a novel of Provincetown
…We had again sight of the land, which made ahead, being as we thought an island, …we called it Shoal Hope. Near this cape we came to anchor in fifteen fathoms, where we took great store of codfish, for which we altered the name, and called it Cape Cod.
Gabriel Archer’s journal of Bartholomew Gosnold’s voyage, 1602.
“Giving up on all optimism and pessimism, one is free to be courageous; one places no trust in tools and instruments; one comes to hope based on human beings.”
One - Shafts of light tremble in the darkness between pilings. Patches of eelgrass loom, looking like holes in the bright, yellow sand. Foot-wide starfish quiver, as though painted on the underside of ripples. Moon-snails wander at the heads of meandering trails, a bulge of sand curling off each side like the wake of a steam … Continue reading One Two - Hunched over in the lee of the deck coaming Antone’s back rests against the forward bulkhead. The sun full on his face. Out of the breeze. A cloth-cap crammed on his head. Ear-muffs push his ears out. Tips bent at right angles. A short grizzle of beard thickens into a buzz-cut. Hair a more … Continue reading Two Three - Nellie & Mary passes the tip of Long Point, the end of a spiral of sand that turns and turns in on itself. Below the high tide mark its sand banks stand like yellowed sandstone. Like the walls of an eroded pyramid, they fight the ages; withstand erosion; and make nonsense of the angle … Continue reading Three Four - “All right, git on up the’ah!” Joe C points. Stevie’s already shimmying up the nearest pile. His bare feet grasp each knot on the smooth, bark-less pole. A bulky coil of tarred hemp draped over his right shoulder, heading for a block hanging from its skinny top. Five - From fifty yards out, signs of the catch are hard to see. Heading North, light lingers in the sky to port. Reflections of the western horizon stain the water ahead. The afternoon breeze has died with the sunset. The old chop fades away. Waves lengthen into the shallow undulation of a rippling a skin, … Continue reading Five
Six - Antone’s last communion followed not long after his first. This was back on Pico. A lad of seventeen, apprenticed to a woodcutter. Madly in love with his dark-eyed Maria. Dazzled by vistas of open ocean. The grand circling horizon beckoned him toward the setting sun. My future set. Work hard. Tend the stony fields … Continue reading Six Seven - It made Antone nervous to be in his home waters again. His dread, his version of Saudade, that wistful, painful, Portuguese nostalgia. Antone was forty-two when a whaler brought him back to Pico. Breathing the same air, watching serried clouds and mid-ocean waves break against its terraced peak, dredged up painful memories. Wild Hydrangea dotting … Continue reading Seven Eight - The whaleboat crew lounge at a long table by the window out of Antone’s sight. They’ve had a head-start. Corvo called for three bottles of Aguardente, clapping down a bright silver dollar on the bar, as soon as they arrived. Two bottles down. Three of Corvo’s boys sprawl with their heads against the stone … Continue reading Eight
Nine - Sally Small’s farm sits in a hollow up on the Highlands between Pilgrim Spring and High Head. Low, wood-shake roofs stand level with the surrounding moorland. Her grandfather Samuel settled by the old stage route where it dropped onto the dunes to get around East Harbor. Traffic goes by the Beach Point Road now. Ten - “Cap’n-a-been-at-the-wheel all night & most of the day a’fo’ah that.” Pauly says. “Sat the’ah quiet…. Not said nothin since we left the Banks…. The hold only ha’hlf full…” Eleven - Stevie’s perched on the edge of his bunk. The image of Pauly’s schooner floating before his eyes. The others, restless after the long gam, mill around the cramped focs’le. Twelve - Walking fast, hunched forward, hands deep in his trouser pockets. Snow falling in big flat flakes out of a pewter sky, Feels like dusk. Still early afternoon. A cap of snow, accumulates on his hair. Slips forward. Stevie’s footsteps, resound in his ears, Scrunch-squish, breaking through a crust of frozen sand, Quiet. No wind. … Continue reading Twelve Thirteen - Stevie loses track of why he’s out here. No thought for the future. Thinking of nothing at all. The wind behind, Not cold. No icy fingers probing at his neck, between the buttons of his coat. His exaggerated gait, Only way to walk in snow on sand. Generates enough heat to make him comfortable. … Continue reading Thirteen
Fourteen - “It’s all about truth! I mean….” Thick fog drips off wires fizzing overhead. Cones of bright mist beneath each street lamp. An ivory glow. “If you put down the big notes as you see ‘em.” Fog alternates with a fine drizzle, swirling around enameled reflectors capping clear, blown-glass bulbs. “Doesn’t matter about the rest.” … Continue reading Fourteen Fifteen - Roosters crow through the fog in his head, Just now? Hours ago? Rolling over, pulling a beat-up pillow over his eyes, he pictures the world outside still wreathed in vapor as it was last night. Pulling himself up against the headboard, the reflection of clear blue sky shines on the walls and ceiling, … Continue reading Fifteen Sixteen - Flushed, flustered, Albert walks too fast. Sidesteps off the street to avoid a horse cart. Yells over his shoulder, “Hey!” Looking the wrong way, he collides with a pedestrian, “Oomph! Sorry!” “Albert?” Seventeen - Smothered in a tangle of rambling rose, half buried in drifting sand, a low fence cuts across Albert’s path. Chipped-white pickets hide behind brambles. A tall post oozes creosote, An open gate. Eroded by the light, Dissolved in glare. A dark sliver stabbing the sky.
Provincetown Stories II
Something for Nothing…
He died on a field in Lorraine where at the end of the day – August 20, 1914, – nothing was visible but corpses strewn in rows and sprawled in awkward attitudes of sudden death as if the place had been swept by a malignant hurricane. It was one of those lessons, a survivor realized afterward,”… By which God teaches the Law to Kings.”
Barbara Tuchman, The Guns of August
If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.
The Gospel of Thomas