Novelist Barbara Delinsky, 74, has penned some 20 best sellers for her devoted fans, and her latest oceanside saga is likely to pop up on the top 10 list as well.
A Week at the Shore is about love and memory: Photographer Mallory Aldiss must return home to the Rhode Island shore, along with her 13-year-old daughter, Joy, to tend to her father who's contending with early signs of dementia. Grappling with her dad while reconnecting with her two estranged sisters is difficult, but facing Jack, the love she left behind, is even more heart-wrenching. Jack still blames Mallory's father for his mother's mysterious death years ago. Can they now finally find out the truth of what really happened, before it's too late?
Escape to the beach with the first chapter of Delinsky's new novel, below.
Every memory is real, but not all are based on fact. Time, forgetfulness, emotional need — any of these things can chip away at memory. But what if a memory is wrong from the start? What if what you think you saw, isn't what was there at all?
This is why I love my camera. It is never wrong. It captures facts and stores them. This frees me to live in the moment and move on to the next with the knowledge that the first is preserved. Since coming to New York, I've documented snowstorms and floods. I've taken pictures of strangers and friends, the streets where I walk, the markets where I shop. I even photographed my way through childbirth — well, until the very end, when my doctor banished my Nikon from the birthing bed. And recording my daughter's life? I have thousands of photos of Joy. On the first day of school each year, we look back at what she wore on the first day of school the year before and the year before that. Inevitably we've forgotten. But there it is in vivid detail.
That isn't to say detail can't be fudged. I do this every day, photographing real estate in a way that shows a home to potential buyers as something bigger, brighter, more alluring. Angles, lenses, creative lighting — these are the stock of my trade. Deceptive, perhaps. But much of marketing is.
Right now, though, after spending my working day photographing a Tribeca condo from every imaginable angle in the shifting city light, I'm playing at home. It's just past nine at night. The skyline isn't fully dark, not this close to the longest day of the year, but the air is heavy and moist, as early June in New York can be, turning what might have been a purple sunset into elongated smudges of gray. Fog is on the move, enfolding my building like a hug from behind, before slipping on past. As I watch, it blankets the Hudson and mists around Fort Lee on the far bank, before drifting north to the George Washington Bridge like just another commuter heading home.
My condo is on the fortieth floor overlooking Riverside Drive. I paid more for it than I should have, but a river view was a must. I've always needed open space, not a lot, just enough. As long as I have that, I can breathe.
Swiveling the head of my tripod lower, I focus on the steady stream of traffic, which grows more vibrant with the deepening dusk. I've taken this same shot hundreds of times — maybe thousands — but it's never the same twice. Like the tide leaving ripples on sand, I think as I wait, remote in hand, for the right second.
Photography has taught me how to wait. It has also taught me how to focus on that single subject and ignore everything else. This doesn't come naturally to me. As the middle of three children, I was born with peripheral vision — as in, an acute awareness of my sisters above and below, my parents, our home and friends, and my precarious place in it all. Limiting myself to one scene at a time, as my camera does, has been huge.
The fog thickens on the street below. I wait until diffused headlights and taillights reappear, wait again when I hear a siren, then follow the blue strobe through the shift of vehicles. When I'm content, I turn north, wait for the best mix of fog, steel towers, and double-tiered lights, then shoot again.
"What's the bridge doing?” Joy asks from the far end of the sofa, and I smile. She would know what the Nikon and I see. We're connected that way, my thirteen-year-old daughter and I. And this is a game we often play.
"Floating. I can't see its legs.” Leaving the bridge, I find her reflection in the glass. With the rest of the lights off, her tiny book light is little more than a faint glow on the pink baby dolls that were her new favorites from the vintage store in the Village. But that glow isn't as warm as it would have been reflecting off paper.
Suspicious, I slide in beside her, angled to see her book. She starts to close it, makes a small sound, and stops. She knows that I've already seen what she was trying to hide, that her book light is clamped to the edge of Great Expectations but that tucked inside the bigger book is her Kindle. Close up now, I see page forty-four of Garth Stein's The Art of Racing in the Rain.
"But, but, but,” I stutter, tipping my face up to see her, “this was on our us reading list. We were supposed to read it together.” Read it aloud, actually. When Joy was little, I always read aloud with her tucked up close, and somehow I just never stopped. The books have changed, and the older she gets, the more challenged I am to make my voice fit different characters. I'd been looking forward to being a dog.
"Well, I couldn't not read the first page, and then I had to read the second,” she reasons. “Isn't that what you always say, that if you want to keep reading, it's the sign of a good book? Olivia Mattson says this one's dumb, like who wants to know what a dog thinks, but I'm not sure how she knows anything about it, because her totally self-absorbed mother doesn't read —"
"It's true. Her mother makes lots of money and can afford to buy any book she wants — can afford to buy the bookstore — and she doesn't read? And anyway, Olivia has the mind of a squirrel, and squirrels are afraid of dogs. Besides, when Olivia doesn't like something, I do, and here was this book, just sitting in my Kindle library? I was practically crying on page three. You know what happens?"
She isn't really asking. She knows I know, but letting sentences end in the air started along with her period. Even beyond spoilers on Goodreads and the ardor of my friend Chrissie, there was the teary conversation about old dogs that we overheard at the Best Friends’ Animal Society in Soho.
"It's good, Mom,” she confides. “Omigod. It's sooo good."
I want to talk about respecting schoolmates. But she happens to be right about Olivia Mattson's mother, who spent the better part of fifteen minutes at a recent back-to-school night lecturing me on how to build my business into something big, how to make my brand the brand for real estate photography in Manhattan, which is the last thing I want, since it would mean hiring regular staff, relying on paid ads over word of mouth, and spending less time with Joy.
