The Clamdigger's parking lot was a stretch of hard-packed, stony dirt, now crowded with cars. The tires of their old Chevy Wagon spun and spat rocks as Tru managed to squeeze between two pickups near the front steps. Daisy opened her door even before Tru killed the engine, but one look at the familiar façade of Clamdigger left her unable to move.
Then she realized this was the first time they had been here since Andrea, their mother, had died. But Tru was already at the front door, and Daisy had to hurry up the steps as she pushed it open.
“Tru,” Martha Hardy said. She was both owner and hostess of Clamdigger. She never smiled. Tonight her non-smile seemed almost sympathetic. “Sorry about Andy.”
“Thanks, yeh. She's at rest.”
“Hard to picture Andy resting. Always on the move, her. You holding up?”
“Working. Finding new pieces and handling August people same time. On my own. Have to get Daisy more in the store with me.”
Fuck you, Daisy said. No, she had only thought it―neither of them looked at her. She had smoked a very fat joint before meeting up with Tru.
“Only have one mother,” Martha said.
“Thank God!”―This from a tall kid coming out of the bathroom. Tru laughed and then Martha did too in that islander way, no change in _expression, rasping like a pair of gulls. And the kid, who must work here because he wore the Clamdigger T-shirt, giggled like a five-year-old getting his feet tickled. Then he, too, saw Daisy, and took in a breath that sucked the laugh back down his throat.
“My nephew,” Martha said, jabbing his arm with three menus. He was twice her height and half her width, had a slash of red across one side of his otherwise brown-haired head, and on his wrist wore a bracelet of multicolored beads strung with blood red twine. Daisy didn't know him from Clamdigger. But she knew him.
“Luke,” Martha said, “give them a window. Oh,” and she grabbed back a menu, almost knocking the others from his hands. “That Andy,” she rasped over her embarrassment. “Always smiling. Waiter's nightmare. No ice in her ice water and no salt no pepper no onions no gahlic!”
“Yeh, she liked things plain,” Tru said.
“Hot tonight,” Luke said, as he led them into the big, square dining room with no ceiling, just the rude underside of Clamdigger's roof, and a dozen or so clunky wood tables scattered around the unvarnished wood floor. The tablecloths and the window curtains had red checks, but neither the red nor the checks matched. The only decorations were bad paintings of fishing boats and lobsters and some big clay pots with blueberry glaze, one for each corner of the room. Their warped mouths marked them as castoffs from the Berry Hill School; none of mine, Daisy noted.
“The fans do nothing,” Luke said. “I keep telling her put on the air conditioning.”
“Air conditioner? Hour from now it'll be 50. I'm prepared,” and Tru flapped the sleeve of that horrible filthy-looking gray-green flannel shirt she wore like a jacket.
Luke pulled out Daisy's chair for her, eyes wide, like he couldn't believe his luck in finding her. Or was the pot exaggerating everything? Meanwhile Tru had seated herself. “Heineken,” she said.
“Vodka with a twist,” Daisy said. Remembering how Andrea would always refuse to drink, then, without anyone's prodding, emit a harassed sigh and ask for a mimosa, and then consume at least three. She tried to smile at the thought. Luke promised he'd be right back. Clamdigger was filled up with both tourists and islanders, and she saw Wilsaps, Cotters, Beliveaus, and of course various Branches sitting and standing around the biggest table of the room, which they always claimed; and more of them, including Ray Branch himself, messing up the salad bar on the far wall. Ray saw them and didn't bother to wave or smile, but amusement wafted from him like a heat haze. A few others nodded and resumed their conversations. Yet Daisy could feel the sides and backs of their heads staring at them, at her with that usual mixture of blankness and suspicion, like they still couldn't believe she was Tru's sister and not her improbably beautiful girlfriend. The warm embrace, she thought, of Deer Isle, Maine.
* * *
Back in March, when she came here to stay, Daisy knew what to expect. Her mother Andrea Voss and half-sister Trude had been here for 30 years and she had been visiting them for nearly 20. After the death of her second husband, Andrea used the insurance money to buy a small house near Deer Isle Village and an antique store called The Sea Wall in Stonington. Trude followed Andrea and they had lived and run The Sea Wall together ever since. Daisy fled in the opposite direction, to New York City. “You're crazy,” Andrea told her, “all the men in New York are queer. I should know. Your father was one.” “You're sick,” was Daisy's answer. “You hate men and you hate life.”
