Excerpted from My One Hundred Adventures by Polly Horvath Copyright © 2008 by Polly Horvath. Excerpted by permission of Schwartz & Wade, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
All summers take me back to the sea. There in the long eelgrass, like birds’ eggs waiting to be hatched, my brothers and sister and I sit, grasses higher than our heads, arms and legs like thicker versions of the grass waving in the wind, looking up at the blue washed sky. My mother is gathering food for dinner: clams and mussels and the sharply salty greens that grow by the shore. It is warm enough to lie here in the little silty puddles like bathwater left in the tub after the plug has been pulled. It is the beginning of July and we have two months to live out the long, nurturing days, watching the geese and the saltwater swans and the tides as they are today, slipping out, out, out as the moon pulls the other three seasons far away wherever it takes things. Out past the planets, far away from Uranus and the edge of our solar system, into the brilliantly lit dark where the things we don’t know about yet reside. Out past my childhood, out past the ghosts, out past the breakwater of the stars. Like the silvery lace curtains of my bedroom being drawn from my window, letting in light, so the moon gently pulls back the layers of the year, leaving the best part open and free. So summer comes to me.
“Jane, Maya, Hershel, Max,” calls my mother. She always calls my name first. She is finished gathering and her baskets are heavy. We run to help her bring things back to the house. No one else lives year-round on the beach but us. A poet with no money can still live very well, my mother reminds us, and I do not know why. Who would think having to leave the ocean for most of the year is a better way to live? How could we not live well, the five of us together? I love our house. I love the bedroom I share with my sister. Our house has no upstairs like the houses of my friends. It has one floor with a kitchen that is part of a larger room, and off of this large room with its big table and rocking chairs and its soft old couch and armchair and miles of booklined shelves are three bedrooms. One for my mother, one for my brothers, one for my sister and me. “I love this house,” I say to my mother often. “You cannot love it as I do,” she says. “No one can ever love it as I do.”
There’s a big red-and-white-checked oilcloth on the kitchen table and an old wine bottle with a dripping candle in the center of it. Our bedroom has two sagging cots topped with old Pendleton blankets. My mother says there is nothing like a Pendleton blanket for keeping you warm at night. She says this especially on nights when the storms are coming in from the northeast and the house is cold and the wind is blowing through the cracks and we read books by candlelight because the elec- tricity is out again. We love the winter because when our power goes out there are no other houses alight on this shore. Their occupants have all gone home until next summer. We are all alone. It is darker than dark then. You can hear the waves crash louder when it is dark. You can smell the sharper smells of the sea. Maybe the wind will take us this time, I think, as a gust shakes the foundations of the house. Maybe we will be blown apart to the many corners of the earth, and I am filled with sadness to lose the other four, but then a sharp stab of something, excitement maybe. It is the prospect of adventures to be had.
On Sundays we walk as we always do, fall, winter, spring, summer, any weather, to the little steepled church in town. We get sand in our good church shoes walking over the beach and sit on cement dividers when we get to the parking lot, dumping our shoes, as much a church ritual now as kneeling at prayer. The church is just the right size, not too large. It has two rooms, one of which is for the Sunday schoolers. We stand in the woody-smelling pews with the soft, much-opened hymnbooks and sing. But despite all this churchgoing every Sunday of every year, it isn’t until this year, when I am twelve, that I have figured out I can pray. Perhaps I have had nothing to pray for until now. As if itchy and outgrown, my soul is twisting about my body, wanting something more to do this summer than the usual wading in the shallows and reading and building castles on the shore. I want something I know not what, which is what adventures are about. The step into the know-not-what. I want it so badly it is making me bad-tempered with Maya, who is too young to understand. She wants every summer the same, and so had I until this year. And my brothers are too young to care about anything like this for a long time. I am twisting all alone.
This week our preacher, a fat old lady named Nellie Phipps, says from her pulpit that you ought to pray all the time. Just about anything at all. It doesn’t have to be sacred. And your prayers will be answered, she declares, your prayers will always be answered.
I pray for a hundred adventures. And maybe, I think, if I pray all the time unceasingly as Nellie is telling us we should, as I walk to town and help my mother shuck oysters, as I make baskets from reeds and sweep the floors or weed the vegetable garden, as I sit mooning over the movement of the wind and lying on my back, lost in the thoughtlessness of doing nothing, then there might be a response. And so I do and maybe it is because of this that it all happens.
Who would think that the universe would pay any attention to me? Who would think that someone who looks like Nellie Phipps would know?