The next day, the woman was there again, with the boys and the dog, although the dog did not repeat its threatening dash. It played with the boys or sat like a basalt sphinx by the woman's side. She waved, and Rose returned a barely polite one. The next three days were the same. They arrived around four and stayed for a couple of hours. The woman rubbed herself with baby oil, but did not apply sunblock, nor was she apparently worried about her children burning up, unlike Rose herself, who was constantly laving her own skin and that of her daughter with Plus 20.
The boys were identical twins. Through her covert observations, Rose learned that the one with the red Speedo was called Zik, and the one in the baggies was Zak. They were oddly different: Zik spent his time making elaborate sand sculptures; Zak spent his chasing shorebirds, and throwing sticks for the dog, and building crude sand castles, which he demolished with thrown clods as soon as built. Eventually he would squash part of his brother's work and there would be a short, noisy brawl.
Rose was glad the woman kept to herself, but she could not help her curiosity. On a trip into Holden, she'd asked Donna Offut at the grocery, who knew everything, and learned that the family was from the City and had bought the old Wingfield farm. The woman raised big dogs and trained them for guard work. There was a husband, too, who worked in New York and came out on the weekends.
The woman was named Ciampi. Apparently she'd made a pile in the market and spent a chunk of it buying and fixing up the derelict place. In all, thought Rose, not the sort of person she particularly wanted to know. The South Shore was, of course, loaded with that type, but up until now the less attractive, less accessible far North Shore had been relatively unscathed by nouveaux hordes. But maybe that was going, too; another little gritty bit of sadness.
On the fifth day, the Ciampi woman arrived without the dog and with only Zik in tow. She waved, and Rose waved back and watched the usual baby oil routine. Rose was again astounded. Had the woman never heard of cancer? And letting that boy run around in this blazing sun was close to child abuse. Had she appeared stark naked, Rose could not have been more shocked. On the contrary, she might even have approved, as long as a reasonable sunscreen had been applied. Rose adjusted her position under the shadow of her beach umbrella to leave no skin subject to the toxic rays. Taking up her Harper's, she read four pages about the horrendous state of agricultural inspection before dozing off.
When she opened her eyes, she found Lizzie and the boy were building a sand castle of prodigious size, not the usual lumpy kid construction, but something far more sophisticated, with sheer, smooth walls pierced by arched gates, buttresses, and high, round towers. The boy was dabbing wet sand onto the structure and talking, weaving a story about the tiny lead figures they were arranging on the walls, a dungeons-and-dragons sort of tale: wizards, warlocks, imprisoned queens, dark riders, heroic elves. Lizzie was chattering along with this, as if she had known the boy for years. Rose listened, fascinated and amazed. It had never happened in her experience that a ten-year-old boy had volunteered to play with a girl of the same age. Then Lizzie became aware of her mother's stare and grew self-conscious enough to break the enchantment. She stood and walked over to Rose's blanket, the boy following.
"We want a drink," said Lizzie, reaching into the insulated bag.
"Drink, please. And offer one to your friend, Elizabeth," said Rose, smiling at the boy, and getting her first close look at him. He was at the very peak of his boyish beauty, and the peak in his case was remarkably high. Dark curls, bisque skin, large black eyes with thick, unforgivable lashes, a cupid-bow mouth, and the germ of what would become a straight Roman nose.
Copyright © 2002 by Robert K. Tanenbaum.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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