That ended relations for 10 years. Every other month Andrea sent her money―
cash, not check or money order, four brand-new 50-dollar bills tucked inside a folded blank piece of paper―but Daisy never spent any of it, even as she struggled to earn her undergraduate and graduate degrees in education, and even after she met Elliot, already an assistant professor but almost as poor as she.
When they got married, on impulse she asked Andrea and Trude to the wedding; though neither attended, this invitation began the thaw. She and Andrea started exchanging phone calls, and soon they were talking almost every day; and this led to Daisy and Elliot visiting Deer Isle for a week one summer, then every summer. On the first visit Daisy handed Andrea an attaché case filled with untouched 50-dollar bills. “Oh, don't shove that at me,” Andrea said. “Child support. Least I could do for not being a mother. Here,” she said to Elliot, who, after a glance at Daisy, took it.
Later in the marriage Daisy often came up alone, for two or three weeks at a time, taking potting courses at the Berry Hill School in Sunshine on the west edge of the island, while Elliot rambled around Southeast Asia with a fellow professor. When her son Eric betrayed her by moving 1500 miles away to Denver, and Elliot broke their non-aggression pact by declaring their marriage was over, Daisy not only got divorced but severed every connection with life as she knew it: her rent-controlled apartment on 10th Street, her Vice-Principal job at Julie Richmond, and all her unhappily married, soon to be divorced, or miserably dating friends.
In choosing the place she had scorned 30 years before, Daisy knew well that Deer Isle was beautiful in that rude, rustic Maine way―half the island untouched hills and woods, and the eponymous deer everywhere―but also that it was freezing every winter and remote and insular all year round. She knew you had to drive miles on two-lane blacktop to get anywhere, the nearest decent restaurant was across the green metal bridge on the mainland, and the nights so dark and still you could lie awake terrified by the creaking of your house. She knew the natives were laconic with their loved ones, and dismissive of “summer people” or anyone who couldn't trace their island roots back a century. (Only by dint of Andrea's wall of cheer and Trude's cave of silence had they been rechristened Andy and Tru, and halfway accepted.) But Daisy also knew that she loved reading and gardening in the backyard and her own company, and she was excited for the first time in years about her job with the Registrar at Berry Hill, which, along with the paltry salary, gave her free access to all studios and workshops.
She expected these activities to occupy her and they did. She expected both boredom and loneliness and coped with them pretty well when they came upon her, at least once a day. She expected the strangeness of Andrea and Tru to be even stranger on a daily basis, and she was right, and yet she also had hope that this could change.
What Daisy did not expect, of course, was that less than four months after she got here, Andrea would catch a cold and die.
* * *
Her eyes went to the boiled haddock, which Andrea had always ordered with a total lack of seasoning. She shut the menu and leaned it against the half-open window.
“How are you?” she said.
“Heh?” Tru was studying her menu, even though she, too, always ordered the same things: jumbo shrimp with hot sauce and extra-spicy lobster fra diavolo.
“I said, How are you?”
“Can't get enough Anglo-Indian pieces. Local stuff I'm seeing is real trash. Probably do better at Union next week―”
“I didn't ask how the furniture was. I asked how you were…are.”
Tru looked at her as she would at a suddenly belligerent customer: face and eyes squarely meeting Daisy's, yet the eyes remote, or faintly paled, as if like an animal she had inner eyelids that slid over them at threatening moments.
“Daze, I'm fine. How'd you expect me to be?”
Suddenly Daisy was crying. She pretended her eyes were itchy; rubbed them dry.
Tru's face was like a square, a block of Deer Isle stone. Her hair―blond, the only thing she had in common with Daisy, though unlike Daisy she let the gray show―was cut so short it reinforced this unfortunate shape. Her nose was too thin, her eyes too close together. Never a spot of makeup, just the broken blood vessels of someone who drank. Decent legs and breasts, but her denim overalls and bulky undershirt and flannel shirt hid these and made her look burly. Just like a Maine Dyke. Even with the pot, Daisy's thoughts were like knives shooting out of her forehead.
