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There was something in the way the kid worked, as if pushing around stacks of pressure-treated two by sixes in the heat wasn’t actually hard, as if the wood weighed nothing at all, as if gravity chose not to assail him while it pressed down on everyone else.  The kid had shown up on island two weeks ago, at the start of August, and ever since, Thad had been watching the boy.

Keehl’s lumberyard was across the street from the North Haven fish pier. The kid never looked over, even as Thad stopped unloading his fishing bibs and gloves and watched more openly. He didn’t know the kid’s name. Where he was from. Where he was living. What he might lie in bed worrying about at night. What the view looked like out his window in the morning—could he see Isle Au Haut or Stonington to the east, a field of apple trees, the curve of the Megunticook Hills hugging the coast back on the mainland?

It was hard to just say these things on a lobster wharf, place not exactly known for emotional deep dives. Hey, guys, there’s this boy. There’s this feeling. This pull I can’t quite name. So Thad kept watching. 

One afternoon, he found an opening. The kid was driving a forklift when a horrible mashing of gears ripped through the air. Thad and three other lobsterfishers were sitting on the docks eating lunch. Miriam Wilde set her sandwich down and stood. "I think you killed it, Finn,” she yelled across the street. “One less transmission for the world to worry about.”

Finn, Thad thought, and smiled. Smoke was streaming from beneath the forklift’s hood. The boy blushed. He removed his baseball hat and shook his head, auburn hair tumbling all over, and raised a middle finger towards the pier. Then he looked directly at Thad.

Thad counted to ten. The boy didn’t look away. Thad counted to twenty. The boy did not look away. 

At twenty-five, Thad said, "His paycheck won't be a happy one this week."

"No," Miriam said. "I reckon it'll be quite ornery."

At thirty-five, Thad ventured, “What's his story anyways?” He thought he saw the muscles behind Miriam’s lips twitch for an instant before the older woman answered. 

“Finn Thomas. Baseball player. Came down here from Saskatchewan. Washed out of the minors. Stayed here for some reason. I heard he’s Sam Castine’s nephew.”

Thad nodded, felt the familiar mix of anger, regret, and sadness rasp his heart when he heard Sam’s name. At forty, Thad pushed his emotions down and quipped, “One of those stories.”

“Welcome to the start of your adult life son,” Miriam said. “Don't expect the end to look much different.”

But it could, Thad thought. It could. 

At exactly sixty seconds, as if the boy had been counting as well, Finn Thomas looked away. He yelled something into the lumberyard office and slipped his hands into his back pockets. Thad watched the boy touch his shoulder, stretching and working the muscles, and he felt his guts go all watery. Out over the bay guillemots were flashing in dark streaks. The sun caught the belly of a diving gannet as it broke the sea and speared a mackerel. Thad watched the gannet rise from the waters and spin a white and golden circle through the sky. 

Christ, he thought, focusing on the birds instead of the boy, who reminded him of Lewis in far too many ways. That was the thing about the past. It could hit you like a sledgehammer at any moment. 


Back home an hour later, Thad took the money he’d made that day selling clams and lobsters and wrapped it in a paper bag. He pried loose the floorboard by the entrance to the shed built off the back of the house and put the cash down between the joists. Then he notched the board back in place and pulled the jute rug over that section of floor. He’d had no use for banks for years. Had cash stashed all through the woods in dig sites topped by cedar boughs and stone cairns. All through the house in fireproof boxes. Under the floor plank was where he stashed the daily earnings until he could tuck them somewhere safer. 

Of course it was madness. Jane poked fun at him, rolled her eyes at how he hidey-holed money away like a lunatic. But lately she’d started letting him put money up at her house, too. 

Thad fried a pound of lobster meat and cut it up with rice and dumped it all in a clay bowl. He grabbed a heavy work coat from a peg by the door and slung it on. Out on the porch he eyed the woods, shook off the sudden cold horror he felt edging in from the trees. Nothing was out there—Lewis’s ghost must have been off haunting another place he’d left behind—but it still felt like something dark and aggressive was lurking in the shadows. 

He left the food near the garage for the two stray cats who’d been frequenting his property since June. He hoped to keep them alive through the winter, had ideas about taming them and gaining a little company. Cats were not Lewis, cats would never be your son, cats could only be cats. But Thad was realizing that as much as he missed his son, he missed the simple acts of taking care of him—cooking him dinner even if it was something frozen half the time, folding his laundry when he could, helping him scrape the rust off and undercoat his Subaru to keep it running through one more winter—even as he became an adult. 

