Only out to sea.

“Do you hear what I hear?” Doc said.

Joe put the lid back on the pot, stepped back, and pulled his glove off. Down below us, where some parents were watching their little ones splash around, heads turned.

“What’s that?” a child asked.

A nice, white little Boston Whaler came into view, shining in the sun, as if it had just been taken out of its wrappings, with a man and a woman sitting behind a little windshield arrangement, the man holding a bit of a steering wheel, circling the Rock to come up to the grassy place on the north side where our sailboats were tied up.

When they came abreast of Doc and Joe and me and the pot, they gave a wave. They might have been driving their new sports car up to the country club parking lot.

Then they hit the current again. The man grabbed his little steering wheel with both hands. The woman cut her wave off too, when she felt herself being thrown around a bit, and held on to the seat.

I’d been waiting for that moment. We all had, I suppose. He’d overcorrected a trifle, but on the whole he hadn’t done too badly. And then we couldn’t see any more of them, just heard the racket of their outboard motor.

“Well,” Joe said.

He said it in a sort of flat voice. But he didn’t sound too concerned. Joe generally doesn’t let himself get too upset about things.

“That’s the new people, I guess,” Doc said.

He looked at the stewpot as if it wasn’t so much fun anymore.

The noise stopped. Doc picked up the big wooden spoon lying next to the ax they use to split their wood with.

“Let’s give this thing a stir.”

Trying to get back into his humorous vein, but not quite making it. Joe pulled his glove back on his hand. I stood there. Feet apart, back stiff, hands clasped behind it. Feeling the sun on my face. Listening to the rush of the breeze in my ears.

He came first, fair-haired and round-faced, a little out of breath, a bit heavy for a young fellow, dressed in blue and green plaid trousers and one of those striped jerseys with little alligators on them, making his way up among the children and blankets and grown-ups.

“Hi, there, Charlie,” he said. Grinning at me. At least I supposed it was me he was grinning at, through his sunglasses.

I nodded. “Jack.”

Behind him came the woman, smaller and trimmer and darker-haired, in a red shirt tied in front like a halter and a pair of shorts. The shorts were made out of the same plaid as his trousers.

In one hand she had a blanket and in the other a brand-new wicker hamper. She seemed to be the one who did the carrying. She set the hamper down with a puff and a laugh. “Isn’t this marvelous?”

I nodded at her. “Debbie.”

I had a great-aunt Deborah. Nobody ever called her “Debbie.” She’s dead now.

I looked at the husband.

“You know Doc here, and Joe?”

“Sure do. We meet on Sunday mornings, at the Store, picking up the Globe.”

He stepped forward as if he was going to shake hands. Doc and Joe, though, seemed to have their hands full of gloves and spoons.

“That’s right,” Doc said.

The woman pointed at the pot. “And this is the fabulous chowder?”

“I don’t know how fabulous it is,” Joe said. “But this is the stew.”

Her husband turned to me. “Say, ah, Charlie—” Light flashed on his sunglasses. “I happened to notice, when I was tying up down there—I hope you don’t mind.”

“Mind?”

“Frankly, I’m not much of a sailor.”

“Oh?”

“You folks all came in sailboats.”

“Oh,” I said, as if I were just beginning to understand.

He put a hand on my arm. “I hope you don’t mind my motorboat.”

“Sensible notion,” I said, “coming under power. I don’t know why it’s never occurred to any of us.”

He tightened his grip. “The last thing Debbie and I want to do is anything to spoil this Picnic.”

His wife picked up the hamper. It looked as if she was the one who decided when it was time to move on.

“Sweetie,” she said.

“But you must have a lot of things to see to.” He took his hand away. “We’ll go somewhere farther up and make camp.”

I smiled. “Do that.”

They began climbing. I moved my arm, shook down the sleeve of my khaki work shirt, and thought about something else.

About the first roommate I’d had at Harvard, a chunky, talkative fellow.

