What I’ll Tell My Children about The Little Island and Its Grey Lady

I know this little island. A slice of land that once belonged to a whole. One day, way back when the sea glowed green, it grew restless to explore and to find the place where the water met the sky. It shook and it rattled and it pulled and it pushed until finally it broke its way free. Floating on its back and sending so-long waves to the rocky coast it left behind. After some time it could no longer see land, what was once its home. It felt empty and sad and terribly alone, out there in the cold dark water. It was a still night and the little land, the island, floated on its back and thought about what to do next. It didn’t want to go back, admitting it was wrong, that it was too small to be out there in the ocean all alone. No island wants to be an island.

It was a grey morning and the little island let the fog settle across its belly, swirling around its corners and growing heavier with the day. It was comforting to have the fog there as a blanket or a silent friend. A little while into the afternoon, a boat happened to wander onto the bank of the island. It was a fishing boat that had untied itself from its dock and drifted out to sea. The boat apologized for running into the little island, but the little island didn’t mind in the least. It was happy to have company, and the little boat became its first friend. Soon after another fishing boat appeared, having heard about the little island from the song of the waves. This boat was much bigger than the last, and it carried in it a fisherman and his beautiful wife. She was modest and wise, with a smile that never left her lips. The most enchanting part about her was her waist length silvery hair that glittered like the moonlit water.

She was known as the  Grey Lady. She and her husband settled down on the eastern side of the island. She wanted to always be able to see the sunrise, and he wanted nothing more than to make his wife happy. He himself was a fierce man who spent 10 years of his adolescence aboard a whaling ship, chasing what the captain called “The White Devil” sperm whale. The island was overjoyed to have them there, and the Grey Lady and the whaler loved the little island right back. So much so they wrote to their family at home and told them to come to see the island. The wrote on a piece of parchment paper that the Grey Lady tied with a strand of her hair. They slopped it in an old glass bottle and sent it out to sea. The little island promised to have its waves deliver it safely.

The Grey Lady and her husband saw a bright future ahead. They could build their homes and raise their children in the middle of the ocean, and the men, they would surely become legendary for the whales they caught.

Soon more people came to the little island. And then more. They built their homes by the water and soon the laughter of children could be heard from shore to shore. The Grey Lady and her husband built a school and planted the first garden on the island. And the little island was overjoyed.

But after months of hungering for the sea and his spear, the Grey Lady’s husband could not resist any longer and announced it was time for a second whaling adventure. He had heard whispers of an even greater monster than “The White Devil” and was determined to hunt him down.  The Grey Lady begged him not to go, fearing for her husband’s safety. But his mind made up, he kissed her goodbye with his stony eyes already sunk down deep into the sea.  Before he left he ran his hands through her long shimmering hair one last time.

 

The Grey Lady was heart broken. She knew the dangers of whaling, especially when mixed with the ghosts in her husband’s eyes. She watched him from the coast as his little boat faded into the sky. It looked as if he was swallowed by the setting sun, and her fear was salty in her mouth. In her distress she ran back to her home, now as wind beaten and weathered as she, and called upon her neighbors for help. She asked them to bring planks of wood, hammers and nails, for she needed her house to be taller — she needed a way to see her beloved as he returned.

Working all through the night she erected a tower atop of her little home, a landing where she could stand and peer out to the see, her eyes straining for any signs of a little whaling boat. Often times her eyes would beseech her heart, tricking it into believing she could see a mast bobbing against the horizon— they were the happiest moments that were then followed by the crippling heartache when the rest of the boat failed to appear.

The villagers wanted to help their Grey Lady. The farmer down the road came with his son and joined the basket weaver and the baker. Together they added a little deck with a railing on top of the roof where the Grey Lady could climb too and see for miles.

And the island watched his Grey Lady. She didn’t sleep, but rather took to pacing atop of her home, searching by moonlight and praying to the stars. Time drifted by and the island grew cold. Snow dusted the trees and still she walked, back and forth, steady like the rocking of the sea.

Still, she waited. Her skin like seaweed wrapped around brittling bones. The life of the Grey Lady dimmed as her heart continued to break into bits of shells.  Her twentieth winter of waiting atop her home shook the Grey Lady with a fever from which she would not recover. The neighbors came to wash her feet and and hands and rub cooling balms into her temples. Still the Grey Lady longed to climb the ladder and look out to the sea.