Thad scuffed his work boots against the gravel yard to catch the cats’ attention, took one look over the old house. It was a small post-and-beam wraparound porch built from beautiful, wide planks of heart pine. Busted concrete cinder blocks for steps. A white cedar shake roof he was inordinately proud of. Ancient, milky windows that needed to be re-glazed, hadn’t been washed in years, and were framed by peeling red shutters. It was like this with most things in Thad’s life: the pristine coexisting with the dilapidated. 

He’d lived in this house since he was a boy himself. Now, since Lewis died two years ago, whenever Thad walked out of the house, a huge, invisible cable tightened around his heart. If he made sure to look away from the woods, which was where Lewis’s ghost mostly lived, over by the big flat anvil rock Lewis and the other kids had made into a “workshop” when they were little for brewing weird, make-believe fairy potions and concocting all kinds of woodland mischief, and for some reason seemed to be where Thad’s anger had decided to live as well, until he fought off the usual urge to quit the day on the spot and go straight to bed. That meant that after dinner each day he stepped outside and either looked at the cats, which was okay, or the house, which held just enough happy memories to salt the anger with a dash of joy, or ran straight for his truck to race off to Jane’s for the night. The truck, which of course somehow always still smelled like his son—sweat and salt and cedar—when he first swung open the door. 

Christ, he thought. That was the thing about grief. It could hit you like a sledgehammer at any moment. 


Thad’s old blue F150 needed a new muffler, two new windshield wipers, and a set of tires that didn’t skid in the snow. Still the heater worked fine, and that was enough for him as he sat in the hot cab that smelled of wool and cigarette smoke and sawdust and salt air. He’d driven the whole way here with the windows down trying to free Lewis’s ghost. Now he wasn’t sure how long he’d been sitting at the end of Jane’s driveway.  

A retired social worker with the state, Jane lived down a long dirt road that washed out whenever it rained. He’d loved her for most of his life when he did the math: first kiss in sixth grade, years together, fiery breakups, years apart, then a return to each other after Lewis was swallowed by the sea when a warp line caught him around the leg and pulled him over the boat. Lately he even found himself thinking about selling his place and moving in with Jane, though he’d always thought full cohabitation was a short road to calamity. A couple might not spend more than two nights a year apart, but just having that second house, that outlet, could keep you from coming at each other with a meat cleaver or a brandished table lamp. 

Compared to the massive horse barn, boarding stables, sprawling pastures, and fenced ring where she gave riding lessons, Jane’s small brown bungalow looked like a child’s playhouse. All of this was shielded from the road by woods and a winding creek that acted almost like a moat. In summer the property filled with green light falling through sugar maples, and in winter, after the limbs had dropped their leaves, you could look through the bare branches and watch the horses step across the horizon, see the clouds drifting behind them. 

Thad dropped another cigarette through the open window, dug the aerosol can of Glade from the glovebox. When the wind rose, he heard blues music coming from the house and smiled. He imagined Jane cooking, steam surrounding her, the sizzle of garlic and crushed red pepper in hot sesame oil, the kitchen windows cracked slightly. Jane wouldn’t have missed the sound of an engine in the distance. Thad tightened his grip on the wheel, slipped his foot off the brake pedal, and then put it back on when he started feeling dizzy at the thought of moving forward. He wanted to leap up the steps and pull Jane into his arms, but a new hesitancy had been dogging him for weeks now.

Jane would have set the table already, and Thad would be late, not because he was out on the ocean doing his job, but because he was out on the ocean staring into the black swells and thinking about it again: how the sea was bent on betraying him. 

First it had taken Lewis, and now Sam Castine had finally gone off and gotten his own boat, moving down the coast two hours and leaving Thad alone out there to work at a thing he wasn’t sure he wanted anything to do with anymore. Sam had been on the boat with them the day the line caught Lewis. It had been Sam who retrieved Thad from the ocean when Thad passed out from the cold after diving under a fifth time to search for his son. It had been Sam, eyes red-rimmed and his hands all cut up from trying to free Lewis’s body too, who Thad first saw when he woke up with his lungs full of fluid and in shock that night in the hospital bed at Eastern Maine Medical Center. And, three weeks later, when Thad was released from the hospital, it had been Sam who Thad beat bloody on the sidewalk in front of The Fish House. Everything hurt, and Thad in turn wanted to hurt everything. 