About a shutter I’d been intending to fix on the second floor.

About nothing, really.

Until I heard the laughter and the chatter that meant that Mrs. A. had landed.

“Sounds as if we’re almost ready,” I said.

“Whenever you are,” Doc said.

I let Joe go first, carrying the ax. By the time I’d climbed down to where Mrs. A. was she’d said most of her How-are-you’s and Good-to-see-you’s, as gay and friendly as a girl at a Waltz Evening. She might have been one of the children, about to take a run around the Rock, if it hadn’t been for her white hair and that dark old gypsy shawl of hers.

Her grandson David, who had sailed her over, was standing beside her holding her canvas bag. Fine, strong-looking boy. More like his father every year— the first Boatman.

“Charles,” she said, giving me a stare with those pale, sharp old eyes that seemed to go through to the back of my head. The kind of look my mother used to give me seventy years ago.

“Amy,” I said.

She put out her tanned old gardener’s hand, partly for courtesy purposes, partly so I could help her up to the next bit of ledge. I gave her the pull she was expecting, partly to bring that look to an end. She let go my hand and straightened. As far as she’s able to straighten these days, which is still pretty far.

“How are you?” she said.

“I’m all right.”

“You look tired.”

But she didn’t say it as if it worried her. I had passed inspection.

“Woke up a bit on the early side this morning,” I said. “Couldn’t get back to sleep again.”

“There must be somebody else who could look after all this.”

We both knew there wasn’t, though. David, at seventeen? Doc? Joe? Tim?

It was Tim I was worried about.

“We’ll manage,” I said. “Better get settled. We’re going to begin serving.”

We started up, David holding her elbow over the patches of loose clamshells, past the line of families that had formed in front of Doc and the stewpot. Until we got to the level, mossy place three quarters of the way to the top.

Where the new people had spread out their blanket and were taking glittery new aluminum containers out of their wicker hamper.

“So good to see you,” Amy said.

He was on his feet. “Mrs. Alexander.” He had a special voice for old ladies. Maybe he had a special voice for old men, which he used on me. “Will you join us?”

“Why, thank you.”

“There’s just one thing.” I smiled at him. “This is Mrs. Alex’s place.”

“I beg your pardon?”

I pointed to their blanket. “This place is sort of reserved for Amy.”

His wife put her hand to her mouth. She had red fingernails. “I’m so sorry.” She went down on her knees. “No wonder no one was up here, in the best spot on the Rock.” She started pulling the blanket higher. “We’ll move.”

“That’s the Porters’ place.”

She looked up. “The Porters’ place?”

“There’s no reason you should know this. But that’s where Professor and Mrs. Porter used to sit, when they were alive. Just above the Alexanders.”

She pulled the blanket sideways. “Will this be all right?” She sounded a bit flustered. “Over here?”

“That’ll be fine. Won’t it, Amy?”

“It’ll be a pleasure to have you both for company.”

“Oh, my. Help me, Jack.”

Her husband went down on his knees beside her and pulled at another part of their blanket. One of their nice aluminum containers fell open, and an orange rolled out.

“So kind of you,” Amy said. “To move just for me.”

He got back to his feet. There was a touch of perspiration on his forehead, in spite of the breeze. He picked up an aluminum thermos bottle.

“If we’re going to be neighbors, can I interest you in a Bloody Mary?”

“Oh, no,” Amy said. David was helping her down onto a bit of moss. “I don’t think so.”

“Charlie?”

“I’m a beer-drinker, at least at the Picnic. But don’t let us stop you.”

He put the thermos bottle down, a bit awkwardly.

“Later, maybe.”

Nobody seemed to know what to say. His wife sat down on their blanket, with another of her little laughs. She looked around.

“To think that you’ve been having this Picnic for thirty years.”

“Thirty-two years,” I said.

“Thirty-two years,” she said brightly. “And now we’re a part of it.”

“Everybody who owns a house up here is invited.”

“How did it get started?”

