“The Outer Cape is a wonderful book from a remarkably talented author...” NPR.org
An Amazon Editor's Pick
Robert and Irene Kelly were a golden couple of the late ‘70sshe an artist, he a businessman, each possessed by dynamism and vibrancy. But with two young boys to care for, Irene finds herself confined by the very things she’d dreamed of having. And Robert, pressured by Irene’s demands and haunted by the possibility of failure, risks the family business to pursue a fail-safe real estate opportunity.
Twenty years later, their now-grown sons, Nathan and Andrew, are drawn back to confront a fateful diagnosis. As they revisit the Cape Cod of their childhood, the ghosts of the past threaten to upend the tenuous peace of the present.
In The Outer Cape, Patrick Dacey delivers a story of four people grappling with the shadow of infinite possibility, a book in which chasing the American dream and struggling to survive are one and the same.
|Publisher:||Holt, Henry & Company, Inc.|
|Product dimensions:||5.80(w) x 8.30(h) x 0.80(d)|
About the Author
Patrick Dacey holds an MFA from Syracuse University. He has taught English at several universities in the U.S. and Mexico, and has worked as a reporter, landscaper, door-to-door salesman, and most recently on the overnight staff at a homeless shelter and detox center. His stories have been featured in The Paris Review, Zoetrope All-Story, Guernica, Bomb magazine, and Salt Hill among other publications. He is the author of We've Already Gone This Far.
Read an Excerpt
Robert Kelly had constructed the argument to put his wife on the defensive. It worked, as he knew it would, which, in a way, was even worse than having done nothing at all. So after Irene stomps around the bedroom, gathering together the stray pieces of clothing for tomorrow's laundry, Robert grabs her arms and pulls her toward him. She beats against his chest, then succumbs to his lips and tongue pressing against her neck. He yanks the straps of her dress down her arms, pushes up and sucks on her breasts, pulling hard on her nipples with his teeth. "Ow," she says. "Don't. Don't stop." He grabs her delicate hands in his giant paw and locks them behind her back with his grip, then nudges her toward the bed with his knee against her crotch. "Keep quiet," he says. On his knees, he pushes aside her underwear and laps the juice from her pussy, reaching up to put his fingers in her mouth when she starts to moan. Her legs shudder. He grabs her up from the bed and holds her like an offering. With his thick, hardened quadriceps, he pushes open her legs and enters her, gently at first, then harder, working as though with every thrust he adds another brick to a wall he is about to destroy. The veins in his arms pulse as he presses his fists down into the mattress, and his calves burn as he maneuvers his pelvis to reach the spot that makes her body quake, feeling himself grow thicker as she shouts the first syllable of his name like a cheer — Ra-Ra-Ra.
But Robert Kelly is no longer a fighter, a ballplayer, a soldier. Now he runs and plays golf and sells three-bedroom homes near the ocean in Wequaquet, Massachusetts. He only competes against himself.
After he comes, he rolls onto his back, and Irene moves to his side, her leg across his. She wipes the sweat from his forehead, plays with his chest hair, and picks at the dry skin on his nose. He lies there with his eyes open, spent, waiting for Irene to fall asleep.
When had they last made love like that? It felt like it had been before the children were born, twelve years ago. Nathan, then Andrew. Neither of them planned or expected, simply inevitable, Robert thought, whether he wanted them or not. He was glad they were boys.
But since the children, there were no more restaurants, no more visits to the city or late nights walking the sidewalks in New York, buzzed and careless, talking about their lives before they met (all those stories had been told and retold by now), or uninterrupted lovemaking (now they usually did it on their sides, faceless, quick, and because she said it felt slimy between her legs, he came in his palm to avoid ruining the sheets). They are directed toward the children, by the children, who don't know how good it had been for their parents, would never know, as long as they lived, how free and happy they once were.
But today was different. Today he had come home to the house a mess, and Irene in the carriage house, sketching a bowl of fruit — plums, maybe — and the boys covered in mud, lying half-awake in the living room, with the television so loud his own shouts for them to get in the bath barely reached them.
"That's enough, Robert," Irene had said, yelling back at him as he began to threaten the boys with a smack.
