the old fireplace

THERE WERE TWO HOUSES at the end of Cliff Road in Nantucket. This is the road that leads out of town and is situated along the bluffs with their long-eyed view of the Atlantic. I was up there at dawn, with the gulls crying, and the sun just beginning to scratch through the haze. The air smelled of the sea and of salt. Both of the houses were quite old. The one on the left was a saltbox from the first years of settlement and the one on the right was covered in gray shakes and had belonged to an old captain who had grown fat and rich back in the whale oil boom days. I went up to the captain’s cottage and knocked and Hanna came to the door. I hadn’t seen her in forever and I didn’t know what she was even doing here in Nantucket. There she stood in an old-fashioned gown with her white freckled skin and tangles of red hair and folds of Irish heft, holding a candle. I turned to leave, but when I did, she somehow materialized on the other side of me, or behind me, so that I turned from facing her to facing her again. This time she kissed me deeply and passionately and the wind picked up abruptly, as it always does when I am kissed so passionately. She led me by the hand into the house, down a hall with paintings of ships on the wall that depicted harpooned whales spouting in agony against rough seas and where the tropical mountainous islands of the Pacific loomed in the distance. We walked to a staircase that had creaking steps. “This used to be for the servants in the old days,” she said. “But there’s a secret room down in the cellar. Nobody will look for us in there.” Down in the cellar we came to the old fireplace with its red arching bricks, and Hanna pushed open a door behind the hearth. “Come inside,” she whispered. “There’s plenty of room for both of us.” Inside we began to make love. My hips rose and there were ecstatic sighs. But then I felt something crunching on my back. Hanna lit the whale oil lamp and its light shone on the floor. Hundreds of gold metallic insects were crawling everywhere. They glistened like coins. “Don’t mind them,” Hanna said. “They’ve always been here. The captain brought them back from the Orient. The whole cottage is infested.” When I awoke, Hanna was gone and so were the insects. The stairs on the way up broke as I stepped on them, and the house was abandoned and crumbling. There were no paintings on the walls, just cobwebs and dust. I was lucky I got out of that condemned, ramshackle house alive.

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