About the Book
After a divorce and her Mom’s death, Michaela thinks she is doing just fine, until an old friend calls for help. Suddenly she is unwillingly making a trip to her childhood home. Little does she realize what the return to an island stuck in a channel in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula will cost her.
Our island school is long gone, consolidated with the mainland, especially after Mr. Birdeen and Miss Jackie found the little girl’s bones behind the knee wall. The authorities arrived, determining who had died up there.
Vincent and I were eleven; she was there for at least a few years while we were in school.
No one ever said anything about ghosts, then.
On any slate blue September day, just like this one, the wind slashing west to east and the dramatic slant of autumn’s sun illuminating the Canadian hills and then just as suddenly disappearing under Fall’s blanket clouds of grey, I remember Vincent, and the discovery of the little girl.
It’s because of Vincent I’m on this damn ferry, anyway.
The ferry is returning me to Salmon island. And I am doing it under protest. This is not my idea. Not one bit.
I’m drinking a beer. It’s tradition. You get on the ferry and you open a beer. Practically everyone does it. It’s Salmon Island, the sewer island. The ugly sister of all the other islands dotting Michigan’s Great Lakes.
The Canadians across St. Pete’s release effluent from their sewage plant and before you know it, E Coli warnings are going up on our beaches. It’s been happening since I was a kid. I’m forty-eight now and the US and the Canadian governments still haven’t reached an agreement. Go figure. We’re just some shit island plopped in the middle of a shipping channel, an obstacle the freighters coming from the St. Lawrence seaway need to maneuver around to enter the locks that let them pass to Lake Superior and Duluth. Their charts might even say “reef” instead of island.
We’re basically in the way.
And still, every time I look at Salmon Island, I want to live wholly in its arms. I want to be wrapped in the hills of its deepest recesses, feeling its belly in my back, breathing warm and sure. It’s arm over me like a lover, holding me and keeping me safe.
Vincent and I learned to play football together, barefoot. We were the exact same height and weight all the way up through eighth grade. Difference was, he was a boy and I was a girl. I could still out tackle him. Vincent always claimed if I could be his halfback, the tiny island school would have taken division.
But, we live in absatuckyville, even up here in the North. Enough tobacco chewing redneck dimmies had their say on the school board and take it or leave it, when it came time to decide if the girl should play football it was voted down 2-1. I have to hand it to Mr. OddBird, he tried, but having a guy with a third-grade education and a standing once a month five-day drunk on your side didn’t exactly move the cause forward.
It was okay. Shortly after they found the little girl, my knee got wracked something terrible. At the time, I didn’t realize an injury early on, would have such an impact on the rest of my life. It’s only on a second or third reveal, as time goes on, I discover how much it changes me.
Even right now, standing outside my vehicle, leaning against the rail, my weight on my left leg, giving my right knee a break. Little daily things like that. They become a part of my life. I just do. I adjust. And pretty soon I forget why I can’t crouch the way I used to at football camp, or when I run, why my hip feels a little off.
As we watch the island approach, an old guy standing next to me, named Jeb, starts chatting me up.
“Have you ever been to the island before?”
Have I ever been? I couldn’t get out of here fast enough.
Despite what I’m thinking, a visceral reaction is emanating from deep within me and pouring over my insides. As the island closes in, I inhale its overwhelming smell of cedar and tamarisk, intoxicating me. The scent of nutrient rich bogs and the aroma of clay-veined fields after an autumn rain sear into my brain, inflating cells I thought were long gone. The memories grab ahold of me the way the muck of the island sticks to our feet.