Fiction | Short Story

Happy Hampton

Donna discovers her mother’s secret.

Her mother had gone back to the cottage saying she would start lunch. Her sisters were at the shoreline teasing the waves and her father had just applied another coating of his iodine and baby oil concoction, his effort at becoming an even darker Calabrese.

Donna told him she was going back to the cottage to use the bathroom. Her father told her to use the public restrooms, but she said they were dirty. The truth was she didn’t want to chance any taunts from teenage boys about her first ever bikini. So to placate him, she said she’d use the restrooms.

She walked down the Oceanside boardwalk and as soon as her father was out of sight, she skirted the restrooms, crossed

Ocean Boulevard

by the band shell, climbed the steps to the covered boardwalk, and walked north towards the cottage. A marquee promoted The J. Geils Band playing at the Casino that weekend; a band whose music she hated. The arcades were in full swing and she hoped her mother would give the three girls money after lunch to play some games. Otherwise they’d have to sit on their blankets for half an hour while their food settled.

Down the steps from the boardwalk she passed the McDonald’s, which was always packed, past the fried clam place, Sal’s pizza and the fried dough shack. There was Bargain World with racks of skimpy beach apparel no self-respecting girl would wear. Where the boulevard splits, she turned left onto

Island Road

and skipped the two blocks to the cottage.

Her mother and father had been renting this same cottage for as long as Donna could remember. It was usually the first two weeks in August when her mother had vacation time from her job at the City Clerk’s office and her father closed down his welding shop because August was always slow with no fire hydrants to unfreeze or snow plows to repair.

They’d pack up the Chevy and drive the two and a half hours, first east on the Mass Pike, then 290 through Worcester and north on 495 into New Hampshire and down a state road eastward to the beach. Her father always drove and he timed their trip so they arrived at the real estate agent’s office shortly after noon, sure that the cottage’s previous renters had vacated.

The girls wore their bathing suits under their clothing and as soon as the car was unpacked, Donna’s older sister would take her and Linda, their youngest, up to the beach. They were under strict orders not to go in the water until their parents had changed into their swimwear and arrived with the blankets and beach chairs.

Some years her mother’s friends the Moliaris would rent the cottage across the street. They had a daughter Donna’s age and the four girls made their own fun in the ocean, on the beach and in the arcades while their parents sipped wine and exchanged gossip.

Donna climbed the steps to the cottage, opened the front door and walked into the dark and cool front room. Her mother’s beach towel was draped over a chair.

She peeked into the kitchen, saw nothing cooking, and walked down the short hallway. The bathroom door was ajar. She pushed it open. The room’s window was raised a few inches. What startled Donna was her mother leaning against the sink with a lit cigarette in her hand. Mom smokes? They exchanged looks; Donna closed the door and walked down the hall, out onto the front porch.

She sat on the porch swing. “That’s why,” she whispered. “That’s why their bathroom always reeks of Glade.” Then she slid off the swing, hopped down the steps, and skipped back towards the beach and the restrooms.