The notes were appearing everywhere. Everyone was talking about it. The first time Harriet and Beth Ellen ever saw anyone get one was one day in July when they were in the supermarket in Water Mill. They were standing at the checkout counter waiting to pay for their cookies. The woman with mean eyes who always checked them out was getting ready to charge them, when she suddenly drew her hand back from the cash register as though bitten by a snake.
"What in the world . . . ?" she shrieked, and Harriet almost broke her stomach in two leaning over the counter to see. The woman held up a large piece of paper on which was written awkwardly in red crayon:
jesus hates you
"What is that? What in the world is that? Why would someone do that? What could they mean by that? Why would they say that to me? To me . . . to me?" The woman screamed on and on. A clerk came running. The manager of the store came running. Harriet stood with half-closed eyes, watching. Beth Ellen stared. Everyone began talking at once.
"Jake at the feed store got one."
"They're all over town. Everybody in Water Mill has gotten one."
"Why doesn't somebody do something? What is this?"
"They have. Mr. Jackson went to the police."
"Well, they're looking around. What can they do? They can't find out who's doing it."
"Maybe they're protecting somebody."
"Yeah. Didn't have none of this all winter. One of those summer people flipped, maybe."
For some reason everyone turned and looked at Harriet and Beth Ellen. Harrietwas so busy writing down everything in the notebook she always carried that she didn't notice, but Beth Ellen started to back out of the door.
"This all you have, kids?" The woman at the register suddenly became very sharp and businesslike.
"Yes," said Harriet in what she hoped was a disinterested way.
Beth Ellen was already out on the street. Harriet saw her streaking for the long black car.
"Well, I'll tell you," said the checkout lady as she put the cookies in a bag, "there's some mighty strange people in these parts of a summer."
Harriet stood a minute with the bag in her hand, hoping the woman would say more, but she just looked at Harriet expectantly. Feeling foolish, Harriet turned abruptly and left the store.
Outside, she walked slowly to the car. The air on this early morning was sweet, faintly wet, and clinging. She felt the same nostalgic joy that she felt every year. The memories of every summer of her life seemed to make the air thick and rich. It was all so beautifully familiar: the short stretch of stores along the Montauk Highway, the flag in front of the tiny post office, the sign saying You are entering Water Mill, New York. Slow down and enjoy it, which now was a virgin-white with black letters but by the end of the summer would be scrawled with drunken wit.
From the Hardcover Library Binding edition.
Copyright 2001 by Louise Fitzhugh