Beth gathered her luggage, walked Lola on the grassy median outside and found a place in the short taxi line. Part of her was excited and the other part was simply miserable. She loved Sullivans Island because it was her personal time warp. Even though it was 2009, when you were there you would believe that Eisenhower was still in office, even though that was well before her time. But in her heart she felt the island really belonged to her mother's generation and those before her. The last four years had prepared her to live her own life, independent of her tribe. Isn't that why she went to college a thousand miles away in the first place? Further, this assignment, decided upon with the cavalier flick of her mother and aunt's royal wrists, blocked her from pursuing her own dream but enabled her mother to live hers. It wasn't a fair trade but she wasn't exactly given an option. If asked she would say dryly, "My mom and my Aunt Maggie could benefit from even one session of sensitivity training. Seriously."
She climbed in the next available rattletrap and soon she was on her way. At least she had Lola to console her.
"Could you turn up the air conditioning, please?" she asked. Beth's upper lip was covered in little beads of moisture and the roots of her hair were damp.
"Sure." The driver said. "Today's a hot one, 'eah?"
"Yep. It sure is."
The old van complained with each pothole and strained against the slightest rise in the road. Its ancient driver, an old man whose white hair was as thick and coarse as a broom, was crouched over the steering wheel. The intensity of his focus on the road was nerve wracking. He drove like a lumbering walrus in the middle lane as hundreds of cars zoomed by them. She actually considered offering to drive thinking she preferred death by her own hand.
Memorabilia was strung across the old man's dashboard, photographs attached with bits of curling tape and lopsided magnets from Niagara Falls and in Beth's opinion, other painfully boring vacation spots. Judging from their faded condition, the people of those pictures, his children she guessed, were grown and had been gone from his home for a long time. His taxi license read Mr. George Brown. He sighed loudly and cleared his throat as the van's transmission struggled and jerked with each changing gear. She wondered if they would ever reach the causeway. Mr. Brown did not know that he was delivering her, her little dog, two large suitcases and a duffle bag, bulging with university memories, soggy farewells and a poor attitude to one very bittersweet destination.
"You want to take 526 or the new bridge?"
"Whatever you think," she said.
She had told her mother, Susan that she would take a cab from the airport to the beach. She was in no hurry to see anyone. Besides, she had just seen her mother and family at graduation a month ago so the usual sense of urgency she felt to be with her, the excitement of those initial moments of grabbing each other's eyes, had been satisfied. She was home before the longing could begin again. As all mothers do, Susan frequently drove her daughter to the edge of what she could endure but the truth was Beth loved her mother no matter what and more than anyone in the world.
Like most mothers and daughters, their relationship was naturally complicated by simply living and lately by the many small acts of letting each other go. But theirs was different in that it was scarred by the pain of tragic loss. To be completely honest, the loss was epic to Beth but she felt it was less so to her mother. That single fact marked the beginning of a worrisome divide between them. Beth was not exactly sure of all the reasons why she felt so burdened but she sometimes staggered under the weight of the sea of emptiness she carried. She felt like her mother had tossed aside her share and left her to flounder for herself. It wasn't fair or noble.
Then there was the matter of expectations, ones Beth would never meet much less surmount. It was impossible to be the oldest girl in the next generation of Hamiltons/Hayes and ever expect raving accolades from the lips of her elders. She might have looked for some measure of satisfaction from them but she would never expect a parade in her honor. There was no excessive flattery to be found.
Her aunts and uncles owned the past and they still thought the future was theirs as well. Beth begged to differ. She felt they were wrong about so many things that she was embarrassed for them, one more reason she had planned to continue to build her life elsewhere.
The distance between Beth's college and Sullivans Island had allowed the rest of her relatives to revel in their shared hallucinations of perfect family. College had spared her four years of their self-congratulations and she thanked everything holy that she had not been there. If she had been on that porch or around that table peeling shrimp with them, she would have said that what they actually were was very far from perfect. They would not have valued her observations. In college, she had developed a tongue.
It didn't matter now. She was not going to be the one to point out that their conservative ideas had never advanced their family's name one inch. She was going to try to be the good daughter, the responsible niece, the one who came and did her duty. Why? Because even though they all practically bored her to death, Beth loved them with a fierce passion she doubted she could ever duplicate in another relationship. But that's how they were, the Hamiltons and the Hayes, bonded by loyalty and an unseen force.