“You look pale,” Tru said.
“Really? I was in the sun a lot today.”
“Yeah, but I don't want to talk about that.”
“What do you want to talk about?”
Of course Tru was being reasonable; Daisy had asked for this dinner, had said We need to talk. But now she couldn't. Because they never talked. Not like sisters, or even half-sisters. Tru barely talked to Andrea either (who with a smile referred to her as “not the sharpest tool in the shed” and “a thorn in my side”). Oh, she would discuss things―the store, the garden, dinner, the allotment of chores―but never emotions. She never talked to just talk.
She would fuck to just fuck, though, wouldn't she? Despite her looks, over the years she managed to get several married men of Deer Isle to have affairs with her. Including Ray Branch.
Thank God that kid was coming with their drinks. He looked self-consciously grim, but the sight of Daisy lit him up like a Christmas tree. (I do know him, she thought: Berry Hill.) And then he remembered he was supposed to be somber.
“I'm really sorry,” he said, “Aunt Matty just told me about your mom. When did she pass away?”
“Two months ago,” Tru said, and Daisy said, “Three months.”
“Was it sudden?”
“Yeh,” Tru said. “Cardiac.”
“Well, I'm really sorry.” He put the tray on the table and placed a hand on each of their shoulders. His touch, his slim wrist with its bead bracelet―suddenly Daisy saw him naked, slim bones but a thick cock. She mumbled “Thank you” and dipped her head so that her shoulder shifted free. Tru let his hand sit there.
“How old was she?”
“Eighty-two,” Tru said.
“She was 83,” Daisy snapped. “Just a month short. Never sick a day in her life.”
“Wow”―he blinked at Daisy's anger, tried to smile it away―“she must have had you two when she was 50!”
Tru rasped. “Didn't wear your glasses tonight? I'm 53. Daze is 48.”
He blinked again, seemed about to insist on Daisy's beauty, but caught himself. “Really I meant no disrespect, before. My comment about mothers. Sometimes me and my mother―”
“It's OK. I was with mine every single day, and I never could stand her.” Tru saw Daisy's face and added, “What? Neither could you.”
“I'll have the boiled haddock,” Daisy said. “No salt, no pepper, no onions, no garlic.” She got up and walked away from them to the bathroom.
* * *
For as long as she could remember she had hated her mother. Hated the fact that they were related, linked by their DNA, and someone might recognize Andrea in Daisy, in word or gesture or behavior. Andrea's marriages left her bitter about men, while Daisy loved Elliot even after their divorce. Andrea had no use for children, including her own, and Daisy so doted on Eric that Elliot would claim he'd been supplanted as a husband. An inventory of their features made them sound identical, yet Andrea was plain, and her daughter so radiant that everyone called her Daisy from the day she was born. From her mid-thirties Andrea dressed like an old lady; Daisy was perennially stylish without trying. Andrea hated, in no particular order, Jews, Blacks, Hispanics, Catholics, Arabs, Asians, Liberals, Gays; Daisy married a Jew and chose a multicultural profession. Andrea was observant but utterly narrow, reading only tabloid newspapers and watching TV news that confirmed her nasty view of humanity. Daisy read and learned compulsively all her life; yet she could be strangely obtuse about things (like the slow death of her marriage and her son's desire to escape her). They were like two chemicals that always mixed an explosion. Their calls consisted mostly of Andrea criticizing Daisy and Daisy calling Andrea a moron, an asshole, or worse. Andrea, who never raised her voice, would say, “Stop shouting. There's no need to shout.” Daisy would slam down the phone. Yet the next night she would dial Andrea's number, or pick up the phone when it rang.
