Dotted Line Dotted Line

Fiction Summer 2020    poetry    all issues

Fiction Summer 2020 cover


Cover Vecteezy

Robert Maynor
The Intimidator

Jennifer Hanno
The Quickening

Daniel Gorman

Bethany Nuckolls
Hot Days Are For Listening

Audrey Kalman
Unobserved Absences

Benjamin Keyworth
The Ties That Bind

Peter Beynon
The Spirit of Sagaponack

Darius Degher
War Story

K. L. Perry
Like That

Lenore Gusch
The Rotation of Planets

Elizabeth Edelglass
First They Came for the Torahs

Robyn Blocker
The Crowned

Peter Beynon

The Spirit of Sagaponack

Off the Maryland coast three hundred miles south of here, Hurricane Kimberly spins like the blade of a saw. The storm’s kittenish name belies her ferocity: the Weather Channel says she is already a Category One and will likely get stronger traveling up the eastern seaboard. A brittle blonde onscreen lays out various paths the storm could take, as if she were sketching a fraying rope or the tail of a comet. In his apartment fifty miles south from mine, my son is tracking the storm too: “Look at that, Mom. It’s getting ugly out there.”

“The Hamptons are going to get hammered!” I say. And together we laugh, neither of us dwelling on the fact that, if Long Island gets hit, those of us in Ossining and Inwood will suffer too. We keep our phones pressed to our ears and watch in morbid rapture. We imagine Kimberly roaring up to the island before dawn to smash a modest cottage into kindling and sweep it out to sea.

On another mid-September night, this one in the 1970s, lightning struck a Sagaponack farm. By the time the fire department arrived, a greenhouse and a small barn had been destroyed, and flames were roasting a quarter acre of potatoes. The next day, men returned to the hissing fields to cart away charred timbers and the carcass of an old tractor; only the footings of the buildings remained to sit undisturbed for decades. Now the stones support a house by Maarten van der Platt, a former darling of American architecture and, I must admit, of mine.

When we married nearly twenty-five years ago, he was still Martin Platt. He remodeled his name, then the house, as he garnered more attention, more commissions, more money. While the zoning board required that Martin stay within the footprints of the original structures, he could connect the buildings, provided that the addition not be visible from the road. Fine by him; within a week, he’d modified the plans.

I had plans, too. Because writing books seemed more gratifying than merely cataloguing and shelving them, I was drafting a memoir pairing family anecdotes and recipes. One night, with little Jacob finally asleep, I sat down with some pasta puttanesca. Though I’d long tinkered with a recipe from a back issue of Gourmet, the magazine’s was better than any variation I’d come up with. So be it; the fun part was imagining ways to incorporate it into my book. I pictured myself as a girl in a kitchen with, say, the Sicilian coast or a Tuscan olive grove visible outside. I imagined some benevolent relative guiding me as my knife turned a pile of anchovies into savory paste. I was devising possible names for this mentor when I heard the apartment door slam. In the kitchen doorway, Martin stood there, silent, taking in the spattered stovetop, the pasta, and my notes before turning to me. I glanced at my list. “Which sounds better—‘Uncle Tito’ or ‘Aunt Lucia’?”

Martin smirked. “So you’re an Italian now?”

I could easily have said, “You’re a Jersey boy, not a scion of Dutch aristocrats; can’t I reinvent myself too?” But, as he took away my notes and my plate, I said only, “I’m still eating!” Martin swept away invisible crumbs and unrolled one of his drawings. I immediately recognized the floor plan: two parallel rectangles, like an equal sign, split up into spaces for cooking, entertaining, and sleeping. However, there was something new.

“What’s that?”

“It’s our summer place, of course.”

Did he think I was stupid? “Yes, I know, but they’re connected now.”

Martin pointed out the new covered passageway that would allow us to move easily between one wing and the other. “It’s also additional living space open to . . .” He traced a languid arabesque with his fingers, as if to conjure the necessary words. “It will be open to those tonic ocean breezes.”

“A porch? Sounds wonderful.”

He glanced again at my list, then at me, and shook his head. “Not a porch, Helen—a piazza.” He gave the drawing a quarter turn. “Know what else I like about the new plan?” He tapped the page emphatically. “It forms an ‘H.’”