"What do you do all day?" he said to her, his mind wild with an unmerited madness. The site of dirt, dust, and the occasional bug in the kitchen made his head buzz and boil. He felt it was a sign of disrespect. The kids didn't respect him. His wife didn't respect him. The bugs didn't respect him.
"Me? That's supposed to be a joke, right? You're gone day and night, and the one afternoon you come home unannounced and the house isn't cleaned to your liking, now I do nothing?"
"Look at yourself, anyway, dressed in ... what do you even call this? A smock? What are you trying to be? Some kind of artist? Still?"
"I'm not trying to be anything, Robert."
Because that was long ago now, fifteen years at least, when she had been an artist, and he sat on the edge of their double bed in the apartment above the Cuban restaurant they first shared in New York, listening to the yipping dog next door combined with the blaring horns outside — peaceful, the noise, something you could get used to if you were sleeping with a beautiful woman — and she finally revealed her work to him, and he reluctantly expressed interest, may have said, "This one is intriguing," not because it wasn't, but because he didn't know if it was, and when she had asked him why, he grew red in the face and she kissed him on the mouth and neck, and bit at his ear and said, "I love you for not knowing why."
Full of love then, full of a kind of disgust now.
He said with a kind of cool indifference, "You're a phony, that's what you are."
He barely felt the blue and white porcelain creamer strike his forehead until later, after his brow took five stitches, and the lump throbbed with pain. But he remembered how quick Irene had been, to grab it from beside the coffeepot and fling it across the kitchen island. And just as quickly as he went down, she was there beside him with a wet cloth, helping him to his feet, to the car, to the emergency room. She had called to the older of their boys, Nathan, to take care of the house while they were gone.
Now, in bed, after the boys had fallen asleep, and Robert had taken advantage of Irene's repentant guise, exhausted from the sex, the arguing, the childish fear he had of emergency rooms, Irene crossed her leg over his, and he could smell the thick perfume of her after-sex, the taste of him on her breath as she spoke.
"Let's agree again never to fight like that, especially when the children are in the house."
He knew they had heard them from the bathtub, saw the blood on the hand that had covered the wound when he had thrust his finger out and shouted for them to stay in their rooms.
"We're so lucky, Robert. Aren't we?"
Weren't they? They didn't have to worry about money or their sons' health or civil unrest. They were sheltered in the best way.
"But maybe that's the problem," Robert said. "Maybe we need a spark."
"Those stitches weren't enough?" Irene said, and smiled.
"You know what I mean."
"I don't, Robert. I'm not happy. But I'm not unhappy."
To say something like that was worse than being a phony, Robert thought. It meant you didn't care what you were.
When his father's health had begun to fail two years ago, she had been the one to push Robert to take control of the family building business. She had been sure then that settling down on Cape Cod would bring stability to their lives, order, and with stability and order, happiness.
For Robert, crossing over the Sagamore Bridge was like crossing from one world to another, and to return to the Cape was to deny every natural instinct in a body crying for him to stay on the other side.
Ever since he had graduated college in '74, Robert had been selling paper products for Mobile Corp. He used the same tools of salesmanship his father had taught him when he was a kid, the ones he had used to convince restaurant managers and hotel owners that they needed his supplies.
"Let's say you suddenly run out of tissue paper and towels," he'd proffer with a young and winsome smile. "Now you have everyone's germs on your tables and bar stools, infected food goods, sick workers, health code violations. ... I could go on. Point is, your future could be full of glory or garbage. Really, I shouldn't have to convince you to keep clean. You look respectable to me."
He had made a decent living as a single guy in a studio apartment in Hell's Kitchen. But once married and with Nathan on the way, Jesus, decent wasn't good enough anymore. He took higher-paying sales jobs with Mobile Corp that allowed him to work from an office but meant they had to move from one uninteresting and depressing city to another. In Richmond, Virginia, they rented a house for nearly half what their apartment cost in New York, a brick rancher with a big yard and a carport. But it was summer, and the local stores had run out of air-conditioning units, and the fans only made them hotter. One day, while Robert was at work, Irene started on the laundry that had been piling up in the corner of their bedroom. After dropping the whites in the washing machine, twisting and pulling the knob, her clothes stuck to her bulging stomach and fattened breasts. She pushed back the wet hairs that stuck to her forehead. She had the sensation of walking through the shallow end of a pool as she tried to make it to the freezer to cool down, and fainted just in time for her head to miss the edge of the counter. Robert found her on his lunch break and called for an ambulance. She woke in the hospital, panicked about the baby, was assured everything was fine, just heat exhaustion, happens all the time here in the South.