And, yes, she knew when she decided to move to Deer Isle that she craved some kind of rapprochement. Andrea was, after all, the only family she had now (she didn't even count Tru). Oddly―since she'd never liked anything about Elliot―Andrea chided Daisy for getting divorced. But she didn't object to Daisy moving into her house. She didn't live in it anyway, Daisy learned; for years Tru had been there alone, with Andrea living above The Sea Wall. The two rarely saw each other except at the store where Andrea put in 10 plus hours every day. They never shared a meal at home because though Tru liked to cook Andrea hated her addiction to spices. Andrea ate in restaurants like Clamdigger every night, but only once a week in Tru's company. Andrea refused to hike in the Deer Isle woods but she loved to walk all around Stonington every morning before she opened the store, and every evening after closing it, even in the rain, even when it was freezing. She smiled a lot and spoke little, which somehow made people eager to talk to her, and made her a comprehensive source of Deer Isle gossip.
Daisy had no intention of living with Tru permanently; once she got settled in the job she would move, maybe to someplace closer to Sunshine. Within a month she had contacted a local agent, and gone to look at a few places. But she did assume that she would be eating with Andrea, joining her on walks, spending more time with her. Yet through various excuses Andrea prevented this. When Daisy tried visiting The Sea Wall Andrea told her curtly that she was too busy to chat. In fact she saw little of her. Andrea still called her up every night. Her criticisms had shifted to Daisy's job at Berry Hill (“Wasting your time with those hippies…you're not a teenager anymore”) but the arc and tone of their conversations remained the same, including the hang-ups.
One day when Andrea was going to Blue Hill to pick up some pieces, Daisy invited herself along. In the car she found herself remembering a long drive they'd taken to Bowdoin College, when she was still torn between Manhattan and Maine, and she talked about it, how she always wondered if she'd made the right choice. Andrea said little, then nothing, and the more Daisy talked the faster she drove. The Chevy was wide as a boat, good for transporting furniture and sculpture, but bad for Deer Isle roads, and Daisy found herself bouncing on every curve. “Mom, slow it down―” she said and Andrea slammed on the brake, which stopped them with a shriek. “I'm working,” she said. “I'm driving. You can get out here if you want.”
Later, Daisy realized she was again being obtuse: Andrea was as uncomfortable with her now as she always had been, and wouldn't make it easy for her daughter to get closer. Daisy wasn't discouraged, this being only one of her goals; she was absorbed in her potting and her new job, and there would be time for them to seep into intimacy.
Then the bitch left her. This was her first thought when Tru told her Andrea was dead: The bitch left me. After I came all the way up here! Then she wheezed like an asthmatic and Dr. Wulf had to give her a sedative. The next morning she woke up feeling spent. But while she was making coffee a knife flew out of her head: The bitch betrayed me. Like Eric. Like Elliot. Like my father. Like everyone. And again she cried. Tru was still upstairs and didn't see it.
She thought how much she hated her, and how much she missed her. She thought that every conversation they ever had was a waste. She thought her life was a waste, and her move here not brave at all but pure cowardice, and staying here like laying down still breathing in her coffin. She thought of shooting the deer in her garden, and then of feeding them her flowers, and then of shooting the deer-feeding neighbors next door. She thought of pushing Tru down the stairs so she could join Andrea, then of digging Andrea up and keeping her on a chair in the living room. She thought every pot she made was her reflection, a whirling circle, a false ripeness, a gaping mouth with a hard, hollow belly. She thought every young man at Berry Hill who asked to draw or sculpt her was trying to get into her pants, and she might as well let them. She thought she was evil, unredeemable, and she thought of every vicious word she had ever uttered to her mother.
Meanwhile Tru acted like Andrea never existed. She didn't notice, or perhaps ignored, Daisy's distress. She did invite her to work at the store in the late afternoons (Daisy got off at three every day from Berry Hill). Daisy went once, to help Tru clean out Andrea's upstairs office-bedroom, but her thoughts were so awful she vowed to never go back. Being alone in the house was no better, but she couldn't even think about moving right now.
Then one day at school she came across an abandoned paperback, Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, and turned to Dying. Her eyes blurred over words like bardo and karma but the previous reader had underlined this: In the first weeks we don't realize we're dead. We go home to meet our family, we try to talk to them or touch them, but they don't notice us. We want to eat but there is no place for us at the table. Imagine the grief we might feel seeing loved ones talking about us in a sneering way, or thinking hurtful thoughts about us. This is dangerous―a single negative thought, can plunge us into the most prolonged and extreme suffering. Daisy snapped the book shut. The idea of Andrea hovering near them, listening, being struck by the knives shooting from her daughter's head….She tore open the book and found under “Helping after Death”: Your spiritual practice has the possibility of affecting their chance for liberation, or at least a better rebirth. Whenever your dead relative comes into you mind, send them your love and your good thoughts. Fill your heart with bliss.
