West House

Each year, there’s the slightest bit of doubt; perhaps it isn’t there this time. Perhaps the turreted, shingle-sided home on the ocean was simply a shared dream—a contagious airborne fragment of the family’s collective consciousness. But alas, each year, West House appears yet again beyond the arching trees and sandier roads. The home exists for 10—maybe 14—days of the year, snapshotted and claimed by young cousins, convincing each mind, like a movie series, that no time has passed since their last visit. Though tide may reshape the seaweed on its shores, time itself has never flooded close enough to touch West House.

Eternal as it is, the house is undoubtedly alive. From the back yard, twinkling windows reverberate with reintroduction of children’s voices grown older now and parents’ slightly alcoholic transition from Parents to Little Sisters. As the family fills the home, laughter pours out from the smiling screen porch, naked bodies acclimate to the splash of an outdoor doorless shower, and dinner’s sizzle beckons the unpackers from the castle’s crannies. Running down the stairs, cousins run fingertips over dusty photos of someone else’s family– photos they’ve grown so used to that the house would be wanting without those familiar strangers’ smiles. Furniture and artwork are story-less staples of each room, explained only by Always Been There. Childhood curiosity and exploration have been replaced by unexplained ownership and the happy acceptance that nothing can be rearranged, taken home, or replaced… only left to the protection and endurance of West House.

Though aunts and uncles may question it, there are no children in West House anymore. The little sandy hands that built castles on the beach now prop up cold beers next to their folding beach chairs. Covert activities, the true and well-known family secrets, continue deep into the night, whooping full speed through darkness—blind running or blind biking brought into glaring juxtaposition with midnight bioluminescence. Dulled sobriety combats heavy night air, best friends creep up squeaky stairs, and a family falls asleep with a few more mosquito bites and stories West House won’t share.

Bright mornings ring with the smell of ground coffee and almost-hushed conversations of the grown-ups, who still own the mystery of summer morning. When is it, one must ponder, that the sharp transition happens from last-one-up to bagel-store-and-back-before-8? Oh, may this waking striation never leave West House, so that every child may be the secret, groggy audience to a parent’s muffled breakfast. Once risen, West House jumps to convivial activity. A raised flag out back catches summertime breezes, staying always in the periphery of the swimmers and the paddlers. Tennis scores are reported; bike trips are organized. In almost-military fashion, one always keeps watch and slow work on the puzzle. A Ping-Pong ball’s hollow bounce echoes through the moist walls of a humid home.

Activities coast into the gentle evening, and the family is forced to a pause. One cousin notes it first—or maybe an aunt—and soon the home is filled with the beckon, “Come! Watch the sunset!” “Get out here!” “Just look at that!” Though the world spins endlessly, this family knows that West House sunsets happen only once a year. In laughing and conversation, a family lets the day slide through salty fingers to wash seaweed out of their hair and set West House aglow. A warning, of course: At West House, everyone sees everything, hears everything. At no time is this truer than at dusk. A peaking crab down on the rocks, or snake in the yard, or overhead osprey is audience to it all; the overlaid voices of fathers and sons and aunts and cousins and bubbling joy pour out, just muffled enough by bad insulation to create unity. A silhouette in bright yellow light, a family is blind to the finitude of their respite from the world. The sea below knows, as they never will, how West House windows glow so warmly into the night.

In much too soon a time, jobs and schools and home murmur louder—calls of return. Final nights, commemorated in sacred and elongated conversations, slip into final mornings of packed cars and washed sheets. West House is untouched and unflustered, somber in its solitude, as families catch last glimpses of its front door. Tires turn off the back roads, and childhood hearts hope earnestly: May West House be here when I come back. May this magical combination of back road turns and companionship conjure, once again, the dreamlike vision of Cape Cod Paradise. May this truly have happened, and dear God might it happen again.

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