It was nearly noon on the Oregon coast, the day already hot when June Byrne shook out her father’s old camp blanket on the backyard lawn, removed her T-shirt, and lay with bare breasts to the sun.
She had phoned the contractor again and, like last week and the week before, hung up at the sound of his voice. Except today a woman answered, and pleaded, gently, with June: Why do you keep calling? What is it you want? June was drawn to the warmth of her tone, and hesitated before disconnecting the call.
Aside from the golf course beyond the edge of the property, June’s yard was relatively private, bordered by birch trees and evergreens and ferns. She lay here squeezing her eyes shut, trying to exchange the world inside herself for the one out around her ?— ?the foul sea breeze slicing the air, the chickadees’ singing at the feeders. Every now and then she heard the thwack of a short iron hitting a glassy little ball. But the salty sweat on June’s upper lip made her think of margaritas on the beach, and June was one month sober, and yes, it was not quite noon.
Thirty-five years old ?— ?nearly thirty-six ?— ?and at night with the windows open, June could smell her own skin, and she smelled different without the drinking. She was different, or perhaps she was something of a snake, having shed one skin to live inside another.
The contractor had come highly recommended, though the phone number she’d been given was no longer in service. She had only his name and that of the small town where he’d moved in recent years. Information gave a listing for a landline. When June hung up on him the first time, she stared at the phone, surprised at what she’d done, and expected he might dial her number in return. He didn’t. Not even after the second and third calls she’d placed the following week. Perhaps his phone didn’t have caller ID. Perhaps he didn’t want to know who she was. Perhaps he believed she was someone he knew and never wished to hear from again.
June pressed the heels of her hands into her eyes and drew a long breath. The rot was still drifting on the wind.
It was going to take most of the summer to restore all the woodwork and period detail in the bungalow next door ?— ?the plumber had already come and gone and this had been his best guess. The electrician, too, his initial phase of rewiring behind the walls finished so quickly ?— ?a week? June had been drinking then, and writing, too, so it was hard to say. “At least the whole summer,” the electrician said. “Like having a roommate.” He laughed. “Right there every single day. A cousin coming for the summer like when you were a kid. You ever have a cousin come stay like that when you were a kid?”
June was an only child of an only child. She shook her head no.
Seven weeks ago she was high above the earth, drinking Manhattans on a plane from Ireland, her adopted country for the past twelve years. She’d come home to America, to the carriage house where she was raised, a place her Irish immigrant grandfather built from a mail order kit nearly a century ago, a man whose presence June still felt in every piece of molding and plank of creaky fir. He’d built the bungalow next door at nearly the same time, and when her grandparents died three years ago, their absence had the quality of a dream, a tale someone told that couldn’t possibly be true, not here atop the ridge that had once been a logging road, not here where all of June’s life her grandparents shaped this place, in the same way they had forever shaped June.
Both homes faced the ocean, and the waves could be heard day and night, a rhythmic crash that helped settle the chatter in the corners of June’s mind. Settled her the way the bungalow always had, with its hollyhock garden and stained-glass windows and rooms that once smelled of piecrust and furniture polish and Granddad’s musky lard soap. The bungalow was one of June’s most favored places on earth. She and Niall Sullivan were married there, surrounded by the colors and smells of the Pacific Northwest ?— ?rosemary, mint, and salty sea. The properties stood side by side on a square of land amid eight acres of old-growth conifers. Shady, untouched forest flanked the houses to the north and south. Elk, foxes, and bobcats wandered the soft pads of pine needles and emerald-colored moss, downy woodpeckers rattled the trees, and during the summer, when the sun set late and rose early, the sharp cries of coyotes cut across the small meadow at the darkest hour of night. The entire outfit, as Granddad called it, had belonged to him and Grandmam, and now it belonged to June. By fall she would own less, when she sold the bungalow and the lot on which it stood. She needed to get hold of the contractor. She needed to not hang up.
Both front porches offered a panorama of ocean sunsets and rainstorms and the chalky lighthouse with the red roof when the sky was china blue, like today. Visitors ?— ?in the unlikely event June were to have any ?— ?needed to be mindful, especially during downpours, not to pull their cars too close to the edge or slip on the footpath across the road and plummet down what Granddad had called the gorge, a sharp, hundred-foot tumble over a rocky cliff to the sea.
The fetid breeze June smelled was death, lifting off by-the-wind sailors; thousands of the sea creatures had washed ashore over the past three days. Several could fit in her palm, and resembled dinghies made of sapphire glass, with a clear fin like a crystal sail along the spine. As gorgeous and unearthly as a glassblower might have wrought, though they’d turned quickly in the heat, and the blue streak now faded for miles down the beach. The stench lessened only when the wind shifted west, bringing mouthfuls of pinesap and lilacs and forest peat down the side of Neahkahnie Mountain.
“That’s Forest Pete,” June’s father used to say, and for years she believed that a giant man of that name lived on Neahkahnie and reeked of the earth.
Her father had bequeathed her the camp blanket when she was seven years old, placing it at the foot of her bed before walking out of the house and into the bungalow, and from the bungalow outside to his death. The last time June saw him alive was a slivered view from across the expanse of both yards ?— ?his flannel sleeve rolled above his elbow on the doorframe as he entered the back of the bungalow. And then nothing but a slant of sun pulling steam off rosemary sprigs, wet tree leaves dangling in sparkles. It was an image June seemed to have stared at for hours, though that couldn’t be true. Either way, it was then that her father had walked out of her grandparents’ front door, stepped off the long pine porch, and crossed the road. Whether or not he cried out when he dove into the sunset, June did not hear a thing.
Native people on this native land believed the direction of endings was west. “And here we are,” Granddad once said to little June from his wraparound porch, facing the whitecaps and charcoal sky, his small field notebook returned to his jacket pocket with a pat. He’d read the journals of Lewis and Clark, and kept detailed notes of the natural world around him, as if his life, too, were an expedition. “It’s the troubled moods of the one,” Grandmam pointed out, “that he most admires,” referring to Meriwether Lewis’s depression.
Her grandparents had meant to raise a large family, though there had only been June’s father, Finn, and after he...