“I’m not sure whose idea it was. We’d been holding a kind of annual meeting at the end of the summer, to talk over what had happened during the past season— what had gone right, and what hadn’t—and make plans for the next. When the Alexanders bought the Rock, we began to hold it out here. After a while, when there were more families, what you might call the business side of things was taken care of the night before, by a Committee. Except for items requiring everybody’s vote. And the next day turned into the Picnic.” I looked down. “You brought some bowls, I hope?”

She held up two colored plastic bowls. They had cartoon animals on them. “The largest we have.”

“You’ll get the same amount as the rest of us.” I smiled. “Two ladlefuls.”

Now that we’d got the conversational wheels turning, her husband seemed to feel it was all right to pick up the thermos bottle again.

“Am I wrong,” he said, unscrewing its little aluminum cap, “or did all of you folks come from Boston?”

“That’s right. It was Josh Porter who discovered these Islands.”

“Professor Porter? Who had the seat of honor?”

“He told a few more of us. It was during the Depression. Some of us who’d been more careful than the others, and didn’t like the way the world was going, were looking for a place to get away from it.”

“You found one.” He poured into the little cap. “Two months ago Debbie and I didn’t know it existed.”

“We don’t talk about it much.”

“It must be pretty deserted in the winter.”

“It is.”

He took a swallow. “Funny there isn’t anybody living here all year.”

“We bought them out.”

He looked a little uncomfortable. People do, sometimes, when they hear how the Islands got to be ours.

Though I notice they don’t object too much while they’re here.

“There was a connection between Boston and the Islands in the early days,” I said.

“There was?”

“Some settlers came up here during the Rebellion.”

“The Rebellion?”

I smiled. “I’ve heard it called the Revolution. Whatever it was, they didn’t care for it. For ‘the desperate excesses of these feverish and unhappy times,’ according to the Articles of Separation they drew up for themselves.”

“Is that so?”

“They intended to set up their own government. Their own Governor, their own General Assembly, and their own Committee of Safety. ‘An independent commonwealth, if God shall will it.’ ”

“How’d they make out?”

“No one knows. That’s the only document our Historian’s been able to find.”

“God didn’t will it, eh?” He grinned. “Something must have gone wrong.” He took another swallow. “The authorities must have caught up with them. Even here.”

The line was almost gone from in front of the stewpot. Most people were busy eating. A few were getting the last bits of stew out of their bowls with pieces of bread.

This wasn’t one of the years when we’d be lingering over our meal.

Amy shifted her position a trifle on her patch of moss.

“When are you going to start your renovations?” she asked.

“I’ve got a contractor coming over from the mainland in two weeks.”

“You surprised us. Taking the title to your property so quickly.”

He drained the little cap. “The biggest favor Tim ever did us,” he said earnestly, “was to tell us a house up here was available.”

“You must feel there’s a lot that needs fixing. Tim’s mother wasn’t very well her last year.”

“It’s the barn we want to work on.”

“The barn?”

“When we’re through with the barn, you won’t recognize it.”

“We won’t?”

“It’s going to make a dandy little guesthouse. We have friends in New York we think will love it.”

Somebody’s dog had just grabbed the little Blanchard girl’s cookie. She looked as if she was going to howl.

Maybe we should have a vote about dogs.

“Amy’s son used to play in that barn,” I said.

“Oh?”

“David’s father,” Amy said. “When he was a little fellow.”

“He was killed in Korea,” I said, “when he was older.”

There was a bit of a silence. He looked at the little cap.

“It was a clubhouse,” Amy said. “The barn, I mean. For him and his friends. They held their meetings in one of the haylofts. Secret meetings, of course. Most of the time, I think, they discussed who they wanted to have as members. Who they wanted to keep out, really. But that’s the way children are, isn’t it?” She paused. “And their name. They spent the longest time trying to choose a name. I never did find out what they decided to call themselves.”

“The Committee,” I said.

