Every summer, Ginny Horton rented a place in Truro for a week and spent a day with her second cousin Carl—a doctor, 15 years younger; Carl and his partner owned a house in Provincetown. This year, though, she phoned him nervously. She’d had trouble. Carl would have heard about it from his mother or his sister—people Ginny didn’t know well, people who spoke their minds. But when Ginny said she was on the Cape, Carl didn’t hesitate. “Tuesday okay? Lobster rolls?” They always ate lobster rolls. His partner was back in Boston, he said, but he still had a few more days of vacation.
Twice during the long afternoon, Carl seemed constrained or embarrassed. Ginny noticed a child’s beach toy in his house, and asked if his sister’s kids had visited. “No,” Carl said abruptly, then turned quiet, and she imagined what his sister might have said to him, the tone she might have used about Ginny. They went to the ocean beach as they always did. Each year she trotted behind him through the dazzling sunlight of the parking lot, past the low dunes, sparsely covered with grass. Clean, all but empty, the beach stretched as far as she could see in both directions—as it had the previous year, and the year before that. Far out in the haze, a big gray boat crossed the water. They spread the towels and Carl handed her sunscreen, which Ginny daubed obediently on her nose and cheeks and forearms. He pulled off his T-shirt, rubbed sunscreen on his shoulders, then sat down on his towel and cleared his throat, as if he was going to talk. Again he said nothing, and stood. He swam, and Ginny ventured in up to her knees.
After lobster rolls, they walked in the pleasant night air on the firm sand. The tide was going out. Lights from the town gave them just enough guidance to make it easy. Ginny stooped to take off her sandals for the second time that day, and carried them by their white leather straps. Once more, the warm, wet sand oozed between her toes.
“You might have gone to prison,” Carl said out of the darkness.