susan carlton
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1 (a)

Put yourself in my shoes. Specifically olive green stilettos, size five and a half. Now bolt for the 3:35 ferryboat home, home being an iceberg a blink away from Portland, Maine. Oh, and it's December so the streets are gripped with ice. Push a stroller with one hand (little brother) and pull a radiant child with the other (little sister). Pass random tourists who are drinking in the view, a sign of idiocy if you ask me. If these sightseers walked my walk—running in heels to the ferry, dropping the siblets at day care, slogging through tenth-grade ridiculousness, reclaiming said siblets, busting ass, still in heels, back to the ferry—they'd know the truth.

It's all about making the fugging boat.

The island has a real name but I call it Bleak. Hello, Bleak.

At the mouth of the pier, next to the giant tin can of a ferry, I see Noah. He's my first: friend (age zero), kiss (age six), stitches (a hockey brawl, age nine), spin-the-bottle (age eleven), mutual grope (age thirteen), love of life (age thirteen to the still-virginal present). We've been inseparable sixteen of our sixteen years.

He bends down to give me a fast kiss. "Came to tell you I'm not getting on."

I take the Mainely Java coffee cup from his hands and gulp. It's lukewarm.

"I'll try to catch the 5:10," he says. "Promised Susannah I'd help her with vocab."

"Over macchiatos?" Susannah is my bestish friend, but suddenly she's all oh-help-me-study, Noah.

He shrugs. His hair jangles against his shoulders.

I lean in for a more gratifying kiss, but the air horn bleats from the boat's bridge, three stories up. I've heard the blast twice a day since birth—11,619 times, give or take. Even so, it makes me jump. I fall sideways off my shoe.

"Later," I yell to Noah. But he's already out of earshot. I'm stuck holding his backwash.

I run down the wide metal plank that swallows cars into the belly of the boat, the siblets in tow. My backpack weighs me down—with work, with guilt. With specifically: Applications to boarding school. I have ninety-seven hours to apply to schools in other, more glamorous states, where I'm not surrounded by dreary water, or presumably, idiots on all sides.

Today at lunch I skipped the cafeteria and slipped over to the Portland Post Office to pick up the mail. Our island is so, well, Bleak that people do life's normal chores in Portland: dry cleaning, banking, P.O. box.

But back to me. In the cold slender coffin of the family mailbox at the main Portland Post Office, nestled among the wooden toy catalogs, were three (!) applications to boarding schools that are anywhere-but-here. My freakish perfect PSAT score apparently has boarding schools deciding, on the same random day, to welcome me to join their leafy fold (and, really, isn't leafy a step on the road to Ivy?). All that wishing for a different life and somehow—through osmosis or another permeable technology—it seems to be happening.

So far, I'm keeping this good news to myself. Sharing is so banal (Worldy Wise Word!). It's not intellectually mature, but I can't resist pointing out vocabulary from the vexing Wordly Wise Word list. Sometimes I take things too far.

©Susan Carlton