Shelter Island

A year ago, "Harry" brushed past a cactus on a hike. It was one of those cactuses that loses limbs for protection and fell into his left hand, the spikes digging into his skin. Little scars now run up the knuckles where a doctor removed each spike in the ER. I watched this same hand guide the helm of his boat, The Montauk. His heel of his right hand he used to accelerate the motor. 

"This whole bay is so shallow," he said as we turned from an inlet into a larger bay. He'd gone there the weekend before to water ski. Now, just a week or two into September, it was already too cold too swim, too hot for a jacket. A beautiful Friday regardless. I looked at the time, nearly 3 o'clock. If I hadn't taken the day off to escape to The Hamptons with Harry, I would be in the office. To think everything had started with a pineapple.

On our first date on Labor Day, Harry showed up to a bar with a pineapple instead of flowers.

"I couldn't find any flowers," he said. "so I texted my friends to see if a pineapple was a good idea. They were like, 'abort, abort.'" The date went well, the pineapple came home with me in a taxi, cradled like a baby. The next day the whole apartment smelled sweet. The following weekend we watched a film and celebrated my birthday on his parents rooftop in the East Village. He grilled salmon, I made us gin fizz's. After giving me a gift, he played Fred Astaire on his laptop.

"It took me all day to find a song for us to dance to," he said. So we laughed our way through a dance. We'd gotten along famously enough to plan a trip to his parents Hamptons house for a weekend. A week later my friend Patrick pushed a copy of Max Frisch's "Montauk" across the table to me at Cafe Grumpy. I read it in less than week, totally engrossed in the plot that would soon be my reality -- a writer taking a new romantic interest to The Hamptons.

On the evening of the 22nd, Harry and I boarded a Hampton Jitney and arrived to the ferry to Shelter Island a little before ten. I remember the unpleasant chug-chug of the ferry slowing as we pulled into the dock. I remember looking at the other side of the ferry and sighing.

"This, Ariel Davis, is the craziest thing you've ever done." Maybe I'd reached my limit, maybe I'd done something too crazy. I think of my idol, George Sands, who whisked Frederick Chopin to Majorca. I think of Max Frisch. Maybe this is just the great literary tradition.

Harry put a hand on my shoulder. 

"Made it."

A cab took us to his house, a beautiful, wooden two story place surrounded by green grass and trees and nestled so far from the street it was entirely private. I was instantly envious. Harry gave me the tour: a living room and dining room with a fireplace and floor-to-ceiling windows to the porch. Up the stairs, two bedrooms, ours the small one with twin beds, high ceilings and a large green plant. In the backyard, a grill and a farm. I had a glass of wine and Harry had a glass of whiskey. I taught him how to fry an egg without it burning, and we had it as our dinner.

We were up by 10 am the next morning. Harry gave me a primer on the espresso machine, so I made us both lattes. He was out in the backyard tinkering with the Vespa.

"Hey, can you come out here?" he asked. He'd just hung up the phone, he'd been talking through the repairs with his father. "I have a feeling you're lucky."

He pointed at the ignition on the right side. I tried turning the keys and the engine started to sputter, without gaining the expected hum.

"This thing!" Harry said, defeated. "We can ride bikes to breakfast."

"Bike?" I said. "I haven't ridden a bike since I was in Paris."

"When was that?"


"You'll be great at it," he said.

"Are there a lot of cars?"

"These are back roads," he said.

Back roads. One-laned roads and a traffic circle. A little residential street that passes the elementary school and the library. There was supposedly a bike path, but we never found it. We parked our bikes (without locks) at the local diner. My hands shook from the ride, I was so nervous.

"Look at that," I said, and pointed to the tremor. Harry gasped and took my hand across the table, which reminded me of what a gentleman he'd been since the trip began. We'd slept in twin beds, and he grew upset when he caught me washing dishes. There was a spider hanging over the toilet in the bathroom (Me: "There's a large, vicious spider in there!" Him: "That little guy?"). He put it in a mug, and discretely released it on the front lawn.

Harry is an environmental lawyer by trade, but spends all his time hiking and climbing mountains. Biking in the streets was easier for him than it was for me. He was always biking in cities. He joked often that he was "a caveman" even on our first date -- he was worried about his table manners. He's a pragmatist. He never wears matching socks because matching socks is a waste of time. If he can turn something into a sport or a competition, he will.

He taught me to play penny soccer until our breakfast arrived. I won.

