Ghost Punch: a Block Island memory

We could hear the waves and we could smell the ocean as the sun watched us slide down the tall bluff.

We scraped the bottoms of our feet, dragging our towels through the hard clay. Rocks hurt our pinky toes. Behind us our parents brought sandwiches in tin foil and bigger blankets, bits of home that we slid from as fast as we could. But for a moment we were all of us on the bluff, spread out and watched by the chandelier sun. We heard “slow down!” and we delighted in the danger we were making.

At the bottom we lifted to standing and ran the rest of the way, our feet on shell pieces and pebbles until the soft sand. We dropped our dirty towels and stood before the churning.

“Wait for us!” from the bluff.

The ocean was curling high and crashing down into white foam. When a wave flattened out we took our cue and ran in and went under. Sound was gone and we opened our eyes to the salty sunny green, but there was foamy commotion above. I knew to brace myself. We held our breath and closed our eyes, tossed in a washing machine, bouncing and scraping against the sandy bottom. I rolled until I stood in the white foam. We all brushed the hair from our faces and ran back in.

Soon we were hungry. We stood eating sandwiches from tin foil, peanut butter on our teeth as our parents spoke on the blanket:

“So how did you sleep last night?” asked my mother.

My aunt sat up straighter. She hugged her knees.

“Well, you know,” she said, “nothing…great.”

My mother was watching her. I could see she was thinking something. She looked worried.

“You didn’t sleep well?” said my mother. “I didn’t sleep well.”

“You didn’t sleep well?” said my aunt.

They were looking at each other.

“I guess I can tell you,” said my aunt. “You’re a nurse. We’re friends.”

“What?” said my mother. “Was something wrong? Did something happen?”

“Well, yes,” said my aunt. She took a deep breath. “I was sound asleep and something…punched me in the middle of the back. Nobody was standing there.”

We chewed.

Oh my gosh!” said my mother. “Pete, did you hear what she just said? I used those same words! The same thing happened to me!”

“You had a punch?” said my aunt.

“In the middle of my back! I used the same words! That’s exactly how I described it! ‘A fist punched me in the middle of my back’!”

“And nobody was there!”

“Nobody was there! We looked! Pete looked everywhere.”

“So did we! Is that why you guys were so quiet this morning at coffee?”

“Yes!”

“The same thing happened to you?”

Yes!”

Our mothers were staring at each other, in disbelief. We took bites, chewed. Our fathers were laughing, but it wasn’t a happy laugh.

“Maybe it was a ghost,” said my father. “Let’s name the ghost Grace after that character in Jane Eyre.”’

Our mothers were both frowning. This wasn’t funny to them.

“It was such a strange way to start our vacation yesterday,” said my mother. “Did you hear what that woman said as she left?”

“Yes! She said, ‘You can have this house.’

My uncle laughed.

You weren’t punched in the middle of the night,” said my aunt. “That was a real punch. I felt the knuckles. Nobody was standing there. And now Carroll, too?”

We crumpled our empty tin foil and handed it to our mothers, standing closer to them.

Our parents realized we were listening. They came out of their conversation and stared at us.

We ran back to the ocean.

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