“You pulled me out of that water,” he remembered yelling at Sam as he hit him. “And now I’m stuck here without him.” 

The police told Thad that he had broken Sam’s jaw and fractured his leg as well. Thad couldn’t remember any of it—when he tried, he simply saw a heavy red fog lapping at his consciousness. That was the scariest thing, how he could do something so heinous and be left blank after. His daddy had been a cage full of madness, throwing ball-peen hammers at people on the docks, packing sawed-off shotguns all over his boat, acting like the sea was his private sandbox to lord over, but Thad had never had a violent moment in his life before. 

Sam hadn’t pressed charges. Sam got a small boat on credit, a little eighteen-footer best suited to inshore pulling, not much more than a peapod really, and started fishing solo. Thad went back to work on his own. Went back to Jane. Watched Sam, who’d once been his best friend, come out of the hospital and limp around town, full of grief and quiet, simmering hurt. 

Lewis was gone. And now, as of this week, Sam was, too. He’d moved off island to start fishing out of Rockport. He never thought his friend would actually leave. 

But loss compounds loss, Thad was learning.

And maybe new things appeared: this kid, this Finn. 


That night in bed Thad tried to get beyond the day’s dread. The whole house reeked of garlic and sweat, but he could breathe again at least. He found himself wishing again that this was the only world he had to deal with: him and Jane taking care of the house and the horses and the property. Sell the boat, sell the traps, give the sea the big middle finger it deserved. 

“You were out there a long time today,” Jane said.

“Guess so.”

“You realize it gets longer every day. You sitting at the end of my driveway like a stalker.”

Thad hadn’t noticed, but she was right. Time had felt different lately, almost non-existent. “It’s okay, Thad,” Jane said when he didn’t answer. “But I need to know if it’s me, us. We’ve been at it a long time, and we’re well suited to keep at it. But if it’s going to die, I’d just as soon kill it quickly.” 

“No, God, no it’s not that,” Thad caught up quick. He wanted to tell her about hearing that morning that Sam had finally left and how much that had hurt him. And he wanted to tell her about the boy, about Finn Thomas, the weird pull of the kid. He knew what she’d say: he’s Lewis’s age, Thad. You’re being reminded of Lewis. And maybe Sam, too. But because he couldn’t stand to hear her mention Lewis’s name, couldn’t stand to miss his son more than he already did, he kept it inside for now. “It’s peaceful out there,” he said, grinning. “You’ve got the best end of a driveway I’ve ever met. I like the way the horses look through the woods. I get distracted.” 

“Uh huh,” she said. “You know you can go smoke out on the porch if you want to.” 

“I quit.”

“I figured it was probably Willow and Swift leaving them piles of cigarette butts at the end of the drive. Most rebellious horses I ever boarded.” 

Then Jane kissed him and told him that she loved him. 


Thad saw Finn Thomas in town a week later. A beat up red and white SUV with a tapped-out muffler growled down Market Street, coming to a stop near the community health center. A girl climbed out from behind the wheel, Goodwill fatigues covered in safety pins and anti-war buttons, fake owl feather earrings dangling, shock of purple hair down her neck. It wasn’t any of this that kept Thad watching as she stood beside the entrance nervously twisting her hands together. It was that Finn Thomas had climbed out of the passenger seat and was standing beside her, touching her hip and playfully kissing her neck. 

The two kids noticed Thad watching them. The boy grabbed his crotch, miming a few savage masturbatory yanks. The girl hit Finn hard in the chest, mouthed, Fucking stop. Thad was struck again by the foolishness of boys, how it was a wonder any of them grew to men. And he was reminded how Lewis, had he made it, would have been a better man than most. He was a kid who was always kind, always big-hearted. The girl blushed, rolled her eyes, and shrugged her shoulders in apology for her boyfriend. Thad matched her shy wave, mouthed sorry, and turned away. 

The kid came to the pier two days later when Thad was out sorting cages to re-bait. 

“The other day,” the boy said. He was red-faced, head hanging low, feet nervously shuffling about. “I was just fooling around. I know you weren’t really watching us like in any creepy kind of way.”

“Wasn’t much to watch,” said Thad. “She looked bored as a tiger at a vegetable factory.”

“The thing is I need a job.”

“Fired you for cooking the transmission on the forklift?”

The kid shrugged. “Thing was on its way out anyways.”