“Martin, I don’t—”

“An ‘H,’” he said, “for ‘Casa Helena.’”

Now I look back and laugh. Casa Helena! Piazza! Tonic breezes! Such grandiose language for shacks that housed pitchforks and a battered John Deere. But Martin’s theatrical hyperbole seduces clients with deep pockets and shallow self-worth, and on that winter night I fell for it too. He unfurled another meticulous drawing: he’d designed a built-in bookshelf for the porch that would stand just outside the kitchen door. I could put my herbs on top, he said, and my books inside. Sliding panels of cedar, cunningly pierced with a fretsaw and chisel, would conceal the books. How lovely. Never did our apartment, one we’d felt so lucky to find, seem so shabby. I looked again at the floor plan: “H” for home, for haven, for happiness. I kissed Martin, settled into his embrace, and said, “We’ll have a marvelous life out there.”

Eighteen months later, with construction complete, it seemed that we would. The sky sheltered a house that was airy and bright. I’d sit on the porch with Jacob and read to him, sing to him, mesmerize him with soap bubbles that streamed, tremulous and iridescent, from a plastic wand. He cried when they popped until I took his hand and helped him pop one himself. We made a game of it. Sometimes, while he napped, I’d sit on the porch to watch the clouds tear themselves apart, read a book plucked from those marvelous shelves, or tinker with my draft. Those days were the best. Then, of course, on the weekends Martin would take the train out to join us in that house. (My house, I should say: though I hastily relinquished any legal claims to it as we negotiated our divorce, the house, even now, is indelibly mine.) The porch, or “piazza,” if you must, was a passageway between the public rooms and the private. When, after a few happy summers, it became something else—a no-man’s-land between Martin’s quarters and mine—I left.

Did leaving that house liberate me or thwart me? I don’t know; I can’t tell. Looking back at the years that followed, I picture myself standing at a threshold, eager to cross, only for the door to slam in my face, again and again. A book no one would publish, a husband indifferent to a failing marriage, my once-athletic body slumping into middle age—everything and everyone seemed to disappoint me. And then there was my beautiful child who, in spite of his charisma and intelligence, became a moody and directionless young man. An army of teachers, physicians, coaches, and psychologists failed, time after time, to guide him. So did Martin. When trouble assailed my son, I alone offered lasting support. Now, because of me, Jacob is back in school and back on track.

As for the cottage in Sagaponack, I’d forgotten about it, really; why hold on to the past? But one quiet afternoon a month ago, I was shelf-reading in the periodicals section of the library, where a patron flipped through one of those frivolous interior design magazines. I saw my house in its glossy pages. I ripped the magazine out of her hands (“This item hasn’t been properly catalogued”) and ran to the break room. I pored over the photos, read the simpering prose, and seethed:

“The floor plan forms a capital ‘I,’” van der Platt says. The celebrated architect turns to his wife, chef and author Ingrid Sørensen, and grasps her hand. “’I’ for ‘Ingrid’; it’s as if this house were destined to be yours!”—from Olivia Paine-Goodman, “An ‘I’ for Beauty: A Power Couple’s Hamptons Retreat”; Charrette & Atelier, May 2021

When I awaken on the sofa two hours later, the living room is still awash in the colors of the Weather Channel. However, it’s not the broadcast but the garage door opening one flight below that’s roused me: Simon, my downstairs neighbor and landlord, has come home. I reach over to the side table to turn off the lamp; it’s practically a reflex now. In the doldrums of winter, Simon would look for my shifting silhouette on the window shades. He’d interpret it, sometimes accurately, as a tacit invitation to stop by and share some wine and, if I chose, my bed. But my appetite for his company quickly waned. I am happy, truly, to see that this morose and bony Scot has summoned the decency to leave me alone.

My phone buzzes: Jacob says that Kimberly no longer has the island in her sights. Though she still petulantly flings wind and rain for miles around, she has lessened in might and pivoted east, soon to trouble only the blank face of the open sea. At the foot of the screen, the chyron lists canceled evacuations and diminished storm surges. The meteorologists, their banter notwithstanding, are clearly disappointed. They cut to Rehoboth Beach in Delaware for an update. In the glare of the camera, a reporter sways and shouts: “We’re not out of the woods yet!” But behind him a woman and her dog amble by and unwittingly expose the manufactured drama on the screen.

