Lady of the Ants

When we got out of the car and stood in the parking lot, Eva and I discovered we were Woodlanders.

“Across the field,” said a big lady.

I heard the word “bye” sprinkled around me like rainfall and I said my own bye – “See you in a week!” said my mother. I could see my sisters in the car, their faces at the window. I turned and followed my cousin across the field.

When we found the Woodlanders section Eva and I walked up the wooden steps of the first platform tent. I chose the cot next to the front tent flaps and Eva took the one close to mine.

Then we heard a rough shout and a whistle. We stopped talking and looked out of the tent. It was the big lady, and she wanted everyone to sit in front of her. She stood with her hands on her hips in a brown T-shirt and dirty jeans and she did not smile. I thought of my mother’s red and white tank top.

We sat cross-legged in the dirt in front of the big lady and she told us her name was Molga.

My cousin laughed.

Molga knew who laughed and held her stare on Eva. I giggled and knew my giggle was wrong. We watched as Molga’s arm raised in the air like a tree branch as she bent down toward Eva, and before I realized what was happening she slapped my cousin’s leg. She said a story about being good and I felt badly for my cousin and scared for me so I stayed quiet.

Soon we walked in a line to the lake in our one-pieces and learned from the swim counselor that the lake had fresh water sharks. I stayed by the edge until someone made me jump in for a swim test. I looked for sharks as I swam, panicking, and wanted to go home.

At bedtime we laughed with the girls in our tent about Molga and imitated her voice and pretended we were Frankenstein. But as the silliness of lights-out turned into dark, a true dark with no access to a kitchen light, the night became a hovering presence outside our tent. Serious questions about Molga began. We tied our tent flaps together and took out flashlights. When animal screams came from the woods we leapt near each other next to Eva’s cot, the dark now owning the tent we were to sleep in and our thoughts reflected the primitive shift – “maybe she’s a woods witch.”

Eva separated a space between the tent flaps and called the name in a spooky way…

“MOL-GAHHHHH….”

We giggled, then crawled under our blankets. I hid my face underneath and held my flashlight.

The next morning I took out my toothbrush and sat on the edge of my cot. I watched Molga at the group sink. Her arm muscles looked like chopped wood. She did not brush her teeth dainty. I realized we had not seen Molga laugh or teach but maneuver around as if she lived in the woods with the screaming animals and did not know people.

“Are you going to brush your teeth?” asked Eva.

“No,” I said.

“Let’s leave now to eat,” said Eva, and walked down the tent’s steps.

“Shouldn’t we wait for Molga?”

My cousin started talking to a tentmate so I followed.

Eva led us through the woods instead of the path. We pushed back branches and crunched on dry leaves, the woods leaving small traces of itself in our hair and scratches on our skin. When we found the food building we ignored the Woodlanders and sat together in the corner. Between us was a nuance of survival, and it replaced our giggles.

A serious lady in a green blouse came over to us, hesitating. “Where’s your counselor?”

“We don’t know,” said Eva. The rest of us stayed silent and watched Eva.

Eva stood and announced she was getting food. We followed.

While we ate, I was quiet, hungry, but then a girl in our group broke the silence. Her open-faced peanut butter sandwich landed in the middle of our table and we laughed. It was funny! Then in a single movement we each grabbed the food on our plates and threw it at each other. Food went everywhere. On the table, in our hair, on the floor, and we laughed and laughed and laughed!

We were stopped as fast as we started and we couldn’t go swimming (who cared). We were given brooms and washcloths and we were to clean the mess. The adults were stern and angry, circling us like wolves as we cleaned. I was still hungry.

As we walked back to our tent, I lagged far behind. I was upset we had gotten into such big trouble. It made me want home more than ever. I hurried back to our tent and saw Eva sweeping the top step, and Molga walking over to her, slowly. I stopped. Other girls did, too.

Molga paused at the bottom of the steps and stared up at Eva. Her hands were in her jean pockets with her elbows sticking out.

Eva continued sweeping.

Molga said something. She placed one boot on the bottom step but in a single movement, Eva swept her pile straight into Molga’s face.

*

That night, in our tent, we started to get ready for bed. We now had chores amongst ourselves. I went to the rolled-up tent flaps in the back and started to untie them. Did I see rice krispees in the rolled-up flaps? As the roll unfurled a loud waterfall of black ants fell from the roll like hard rain on the tent floor. I screamed. We all screamed.

“Eva!” I screamed.

Big black ants scattered like marbles. The ants crunched under our feet. It was sickening. We pushed and swept and kicked the ants off the platform and back into the woods. We kept screaming as we worked. I don’t know how long it took.

We got rid of the ants by ourselves.

Lily Dipping

It was the third week of our summer canoe trip.

Eva and I were making our way with eight 13-year-olds and two counselors, aged 16 and 17. We were living among the loons and Canadian lakes with a paper map and tents and red canoes, eating from the cans we carried on our backs during portages from lake to lake. There was no connection with an adult. Some kids didn’t change their clothes. Eva and I cleaned our Jordache jeans with Ivory against a large rock and were mocked for our diligence but our difference from the wilderness gang was never more apparent than when in the canoes.

“EEE-VAH, you’re lily-dipping!” shouted the girl with curly hair, from her canoe up ahead. The wilderness gang paddled on.

