Originally published by Orion Magazine
The ghost on this island used to scare me when I was little. My mom would say “your grandpa’s here” and smile, though I knew she was sad. He died when she was still in graduate school. But in the summer humidity of Pointe Au Baril, when going to sleep was a balancing act between hiding from his ghost and sweating through sheets, some nights I swear I’d see him high up in the crooked rafters of this A-Frame he built, big dirty hands holding a glass of whiskey, full head of grey hair, just like in the pictures.
Here on this island, sometimes I dream about him in architecture school. And about my grandmother and he meeting and the little yellow apartment in Wayne, Nebraska they first made love in and how run down and cold it is these days. Their move back to Ohio, to the industrial town he was from, them making my mom, the first fishing trip to Pointe Au Baril, and their buying the bare granite island for $500 and putting up the cabin the following summer. The silly plywood bathroom door that reads “John”, the tape of my mom stepping onto the dock holding three month old me, and my conception nine months prior…and then I wake up to the smell of coffee and the sound of my parents quick and quiet chatter. My little brother smiling in his sleep. Outside, the water mirror-still. A Loon call from somewhere nearby.
These days, once a summer I make the trek to the island alone to escape whatever ailment of modernity is this summer’s splinter. When I arrive, after unlocking the place, turning on the water, opening the shutters, and sweeping all the hardened pinebugs from the floor, I grab a bottle of whiskey, sit down at the small table on the porch with two chairs, pour two glasses, and listen to the unchanged sounds. The creaky old white pine. The arguments of squirrels, the gentle water, and I realize, for neither of us is heaven in the clouds.