In another time, with another kid, Thad would have smiled at that one. Today, though, there had been nothing but anger in Thad’s veins, made worse by the fact he’d found another empty pot on his trap line. His hauls were getting smaller every week, a problem he’d never had. And while part of him wanted to be relieved—it would be easier to just go do something else: work at Home Depot or some garden center on the mainland, go become a painter or a baker or a bus driver—he was taking the mystery of it personally. Lobsters hadn’t suddenly gotten smarter. So was it the bay, the temperatures and climate balance, or poachers?

The kid was still awkwardly shuffling around the pier. “So I need a job.”

That was thing about the young. They were always wanting. “Seems you went and mistook me for a McDonald’s,” Thad said. “Try up the street a ways.”

“Jesus. Have you always been such a hard-assed old man?”

Thad smirked. He was posturing, and he was convinced the boy could tell. His palms were sweaty and his face felt hot. “Set in on me about five minutes ago.”

“Alright. Fine.” The kid looked down at the ground and then back up. When Thad met his eyes, he saw the air of defensiveness the kid swaggered around with was gone. “Leona is pregnant,” Finn said. “And I want to do one damn thing right in my life. I heard about your son, about all that. Sorry.” The boy nodded out at the ocean. “I thought you might understand me wanting to do something right for my family.”

Now it was Thad’s turn to burn a little in shame. “Why didn’t you just say that?” 

“Honestly, I don’t know. I guess asking for help is hard. But I thought maybe you needed someone else to help to club lobsters or whatever the fuck it is you do out in the ocean.” 

Thad rubbed at the back of his neck, felt no better than the bully he’d been. 

“Club them,” Thad said.

“Or shoot them or whatever.”

“You’ve obviously spent a lot of time fishing.”

“Obviously.” The boy smiled. 

“Leona is the girl I saw you with at the bridge?”

The boy nodded. “Yeah, she’s pretty great. More than great.”

Leona. Thad loved the way the name sounded. He wanted to think he would have thought of it himself if he’d had a daughter. 

“I’m desperate.” The kid’s voice was calm, smart and sharp, not a trace of anger or emotion. “I’m taking a risk here asking you.”

“If you’re paying attention, every day is a risk,” Thad said and turned to leave. “I didn’t mean to be such a jerk. Be here tomorrow morning at five am,” he called over his shoulder. “Dress warm. Bring coffee, lots of cream and sugar, no booze. Ever.”


It was a miserable day for fishing. Thad came in off the water and fell in to standing inside the harbormaster’s shack trying to get warm while he watched the boy suffer under the work unloading the boat. He was stringy, all wire and no muscle, and his long hair kept falling in his eyes. Twice he dropped cages reaching to brush his hair away. Once he barely skittered out of the way before eighty pounds of steel caught his boot.

“Be an embarrassing way to lose a toe, playing with your hair.” 

The boy just smirked, nodded in agreement, ducked back into the work. 

The next day the kid showed up wearing a real coat, heavy grey wool, sun-faded, two rips in the shoulder patched with black Duct tape, chainsaw grease on the elbow and a bird-blood stain at the wrist. He had his hair back in a headband bandanna. Worked the whole morning through without breaking prematurely, slipping, or loafing. Thad gave him a pack of cigarettes at the end of the workday thinking that was maybe still an appropriate tip in 2018 but who really knew. A school bell rang far up the hill. Early afternoon, warm and light enough still to feel like the day was just starting, but he was dead-boned and ready for a book and bed. 

“This shit’ll kill you,” the boy said, looking at the Camels. “Probably why you gave ‘em to me.”

“I’d take them back.”

“Nah.” The kid said. “I can sell them to someone, make a couple bucks.”

“There you go then. Enterprising. You’re welcome.”

At the end of the week, Thad gave the kid four hundred dollars cash, a fair share for a green sternperson after factoring in expenses. 

Thad didn’t expect to ever see the kid again, but there Finn was, waiting on the fish pier come Monday morning, chewing on a Twizzler and drinking a Coke. 

On Tuesday, Thad brought the kid a pair of used waterproof fishing bibs and an insulated parka. 

When the kid offered to pay for the gear out of his wages, Thad had to hide his surprise. “No,” he said, swatting a hand through the air. “No need to do something like that. Save your money for Leona and the baby.”


