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The Crying Child
From the air, the island doesn't look big enough to land a plane on. It's a pretty sight, from above, calling to mind all sorts of poetic images—an agate, shining brown and green, flung down in folds of sea-blue satin; a blob of variegated Play-Doh, left in a basin of water by a forgetful child; an oval braided rug on a green glass floor.
Or a hand, in a brown-and-green mitten. The hand is clenched into a fist, with a thumblike promontory jutting out on one side. Across the broad end there is a range of hills that might be knuckles; at the other end, the land narrows down into a wrist-shaped peninsula. There are beaches there, like fur trim on the cuff of the mitten; the rest of the island is thick with foliage, somber green pines and fir trees for the most part. The house is surprisingly distinct from above. The lighter green of the lawns and the gray outline of roofs and chimneys stand out amid the darkness of the pines. The only other distinctive landmark is the cluster of buildings that make up the village, along the thumb promontory, and its harbor, which is formed by the junction of thumb and hand.
And that's where the figure of speech fails. You could compare the house to an oddly shaped ring, up on the knuckles of the hand, but the village doesn't suggest any analogy. A diseased imagination might think of sores or warts; but there never was anything festering about St. Ives. It was just a charming Maine town, and not even the events of that spring could make it anything else. There was no lurking horror in the village. It was in the house.
I certainly wasn't aware of horrors thatmorning in May. I had worries, plenty of them, but they were comparatively simple ones. I didn't know, then, how simple.
Fortunately, fear of flying was not one of those worries. If I had had any such weakness, the plane I was in would have reduced me to a quivering jelly. It was the smallest winged thing I had ever been in. After the big jetliner that brought me from San Francisco to Boston, this object looked like a squat beetle with stubby wings. The pilot flew it like a hot rod; with his long hair curling around the base of his neck and his grin almost buried in blond beard, he wouldn't have inspired much confidence in a timid flyer.
Although I was in a hurry to reach the island, this charter flight from Boston wasn't my idea; it was Ran's. A brother-in-law who is also a millionaire has certain advantages. As Ran pointed out, the alternative arrangement would have taken a lot of time: another plane from Boston to Portland, then a bus or train or taxi from Portland to the coastal town of Richmond, which is the closest city on the mainland to the island; then a privately chartered boat. The ferry only runs once a day—in the summer. In the winter, I assumed, the inhabitants would have to swim.
It was a long swim. King's Island—they insist on the possessive form—is the farthest out of all the islands of Casco Bay; so far out that it isn't on the regular ferry route, which chugs like a commuter bus between Portland and the other islands that cluster thickly between the arms of Cape Elizabeth and Cape Small. The inhabitants of the island say that's fine with them. They see enough tourists during the three summer months. The Inn, with twenty rooms, is the only hotel. A few private homes take in boarders, but there isn't a motel or a resort hotel on the island. The Fraser family owns most of it, and they have always refused to sell to developers, so there are no cabins or summer cottages.
Ran's last name is Fraser.
I suppose owning things gives rich people the feeling that they can manipulate human beings as easily as they do inanimate objects. Ran has certain tendencies in this direction, but he gave up trying to boss me after I ran away from home. I was twenty at the time, and a college graduate; but I'd been living with Ran and Mary for ten years, and he carried on like a Victorian father whose daughter is planning a career in a bawdy house. His original idea was for me to hang around the family homestead on Long Island after I graduated until I hooked one of the wealthy young males he kept dragging home. When I insisted that I wanted a job instead, he offered me fourteen (fourteen—I counted them) different positions in Manhattan, from an assistant editorship in the publishing house he controls to running my own interior decorating business—which he would buy for me. I literally had to elope, down the stairs at 2 A.M., with my suitcase under my arm—but not with a man. My companion on that flight wasn't a human being, it was a bizarre quality called pride.
I took a job in San Francisco because it was about as far away from Ran and Mary as I could get, and I needed that distance to keep myself from crawling back. I was so homesick and so broke those first three months that I almost did weaken. It took Ran another three months to forgive me. He called on New Year's Eve. After that he and Mary called almost every week, just for company and gossip. But the last two calls had been something else. It was because of those calls that I was in the air over the coast of Maine in a plane that looked like a sick lightning bug.
The first of the significant calls came in April. It was Ran telling me with curt brevity that Mary had lost her baby. That wasn't how he phrased it. In fact, he corrected me when I used the word.The Crying Child. Copyright © by Barbara Michaels. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.