From time to time, different Kerouac House alumni will write in and tell us what they’ve been up to, or even share some of their work. This month, we hear from Summer 2011 resident, David W. Berner, as he shares an excerpt from his new novel, The Islander.
The Islander, David W. Berner, (Excerpt from Chapter 1)
Outpost19 Books/The Shortish Project
If Seamus Damp were asked to offer one reason why he had stayed on The Rock in the sea, the treeless land thrown about by gales and wicked tides, it was the sight of God-touched clouds in the magic of sunrise and sunset, scenes Keats might have imagined. It was the light. It was al- ways the light. This is what he would say. And it was that light that he awaited now in the darkest minutes, sitting at the window, the shutters drawn open. He had been there hundreds, no, thousands of times before. But only in recent days had he begun to acknowledge how his mornings would soon change.
The island was small enough to see from the small stoop at the front door both the sunrise over the bay and the mainland, and the evening sun fall across the sea. Depending on the season, and how the winds moved the weather, the light offered something different each time. Despite his hard routines, and how the island morphed, it was that light that kept Seamus there. It was difficult for others to understand this, as he had been alone so long, living in the small house; leaving only when he took the ferry to town for food, hand soap, tea, and his favorite small cigars. How could it be nothing other than a hard existence and the heaviness of monotony? But what many would never know is how living on the island was like living inside a prism, in the magnificent refracting, bouncing, and bending light. It was everything. And now, at the window with the reality of what he finally would have to agree to, Seamus thought maybe on his next trip to town he would purchase a calendar, if they still sold such things, to hang on his wall to mark the days. The time that remained had become a matter of enumeration, counting the number of sunrises and sunsets.
Seamus’s son Aiden believed it was long overdue. No landline and Seamus had rejected a cell phone, and as the years added up, Aiden found the not-knowing unnerving. Not because Aiden had missed his father, but because he didn’t like the thought of how things could possibly end— his father dead for many days and no one knowing. So, Aiden had plans on how Seamus would leave the island and come to live on the mainland at a senior center not far from Aiden’s home. Seamus had refused, repeatedly. Why would I leave? For what? For whom?
This was before the first emergency.
Aiden had arrived to check on his father as a matter of duty and found him on the wooden floor of the tiny kitchen. He had fallen and had sprained an ankle, damaged a ligament. He had been unable to get up. He had wet himself. No food. No water. His dog, Olivia, at his side, refusing to leave. After his hospital stay, the doctor insisted that Seamus give up his home on the is- land. Living alone had become a risk, he told him. But Seamus, in defiance, had returned, and Aiden, although believing the doctor was right, had avoided the inevitable messy argument despite his misgivings.
Months after the fall, on the day after Christmas, Aiden returned to the island to check on his father and discovered Seamus in a weakened state, gaunt, and struggling to lift himself out of his bed. The flu had ravaged him, his frailty palpable, and his body no longer able to fight the battle on its own. Doctors said he could have died. Still, after a long recovery and a chance to regain a margin of strength, Seamus was again rebellious, returning to the island, convincing his son that he must be allowed one last season, the best season the island offered so he might say his goodbye, a proper farewell to the home where he had writ- ten thousands of words and hoped to write a few more, if he could.
So, now at the window with Olivia at his feet, Seamus watched the sunrise of another day.
In the dark before taking the seat at the window, Seamus had stoked the fire and had listened to the BBC on the radio, what he sometimes did before the sun came up. There was much to do in the house before he would leave it, papers to pack and books to arrange, but there was time, a full summer ahead. He only had the heart to get after the work in spurts, and so far, he had done very little. Aiden had convinced his father to take on a cell phone after the fall and the sickness, but in the early morning when Seamus waited for the sun, he turned it off, through his tea and bread, through his writing time, until the early afternoon.
Boston it had been the same. Early mornings alone, working. Seamus was born there. His mother and father, first generation Irish, had moved to the city as newlyweds for employment but returned every year to County Kerry, if they were lucky enough to find the money. County Kerry is where family had remained. Seamus grew up an American boy, but Ireland was every- where around him. And it was Ireland where he and Gloria, his wife, had moved for good when Aiden was a small boy. Seamus had written two novels that had done well, but he had become worn down by America and the big city, and the agents and public relations people, and the obligatory interviews. Aiden grew up Irish near Dingle, and not long after he left for university, Seamus moved to the house on the island, alone. Gloria insisted he leave. Seamus had fallen into his own silence, a retreat of spirit, increasingly in need of solitude. He had become an intensely quiet man. No longer present. No longer capable of giving enough to someone else. Seamus knew what he had become. He had had sullen days as a child, and they had followed him like a ghost.
You can order David W. Berner’s book, The Islander, on Amazon.