When Thad came home to deposit his money before heading to Jane’s, the dread he felt in the yard seemed less potent. Lewis’s ghost had seethed all summer at missing the feel of heat lightning gathering in the air, the snapping of fireflies, the tadpoles thickening into frogs, the crisp smell of fresh-cut grass. Thad had felt Lewis’s ghost’s anger blackening the woods and pushing in through his bedroom windows at night to haggard his sleep. Now that same rage had faded to a tolerable murmur. There was something true about it: working the sea again with a smiling, side-eying kid. And it was as if Lewis’s ghost could feel the good in it as well.

Wind heavy with salt air slicing at their skin. Sea decks slick with icy spray. Bones deep aching, screaming under the brutal cold of an autumn morning on the sea. They might as well have been twelve thousand feet up somewhere in the far west. In the Tetons. In the Cascades. The wet cold of the coast took its toll. 

Thad still found himself watching the boy. He wanted to reach out and touch his shoulders, just to hug him, maybe just to compare the feel of his back and the smell of his neck to his own son’s, but he was scared of what might happen next, if Thad would collapse in tears, or if Finn would lean in and hug him back, becoming something Thad had never dreamed he would have again. 

They’d been out since dawn and the traps had been coming up thin all day. Each time Finn pulled up an empty pot, Thad could see the kid thinking about apologizing, as if it were somehow the boy’s fault. 

“Fickle business,” Thad said, trying to shake the boy out of it. He didn’t want to go where Finn was thinking. “Boom or bust. Luck, luck, luck. Then nada.”

Wind gusts hammered the boat, carrying them over waves that raked the hull and then sped far off into the blue, rippling distance. Every day of his life out here Thad had seen a new color come to life on the ocean—new blue, green, silver, orange, purple, gold. A new way a wave rose on the same old horizon, only to bend, break, or bite in a totally new direction. It was like living in a field of wild horses and being the grass. That was the wonder of the ocean, world’s most powerful trance. You could spend your whole life mesmerized by it and die realizing you understood nothing. Thad recalled Shakespeare, I stand as one upon a rock, environ'd with a Wilderness of Sea, and when he spoke the words out loud and the source, Finn nodded.

“I like that a lot. I like that you know things like that, too. Like got them memorized.”

 Thad shrugged. “When it comes to books, fisherpeople just read the parts about the sea.”

“Is it my uncle’s fault?” the boy asked suddenly, stone-faced. “That the traps are so light.”

An empty pot was always a bit of a mystery. Thad didn’t believe that Sam was directly responsible. He didn’t think he had the cruelty in him to be motoring all the way out here and skimming lobsters. 

“I don’t know” was all he could find to say to Finn. “I did some things, too. Not so good things, to your uncle.” 

Finn looked away. “Maybe you weren’t yourself right then.”

It rushed back at Thad, the night he’d assaulted Sam, and he wondered how much Finn knew, or if the boy had ever broken a friend like that. Thad wanted to tell Finn, to tell Sam, to tell Lewis’s ghost, to shout to the whole island that he had never meant to let his grief become rage. But going angry was easier.

"Maybe not. Still, the sea might not have liked that too much, what I did.”

Finn scratched at his head, considering the idea as the waves broke against the boat. “It does that, huh. Kind of keeps its own score.”

“In my experience,” said Thad. “I remember working on roads years ago. This was before I traded pavement for salt water. A day along highway 201 way up in the county. So hot the asphalt went in soft and stayed soft, bubbling like a black mud puddle while we huddled around it wishing we had girlfriends to bring us cold beer. But we didn’t have anything but the work and each other and our mothers.” 

“Why are you telling me all this?” Finn asked. He dropped a bait bag of dried herring into a cage, kicked the steel off the edge of the boat, back into the sea.

“You work a lot in a life. Sometimes you find the best jobs pay with more than cash. They pay with stories, too. Camaraderie, I guess. These little moments when the world stands out a bit more.” 

It had been like that with Sam, with his friend. And it had been like that with Lewis, his son. So many days that went by so beautifully. So many days that hardly felt like work. 

“If you say so old man.” Finn smiled, a lightness coming back over his face. “Let’s bait the rest of these cages, make some kind of offering to get you off the ocean’s shit list, then go home.”



Jane and Thad now found they spent their evenings sharing updates about the boy and the girl. 

How Finn was taking to the boat, seemed to have a knack for balance, was strong, smart. Didn’t just do shit when he didn’t know how, hoping for the best or blindly believing he was in control, but slowed down and asked Thad to explain things. “That’s key to being a long-lived fisher,” Thad said, as if Jane hadn’t known this all her life, as if it wasn’t exactly the same with horses. “Not acting like you know everything. Being brave enough to stop and ask questions.” 