But that's all beside the point. “What about Great Expectations?” I ask. “Your final is next week."
"I'll be ready, you know I will, but if you're playing, why can't I?”
"Because I spent six hours working today to keep you in vegan lip balm, retro clothes, and pomegranate juice, and because I've already graduated from middle school. Besides, I'm the mom and you're not. I get to play. It's a perk of growing up."
I deliberately add the last. My daughter isn't wild about the pressure that comes with being a teenager. Being precocious was cute in a child, not so in middle school, where social conformity is key. She wants to be either totally grown up already and able to speak her mind without being ostracized, or a child forever. We've had the Peter Pan discussion many times.
Rather than take the bait now, she simply says, “Do I have to stop reading this?"
I rub her shoulder with my cheek. Her fresh-from-the-shower curls, still damp and docile, smell of organic mint shampoo. “Nah. We'll pick another to do together. Maybe one where I can be a cat,” I joke and, feeling a vibration, pull the phone from my jeans. The call is from the area code where I grew up. Just the sight of it brings a whoosh to the pit of my stomach. And at this hour? Not good. But neither my father's name nor my sister's appears, and I don't recognize the number. Spam? Possibly. Or not. My father isn't well, and given that my sister is ditsy, it could be one of his doctors. Or the hospital. Or neither.
Suspicious of the last, I click into the call expecting a robo-silence, and jerk when my name hits me fast.
"Mallory.” Not a question, but a statement in a voice that is deep and tight, familiar but not. The whoosh in my stomach becomes a twist. Rhode Island is a small state, the town of Westerly smaller, its villages even smaller. I tell myself that this voice could belong to any one of the dozens of people I'd known growing up. But my gut says something else.
Standing, I move to the far side of the tripod and say a cautious, “Yes?"
I know that, I think, and I barely breathe. Jack Sabathian grew up on the shore, just like us. He was my best friend once, but we haven't talked since I left, and while his voice is older now, I feel the force of memory fighting its way through the tangle of time.
"We have a problem,” he barrels on. “Your father was just over here knocking on my door — banging on my door, like he'd break it down — and when I opened it, he let me have it.” He raises his voice to imitate. “You no-good bastard, you knew exactly what was going on, didn't you. You probably planned the whole fucking thing with her — his language, not mine,” he puts in before becoming my father again. “You let me be investigated like I was a murderer, and you didn't say one word, but we both know she didn't die. Tell me where she is. I know you know. He had a gun, Mallory. He was waving a gun in my face. He swore he didn't own one back then. So either he lied to the DA twenty years ago or he bought it after the fact, but a gun is the last thing a man like that should have. You do know that he's sick — or are you just leavin’ the whole thing to Anne — who, by the way, is doing a lousy job, and not just with his care. The house is a mess and the bluff is falling into the sea, but unless she told you that, you wouldn't know, because you haven't been here to check. It isn't your responsibility, is it? Well, hello, Mallory, it is. So here's the thing. You need to step up to the plate. If he's talking about that night to me, he's probably talking about it in town. Bay Bluff may be only a tiny corner of Westerly, but the police love the coffee your sister serves in her shop. If he's blabbing, they'll hear — and hey, I'm all for it. He killed my mother? I want it coming out. Do you? ‘Course not. So here's a wake-up call,” the slightest pause before an accusatory, “Mallory. Either you do something about him, or they will."
I'm spared having to respond by a decisive click, not that I could have spoken, I'm so shaken. That quickly the past is here and now. And the lump in my throat? Huge. Of the many things I've avoided thinking of since leaving Bay Bluff, John MacKay Sabathian is a biggie, but his angry voice brings everything back. I stand unmoving, looking at the foggy city night but seeing the ocean, the bluff, my father's boat leaving the dock and taking with it so so so much more than just Elizabeth.
"Mom,” Joy prods with an insistence that says she has called my name several times. My eyes fly to hers. “Who was that?"
I refocus. “No one."
"No one was shouting. He was using your name. He even said bastard. I heard it from here."
Leaving the window, I switch on a lamp. I don't want to see the ocean, the bluff, the boat. Jack is right. I'm leaving it all to Anne.
But my daughter is mine. I'm raising her to be different from my past. And she isn't a baby. “It was one of your grandfather's neighbors."
"He only has one. Anne was saying that — remember, when she was here last time with Margo?"
Oh, I remember. We were arguing again about that night — about whether Elizabeth had jumped, fallen, or been tossed off the boat by heavy gales, and whether she could have possibly survived. Joy had already known the basics, but my sisters were full-on into bickering about infidelity, deception, and abandonment. And murder. Murder was the conversation stopper, the horror issue, the visit-breaker.
Since Joy heard all that, I figure she's old enough to hear more. “The guy who called is Jack Sabathian. He's Elizabeth's son."
Her eyes go wide. “What did he say?"
I thumb in Anne's cell, knowing my daughter will listen in. The phone is approaching its fourth ring when my sister picks up.
"Mal?” Her voice was always higher than mine, perky and bright to my down-to-earth sensible, but here she sounds out of breath. I wonder if she was outside chasing after my father.
"What's going on?” I ask as casually as I can.
"Uh . . . now? Not much. You don't usually call at night. What's up?” She seems innocent enough, but then, my sister is always innocent, thirty-seven going on twelve. I swear, Joy is more savvy.
"Jack Sab just called."
From A Week at the Shore by Barbara Delinsky. Copyright © 2020 by the author and reprinted by permission of St. Martin's Publishing Group.
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