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In fact, Petra had not been the only passenger of the Orca Queen to look back at the sole resident of Folly Island.
Petra Collins, last scion of the once-illustrious Newborn line, certainly looked the longest and waved the hardest at her beloved, bereft grandmother standing alone on the receding shore. The gel that spiked Petra's dark curls felt frozen onto her knit cap, and the puffy coat wrapping her slim, hard body was not really adequate.
Poor, poor Gran, the child thought; she looks so lonely Oh man I wish I was as brave as she is all alone on an island with nobody to talk to except the seagulls, not even a dog, I mean I might think about it if I could take Bounce along like that book we read a couple years ago about the boy who runs away to go live in a dead tree in the woods and makes friends with a raccoon and a falcon, I wonder if Gran's island has raccoons? A falcon'd be so cool, though Oh poor Gran, I wish I could stay with her a while Oh jeez it's cold I wish I'd bought her that other hat, five bucks more but it would've been warmer for her she looks so old and cold and Bye Gran. Bye. Bye.
The thoughts rattling through the mind of Tamara Collins were even less coherent than those of her thirteen-year-old daughter. She was struggling irritably to get her cigarette lit against the wind that flung the lighter's flame wildly about. On the way over, that wind had made her eyes water so badly she was now without any mascara, and she knew she looked a sight -- not that there was anyone to see her in this godforsaken hole. She finally got the cigarette going, and an instant before the boat rounded Folly's southeastern point, Tamara glanced involuntarily over her shoulder at her mother, standing proud and straight-backed on the promontory. A pang of sympathy, even pity, sneaked in before her mind came back on-line with Damn it, how long can it be before we get a call from the police or a hospital asking Do you know a Rae Newborn she was found -- pick one or more of the following -- a) raving at passersby b) starving to death c) bleeding to death Oh God maybe Don was right and we really ought to do something about her but that psychiatrist of hers said Mom has the right to do things that look crazy so long as they don't endanger her or anyone else but how can this not be considered dangerous? I mean, in this day and age what's to stop some nut -- some real nut, some violent nut -- from walking onto the island and Oh this is going nowhere, I'll have to have another talk with that psychiatrist Hunt, Dr. Hunt and tell her exactly what the situation is here, she can't have any idea Yes Don is right there's too much at stake and I never should have allowed Petra to skip a day of school to come on this fool's errand she's too young to understand and it's a mother's responsibility to protect her daughter just because my mother never did that doesn't mean Oh be fair she couldn't help herself, she never meant to abandon But if she's not responsible for her actions if she wasn't responsible thirty years ago and she wasn't last year either then why should she be allowed to do this completely irrational I mean they'd restrain some delusional person setting off for China in a rowboat how is this any different but No, Mom's not insane and certainly not like that just because she has been in the past but this really is crazy Well not crazy-insane but surely nuts and especially when there's so much at stake Don was right about that and would it really be so bad if we were to take the reins like he says take the reins of the estate and give her a monthly allowance and for sure keep a close eye on her I mean what if she decided to give it all away or something what about Petra? And there Mom stands straight as an arrow all pride and stubbornness and Damn it why do I always have to pick up the pieces for her she's the mother for Christ sake it drives me No it doesn't drive me crazy it makes me so angry something's got to be done here it's just too much it's just -- With that, the tree-covered island rose up and swallowed her mother, and Tamara was looking at nothing more exasperating than island and sea. She did not even know if what she felt was relief or sorrow.
The third party on the Orca Queen was its owner, Ed De la Torre, waterborne taxi and delivery service, amateur philosopher, jack-of-all-trades -- particularly those trades frowned upon by the law. Ed was more or less impervious to the cold, his skin so toughened by sun and wind it wore like leather. Even the long, white mustaches, startling against the deep brown of his face, seemed barely to move in the gusts. Impervious, that was how Ed saw himself. And with that thought Ed, too, cast his sea-blue eyes back for a final glimpse of the odd figure he'd deposited on the shore of the uninhabited rock, a figure so lanky and so bundled up against the cold that a man couldn't even be sure of its sex. All alone with no boat and fast-moving water all around, and what would that be like, living with nobody but the birds, no roof but the sky? Old Henry David would've understood, but then he could walk into town, talk to his neighbors, even had family practically within shouting distance. Hell, I've lived on the Queen for weeks at a time, but I can't remember ever going more'n two or three days without stopping in at a bar or a marina or something. Thomas Merton, now maybe there was a man who'd explain the attraction. It's been a while since I read Merton, maybe I'll dig him out again, see what the crazy monk has to say about solitude.
'Course, even Merton didn't do that great with solitude. It distracted him, made him forget about the possibility of bad wiring in Third World appliances, so he got careless and electrocuted himself.
You could say his solitude killed him. God knows it'd kill me.
Alone, at last.
Rae stood beneath the sagging tarpaulin roof, the knapsack gaping open in front of her, and raised her head, abruptly aware of the sheer size of all that solitude pressing in on her flimsy shelter. For the first time -- the first of many, she well knew -- cold fear trickled into her heart. What the hell am I doing? I mean, I've done a lot of loony things, but this really takes the cake. I should've been locked up, they should've thrown away the key, how can I possibly --
She brought herself up short. This was no way to begin. She'd known it would be hard, but hard was the only solution.
From the Hardcover edition.