How Leona, who had made her way to Jane’s shortly after Finn ended up at the harborfront, was so natural in the paddock lunging the horses and helping with lessons. 

“It’s funny you know,” Jane said one night in late October as she and Thad sat on the back deck listening to the owls caterwauling under a glassy full moon. “How Finn found you. Then Leona came walking down the road and found me. She knows horses. She’s attuned. Gentle with them but fearless, too.”

Thad saw where this was going and set his jaw. “Just two kids who needed work,” he said, trying to convince himself. His small, burning hope that Leona and Finn and the baby, when they came, might stay on the island, might not leave, like Lewis had, like Sam had, was too fragile to look directly at. “It’s not fate, Jane.” That was exactly what it felt like. He wasn’t sure why he couldn’t let the idea all the way in, even with Jane. He just knew the word felt like a raised boot heel hovering barely above them all, waiting to drop. 

“I know that, Thad. I’m just saying it’s one of the more pleasurable coincidences I can remember. The girl knows horses. People talk. Horse people find horse people. Sure you can make a logical case,” she said. She reached across the soft dark and took Thad’s hand. “You haven’t been at your house for a night in a long time.”

She was right. Thad couldn’t remember the last time he’d spent a night away from Jane’s. “Bit of a subject shift.”

“Maybe not. I’ve been thinking.”

“Me too I guess.”

“A baby needs a safe place to start in this world.” 


By mid-November Leona had started to show. She wore tight tank tops and short-cut jackets. Walked proudly through town in black motorcycle boots with her back straight and her head lifted high. When Finn didn’t think anyone was watching, Thad caught him holding his hand to Leona’s stomach, kneeling down and pressing his ear to her belly. After a while the boy didn’t seem to care who was watching and stopped hiding his fascination, his love, his fear, his excitement. 

Finn and Leona came out to Jane’s for Thanksgiving. Sausage gravy served over home-cooked garlic-cheddar biscuits. Roasted fennel, parsnips, sage, and carrots on the side. Thad shot and cooked a tray of partridges, broiled crisp with salt and rosemary butter. Leona brought a pumpkin pie in a tin plate she’d bought in town, and Finn carried a small bouquet of witch-hazel sprigs and flowers he’d cut from the woods.

“They’re my favorite,” Jane said, genuinely touched. “How’d you know?”

Finn pulled the greasy Toronto Blue Jays cap from his head, nervously crushed and rolled it between his hands down at his waist. “Might be Thaddeus let it slip.”

Jane clasped her hands to her chest in mock awe. “So he does talk about me.”

“From time to time,” Thad said.

The boy rolled his eyes. “Which translates to constantly.” 

They had dinner at the table with the dogs piled up at their feet. The wind blew outside and the horses snickered and hooved at the cold ground. Thad looked from Finn to Leona and then to Jane. He was amazed by them all. Astonished that they were all here with him. Leona would never be a name he thought up for a daughter of his own. And he might never reach out and touch Finn’s shoulders, waiting to see if the boy felt like Lewis or smelled like Lewis. But maybe this was enough. 

After dinner, Thad took two pieces of the pie outside with Leona following him. 

In the barn, Leona went straight for the feed bucket. She wiped off the whipped cream that Thad had heaped on and scooped a handful of oats atop each slice of pie. “They really shouldn’t be having all that sugar,” she said. “I’m not sure how you’ve talked me into this.”

“It’s Thanksgiving,” said Thad. “They’re celebrating the fact they were born horses not turkeys.”

“That’s awful.”

“Yup,” Thad said. “I suppose so.”

“Horses are non-ruminant herbivores.”

“What’s that mean?”

“Basically their stomachs are really small for their body size and only have a single chamber. They have to digest sugars and starches in their small intestines. And they can’t puke like other animals. So if some dummy feeds them something they can’t digest, like an abundance of pie, they’re in pain and stuck.”

“You know an awful lot about this.”

“My dad was a horse vet in Saskatchewan.”

Was, not is. Thad didn’t ask any more. He slid the two pieces of pie across the poured-concrete floor, swept clean of hay and horseshit that morning by Leona. The horses whinnied and approached hungrily. The girl stood stroking their sides as they nosed at the oats, teethed into the pumpkin filling. 

“This is Willow and this is Swift,” Thad said.

“I know,” Leona reminded him. “They’ve been taking care of me all fall. While I do this.” She gestured over her growing stomach, then looked away. “And while you take care of Finn.”