She looked up. “Really?”

“That’s right.”

“You never told me that.”

“Didn’t I?”

“Isn’t that funny?” She smiled. “They must have heard it somewhere.”

The sun was as high as it was going to get at this time of year. The swells were coming in over the rocks below in a slow, easy way. The breeze felt a little stronger.

“It’s so beautiful,” the woman said.

She was looking out to sea. There was a single gull circling in the brilliant blue sky, giving a squawk now and then. Later there’d be more.

“Going to be a cold night,” I said.

“Now I know why everybody told us September is the prettiest month.”

None of us would have said “prettiest.” “Most terrible,” maybe. Or “cruelest.” When the air is brightest, and the sky hardest, and the sea deepest, and you feel as if your soul were being stretched to its furthest limits. As if you were present at the beginning of things. At the Creation, before everything went wrong.

“So silent.” She hugged her knees. “Like the end of the earth.”

“We’ve had some accidents out here,” I said.

“Accidents?” her husband said.

“Mostly on Labor Day, when so many of us are out. People whose boats get smashed up.”

“Badly?”

“Badly enough so they’re not able to get back to Grand or Leroy’s Island. And if they make it here to the Rock, there aren’t any trees.”

“Any trees?”

“Anything that will float.”

“What do they do?”

“Probably they try to swim for it, in the end. And, of course, they can’t.”

“Can’t they light a fire? Signal somehow?”

“There’s nobody to see them. Most of us drive back to the city on Labor Day evening. And no one else comes out this way. The fishing boats down the coast go the other side of Grand, twenty miles away. Because of the rocks. And the current.”

“Good grief.”

The woman spoke without turning her head.

“But you do.”

“We do?”

“You come out.”

“Yes.”

“To the Rock.”

“Yes.”

“For the Picnic.”

“Oh, yes,” I said. “We come out.” I paused. “We’ve found, over the years, that we agree about what’s important to us.” I tried to think of a way to say it. “What we feel it’s right for us to do.” It wasn’t easy to put into words. “The price we’re willing to pay for living on the Islands.”

“I think that’s what I felt about this place.” Her voice was a sort of whisper. “That the ways here were—older ways.”

I looked down at the top of her head. She was close to it, all right.

The roots of her hair were a different color from the rest of it. I looked away.

“But you mustn’t waste your last day,” Amy said. “You’ll miss your stew.”

He began to screw the cap back on the thermos bottle. He looked a bit subdued.

“I’ll go get us some.”

His wife stood up, a little clumsily. “We’ll both

go.”

“Can we get yours for you?” he asked Amy.

“No, thank you.”

“No?”

“The price is seventy-five cents,” she said. “Payable to Emily. Tim’s wife.”

“But not new people,” I said.

“Not new people?” he said.

“It’s one of our rules.”

“You’re sure?”

“New people don’t have to pay.”

“Sweetie,” his wife said.

She picked up their plastic bowls. He started down toward the pot.

Amy looked up at me.

“That’s a rule I never heard of before.”

“Is it?”

I turned away. I didn’t feel like talking to Amy any more just then. And I had to have a word with Tim. He was standing where he had been standing before, his binoculars hanging from his neck, the wind blowing his hair over his forehead. Already there was a boat on the open stretch between the Rock and the Islands.

“Not eating anything?” I said.

“Are you?”

I ignored that. “It’s time to clean up.” He didn’t answer. “Tim,” I said, “it’s time to walk around the Rock and clean up the driftwood.”

“Charles,” he said, “I made a mistake.”

“I know.”

He wiped his face with his sleeve. “It’s my fault.”

“Yes,” I said. “It is. But we’ve all made mistakes like that.”

“That’s not what I mean.”

I knew what he meant. I didn’t want to hear it. I climbed down to where the rest of us were packing our knapsacks and folding our blankets. “Time to start back,” I said, nodding to this family and to that. “Tide’s turning.” When I got to Doc and Joe they were rinsing out the pot with seawater. I poked the wet embers of their fire with the toe of my boot. “Anything left here?”