And she filled with nothing but hate and bad thoughts for weeks! Maybe it was too late already. But she had to try. She tried but the knives kept coming, and to dull them she smoked more pot, starting each day with a joint, sneaking them on breaks and lunch, and smoking a big one right before Tru got home. Sometimes it induced a smile about Andrea, but mostly it muddled Daisy, and sometimes increased the violence and paranoia of her thoughts. She didn't know what else to do. For the first time in her life she needed Tru. Together they must honor her mother's soul. She had to make her see. This dinner was supposed to be a start.
* * *
Luke was standing near the bathroom when she came out. “Hey, you OK? I'm worried about you.”
This kid expressed everything in primary colors, pure and simple. Daisy suspected that simple lust lay behind his pure concern.
“I'm fine. Just fixing my face.”
“Your face doesn't need fixing. Sure you weren't sneaking a few tokes?”
She had to laugh. “No,” she said, “but I'd love to. How'd you know?”
“A stoner always knows a stoner,” he said, giggling, thrilled to be right. “That bridges the generations. Sorry. Didn't mean it that way.”
“What's your name again?” Daisy said, looking past his shoulder: Ray Branch was beside their table, talking at Tru.
“Luke Desplat,” he said with the confidence of someone who assumed you knew him, knew of him, or loved him at first sight. And she did know of him: her coworkers at the Registrar gossiped about how he was sleeping with everyone.
“You'd be fantastic to sculpt.”
“You know you're gorgeous, don't you? You must. But not only that. You've got great lines.”
“You've got some good lines yourself,” she said dismissively, but smiled anyway.
“No, come on. I'd love you to pose for me. I'm sure everybody on the Hill asks you. But I…would do you justice. Least I think I could.”
Another line? Or did he mean it? She felt annoyed, even disappointed. She thought: I'll pose for you if you sleep with me. But she said: “Well maybe I will. If you share some of your weed.”
Without waiting for an answer she returned to their table. Tru's jumbo shrimp had been served. Ray Branch kept grabbing them off her plate, tossing and catching them in his mouth. Tru kept trying, and failing, to snatch them back.
Branches were mentioned in 19th century books that chronicled Deer Isle; they helped settle the island, build its roads and towns, and develop its industries of stone and lobster. The 21st century Branches all seemed to be welfare cheats, petty criminals, drunks and druggies, people whose homes stood on cinderblocks, women who had their first child at 17 and their third marriage at 28, men who were abusive and polygamous. Ray Branch lived in what looked like an abandoned barn on the same road as the Deer Isle dump. All his business―landscaping, house-minding, car repair―was in cash so he could still get welfare. Living with him (and at his table tonight) were his 50-year-old ex-wife, his 38-year-old current wife, and a 19-year-old fat girl who was introduced as his current wife's daughter but looked nothing like her and served her stepfather like a slave. He drank heavily in accordance with Deer Isle tradition but also smoked pot and crack, and popped pills to “smooth out” his mean temper. Yet still there persisted rumors of Ray Branch's wealth and influence. It was said that he owned a ton of property on Deer Isle, no mayor could get elected without his support, and he once killed someone in a bar fight but was never charged.
For years he'd irregularly shown up to erratically cut their lawn, and the first week Daisy moved here for good, he came to the door with his shirt open and bits of grass sticking to his sweaty belly. He asked if she was bored yet and she shut the door in his face, which earned his eternal sexual interest. An interest she never reciprocated but did use to get all her pot from him, at what he called a “beauty discount.”
Despite or because of their long-ago affair, in public Tru ignored him and he would make fun of her. Yet Daisy knew―from Andrea, the source of all her information about Tru―that occasionally they would still meet for lunchtime sex.
“Here's the swan,” Ray Branch said, as Daisy maneuvered around him to sit down. “I was sharing the duck's shrimp. Duck's guarding it like she's got duckings to feed.”
“Ducklings,” Daisy said. Drunk or high, as usual.