Thad flushed, teared up, fought it back. “It’s not like that.”

“But maybe it is a little.”

“He’s a good worker.”

Leona was looking down at the floor, moving drifts of hay around with her boot. “Thank you,” she whispered. 

“What for?”

“All of this. Everything. I don’t know. Just thank you.” She stooped and recovered the spotless pie plates. “But not for co-opting me into feeding horses pie.”

“Don’t worry. One day of sugar won’t even dent them. They’re both too stubborn to die.”


That night Thad woke at one in the morning clutching at his chest and crying out in the dark. 

He had dreamed of two black bears chasing a herd of young caribou along a high ridge in what looked to him like the rolling foothills near Doubletop Mountain. The herd veered suddenly to the left and plunged off a cliff hidden by a row of twisted white pines. The caribou went over bawling with their hooves grappling at the rocks. The speed and frenzy of the pursuit carried the bears crashing through the branches and into the void as well. 

He reached for Jane but found only an empty, sweaty bed. It took a moment to reorient from the dream and remember where he was. He had gone back to his house after finishing the holiday clean up at Jane’s. It was the first night in weeks he had spent back here. 

The rest of the night Thad roiled in autumnal dread, wishing daybreak would hurry up. He tried to treat himself with coffee, the newspaper, the weather radio, his favorite novels, but the dream could not be shaken. And all night long he could feel Lewis’s ghost out there at the edge of the woods, staring back at his lost home, sleepless as well, alone as always. 

Thad was frazzled and bleary-eyed in the morning when he saw Finn get out of Sam Castine’s truck in front of The Fish House. Thad did a double take at first, but no doubt about it—that was Sam’s truck and that was Sam in it and that was Finn climbing out.

Finn was smiling as he nodded, shouldered up his grip with his thermos and extra set of clothes, and walked across the street to the pier for work.

“What was all that,” Thad asked out on the boat while they lunched on fried haddock sandwiches slathered with Swiss cheese and dill mayonnaise Leona and Jane had made the night before. “You with Sam this morning.” 

“Wasn’t nothing,” Finn said. “He was on island for something last night and reached out.”

“Didn’t look like nothing.”

“I needed a ride. He needed to talk. He’s family.”

“Sure, I know.” What had he thought? That Finn would abandon all his ties completely to form some new little family with just him and Jane? 

Thad crumbled up the wax paper wrapper from his sandwich and wiped at his mouth, eyeing the horizon. It was clear for miles off the bow, air and sea meeting in the same shocking cobalt seam. But out over Matinicus Island, leaden clouds gathered in stony ridges. The snow squall coming down from the Labrador Islands would be sudden and fierce. The preamble to the big obliterating winter storms which started this time of year. After today he doubted they’d be out much at all until spring. 

“We best get in,” he said finally.

“Get in? We’ve barely been out.”

“Snow’s coming.”

“I need the money. Leona.”

“My boat. My rules. Save that reckless shit for Sam, Finn. It’s the Castine way to play it loose.” This wasn’t true and Thad wished he could take it back as soon as he’d said it. Sam had been a good sternperson for years—attentive, safe, good humored. Until it all went to hell that day. 

“He still feels awful about Lewis,” Finn whispered.

Thad turned away, into the wind. It wasn’t hearing his son’s name that cracked him open; it was how seldom he heard it now. His son had gone into the sea as a boy and then gone into the ground as ashes and now his name barely seemed left in the world. How could a person pass so quickly from a human being to an arrangement of letters carved into a granite stone? Those letters now lived in a hundred-acre cemetery on Hatchet Ridge nature-fenced by seventy-foot tall scarlet oaks and weeping willows on all four sides and spun over by hawks, ospreys, and eagles. It was a beautiful place to spend eternity, but there was no good place to lose your humanity at twenty. 

“It wasn’t what you think with Sam this morning,” said Finn. 

Finn didn’t meet Thad’s eyes when Thad looked over. “It was mostly me wanting to talk to him. I told him he needed to knock it off. If say hypothetically he’d been motoring back up here and messing with your lines.” 

“Oh,” was all Thad could manage. “You didn’t have to do that,” he squeaked out, lost in what he was feeling but not saying: a thundering mix of gratitude and love.


They trolled in just before the sky went black and the snow began dumping. Thad sold off what he could in town while Finn sat in the F150 blasting the heater and huddling into his coat. They were going to cook dinner that night for Jane and Leona. 

