Sunset Inn – First Three Pages

1.

Center Lovell, Maine  1957

Halfway between Elizabeth’s uncle’s marina and her grandmother’s farmhouse, the dense line of trees on either side of the road began to close in on the dirt road.  Elizabeth slowed down the old Chevy, then pulled off at a wide spot and sat, sweating and trembling, gripping the wheel. It had been five years . . .                   

“You’re nothin’ but a lazy good-for-nothin kid!”

“Why do you hate me so much?”

She slams the brakes, slaps, punches me.  I jump out, run – down the dirt road.   The trees are so thick I can’t get into the woods.

She stomps on the gas, chases me. Closer, closer. I run faster, make it to the lodge.  Burst through the back door and collapse on the kitchen floor.

My uncle is there. “What in god’s name happened to you?”

I sob. “Grandma… punched me…tried …to… run over me.”

“Damn it to hell, you’re done there.”  He brought me back to the farmhouse, threw my clothes in the trunk of his car, not bothering to pack, and took me home with him.

I had not seen my grandmother since then.

Elizabeth wiped her face, and shook the images out of her head.  She drove the rest of the way at a creep, and parked in front of the garage.

It was sad to see paint peeling off the Colonial house, and the adjacent two-story henhouse. Grandmother must have fallen on hard times after she sold the beachfront resort, Sunset Inn. Elizabeth rubbed a hand across her forehead. If grandmother’s mood had deteriorated that much, she was in for it all over again.

           She wasn’t ready for this. Especially not for facing it alone.

Earlier, her grandmother had called Elizabeth, and she’d sounded like her old, polite but to the point, self. “Heard you’re here for the summer before nursing school. Stop by, I’m home.”

“Um, well, yeah, Grandma. Sure.” Why did she want to see her?

Elizabeth stepped out of the car, at least the scent of pine trees hadn’t changed. She smoothed her long brown hair away from her face, set Cat-Eye sunglasses on top of her head, and walked to the front door.

Grandmother—a little grayer, a little plumper—greeted her as if nothing had ever happened between them. “Well now, just look at you all grown up. It’s been a long time.”

She turned and walked through the living room—no hug, no handshake.  Elizabeth followed. The dark, musty room filled with overstuffed Victorian furniture and embroidered pillows was a stark contrast to the sunny day outside. An antique Estey pump organ, all dowels and beveled mirrors, took up the far wall.

Good she didn’t have to sell it.  Elizabeth loved that old thing.

Grandmother’s voice trailed behind her. “I want you to know, sometimes when

people get old they do things they’re sorry for.”

Elizabeth paused mid-step. Was this an apology?  Or a justification?

Elizabeth cleared her throat. “Nice to see you, too.”

Grandmother pulled up her flowered housedress to the knees. “Now, take a look at my legs. Tell me what you think.”

Elizabeth bent down and slid a hand over her swollen legs. The edema was obvious. “How long have they been like this?”

“A few months.” She pointed to The 1951 Family Physician book on the table.  “Says it’s the way my heart pumps.”

“Dad takes a water pill for blood pressure. Maybe you have the same thing. You really need to see a doctor.”

“I don’t want anyone to know. You find out for me. You’re going to be the nurse.”

Elizabeth scowled. So, this was what the meeting was about—a secretive medical consultation.  But it was a way to connect, and her grandmother certainly needed the help. She put her hand on grandmother’s shoulder. “Okay, I’ll see what I can find out.”

“Well, good! Now, I’ve got more to say. I’ll make tea, and I baked those brownies you liked so much. Don’t know if you eat em’ since you’re a model. Karl sent me the picture of you posing on a billboard.”

Elizabeth followed grandmother into the kitchen. “Hang on. Dad keeps you up on the news?”

“Sit down. I’ll be right back.” She turned on the stove burner under the teakettle, and disappeared into a small office off the dining room.

Elizabeth fiddled with a strand of hair. Grandmother came back with a folded white lace handkerchief in her hand.