"Well, guess where I'm never living again?" she said to the doctor, while looking at Robert.
They moved to Dover, then Camden, then Hartford, and finally had spent most of the past year in Rochester, in an apartment not unlike the one in New York, only larger, and above a Laundromat. Irene had gone to the local Goodwill and asked to have the necessary pieces of furniture delivered to their new apartment; then, with careful planning, and three or four cans of paint, she built a space for bright colors to combat the stillness created by whoever had lived or died here last. She painted and repainted the walls, put up new wallpaper, changed the curtains. All of these changes had little effect on Robert. He recognized a new pattern, but the vibrancy of color was lost on him. He sensed Irene's unhappiness, her moving away from him into busying herself with never-ending projects. She'd begun to exclude him from plans with the kids. Saturday mornings she would be up early, the boys dressed, already at the door when he woke, saying, "We're going out to the lake for the day," and leaving him there to wonder if he should follow or stay put, if he was part of his own family or not.
Robert's future, what Irene would accept as a future, was as clear to him as a silver star at twilight: first the house, then furniture and kitchenware and linens, country club gatherings, clam bakes, college tuition payments, one week all-inclusive resort stays, life insurance, retirement, bird watching or some other type of bullshit hobby, a condo in Florida, and a grave beneath a flat stone. He shivered.
"They want me in Kansas City," he had told Irene.
"Missouri? Do I look like a woman who belongs in Missouri?"
"I don't know. Do you?"
"You know how they pronounce Missouri in Missouri? Mis-ery. Because that's what it is."
So it was settled. He could see it in her eyes. He had started this life with her and, up until now, hadn't been tested. Robert still remembered in New York after they had first met, how she could get a cab by standing off the curb and letting her elbows fly out behind her, like wings rising. In 1988, just before Independence Day, Robert had handed in his two-week notice at Mobile Corp.
The kids then were ten and eight. Andrew, the younger one, had his eyes closed as they crossed over the bridge. His older brother, Nathan, punched his arm.
"Quit being such a pussy," he said.
"Nathan!" Irene shouted. Then to Andrew, "Honey, look at the boats down there. Whoever counts the most wins a prize."
They sat up and watched the sails sink in and puff out, the flumes of white wash in the wake of churning motors.
"How many do you see?" Irene asked, and in his nervous excitement — at a prize, a treat — Nathan stretched his neck and scanned the water, shouting out, "Four, five, six." He knew Andrew wouldn't be able to see past him, while also trying to count the boats on his own side.
Irene passed back the last doughnut from the half dozen they had bought in Milford, a jelly cream. Nathan ate his prize with regret — he felt his father's eyes scan the bulge of his stomach in the rearview mirror. But also his brother knew he had cheated and that he was only trying to impress Mom and Dad. Nathan offered the last bite to Andrew, who took the piece, crushed it in his palm, and threw it out the window.
The Wagoneer was stacked so high with suitcases and bedding and small pieces of furniture, Robert had to use the side mirrors in order to see the cars to their left. As they descended onto the peninsula, there was a drumming underneath the hood, then the sharp tapping like a clunky washing machine as the Wagoneer picked up speed. To Robert, the noises of his old Wagoneer made it sound as though the bridge were collapsing behind them. Technically, the Cape is an island. Without the bridge, you would need a ferryboat to take you across to the mainland, where each village has its Main Street and Sea Street and old barns renovated into antique stores or pricey restaurants with stuffed quail on the menu. The farther out you go, the narrower the roads get, the closer the ocean, so that at night, when there are only one or two cars passing by, you can hear the sloshing of the fishing boats in Wequaquet Harbor, hear the waves roll and crash and draw back into the sea.
Irene rolled down her window and stuck her arm out, letting the wind push back on her hand. The smell of salt and hot sand swept through the car. She inhaled and exhaled, relieved. Then she looked back at the children, Andrew with his arms crossed and eyes closed, Nathan sucking the powder off his fingers.