So van der Prat’s dodged another bullet. If I didn’t laugh, I’d weep and break things.

Jacob is philosophical: “Well, that’s that, Mom.”

“Goddamn it. Fucking Kimberly.”

Jacob says nothing. On the television an SUV zooms towards the camera as the sun rises; it gives me an idea. I have a car, too; I have a destination, too. Even though Kimberly failed us, I tell Jacob, we can take on some of the work she chose to abandon. I lay out an ingenious Plan B that we can execute well before dawn.

He is so quiet that at first I think I’ve lost the connection.

“So . . . is that really your plan?”

I laugh. “It’s our plan.”

He lapses into silence again. Then he reminds me to be discreet: “Leave a message at the library; just say you’re sick.” He pauses again. “And open the garage door manually—no sense in waking the landlord.”

Jacob, it seems, has thought of everything. “My little criminal,” I say. He laughs, good-natured as always. I tell him I’ll pick him up at his place in ninety minutes.

“Maybe even less than that, Mom. Who drives to Inwood at this time of night?” Clever boy.

I run around the apartment, grabbing anything and everything that might come in handy: an army blanket from the closet, rubber gloves by the kitchen sink, the toolbox underneath. It’s intoxicating, the chance to be in control. I slip into the garage and stash everything in the back of the car. Hanging on the pegboard are crowbars, hammers, gardening shears, and a saw like a harp with fangs. So many choices! I take a sledgehammer and then the saw. It’s like plucking chocolates from a box. I hear footsteps. There, at the door between the garage and his kitchen, is Simon. “Greetings, Helen.” I bristle: why can’t he leave me be? But when he gestures at the tool in my hand, his words are kind: “Careful, now; that bow saw is sharp.” He doesn’t ask what I’m doing or where I’m headed; he doesn’t scold me for taking his saw. He simply watches as I put it in the car, says, “Safe travels, love,” and goes back inside.

When I am about to close the hatch, I hesitate: something is wrong with this picture. I fetch the putty knife from the toolbox and scrape the Bard College decal off the rear window. It would crush Jacob to see it. Besides, if they let him back in, we can simply get another one. Half a mile from my apartment, as I head south, heavy rains start to fall.

When my son was a bitter middle-schooler, he’d refer to his father as “van der Fat” (Martin’s always loved a good meal), “van der Plotz,” and “van der Putz.” Then there was the day I picked Jacob up after a weekend in Sagaponack. The visit had been so unpleasant that he begged me for sole custody: “I’ve had it with van der Shit.”


Jacob crossed his arms, ignored his tears, and set his jaw. He refused to make even a hollow apology. However, because he needed to know I’d always be in his corner, I chose my words with care: “’Van der Shit’ is—well, forgive me, darling, but it’s not particularly clever. It lacks bite.” I paused to form a more precise assessment. “It lacks a sufficiently melodious echo of the actual name.”

Jacob looked up, his eyes bright. “How about ‘van der Prat’?” We laughed and laughed, and van der Prat it is, to this day.

Now, however, whenever we talk about his father, he modulates the heat in his voice, in spite of the long list of grievances we’ve compiled over the years. Most recently? Though Martin had dutifully paid for Jacob’s freshman year at Bard, community college was another matter: “This time, the tuition’s coming out of your pocket.” Imagine saying that to your child! When I brought it up again just before classes began a few weeks ago, Jacob said, “Enough, already, Mom; I took care of it.”


“How do you think? I work.”

“You’re not slaving away in the archives again, are you?”

Jacob laughed. “No.”

Something like relief flooded through me. “Good. That’s good.” After Jacob’s junior year in high school, Martin offered him a summer job, calling it, with his usual blithe inaccuracy, an “apprenticeship.” Three mornings a week, our son knotted a tie and took the train into the city. Before Martin moved the firm into more modest quarters, Jacob used a scanner, digital camera, and acid-free folders to catalogue sketches, renderings, budgets, invoices—all from the rising days of Martin’s career. But Jacob got paid next to nothing, and, aside from lunch one afternoon at some gloomy club on the Upper East Side, he had scant contact with his father. Who could blame him for quitting before Independence Day? In spite of the example his father sets, our son is becoming a responsible and clear-sighted young man.