We climbed on our bikes for a short ride to the pier. Though I was frightened by the speed of the hills, the cars rushing past, the branches in the streets, I think a bike ride is the best way to see Shelter Island. We got lost in a neighborhood of only old houses and a very old church. We stopped riding so Harry could consult the map.

I began to feel a strange, dull pain in my neck, blood rushing to the area. I'd been stung by a bee in the same spot I was stung when I was seven. When I was seven I cried and made a phone call from school to my mom. The school nurse opened a paper towel to show me the stinger. She'd found the bee laying on my shirt collar.

"You must have squished him," the nurse said. She didn't know, like I did, that all bees die after they sting someone. I still don't understand the biological need for them to die after defending themselves. Growing up, I erroneously translated this into a lesson: don't fight until you die fighting. Give up.

Now, at 32, I can be stung by a bee and not notice it.

"Harry, is there something in my neck?" I asked him. He, being six foot three, loomed over me, leaning down.

"There's something," he said. I took my fingers and pinched the spot, putting pressure on it and dragging my hand downward, like I've seen people do in the bee documentaries.

"I think a bee stung me," I said.

"We're going to the hospital," Harry said. "get you some cortisone."

"I'll be fine, I..." I started laughing. "I hardly felt it." ("I've grown up.")

We continued on. We would need to cross the island to make it to the pier. My neck only hurt when I turned it to the right, then it stopped hurting at all.



The closer we got to the pier, the more beautiful the ride became. We saw the water between the trees; the sun bouncing off of it. We parked our bikes against a garage and raced down to the boat. Harry asked me to be the Skipper.

We began to navigate the waters. Harry at one point revved up the motor and we bounced along the waves.

"This is too fast!"

"That was nothing!" he laughed. "You have to hit the waves head on."

We found an empty body of water, there was only a massive yacht bearing Australian flags beside us. Harry cut the engine and we layed down with our legs up, talking about life.

On the way back to shore I waved at the boats we passed and he let me drive her for a bit. We made it back to the pier, back to our bikes, back to the streets. At the house, the sun had drained our energy. Harry was insistent that we watch an episode of my favorite show, "Poirot."

"You'll fall asleep," I warned him. Twenty minutes in, and he was out. Talk about idyllic! Harry was still holding my hands as he slept, his chest rising and falling, his eyelids fluttering from a dream. I could see out the front windows. A doe wandered on the property; it's mother not far off. Harry shifted.

"How long was I sleeping?" he asked.

"Not long," I said. He yawned and decided to take the bike to the market to get us dinner before sundown. He returned with a salmon steak, greens, an avocado and bread. We stood side by side at the counter top chopping vegetables while listening to jazz.

"Hanging out with you us just so easy," Harry said before a very romantic toast.

"I agree," I said. We took the salmon and mixed it with onions and a variety of spices and mayonnaise then grilled them like burgers. Harry whisked Dijon and lemon and olive oil into dressing.

"I'll cry if I have to watch you eat cold food," he said, looking over at my salmon burger patty resting on the counter while his simmered on the grill. 

"You're spoiling me," I said.

We turned off all the lights and lit the candelabra in the dining room. My phone rang. My mom. I told Harry I'd tell her where I was when I was back in New York.

After dinner we decided to watch a movie. I'd never seen "No Country for Old Men" and Harry wanted to see it again. With all the violence, I was most offended by the scene where the sheriff notices a bottle of "sweatin' milk" on a coffee table as a sign that their culprit has just left the house, I jumped up out of my seat. The sheriff pours himself a glass.

"You can't drink that!" I shrieked at the TV. "That milk is sweatin'!"

Harry laughed and squeezed my shoulder. I blushed. "You know how I am about expiration dates."

We went to bed around midnight and woke around 10 am. If we had gone to bed in summer, we woke up in fall. It was so chilly we wore jackets and sweats and shivered on the ferry ride back. The bus ride home was three hours, and we held hands for most of it. At Grand Central he was to take his train and I had to take mine. He gave my hand three sharp squeezes before running down the subway stair.

In two weeks he'd be in Hawaii. In two more weeks, still traveling the world, destination unknown. I felt a sort of sadness, not only about his departure but about my life. I was staring down my nose into the next few years, and there was nothing to see, nothing to look forward to. Not one hope nor milestone. Madame George Sands wouldn't have cared, perhaps? But I'll never be her.