 

The little island wept with her, as she pulled her hair and screamed with what was left, sending countless days of rain to pour over the mourners of their Grey Lady and her love. The evening she passed, all were silent. They tied her long grey hair, still with its silvery sheen, atop her head in a regal bow and pinned daffodils around her crown. They brought her up to the top of her home, the Widow’s Walk they named it, and said a prayer that she may finally find peace after her long wait.

 

The little island tried not to cry, as it wanted to be strong for his lady as they carried her down to the shore. They placed her in a small canoe, a single candle alight on its bow. They added a hand woven basket filled with the island’s red berries to sustain her on her trip. She would never have to strain to see the sea again. She would meet her beloved, where the ocean met the sky. They waved to her from the shore, the little island calling the waves to hold her and keep her safe as she floated further out to sea.

In honor of the Grey Lady, the villagers traveled to the most northern part of the island and spent many weeks laboring to build her a tall tower. At the top of the tower they made a fire, so that the lady could always have a light to guide her back to the island. They named it the Great Point and made sure it was forever lit.

Today the little island has changed. From one coast to the other they have arrived. They built a school and a local market. They paved the roads and planted crops. They built a town center and held meetings to discuss the growth of the island. Decades passed and  word spread about the island, and more and more people traveled to visit the little land, separated — it seemed — from time.

And yet even after centuries of comings and goings, they memory of the Grey Lady lives on. Only the little island carries her visage, but it is said that on a rare night when the moon is just right in the sleepy town of Siasconset where the Grey Lady first stepped foot, you can look toward a Widow’s Walk and see her there, pacing back and forth, her ghost gazing out into the black water and calling for her beloved to come back home.

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An Excerpt from “Girls in Rooms and Something Else”

“Are you with the guys from the Navy?”
Her skirt was so tight it might have been lipsticked on. She was wearing a man’s

suit jacket and leaned against the entrance to the bar, propping a heeled foot against
the wall. She opened her mouth to let the smoke snake out and looked over to the man on the pay-phone. His dress shirt was unbuttoned and he was pinching at the space between his eyes.

“Honey,” she spoke toward the man, “You’ve only got a few minutes of me left.” She looked at Pat and smiled. She had a gap in her two front teeth, just like Donna. “Just saw them go in.”

“How’d you know we were with them?” Dan, Pat’s brother, asked.
“Do me a favor, let em’ know now that the rooms are ten dollars a minute.”
Dan grinned and wrapped his arm around Pat and led him inside. The pick of this

place was his contribution to their brother Terry’s bachelor party. The first of the brothers to get married, they had all decided to pitch in something. Girls in Rooms was infamous for such celebrations, and Dan, being the youngest at 18, had told Pat he was more
than ready to go into many rooms with many girls.

‘What’s she talking about?” Pat asked Dan, who’d never been to the strip club before that

night.
“It’s the room part of Girls in Rooms. It’s for one on one strip dances, or at leastthat’s what they say. Keep it legal, ya know.” He winked. “This is gonna be great, man.” Breasts. That’s what the buzz was. Bouncing and falling and giving a little shake, a little

sway to the beat-box music. Men stuck to the bar like flies drowning in whiskey. The whiskey

they spilt as they tried to get to the breasts. The breasts walked by with trays of diluted drinks. The drinks kept coming and going and the women gave a little shake and stuck wads of money from outstretched hands into the lining of their skirts, in g-strings and garder belts.

“Isn’t this awesome? I hope I get picked for a room.” Dan was doing
that hopping thing when he walked, Pat noticed. Ever since he was younger, everyone knew when Dan was too excited.

“Picked?”
There was no touching outside of the rooms, that was understood. There were

tables, marked out by little red candles, where every twenty minutes you could pay to sit and sweet talk, flirt, make suggestive eyes with a pair of breasts. After that twenty minutes, only if the woman asked you, you could go into the back rooms for as long as you were willing to pay, or until she asked you to leave.

It was nine o’clock on a Friday night, and the place was already littered with loosened tie

holding empty glasses, waving single bills the air. They trickled in slowly, one or two at a time, making their way to the bar. Pat wondered if any of them had told their wives or girlfriends where they were going. Maybe they told them after, or from the pay-phone in the lobby when they needed a ride home and had already stuffed cab fare into g-strings. He wouldn’t have to call anybody tonight.

The breasts circled the bills with puckered lips and winking eyes, occasionlly swooping into let a bill or two join the dingy green plume decorating their waistlines.