I pull up in front of Alcindor Convenience, quiet at this dark hour. Ruy, the owners’ son, lives with Jacob two flights above. (The boys are classmates at Jacob’s new school; I picture them side by side on the bus, calculus textbooks open on their laps.) A rangy young man in the doorway pockets a glowing phone, sprints over to the car, and slides into the passenger seat. He kisses me on the cheek and yawns. “Hey, Mom.”

“Hello, honey.” Like a seasoned housebreaker, Jacob is in black from head to toe. “I see you’ve dressed for success.” He doesn’t quite get what I mean. “No one will see you in the dark,” I explain. “Nice to know someone’s thinking ahead.”

Jacob taps his temple and says in a goofy voice, “I’m edu-macated!”

As we head for the expressway into the Bronx, we zip past bodegas, apartment houses, and churches. The clouds loose another downpour; my wipers can barely keep pace. A soothing murmur on NPR says falling trees have felled power lines outside Philadelphia; there are spotty blackouts throughout the Northeast. “If Sagaponack’s in the dark, all the better,” I say. Jacob doesn’t reply; he’s fallen asleep. I press the accelerator. Slick pavement hisses beneath the tires. The sledgehammer, saw, and toolbox chatter in the back.

Just past Ronkonkoma, I step out of a 7-Eleven, coffee in hand. The storm hasn’t made much difference here: the rain has stopped, the air is fresh, and the lights of the store shine bright. Jacob is filling the tank.

“Honey, you didn’t have to do that.” He shrugs. I put my cup on the roof of the car and reach into my purse.

“Mom, please.”

“You’re already doing me a favor. You don’t have to pay for gas, too.” Before he can reply, a cheesy ring tone fills the air: Vivaldi’s “Inverno,” as played by microchip symphony. Jacob scrambles to silence his phone. “It’s all right, darling,” I say. “See what your father wants.”

He nods and walks away; I take over at the pump. When we entertained friends in Sagaponack, Martin would complain genially about the Long Island Expressway—the traffic, the tedium, the charmless towns where, he’d say, convenience stores were “thick as ticks on a dog.” I cringe thinking of his snobbery now.

At the edge of the parking lot, Jacob yells into his phone: “I said I’ll take care of this!”

When he returns to the car, I ask, “Your father called at three in the morning to pick a fight?”

Jacob doesn’t reply at first. Then he simply says, “It’s not three where he is.” After much prodding, Jacob reveals that Martin is out west—”Montana, Idaho—somewhere like that”—to meet with a new client, “some rancher with money to burn.”

Another fancy house? Good for Martin, I guess. Then something occurs to me: “When’s the last time you were in Sagaponack?”


“I’m just curious.”

Jacob sighs. “Two weeks ago.” The day after Labor Day, he and Ruy drove out to close up the house for the season. They tossed out trash left by slovenly summer renters, cleaned out the gutters, and blinded the windows with plywood.

“Doesn’t your father have people to do these things?”

“He fired them. I don’t know why.”

“I do. You’re cheap labor.”

“That’s not fair!”

“Really? What princely sum does he pay you?”

“Tuition money!”

Jacob pulls his hat low and crosses his arms. In profile, he looks like his father—at least, like the lean and hungry Martin of years ago. I start the car, and we head off in silence.

When I was a college sophomore, I worked as a life model. Atop my platform, I was exposed, scrutinized by everyone scribbling away on limp newsprint. However, I was also essentially invisible. With the professor’s encouragement, the students saw not a naked twenty-year-old but a study in light and shade, a composition of angles and curves, a problem set of contrasting textures. I was more challenging to render but no more vividly individual than, say, a bowl of pears slumping into fragrant rot. One afternoon in the library, I tried to chat with a student from the class. This weaselly nonentity looked at me as if he’d never seen me before. When he realized who I was, I cut the conversation short and walked away.

After that, I was determined to make myself a more distinct presence in the studio. At break time, the professor would extend a hand to help me down from the platform. (He made me feel like a real partner.) Instead of fussing with hair ravaged by chlorine from the college pool or flipping open a textbook, I made my rounds. I’d don a seersucker robe as if it were velvet and ermine, and peruse my likenesses in soft pencil, charcoal, India ink. The students fell silent as I approached, each of them, it seemed, as eager for my approval as for the professor’s. I was no longer something; I was somebody.