(Later that evening at bedtime, in our tent, Eva would call out into the dark night: “EEE-VAH, you’re lily-dipping!” Making us giggle and repeat it back and forth to each other. The campsite would remain silent until someone finally would shout, “Put a lid on it!”)

But right now, we were falling behind again. We were tired. Our sugar rush from the lunch chocolate was gone. The sun was round and strong and we had seen the map over the girl counselor’s shoulder that morning. We had a long ways to go before we found camp (and dinner) in the evening.

My cousin and I were quiet in our canoe, having already played “What would you eat if you were home?”

“C’mon, Eva!” I said, digging in harder.

Eva dug in.

In unison we moved us forward. Swoosh. Swoosh. Catching up was always hard.

I kept my eyes on the wilderness gang as I paddled, steering with my J-stroke so that the canoe was aiming directly at them. I watched their muscular paddling and wondered what they were laughing about. I admired their faded bandanas tied around their foreheads. My bandana was tied around my forehead, too, but the material was bright and crisp and uncomfortable, new. A costume next to their reality.

I stopped paddling and scooped lake water to drink. For a second, my drinking arm caught the edge of the shade coming from where pines leaned over the lake’s edge. I paused like a picture, keeping the cool on me, but Eva was trying hard in the front of the canoe – swoosh – so I had to keep moving, too.

The girl counselor looked over her shoulder at us and made a comment to the boy counselor in his canoe. He shrugged. They kept going.

Then we heard a motor – now that was a surprise! Eva and I shaded our eyes with our hands.

Lo and behold, it was the flannelled camp director! Now this was news!

Like Santa on retirement, with grey beard and stomach, he steered his motorboat over to our dispirited canoe. He said nothing and threw us a pile of rope.

As his twin-engine grumbled, he tied an elaborate knot onto the front of our canoe. Eva and I looked at each other gleefully.

He tested the knot with a tug, dragged his stomach back and shifted up, his engines whirling the quiet black lake. As he raced forward, we watched the pile of rope disappear.

When we lurched forward in delight, we screamed a little and grabbed onto the sides, my bandana falling over my eyebrows but I held on. We came upon the wilderness gang quickly.

Now had this been a movie set, my cousin and I might’ve used this moment as an opportunity, shouting in unison: “LILY—DIP—THIS!” while shaking our oars in the air, in triumph.

But we just smiled as we passed them, the breeze blowing our hair and the tips of our machine-washed bandanas, oars comfortably on our laps.

Lake Temagami

A Ghost Story

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single ghost in possession of a haunted house must be in want of a scare.

Block Island is the black sheep of the northeast Atlantic.

I grew up going there two weeks every summer with family and cousins. Leaving it after the two weeks gave my heart a freefall. I would cry alone in a ferry bathroom stall, but the emotion made me realize the island was my true home.

What made it home: the house we rented and the terrain.

During summers, the island coated me. It belonged on my skin and I kept it there. We stayed for those two weeks down a long dirt road that the island’s official map made dotted. I walked barefoot down that road, its soft dirt covering the nameless vegetation along where tires spat and my feet, sometimes my legs. We would climb down the Mohegan Bluffs and its dark clay dried between my toes, and I pretended all this island dirt got into my bloodstream, making me its child.

On days of all-sun I rolled down the warm dunes at State Beach and the black flecks of hot sand covered me with metallic heat. I swam underwater in the ocean’s shallow pockets looking for lobster and fished with my father on the Viking, collecting blues from the deep and eating them later from the grill with tomato slices and onion.
Because of these summers, I like to believe I’m a part of the island’s closed cycle of history.

The house we rent and love is ours. We don’t pay the bills or the mortgage and we’ll never have to replace the roof but we’ve been renting this old house for so long that we feel it knows us, and we sure know it. When I close the door each time we leave until another year, I always say “Bye Becks,” with a giant lump in my throat and heart, though I keep it together as an adult on the ferry, until I get home and do the laundry.

The biggest part of the house’s mystique has to do with its haunted stories.

There are several self-published books written by an islander who tells them well. In all honesty, there was a strong creep factor about this old house. If you happened to be alone, you’d wait outside, reading a book, waiting until somebody else got back. Most of the book’s stories, however, happened at night, as did ours.
Once, my cousin and I were up late talking and laughing in our back bedroom together. Our bedroom was down a long hallway with a wood floor held together by old square nail heads. We were probably around 13, 14. Everyone else had gone to bed and the house was quiet, lights were out.

We were on a hot streak with the laughter – don’t ask me what was so funny, I have no idea. But it turned quickly un-funny when we heard bare feet marching down the hallway.

Heel, heel, heel, heel, heel, heel.

It was fast. We knew it was my mother, but I was surprised she was so angry.

We jumped into bed and held the covers up to our noses.

The feet stopped in front of our door.

The door never opened.

PS After this happened, my cousin and I waited for the door to open. When nothing happened, we looked at each other, then turned out the light and went to bed. The next day, we asked the adults in the house if they had walked down the hall and stopped in front of our door. They didn’t know what we were talking about.
Another true story, current day: Various members of my family wake up in the middle of the night and hear footsteps walking in the attic. This past visit, something crashed in the attic in the middle of the night. When we looked to see what had fallen, nothing was out of place.

Southeast Lighthouse-Block Island RI