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In memory of Carolyn Reidy


You do not have to be good.

You do not have to walk on your knees

for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.

You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.

Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.

Meanwhile the world goes on.

Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain

are moving across the landscapes,

over the prairies and the deep trees,

the mountains and the rivers.

Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,

are heading home again.

Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,

the world offers itself to your imagination,

calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting—

over and over announcing your place

in the family of things.

—Mary Oliver

I’m just a girl in the world.

That’s all that you’ll let me be.

—Gwen Stefani, “Just a Girl”


She is fifteen years old that summer, a thoughtful, book-struck girl with long-lashed hazel eyes and a long-legged body that still doesn’t completely feel like her own. She lives in a row house in South Boston with her parents and two sisters, and attends a private school in Cambridge, on a scholarship, where she gets mostly Bs, except for As in English and art. She dreams about falling in love.

One afternoon in May, her mom, who is a secretary for the English department at Boston University, comes home from work with news. One of the professors in her department has two little kids and a house on the Cape. This woman, Dr. Levy, is looking for a mother’s helper for the summer, and thinks that Diana sounds perfect for the job.

Her father is against it. “She’s too young to spend a whole summer away,” he says. “She’ll probably meet a pack of spoiled rich kids and come back with her nose in the air.”

Together, Diana and her mother go to work on changing his mind. Her mother talks about Diana’s college fund, her dreams of the future, how she’ll get to spend every day with a real, live writer, and how the fifteen hundred dollars that Dr. Levy’s offered to pay will more than cover her expenses for the coming school year. Diana, meanwhile, reads every novel she can find that’s set on the Cape, and describes for her father the pristine, golden beaches, sand dunes with cranberry bogs and poets’ shacks hidden in their declivities. She conjures the taste of briny oysters and butter-drenched lobsters, fried clams eaten with salt water–pruned fingers, ice-cream cones devoured after a day in the sun. For Christmas she gives him a coffee-table book of photographs, holding her breath when he flips to the pictures of Provincetown, and the drag queens on Commercial Street, six and a half feet tall in their heels and more beautiful than most women, but her dad only shakes his head and chuckles, saying, You don’t see that every day.

She doesn’t tell either of her parents that what she is most looking forward to is what her sisters have told her about their own summer at the beach—how she’ll be on her own for the first time in her life, free to enjoy the sun, and the beach bonfires, and the boys.

“And you’re going to be in a mansion,” Julia says, her freckled nose crinkling at the memory of the cottage in Hyannis where she’d stayed three years before, sharing a bedroom with the kids, and a bathroom with the kids and the parents, in a one-story house that had smelled like mold. “Truro,” Kara sighs. “You’re a lucky duck.” For Christmas, Diana’s sisters present her with a yellow bikini. It’s neither polka-dotted nor especially itsy-bitsy, but it’s still enough to make her dad harrumph and her mom give a secretive, tucked-up kind of smile.

In the bathroom, Diana tries on the swimsuit, standing on the lip of the bathtub so that she’ll be able to see as much of her body as possible in the mirror over the sink, turning from side to side as she sucks in her stomach and regrets the stretch marks that worm across her thighs. She is fifteen years old and has never been kissed, but she knows that a summer in Cape Cod—on the Cape, as people say—will change that.

When her parents finally tell her she can go, she’s so happy that she throws her arms around them and says, “Thank you, thank you, thank you!”

Her grandmother gives her a hundred dollars—“you’ll need some new things”—and her mother takes Diana shopping. Together, they scour the clearance racks at Nordstrom and Filene’s. Diana packs her Christmas bikini, plus a plain blue tank for actual swimming, a denim romper, and a sundress made of white eyelet cotton, with skinny straps that tie in bows on her shoulders. She brings worn copies of A Wrinkle in Time, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, a collection of Stephen King short stories, and The Mists of Avalon, thinking that the familiar books will be a comfort, wondering if it will feel different to read them in a new place.

The children are Sam and Sarah, four-year-old twins. Mr. Weinberg, their father, is some kind of attorney. He’ll spend his weekdays in Boston, come up to the Cape on Friday afternoons, and leave Monday mornings. Dr. Veronica Levy—“call me Ronnie”—is a real-life novelist, with a doctorate in the Romantic British poets, the subject she teaches at BU. She’s written three novels, and, ten years ago, one of them,

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