“I need to swing by the house real quick,” Thad mumbled and the boy just nodded. Fifteen minutes later, parked in his driveway, Thad peeled off five hundred dollars in twenties and gave them to the Finn. “For a real good season,” he said. “Be right back.” 

Inside, Thad lifted the floorboard and deposited the rest of the money down in the joists. When he looked up, the kid was standing in the kitchen doorway watching. 

“Wanted a drink,” Finn said. 

“Tap’s right there. Help yourself.” 

“I knew a carpenter once who did that,” said Finn. “Socked his money away all over his house. He was always cutting out some new secret spot in this wall or that wall. He never told anyone about any of them. Then his wife went and burned his house down.” 

“Huh,” Thad said. “Seems I’ve been right all these years.” 

“How’s that.” 

“About not getting married again.”

Back in the truck, the snow thickened, blowing against the window glass and sealing the two men inside the hot cab. “This is a nice house,” the kid said, looking out through the glass and snow at the porch.


“But you’re hardly ever here.”


“You ever thought about renting it out?”

Thad studied Finn for a moment. The thing was Thad couldn’t ever sell the house. But maybe there was another way, like Jane had hinted at. Place to reset the story, for Finn and Leona to raise their own like Thad had with Lewis, and Lewis might have someday done himself. “Hadn’t much until the last few weeks. Been thinking about it a lot lately.”

The kid nodded, looked pleased.

Thad scanned the woods for Lewis’s ghost, which he knew was there somewhere. Lewis had loved winter more than anyone Thad had ever known. No way his ghost would miss coming out to play in the first snow. Thad turned the truck off again, set the keys on the dash. “Finn, would you help me with something real quick? There’s something you should learn about this place.”

“Sure.” Finn shrugged.

Back inside, Thad pulled the large cast iron skillet over the burner and carved hunks of butter into it while Finn filled a pot with water to boil for rice. 

“There’s about ten shelves of lobster meat in the back freeze,” said Thad. “Grab a pound or so.” 

“For real? You must be the only person in the world who’d feed a bunch of cats lobster.”

“You obviously haven’t been around enough fishers yet. Give it time. We’d run our cars on lobster if we could.”

“I’d like to see that.”

“Exxon sure wouldn’t. What else am I going to do with it? I haven’t been able to eat the stuff for years.”

“Sell it.”

Thad shrugged. “I figure I do enough of that.”

“It’s not every day you get to make lobster for cats.”

“I guess that might be a somewhat unique experience for some people.”

The house filled with the smell of butter and the sea cooking together while outside snow clicked against the windowpanes. Finn retrieved the clay bowl from the cupboard where Thad kept it and spooned the sautéed lobster into the vessel. Thad showed him how he added the rice and mashed it all up with a bit of water. Then the man and the boy walked out into the cold and stood on the porch. “I put it right over there by the garage. There’s a little overhang to protect the cats from the weather.”

Thad could feel Lewis’s ghost now, out there at the edge of the woods again. Lewis’s ghost was watching the porch, and Thad was too scared to look up at the trees. But something was different. 

Finn walked the bowl across the yard and stood in the snow for a moment looking everything over—the barn, the house, the sky. When his gaze reached the woods, he paused for a long time. In the dusk, soft white flakes were gathering on the shoulders of Finn’s grey coat. He set the bowl down and scuffed his heel at the ground to call the cats in.

“There’s a good energy to it,” Finn said as Thad came down the steps toward the truck. “Your place here, all of it.”

Thad climbed in, turned the key, held his breath. For the first time in a long time he wasn’t in any rush to leave.

Finn paused when his hand touched the door handle. Whorls of snow rose from the ground in fine-grained waves and the motion light flickered on the barn post as the strays came in. Thad swore he saw Finn nod at the woods as the boy climbed into the warm passenger seat.

Thad finally released his breath and looked at the trees. For the first time in a long time, maybe since the ocean had filled his son’s body with its terrible, unrelenting cold, Lewis’s ghost, in the black line of his wooded house, was not shivering. 




Gregory Brown is the author of the novel The Lowering Days. His stories have appeared in Tin House, Alaska Quarterly Review, Shenandoah, Epoch, and Narrative, among others. His work has been supported by MacDowell, The Hillholm Writing Residency, the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference, the Napa Valley Writers' Conference, and the Iowa Writers' Workshop. He grew up along Penobscot Bay, lives in Maine with his family and many dogs, and can be found at

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