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Excerpt from Carolina Moonset by Matt Goldman, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Carolina Moonset by Matt Goldman

Carolina Moonset

by Matt Goldman
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  • First Published:
  • May 31, 2022
  • Paperback:
  • May 2022
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When I saw my first palm tree, I almost died of disappointment. It wasn't on a tiny island. It didn't have coconuts under its fronds or monkeys clinging to its trunk. That palm tree failed me.

The tree lived in Beaufort, South Carolina, in my grandparents' backyard, and the letdown I felt over its lack of picture-book clichés is my earliest memory of that place. I must have been three or four. It was the same trip I met the ocean at Hunting Island State Park. I waded into the salt water. Tasted it on my fingers. Scanned the surface for sharks. Thought every dolphin and hunk of driftwood was a shark, which sent me screaming and splashing back to the beach.

I spent languid afternoons with my sisters catching chameleons. We put the lizards in a box and named them. Took the box inside to show the adults. And under strict and often shrieked orders, carried the box back outside to let the creatures go. The chameleons turned brown on the palm tree's trunk or green if set on a leaf. I was determined to bring one home to Chicago and set it in our snowy backyard to see if it would turn white. But my sisters told my parents of my plan, and the chameleon was freed from my suitcase.

That's when I learned I could not trust family.

"Remember that time, Joey, when we came down to Beaufort to visit Grandpa and Grandma?" My father spoke in a South Carolina drawl, a melody he'd reclaimed since moving back to the place he grew up. He'd always been loquacious, but his lyrical cadence had lain dormant for half a century until the salt air brought it back to life. "You couldn't have been more than three years old. Grandma took you kids to the strawberry farm, and you went row to row picking strawberries and putting them in your little basket. Then Grandma picked a berry and added it to your basket.…" My father began to laugh, the memory vivid to him like film. "… And you said, 'No! Joey's basket!' And you dumped all your strawberries in the dirt.…" My father laughed so hard he listed, held up by his shoulder strap in the back seat.

I didn't remember the strawberry farm. The incident happened over forty years ago. Forty vacations ago. Although trips to visit family don't qualify as vacations. Families have pecking orders, and each gathering is an opportunity to shift the hierarchy—that hardly creates an atmosphere for relaxation.

My mother sat in the passenger seat. She responded to my father's story with a tragic smile. Carol Green had aged in the last six months. Aged fifteen years by the looks of it, her face now drawn and pale. Her gray hair dull. She'd had it cut short. Not cute short but surrender short. She could no longer deal with something as trivial as hair. She'd lost weight. It looked like her bones wanted to push their way out of her skin. From her cheeks, her shoulders, her wrists, and her knees.

She was only seventy-three.

My mother used to sparkle. She'd had the social calendar of a debutante. A champion pickleball player, she and Judy Campbell ran the table at the tournament out on Fripp Island. But age had caught up to her. Passed her even. My sisters had each visited to give her a break. Now it was my turn. My parents had picked me up at the Charleston airport. Such expectation and excitement on the faces of Carol and Marshall Green. It's a thing with relocated retirees. They're eager to show you their life of leisure the way children are eager to show you the fort they built.

"What color is your suitcase?" My father stood at the carousel excited for the responsibility of spotting and retrieving the bag. The challenge of lifting it. He was surrounded by septuagenarians like himself, most picking up their children and grandchildren who'd flown down to visit for spring break, the beginning of Beaufort's bustling tourist season.

"Navy," I said. "It's a roller with a green bandana tied to the handle."

Excerpted from Carolina Moonset by Matt Goldman. Copyright © 2022 by Matt Goldman. Excerpted by permission of Forge Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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