“So how's my pot-girl,” he said, with a gap-toothed but very white smile at the double meaning of his words.
“My grass is pretty high,” Daisy said doubling it right back at him.
“That's a fact,” he said, still smiling. “I've been busy. But your lawn's on the list. Right Tru? It's on the list!”
He snagged a shrimp, tossed it up past Tru's leaping hand, and swallowed it without chewing. Daisy felt giddy; she looked down, and there was the beautiful bony hand and wrist, and the bead bracelet slid down as the hand served soup she hadn't ordered. “You gotta try this, it's hearty.” Luke: looking at her significantly, as if there was a note taped under the bowl, but now his face confused her and she couldn't know whether the note said I want to fuck you or I want to save you.
“See?” Ray Branch said, after Luke went away. “Duck won't share.”
“Branch. Want to eat our meal in peace, yeh.”
Triumphant―because this was as close as Tru came to pleading―Ray Branch showed his teeth again, but white as they were his face glowed even brighter. His color was all at once brown and gray-blue with sudden flares of red as from a stoked distant furnace. He had a cannonball belly, a triple chin, but also powerful shoulders and thighs. He could have posed for a poster warning against the seven deadly sins, and he could have posed for one promoting them. Daisy kept swallowing the sight of him, like salt water. Tru's inner eyelid seemed to have closed, suggesting that she was resigned to waiting him out; but when he grabbed another shrimp, rather than snatching at it she punched his hip; and this jolted his timing enough to make the shrimp drop into his mouth as he was breathing, not swallowing. He made a violent noise that was instantly cut off, like a car engine trying to turn over as its battery is ripped out, and then he sank to his knees. His forehead smacked the edge of their table, and some of Daisy's soup slopped over.
“Idiot,” Tru said. Daisy gasped, “He's choking!” Ray Branch made three more of those noises, each shorter and weaker than the one before. His lips slid over his teeth and his mouth opened wide. His upper body toppled down. His hands twitched. His face turned blue. Tru was out of her chair, digging her hands under him; failing to lift him that way, she grabbed the back of his T-shirt and raised her arms up like a crane; he came up with her, then the shirt ripped and he slumped down. His eyes seemed white. “Help me!” Tru called out.
People were so used to Branches making a spectacle that until she said this nobody left their chairs. Now George Wilsap came quickly despite his limp, Martha Hardy ran faster than Daisy had ever seen her, and both Luke and Charlie Cotter were there too. (Ray's fellow Branches, however, were not.) Working together, the five got him upright. Tru brought her arms around him from behind, and yanked her clasped fists under his ribs. But she could not even dent Ray Branch's belly. His lips were slack and other than a faint squeak there was no hint of air going into it, and nothing, not even a particle, had emerged from it. His blue had faded to gray. “He dead?” Martha Hardy said, even as she grunted to hold him up. “Come on, Branch,” Tru said, with another pull. “You fat fuck!” Yank. “Come back to me!” Yank. “Come on come on won't yeh―”
Come on, Andy. Come on.
Daisy turned her back.
* * *
She and Tru sitting down to silent dinner when the phone rings. Normally they let it ring but Andrea has already called them once, to say her cold is worse and tomorrow, for the third consecutive unprecedented day, she won't come down to the store. Still refusing to see Dr. Wulf, or to have them stay with her in Stonington. So when the phone rings Daisy picks it up: I can't breathe whispers an unfamiliar voice. Do you want us to come over? I can't breathe. Ma. Ma. We're coming over. We're getting Wulf, OK? Silence, and as Daisy is about to hang up she hears, faintly: Yes.
For once Tru drives above 40 miles an hour, pushing past every car ahead of them; Daisy calls Dr. Wulf, who lives in Blue Hill but promises to get right over. Entering The Sea Wall they hear a distant, piping noise. They run up the stairs and find Andrea precariously upright on her bed. The piping comes from her although the sound seems not to match her lips or face. It's her only response to their arrival.
Ma! Daisy cries. Ma we're here! Yet she can't move past the bedroom doorway. It's Tru who goes in, Tru who shouts at her, Tru who rips down her nightdress, exposing a white, bony back to Daisy. Tru lays Andrea flat and pounds her mother's chest. Daisy whimpers, and turns her back and presses the heels of her hands into her eyes.
