The Bidmeads are celebrating again. I can hear them clear across the pond. It sounds as though they’ve got the whole family out there, banging away on pots and pans. Their big goodbye ritual. At eight o’clock in the morning, thank you very much. You, Henry, would be cursing them by now.

      There goes the bugle. I remember when that bugle showed up. The younger boy (Michael? Matthew?), the blond one - he’s a teenager now, nearly ran me over with his jeep as I was walking up the road yesterday - was so proud of that thing. He told me he’d found it at the dump Swap Shack. Back then, he was always coming over and chatting us up. Seemed to think we needed company, poor childless couple. Little did he know how we prized our time alone here - no family, no friends - just the two of us in our cabin in the woods. Little Mikey or Matty, whatever he was called, greeted the dawn with bugle blasts for a week until you taped a note to the Bidmead’s screen door, asking them politely but in no uncertain terms (ever the lawyer) to please control their kid. And they left a jar of homemade jam on our doorstep in return, with a note: “Sorry!” Signed with a smiley face. They’re always smiling with exclamation points, those people, always celebrating something - arrivals, departures, full moons.

      Now there are grandchildren. You can’t so much as say good morning to the Mrs. without hearing about them, what they’re up to, when they’re going to visit. The daughter, the one you thought was charming (so polite, such pretty teeth), is working on her third kid. She’s got a belly like a front porch. I’ve got my head under my pillow and I can still hear them. I sleep on the daybed now, in the study. Our bed seems to get bigger every summer, and I’ve grown weary of trying to fill it. Not that I haven’t made an effort. Don’t think I’m moping my days away, Henry. I’m busy. People have stopped feeling sorry for me; suddenly I’m popular. And I’m working, hard. In fact, I’ve never painted better. You were always one for empirical evidence: my last show sold out. Red dots all over the walls.

      Here comes the crescendo: car honks as they head down the dirt road, answered by a chorus of cheers from the Bidmead porch. They must have the whole clan out there, three generations worth. I wonder who’s leaving. Maybe the charming daughter is taking her brood back to Brooklyn. Heaven forbid they should do anything quietly. Not like you. When you left, it was without a sound. Not even a note. There was no need for horns or sirens; by the time the ambulance arrived, you were long gone.

      I’m strong now, Henry, stronger than I’ve ever been. But don’t imagine that means I’ve forgiven you. You broke your promise and you nearly broke me. Do you know how many nights I slept with the lights on? How many days I wandered the woods, clinging to trees for comfort? Do you know how many times I swam across the pond and back, hoping fatigue would pull me under? Finally, I closed up the cabin and left in search of a new landscape, somewhere open and empty. But I didn’t get far. This was our place, Henry, our favorite place. I couldn’t leave it, after all. The deep woods, that black pond, those goddamn Bidmeads celebrating life across the water.  

Lili Flanders is a graduate of the Juilliard School of Drama and the MFA Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College. She spends most of the year in Los Angeles, where she writes and tutors. She lives her summers on Cape Cod.

This story grew out of an exercise in a flash fiction workshop I took at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown last summer. The Bidmeads are actually based on my own extended family. We're a big clan and we spend time together every summer on Cape Cod. One of our friends and neighbors, who lived year-round on the Cape, died suddenly over the winter and that sad event led me to muse about what it might be like to listen to our noisy rituals (yes, a battered old bugle is sounded whenever a family member leaves at the end of vacation) from a very different mental and emotional point of view.



Copyright 2009