“Nothing worth worrying about,” Joe said.

“This piece feels solid.” I kicked out a log that was two-thirds burned. “Better drop it in the pot and take it with us.”

“You’re the Boss.”

“That’s right.” I smiled at him. “I am.” I looked down at Doc, who hadn’t raised his head from sloshing out the pot. “Ready to go, Doc?”

“Guess so.”

He still didn’t look up. His words were a bit slurry. I doubted he had been drinking any more, just letting himself feel it.

“Let’s tidy up, then.”

I climbed up to Amy and David and the new people. There were more boats beginning the quick, downwind trip back to the Islands. From the landing place you could hear the clatter of the last sails being raised and the shouts of people shoving off.

“I hope I haven’t forgotten anything,” Amy said. She didn’t look around. She knew she hadn’t forgotten anything. She started down, her hand on David’s arm, her head high, her back as straight as she can hold it after the number of years she’s had of this feverish and unhappy life.

“The chowder was delicious.”

It was the woman, with the blanket in one hand and the hamper in the other.

“All set?” I said. There was one other family still packing. Nice family. Just at that moment I couldn’t recollect their name. “Don’t leave anything behind,” I called to them cheerfully.

They passed us on the way down, the mother hurrying the children along. By the time we reached the landing place the father had them in their boat and had pushed off. One of the children started complaining. The father said something sharp to him and pulled in the sheet.

Stewart was their name. Related to Doc, somehow or other. They didn’t look back in our direction.

“Folks certainly get away from here fast,” the man said.

Joe’s boat was a few feet offshore, the bow pointing into the wind and the open ocean, the sail flapping loose. Joe was in the stern, trying to hang on with one hand to the stern of the Whaler. Doc and David were wading out to him with the stewpot.

“That pot’s a problem,” I said. “We have to have a boat out there in deeper water.”

They swung the pot into Joe’s boat. Doc clambered over the side after it. I saw Joe’s mouth move as his stern went down and up and he swore to himself.

I patted my pockets. “Got a match?” I asked the man.

“No, I’m sorry.”

I looked at the woman. “You?”

“I don’t, I’m afraid.”

“Didn’t know you smoked,” the man said.

David was wading back to us through the tall grass.

“I’m going in Joe’s boat,” I said. “You mind if I step through your motorboat to get to it? Save getting my feet wet.”

“Not a bit. What about this young fellow?”

I stepped into the bow of the Whaler. It rocked a little. I spread my feet.

“David’s going with us.”

David held out his hand.

“Let me help you with those,” he said to the woman.

He took her blanket and hamper and stepped into the Whaler beside me. The man and the woman stood on the rocks at the water’s edge, the man looking as if things were happening a bit too quickly for him to understand.

“Shall I start the outboard?” David said.

“No.” We could manage without that. “Cast off.” He dropped the Whaler’s painter over the side.

It took a moment for the man to react. “Hey,” he said in a puzzled voice.

I turned to Joe. “Haul in.” Joe let go of the stern of the Whaler and hauled in his sail. The wind caught it with a snap.

The man stepped into the water. “Wait a minute.”

The tow rope came up that Joe had rigged between his boat and the Whaler. There was a tug. We began to move.

“What’s going on?” The man was splashing through the tall grass after us. His sunglasses had fallen off. He had big, round, brown eyes, like a frightened animal.

The Lookout and the Hostess were sitting in the Hostess’s boat, twenty yards away. The Boatman, beside me, had an oar in his hands. If there hadn’t been an oar in the Whaler, the Chief Bottlewasher would have put one in, next to the ax, to do God’s will.

“Give us a shove,” I said. Feet apart, back stiff, hands clasped behind it. Feeling the sun on the back of my neck. Listening to the rush of the breeze in my ears.

He turned to Joe. “Let’s have a look at the soup course.”