The wood-paneled Wagoneer hit the dip at the end of the bridge, then whipped down the tree-lined highway, sand swirling in its wake.
Robert and Irene were at peace for a while, still in love, gracious and kind to each other. Then they grew angry and aggressive, urging each other toward bitterness. Now, though, what lingers is a stale emotion, a sense of love he recognizes in the way Irene smells when she gets out of the shower, or, still, even with an extra thirty pounds, the careful way in which she dresses, slowly, so that none of the clothing bunches or wrinkles. Sometimes she kisses him just so, and he feels what it was like to kiss her, Irene Duffy, the girl he had met in her father's bar, when he welcomed uncertainty. Embraced it. And fell in love.
All the following week it rained. Robert took the week off to nurse his head, and he slept the best he had in years — he took two Nembutals before bed and said peace to the world. The boys were in and out of the house, making a mess Irene eventually let be. Her nerves had never been stretched so tight. She had felt the violence in her when she threw the creamer at Robert's head, and it gave her power.
When Robert finally decides to rejoin the family, it is Sunday, and again it is raining. There has been flooding near the shore but no reports of structural damage to houses or boats. Irene reads him yesterday's paper, as she has done the last four mornings after he had complained of headaches, even though the headaches had weakened and were met by a slow throbbing ping he welcomed over the noise of the kids and his wife's complaints about things needing to be done or things that hadn't been done when needed. Irene reads him the story of a tourist who had gone missing. His family was stuck in the Farley House Bed and Breakfast on Sea Street. But it turned out he hadn't been missing. He had jumped aboard a fishing boat leaving from the harbor two days ago. The captain, once aware of the man's identity, informed the authorities the man was safe. He had just needed a break.
"Can you imagine?" Irene says.
Robert knows better than to answer.
After breakfast, he drives to the Dunkin' Donuts on the other side of the Sagamore Bridge and sits with the New York Post, examining the point spreads for the NBA games. He's been on a monthlong losing streak. He feels he's due. When he finishes his coffee, he calls into Barney the bookie, an old curly-headed, cigar-smoking ancient who has been around since Robert's father was placing bets on the Irish. Then he drives along the canal, and into Sandwich, where much of the land is untouched. Ruthless zoning restrictions have been put in place to protect the habitats of plovers and terns. Birds, for Christ's sake, Robert thinks. What about people?
When Robert returns home, the boys have taken their mattresses off their beds and stacked one on top of the other, then placed their pillows in front of the mattresses. He notices the Magic Marker Xs on the cotton pillowcases, and they pause in their made-up game when he comes down the hall. His childlike curiosity allows them to proceed to hurl their old stuffed animals and action figures at the Xs. The boys soon begin pushing each other into the pillows until Nathan, who is big for being only twelve, gets too rough, and Andrew, two years younger, small and thin, smacks his head against the top mattress and falls to his knees.
"Dad?" he says, looking up at Robert through his fogged glasses.
"That's what you get," Robert says and walks outside.
Irene has lost her patience and is sitting on the back step smoking a joint, which Robert has asked her more than once to think about giving up, now that they are settled for good. He begins to say something, but having heard the door open, Irene throws up her free hand.
"Please, take these kids out of this house," she says. "I need a friggin' break."
"Where do you want me to take them?" Robert asks.
"I don't know. Somewhere. Anywhere. I'm losing my mind."
"Okay, calm down. I'll take them to the movies."
"Not some R-rated movie, either. Last time Andrew had nightmares."
"Well, I refuse to pay money to see a bunch of cartoons whacking each other off."
"It doesn't have to be a cartoon, Robert."
"I'll check what's playing."
The boys sit in the backseat during the ride to the theater, battling for head room in order to see the handheld video-game screen one or the other taps at furiously.
Excerpted from "The Outer Cape"
Copyright © 2017 Patrick Dacey.
Excerpted by permission of Henry Holt and Company.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Part I: Robert and Irene, 1990,
Part II: Nathan and Andrew 2017,
Part III: The Outer Cape,
Also by Patrick Dacey,
About the Author,
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Loved it. Not often can you compare a book to one of the best, but this is up there with Yates' Revolutionary Road. It's emotional, funny, and real. Highly Recommended.