Sammy was the second son of Norah and Clance Everett, but he was practically an only child. His big brother Wright was 15 years older than him, and, as long as Sammy could remember, had only been a visitor to the house, not a live-in part of the family.

In fact, Sammy felt closer to Nans, his mother’s aunt, who had been living in the room next to Sammy, seemingly forever.

Sammy never fully connected to his parents. His father Clance was a boatsman, and would spend long hours at the dock or out on the water, often taking overnight trips on his boats. Sammy loved the smell of his father, the dark scent of sea-salt in motion.

When his father first opened the door after a long day or a trip out, Sammy would breath in the scent of his homecoming, as the draft from outside carried it around the house. But the smell was too harsh to come too close, caused Sammy’s tongue to slide and tap at the roof of his mouth at the dinner table. And a hug was a pungent experience.

Sammy’s mother was a teacher, she taught 3rd grade, was a steadily patient woman, and would come home in the afternoons and sit with Sammy, at a low-cut table built just for him, and teach her days lessons to him. Norah knew that her son was no brighter than any other kid, but she felt certain that lessons were taught, not granted, and that, with her nourishment, her boy would grow to be a vibrant and successful leader.

For all his mother’s efforts to raise him though, Sammy was his Nans’ child. It was her close arms that he would run into after a mid-night fright. She breathed comfort, calmed Sammy. The woeful creak of her rocker at dusk became a lullaby to Sammy, the heart-beat that calmed him to sleep.

When Sammy was younger, Nans used to hold him in her dry hands and sing Irish ballads to him in a sweet and crackling voice that told stories of Nans’ sunny girlhood.

Sammy sometimes wished he could go back and be a boy when Nans was a girl, when they could race down dirt roads on rickety bicycles, when they could hide in the bushes by the road, and throw rocks at the narrow wheels of young automobiles. They would be a pair of smirking cousins, naughty but not too naughty, adding a smile to each day with sweetly backward antics.

Instead, they shared stories; Nans would tell Sammy about moments from her youth, forgotten kisses, disciplinary smacks on the palm, skinned knees, lost teeth, discarded friendships, ice cream. And then she would tell Sammy about moments from his own life, silly things he had said and forgotten, the way he mugged for strangers as a baby, secret bonds Nans saw he had, lost teeth, ice cream. These were stories no one else needed to hear, a secret world of memories that connected Sammy to his Nans. Sammy felt a fiery certainty that Nans was the best friend he would ever have.

But as years passed, things changed. Nans forgot to chuckle when Sammy walked into a room, and her eyes took on a glassy distant gaze, as if she was travelling through memories and no longer inviting Sammy to share them. Sometimes Nans would forget where she was, who she was, who Sammy was.

Sammy would clutch for her, would take hold of her hands, those warm leathered skeletons with broad knuckles; he would grasp her fingers persuasively in his fist, and shake. Nans would moan and sometimes, for a moment, her eyes would clear and she would look at Sammy, her mouth falling slightly agape with sad and startled understanding. But more often she tossed and churned, as if turning in her sleep, and her open eyes would rest somewhere else.

To Sammy, this was a harsh betrayal.

One day, Norah asked Sammy to sit with her at his studying table, and asked him to be very quiet and serious. She told Sammy about stories of the old Inuit Eskimos. People don’t stay around forever, Sammy, she said. The Inuits once sent their elderly out into the ocean, riding on boat of ice, so that they could stay out in the sea forever. It was better that way; you didn’t have to watch them fade away as we’re doing with Nans. They got to last forever in your mind. Dignified. Untainted.

Your father and I have been talking, we’ve spent a lot of time considering this. And we’ve found a new place for Nans to live. One where they’ll take more care of her, and where she won’t be so confusing to you.

Sammy cried and cried, snuck into Nans’ room that night, and curled up on her lap as she rocked in her chair, pulling her willowy arms around himself when she refused to do it on her own. And he slept that way, his body cramped and curdled until his brother came home in the morning, and pulled Sammy off of his Nans, and carried him out to the car.
The whole family piled in to drive Nans to her new home, and they all waved goodbye as they drove off without her, everyone except for Sammy, who sullenly refused to look away from his dirty fingernails.

For Sammy it was rough living in a house without Nans. Even when she had been ignoring him, Sam felt comfortable hearing her stir in her room at night, or catching the potpourried scent of her in the air.

After she left, the house continued to smell like her, until Norah went on a cleaning frenzy, and Sammy realized that she was really, permanently, gone.

When he heard the news that she was dead, Sammy hardly cared; it was little change from the way things had been when she left. As far as Sammy was concerned, his Nans had died the moment she floated from the house.

Norah and Clance seemed concerned though, as did Wright when he phoned or visited. Despite her age, there was apparently something unnatural about Nans’ death, something that worried Sammy’s family, something that had them terrified.

There was no name for what had happened to her, they told Sammy, and that made it worse than a thousand natural deaths, because they didn’t know why it had happened, or how, or to whom it might happen next.

Nans had a closed-casket funeral, and even so, no one but the closest family was allowed into the room with the casket. Even Sammy wasn’t invited.

Once his Nans was buried, Sammy thought has parents fear would calm, but it didn’t. There were other people sick, they told him. And his brother had taken time off to come back home. He was sick, had the flu, they hoped.

But Wright’s flu didn’t subside, and Norah and Clance started to look pale. Finally, one day, the whole family took a walk down to the docks where Clance stored some of his boats.

The family spent the afternoon playing by the water, diving and splashing eachother and sharing a picnic on the gravelly beach. When they were positively worn out, they sat together barefoot on the dock, with their feet dangling so that, if he stretched, Sammy could just barely graze his toes into the water.

For a moment, the world was all light and laughter, and then Clance stood up, solemnly, gravely eyeing his wife and older son. Norah and Wright stood up, and looked down with a smile as Sammy looked up at them.

Sammy, Norah said, We’re going to take your father’s boat, and head out to sea, where maybe the world can’t hurt us.
Sammy stood up to follow them.

Clance was gruff and choked as he told Sammy not to follow them.

“Sammy”, Norah said, “We need you to stay here, we need you to do what you can to survive. Can you do that?”
Sammy stood petrified.

Maybe if we can, we’ll come back for you, but don’t wait for us.

Sammy watched his family climb onto his father’s boat, and, in the golden light of sundown, he watched them sail away, and he waited as the evening cooled for the sun to disappear and the stars to shine.