Come on, Andy, she hears Tru shout―like the islanders for years she's called her Andy, never Mom or Ma―Come on, come back to me. Talk to me. Stay with me. Come on come on come on. Daisy weeps, but she does nothing. Tru does everything: pounding, blowing air into her mouth, calling to her; but as her calls get louder Andrea's piping fades, and ceases just as Dr. Wulf and two obese female EMS workers arrive. They try CPR all over again, adrenaline, the defibrillator, but Tru has stopped calling and the only sound is the flat thud of the machine and the creaking of springs caused by Andrea's jerked body.
The door closes briefly. Then it opens, and Daisy feels Tru's hand on her shoulder. Sorry Daze. Daisy turns, and in the moment before she begins wheezing she sees her sister's face: damp with perspiration, but no tears.
* * *
Not again, she thought, and made herself turn back. She stared at dying Ray Branch, and Branch stared back at her. He grabbed Tru's hands, and together they slammed under his ribs. With a dull pop the shrimp flew out of his mouth, landing on the table next to Daisy's soup. He hocked violently, his face flared, he pulled free of Tru and the others supporting him and the momentum sprawled him face first on the floor. Then, he let them help him onto a chair, still coughing but living.
“My God,” Daisy said, “you did it.” “Yeh,” Tru said, “guess hell's gonna have to wait.” Then it was as if an entire flock of gulls had descended over Clamdigger; there were even some smiles mixed with the laughter. Ray Branch laughed and grabbed his throat because it hurt.
Martha Hardy grasped Tru's sleeve. “Andy always told me: you need someone to do something, count on Tru.”
“Yeah? She never told me,” Tru said. She set her overturned chair upright and sat down. “Where's my hot lobster?”
* * *
“Hey. Daze.” It was Luke, following her out of Clamdigger.
“My name is Daisy.” She didn't turn around.
“Sorry. Don't you want your dinner?”
“No.” She reached the Chevy, took the driver's seat, and slammed the door. Luke followed. Put a hand through the window on her shoulder; at the look on her face withdrew it. “Hey. Look what I got.”
Daisy saw a bulge, not near his crotch but in the pocket by his right hip. She looked past at the dirt and stones of Clamdigger's parking lot.
“Branch just gave me some of his stash. The real deal, just got it himself, no filler. Kind of a thank you.” Luke giggled. “Want to sample some with me?”
“Come on. You need to chill a little. I'll tell you more about your lines.”
“Get lost,” she said.
He took a step back, but still stood there, friendly as ever. “OK, you're upset. But really. I'll be on the rocks”―a flat stretch of the cliff upon which Berry Hill was built; a lot of the kids went there at night―“I'll be on the rocks by 9:30. Meet me there.”
Daisy closed her eyes. The scuttle of departing feet; the heavier crunch of Tru approaching; a pause as Tru realized Daisy intended to drive; then the back door on the passenger side opened, a hot blank smell touched her cheek: Tru's dinner, which she made them box up after Daisy insisted on leaving. Daisy started the car, opened her eyes to see Tru beside her, then backed up and skimmed over the dirt onto Route 15. It was abruptly dark, the car's headlights clearing at most six feet of the blacktop ahead.
Her foot was heavy on the gas pedal. The road seemed both narrow and slippery. She had trouble keeping the Chevy between the lines.
“Slow down,” Tru said.
“I don't want your dinner to get cold,” Daisy said. “They packed it tight, I hope.”
“I paid for it. I'm hungry. You should of took yours.”
“Don't you feel anything?” Tru didn't answer, stared straight ahead. “Your fuck buddy just about died in your arms.”
“Just want to eat my dinner. Branch being a crazy doesn't mean I shouldn't.”
“You know what I'm talking about.”
Tru said nothing. The back of the wagon shivered as Daisy negotiated a curve.
“Andy. You know? That person you kept bumping into at the store for 30 years.”
Tru sighed. “I had to move on. Sister, you got to move on.”
“You moved on before the body was cold.”
Her sister breathed slowly in and out, but did not speak.
“She died in front of you. One would expect some kind of reaction.”
