As tulips were appearing in the Park Avenue meridian, Charlie’s lethargy converted to a new purpose. He would buy a boat, he announced, get serious about sailing on the open ocean. He spent weekends on the phone with his sailing contacts and littered our coffee table with catalogues.
I prayed he was taking his meds, worried he might have decided he didn’t need them or they seemed, a word he loved, “inappropriate.” Making up for months of silence, Charlie talked incessantly while I fought to distinguish any real message from the barrage of technical detail: sail types and keel formations, wind directions and sea currents. He talked, that is, we didn’t.
Nothing was said about my aversion to sailing; or about a temporary separation: he’d sail and I’d stay home and work. Sea and salt air would be his cure the way they’d been for men through the generations—this being Charlie’s rather generous take on centuries of arduous work in the maritime trades. All his earlier confusion had morphed into one legend: men who need to find themselves go down to the sea in ships. Who could argue with such a manic whirlwind, half Captain Aubrey, half Robert Bly? Not me and not, it seemed, anyone else.
Dislodged by wind and rain, a maple tree lay felled on the near bank of the Limington, a tangle of roots exposed to the sky. Beyond it the river ran under a bridge, over a tumble of rocks, and past the mills.
Rivers once powered American industry. Fueling an appetite for cotton and cheap labor, New England mills helped keep slavery alive in the south and offered work to immigrants in the north. When local economies changed, some mills persevered into the twentieth century. A mill making expensive cloth, say, had a wider margin for profit and stayed in business longer. Over time fewer and fewer managed to stay the course. Paper, cloth, shoes, boots all became cheaper to produce in Honduras or Malaysia.
And still these archetypes of industry linger on the landscape. A few returned to life. Magnificent, four-story mill complexes stretch along the Merrimack River where Lowell capitalized on past glories to create a national park; tours, museums, and canal boat rides draw crowds of visitors. Along the Blackstone, Pawtucket cloth mills converted first to factories producing lace and elastic, silverware and metals; more recently they’ve attracted artists looking for low rents and good light.
More commonly the hollow shells attract no sightseers. Difficult to dismantle, the silent wrecks loom upon the landscape. Once the railroad by-passed Limington Mills commerce struggled; eventually the mills shut their doors.
Sarah Carlisle’s River Excerpt
If my mother’s coldness was a cloud over my life, shadows hovered over the shipyards as well. British vessels were already forbidden entrance to our harbors. Late in 1807, fed up with “British disrespect, thievery, and kidnapping,” as the Gazette declared, Congress passed the Embargo Act, forbidding our ships access to the seas. Really, these decisions taken to preserve honor and property by men far off in Washington. . . . Separating Lewis and George who’d fallen to fisticuffs one afternoon, I thought how often nations behaved like children.
A Captive’s Tale Excerpt
“This Old Testament of yours,” Nate continues. “Your family reads it pretty faithfully, right?”
“The first five books, yes. The Torah.”
“The Torah. It starts with Genesis. So, let me ask you—how old is the earth?” Clearly Nate doesn’t want to talk about his sister.
Emeline’s misjudged. With New York’s forgiving air after the summer heat and cabs scarce on Seventh Avenue, it seemed a sensible move to walk east along 41st Street to Madison; if no cab came along, she’d take the bus uptown before the traffic grew brutal. She felt quite jaunty when she set off, swinging her cane like Fred Astaire and relieved she’d worn her low-heeled shoes. Only she forgot how long the blocks run from west to east. Just as her energy lags a September shower is making it tricky to manage her cane and open her umbrella.
Emeline is hardly the person she used to be—biking from 95th Street to the Cos Club on 66th without a second thought. Delivery trucks thunder past. It’s quite an effort to make her way against the pedestrians pushing by her so when a particularly rude person elbows her from behind, yanks her Coach bag from her shoulder and out of her hand, and knocks her sideways into an alley, Emeline is face down on the stinking cement before she understands. Not bad manners. A mugging.
Fluent as Xavier is in both languages, his mother’s convinced his real knack is with numbers. “M’hijo, you would make a very good accountant, no?” Though, paying her taxes on the short form, Flavia has no need of an accountant.
“Mai, just shoot me now.” Giving up the dream her first-born son Ramon will ever bring honor to her family, Flavia insisted her second son enroll at La Guardia; the community college, not the airport. If Flavia can hold a steady job, exchange her reddened hands for a Ralph Lauren tote, her cleaning tools for juice boxes, and open a bank account (most El Barrio women, if a long way from catching island rain in water drums for washing, would still rather walk into a check cashing place than a bank), what couldn’t Xavier accomplish?