On the day that, for better and for worse, changed my life forever, I lingered by the easel of a nearly mute freshman. My torso, my arms, my strong shoulders—his drawing merely gestured at them in broad lines that sprinted across the page. But my right foot? Its wrinkled sole, the pads of my toes descending in size like measuring spoons, the smudges of pigment from the studio floor? All this was rendered with marvelous, obsessive fidelity in three colors of Conté crayon.

“It’s lovely.”

To say any more would have violated the unwritten etiquette of the studio—I was a pear in a bowl, after all, not a fellow artist—but for him those words were enough. He tucked his chin into his chest and mumbled, “Thank you.”

“Five minutes, Helen,” the professor said.

Had my life followed a different path, I suppose this nameless boy might have been the one I fell in love with and married. Now I can barely picture him. I walked on to the next easel, then the next. Another artist—slender, confident, his russet hair curly as pencil shavings—smiled at me. He tapped his signature on the sheet: Martin. “That’s me,” he said, “and this? This is you.”

He stepped aside. Martin had filled the page with the cascade of hair I’d loosed from its braid; he’d caught the arch of my brow, the slope of my nose, my hint of a smile. It was not a dispassionate study in anatomy; I felt seen. I turned to him, my face alight. “Yes,” I said, “it’s me.”

The clouds have fled by the time we reach Sagaponack. The homes and shops are mostly dark. But less than a mile from the house, lights from the back of a truck pick out a strange sight: an ancient maple has keeled over, a bride fainting at the altar. Behind a moat of traffic cones, a man in a hard hat brings a chainsaw to roaring life and starts cutting. Jacob stirs.

I turn down a side street and roll down my window. It’s so quiet that I can hear the throb of generators; the lights they power betray the presence of houses that privet hides by day. During our last summer here, Jacob would play with the boy from the caretaker’s cottage next door; his parents gardened and cleaned for an unfathomably wealthy couple we would never meet. Their house, bristling with chimneys like acupuncture needles, loomed at the end of a driveway paved in broken seashells.

Martin was more eager to imitate the aesthetic of our aloof neighbors’ home than its practical features; there have never been any generators or security lights to lift Casa Helena out of the dark. When I pull in, I hear the snap of shell under the tires. The headlights reveal cedar shingles, fresh white woodwork, and the panels the boys fitted over the windows. “Honey?”

Jacob awakens, stretches, and peers through the windshield. “I love this place.”

“Darling, you do remember why we’re here?” As his smile fades, something—guilt? pleasure? who can say?—blooms inside me. “Besides, mawkishness doesn’t suit you.” I kill the headlights; the house vanishes.

I pop the hatch, pocket a screwdriver, and don my yellow gloves. And there’s the sledgehammer that knocked about as I drove. But I lose my grip wrestling it out of the car; its head smashes into the shells at my feet. Dragging it carves a tortuous path in my wake. “Here, Jacob; I have something for you.”

He doesn’t respond. He stands in front of a dark house backlit by stars. When he speaks, his voice is soft: “Dad was going to stain the siding deep red, but changed his mind.” Jacob laughs a bit. “He said, ‘This place is for people, not livestock.’”

(“Dad”? Not “van der Prat”?)

Then the air abruptly brightens: the lamps flanking the steps to the porch come on, and lights from the caretaker’s house next door peek through the hedges. “Power’s back,” Jacob says. He turns to look at me, then notices the sledgehammer. He takes it; of course he can wield it much more effectively than I. But he says, “We won’t be needing this,” and heads back to the car.

Though the house is modest in scale, it is rich in detail. Note the porch bookshelf’s sliding doors: intricate curves cut into each panel turn cedar into lace. As the proud mistress of the house explains, “When the doors are shut, these cut-outs look like random shapes. But slide one over the other—et voilà!” The overlapping perforations create an image: cascading hair, an arched brow, the hint of a smile on the face of a mysterious beauty. Who is she? we ask van der Platt. The architect shrugs. “The spirit of Sagaponack, I suppose.”—Paine-Goodman, “An ‘I’ for Beauty”

I run back to the car and grab the hatch so Jacob can’t close it. He eyes my rubber gloves. “What are you wearing those for?”

