Peter Ballard once told me that true peace was the knowledge that he couldn’t see another home in any direction from any part of either the house in the forest near Boothbay Harbor, Maine — the one his wife christened Star’s End, or his mountain hideaway in Vermont — the one I now share with a Spaniard named Angel who bought me for a year and a day.
I grew up at Star’s End, but I am not a Ballard. I am the caretaker’s elder daughter.
The summer I was fourteen, I suffered from unexplained insomnia, and often walked down to the dock where the Ballards kept their boats. A forest trail, overarched with fir boughs and birch branches, carpeted in dried pine needles and velvet moss, led from the house to the water. I liked to sit by the banks of the narrow tidal cove which bisected the property. The water moved slowly there, like hot oil shimmering in a pan, rippled only by the deadly ballet of fish and insects.
Do you know they call the still, hot weeks of summer the dog days because of the stars? Sirius rose with the sun like a harbinger of souring, sultry heat. Canus major prowled the sky, and the Romans retired to their tiled baths and gauze-draped bedding, for it was a time when “the Sea boiled, the Wine turned sour, Dogs grew mad, and all other creatures became languid.”
I can’t say that I noticed the dog star over me, though the night was thick and heavy. I was brought up short, cotton pajama bottoms swirling over the tops of my bare feet, arms wrapped around my middle as if to hold myself together in a storm of pelting hormones and wishes like hailstones.
There were people on the diving float. Thirty feet out from shore, naked in the starlight, rocking the platform, disturbing the water. Like a pale selkie, Victoire Ballard straddled Peter’s body, both of them sparkling with seawater. She had to have been forty-five then, which seemed so very old to me, but her pale blond hair streamed silver-blue over perfect shoulders, and her body moved like a fish, an eel, some slippery, marine creature. Peter’s hands held her breasts; I could make out the shadows and silhouettes of his fingers molding her flesh as she rose and fell against him. A tidal force intent on her own pleasure, drawing his after her like sand after a wave.
I knew that as surely as I knew that I would spend my whole life searching for the man who could inspire me to such lengths. Ironic that I once thought that man was their son Hugo. While I mourn Hugo still with a deep grief that lingers in my muscles, it’s the man who haunts my dreams, the man I should never have run from, who was such an inspiration.