“You weren't even there. Off being hysterical―”
Daisy swung around to face Tru, but the car instantly began to drift and she had to turn back to regain control.
“Christ,” Tru said, “neither of you could ever drive. One thing you had in common.” Then: “Daze, it doesn't matter.”
“No, it does. You were wonderful. I was useless. When it came down to it, I didn't do a thing for her.”
“Now what the hell is that,” Tru said; no, shouted. Angry―Daisy thought with astonishment―angry on my behalf. “What'd that woman ever do for you?”
“How can you talk about her like that? How dare you say that horrible thing?”
“I could never stand her! The woman's dead three months and you say this to a stranger. I could never stand her. This is your memorial.”
“Everybody knew it. And you couldn't stand her neither.”
“Have you no respect at all? You hate her that much?”
“Daze, she hated me. She hated everybody. Hated the air she breathed. Maybe she couldn't help it but look how―look at me. That's OK, I know who I am. But she got me. Got you too, I guess―”
“SHUT UP. YOU FREAK. SHUT UP!”
It felt like her skull had cracked open, spewing knives everywhere. Daisy wrenched the wheel, pressed her foot down. The car itself was a knife, and for a moment she didn't know if she was hurling it or holding it back. Tru gasped; but they came to a halt neatly within the tiny shoulder between the road and a darkness that could have been woods or hillside.
“Daisy.” Tru's hand stilled her shaking shoulder. “Killing us won't bring her back.”
“Don't worry. I'm a coward. You're brave. You lived with her. You tried to bring her back. I heard you―I loved you so much when I heard you calling her. You loved her. Why can't you just show it?”
“Not a show-off,” Tru said.
“No, you're just dead. You are.”
Tru stared at Daisy for a long time. There was a faint burnt rubber smell, but the air coming through the window was cold.
“I watched her,” Tru said, “watched her lose everything. They talk about the light in someone's eyes…I saw it go out. Gone. Just this bag a bones.”
Then she made an odd sound; not her rasp but a wondering grunt, like she couldn't believe she was talking.
“But Daze, I don't love her. Can't lie. Why you think we lived separate? You talked to her more than me. Couldn't see how you did, stuff she'd say to you―”
“She was a soul. Her soul is still out there. Hate hurts her and hurts you and me. We must love her…Oh God, I wish she was still here…so I could…”
“Daisy, she didn't want to be here.”
Their sudden stop had stalled the car. Daisy flicked the key left, then right. It caught and she swung back onto the road.
“She never wanted to be an invalid. Wasn't going to the Island home, I can tell you that.”
Daisy drove faster, and didn't slow down when turning onto their street.
“Hate Ray Branch all you want. He's garbage. But the man loves, he loves breathing, drinking, fucking…lots of women. Tonight he wanted to live and that's why he's still here. Andrea―”
The cracked paint of their garage door. She stopped with a jerk, cut the lights but not the engine.
“There was a minute,” Tru said, “when we first got there, when she was still…here. I looked in her eyes and she looked back. Her eyes said it.”
“Said what? What did you do?”
“Everything you heard me do. But in my heart I knew. So I went through the motions, it didn't matter anyway.”
“You killed her.”
“No. She died. She wanted to.”
Daisy was crying. Crying with no relief, no release, and no end.
Tru said, “I just hope I'm brave like her when it's my time. And you let me.”
“Oh, so that's why I'm here? The baton has been passed? You'll move to town, I'll work in the store, we won't talk for 30 years?”
“We would talk,” Tru said after a moment. “I'll spend more nights at home.”
“I won't be there. I'm moving out.”
“Whyn't you come in now. I'll make you eggs with Tabasco.”
“No. You go.”
Tru stared at her, then got out of the car, leaving her dinner behind and the door open as she walked away. Daisy climbed over the console, slammed the door, and backed onto the road.
She hit the brights and drove and felt the wind whip her face. Her foot pressed way down, pushing her to 75, 85, the Chevy shaking like it was coming apart. Then she realized she was driving to Berry Hill. To the cliffs. To the rocks. She would find Luke or she would wait for him. She drove faster, her headlights like a blade cutting and cutting through an endless oncoming of black.