Is he serious? Does he not remember the details of my plan? “So I don’t leave any fucking fingerprints!”

“Mom, Mom—”

“I thought you were here to help. I thought we were going to accomplish something!” I push him away, grab the saw, and stomp back to the house. My voice bounces off the shingles. “Did you see that ridiculous article? ‘I’ for ‘Ingrid’? This is the ‘Casa Helena’! He built it for us, he built it for me! Does he think he can forget all that?” I pause on the steps. Jacob still stands by the open hatch of the SUV. “Let’s go, Jacob. Chop chop!”

He shuts the hatch and walks up to me. He strikes a mulish pose, crossing his arms and glaring. “They’re selling this place.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Dad told me about the story. You know why he let them print it? Because he wants to sell.” Half the people in those magazines, he explains, just want to show off, but the others plan to put their houses on the market. A four-color spread in Charrette & Atelier will raise the profile of the property and thus the price it will command. “It happened when Dad was starting out. He remodeled some swanky duplex on the East Side, and as soon as the magazine ran a feature on it, the owners sold it and made a mint.” (“Swanky”? “Made a mint”? He sounds like Martin.) “I think Dad really needs the money.”

Suddenly weary, I ask a question I should have thought to ask hours ago: “Jacob, why are you here?” He hangs his head and mumbles.

“Honey, I’m sorry. What did you—”

“For protection!”

“Well, that’s very sweet of you, but I don’t think—”

“The house!” He sighs and looks away. “I’m here to protect the house.”

Rage boils up inside me. This isn’t Jacob’s fight; how dare Martin put him in the middle. Over my son’s shoulder, the horizon is aflame; I’m running out of time. But when I turn back to the house, I’m startled to see smooth wood where my face should be: a sheet of plywood covers the sliding doors of the bookshelf. I can’t help shouting: “That’s not supposed to be there!” I struggle to pry it off with my screwdriver.

“Mom, wait!”

I’m merely chipping the edges; the panel doesn’t budge. Why didn’t I grab Simon’s crowbar when I had the chance? “Damn it!” I slump to the floor of the porch and start to cry. Jacob stares at me.

“There’s something behind here.”

“Mom, no.”

“There is, there is! I need to see it!” I swipe at my tears. “Please, honey. It’s important.”

He seems about to object, but then nods, almost imperceptibly. He picks up my screwdriver and moves methodically around the edges of the plywood, dropping screws one by one into his pocket, like loose change. Then he extends a hand to help me up. “Ready?”

He lifts the sheet away at last and puzzles over the shapes cut into the doors.

“You don’t remember them? Not even from the archives?”

He shakes his head.

“Lovely, aren’t they? Lovely, but not practical; they don’t keep the rain out.” I slide one panel over the other: et voilà, I think. We gaze at the face before us. “Say hello to your mother, Jacob.”

“What do you mean?”

I tell him about the day his father and I met. I tell him about Martin’s drawing that, so many years later, would be given new life on the porch of this fussy little house in the Hamptons. I tell him about the traitorous lies in the article. Jacob listens intently, tracing the curves cut into the doors. “That isn’t Ingrid,” I say, “and it sure isn’t the goddamn Spirit of Sagaponack.”

Jacob puts his arm around my shoulders. “I’m really sorry, Mom.” He is so strong, so kind; how could his father have pushed away such a loving child? Some raucous bird splinters the silence: morning is here. As if a signal has been given, Jacob picks up the saw and, resolute once more, heads for the car. That’s that, I think; we’re finished. I can’t tell whether I am disappointed or relieved.

But then he’s back with the blanket, the putty knife, and hammer. “Come on, Mom. There is something you can help me do.” We spread the blanket on the floorboards in front of the shelf. It takes us just minutes to ease off the molding and free the intricate doors. We cradle them in the blanket and struggle, just a bit, to stow them in the car. Jacob catches my eye and smiles, and I smile back. As we drive away, the boxy house quickly disappears from view, and blue shadows burn off in the sun.

Peter Beynon is a high school teacher in upstate New York. He studied English literature at Hamilton College and the University of Virginia. Twitter: @aka_PeterBeynon.

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