One day, Norah asked Sammy to sit with her at his studying table, and asked him to be very quiet and serious. She told Sammy about stories of the old Inuit Eskimos. People don’t stay around forever, Sammy, she said. The Inuits once sent their elderly out into the ocean, riding on boat of ice, so that they could stay out in the sea forever. It was better that way; you didn’t have to watch them fade away as we’re doing with Nans. They got to last forever in your mind. Dignified. Untainted.
Your father and I have been talking, we’ve spent a lot of time considering this. And we’ve found a new place for Nans to live. One where they’ll take more care of her, and where she won’t be so confusing to you.
Sammy cried and cried, snuck into Nans’ room that night, and curled up on her lap as she rocked in her chair, pulling her willowy arms around himself when she refused to do it on her own. And he slept that way, his body cramped and curdled until his brother came home in the morning, and pulled Sammy off of his Nans, and carried him out to the car.
The whole family piled in to drive Nans to her new home, and they all waved goodbye as they drove off without her, everyone except for Sammy, who sullenly refused to look away from his dirty fingernails.
For Sammy it was rough living in a house without Nans. Even when she had been ignoring him, Sam felt comfortable hearing her stir in her room at night, or catching the potpourried scent of her in the air.
After she left, the house continued to smell like her, until Norah went on a cleaning frenzy, and Sammy realized that she was really, permanently, gone.
When he heard the news that she was dead, Sammy hardly cared; it was little change from the way things had been when she left. As far as Sammy was concerned, his Nans had died the moment she floated from the house.
Norah and Clance seemed concerned though, as did Wright when he phoned or visited. Despite her age, there was apparently something unnatural about Nans’ death, something that worried Sammy’s family, something that had them terrified.
There was no name for what had happened to her, they told Sammy, and that made it worse than a thousand natural deaths, because they didn’t know why it had happened, or how, or to whom it might happen next.
Nans had a closed-casket funeral, and even so, no one but the closest family was allowed into the room with the casket. Even Sammy wasn’t invited.
Once his Nans was buried, Sammy thought has parents fear would calm, but it didn’t. There were other people sick, they told him. And his brother had taken time off to come back home. He was sick, had the flu, they hoped.
But Wright’s flu didn’t subside, and Norah and Clance started to look pale. Finally, one day, the whole family took a walk down to the docks where Clance stored some of his boats.
The family spent the afternoon playing by the water, diving and splashing eachother and sharing a picnic on the gravelly beach. When they were positively worn out, they sat together barefoot on the dock, with their feet dangling so that, if he stretched, Sammy could just barely graze his toes into the water.
For a moment, the world was all light and laughter, and then Clance stood up, solemnly, gravely eyeing his wife and older son. Norah and Wright stood up, and looked down with a smile as Sammy looked up at them.
Sammy, Norah said, We’re going to take your father’s boat, and head out to sea, where maybe the world can’t hurt us.
Sammy stood up to follow them.
Clance was gruff and choked as he told Sammy not to follow them.
“Sammy”, Norah said, “We need you to stay here, we need you to do what you can to survive. Can you do that?”
Sammy stood petrified.
Maybe if we can, we’ll come back for you, but don’t wait for us.
Sammy watched his family climb onto his father’s boat, and, in the golden light of sundown, he watched them sail away, and he waited as the evening cooled for the sun to disappear and the stars to shine.