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SunLit

SunLit Excerpt: “Gods of the Bay” speak to protagonist Katie Russo in a climate-change narrative

A young woman's return to her Long Island roots reacquaints her with both nostalgia and harsh environmental realities

Nicky and Zoe flew back to Denver the day after we finished the campus tours. By some miracle, I was able to talk Nicky into letting me have a few more days here by myself. The fact that I didn’t push him to see the old neighborhood probably helped. 

The day after they left, I found myself at the Davis Park ferry terminal. It seemed so much smaller than I remembered; even the ferries appeared dwarfed. Jimmy let me borrow the car so I wouldn’t have to pay the higher parking fee for non-residents. The last time I was here, the town didn’t charge residents for parking. Good old Crookhaven changed that. On a whim, I drove past the parking lot towards the jetties. It was surprising to see a small lighthouse had been built on one of them. I parked in front of it and took a few pictures because it looked beautiful. 

After taking several shots, I got back into the car and drove to the end of the parking lot, towards the Sandspit. For a moment, I thought I was in the wrong place until I realized that the manmade beach had all but washed away. The amount of sand left wouldn’t fit more than three or four large blankets side by side. It seemed the gods were claiming more and more of my childhood. I had a sudden thought that maybe the lurkers had claimed more of Fire Island as well.

I went back to the ferry. There were kids manning the ticket booth which shouldn’t have surprised me, but then again, I’m almost fifty now and anyone under thirty looks like a kid to me. 

“Round trip,” I told the kid behind the gate and handed her the fee. 

She didn’t look at me, just thrust a ticket into my hand. I didn’t bother waiting and walked through the gate. It felt so strange standing on the dock, as if I was out of place, not at all like when I was a kid, waiting to set foot on the Highlander. There were two ferries at the dock. One was the Kiki, which the staff was loading with supplies. I wasn’t able to see the name on the other one, but it definitely wasn’t the Highlander. I stopped a passing crew member.

“Is the Highlander out already?”

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The kid shook his head. “They retired it years ago.”

I must have looked disappointed because he continued. “It was my Dad’s favorite too. He was fascinated with it because it was an old, World War II PT boat that they converted into a ferry.”

“That’s amazing. No wonder I felt so safe on it. It was my favorite ferry too. I was always disappointed when I had to take one of the others.” 

The kid smiled at me before walking away and I wondered if the Highlander had harbored ghosts of veterans that protected everyone from the gods of the bay. 

I climbed the narrow stairs and chose a seat on the top deck despite the heat. It didn’t bother me because I knew once we set off, the breeze would negate it. I had secretly packed our good camera, hoping Nicky wouldn’t find out. I wanted to ensure that I had something to capture everything before it was ravaged by my memory and the climate. I grabbed the camera out of the bag and took pictures as soon as we were out of Patchogue River. I was thankful that it was only a twenty-minute ride because I couldn’t wait to see Davis Park after all these years. Once we were close enough to make out landmarks, I stood as close to the edge of the railing as I could and snapped several photos in succession. It wasn’t until I put the camera down that I was able to get a good look at the bay side of Davis Park. 

For the first time in almost twenty years, I saw the reality of climate change through the now unfamiliar surroundings. I didn’t recognize this place. The swings and bathrooms that used to sit on the east side of the beach were long gone, casualties of several hurricanes. The Harbor Store was still there but its appearance had changed somewhat as well. A newer looking set of bathrooms were now located to the west of the store. There was only a small sliver of beach on that side if you wanted to swim in the bay, because many new houses now dotted the coastline. I wondered if the hermit crabs and periwinkles had become casualties as well. The idea made me feel physically ill and I heard my father’s voice say, “Money talks and bullshit walks.” 

He said that about the wilds across the canal too. He predicted that it would be developed within his lifetime; it was one of the few things he was ever wrong about. That’s probably because the local mob didn’t want the bodies found. Sometimes good can come out of evil and this time it made a huge impact to the landscape. I almost wished that they had buried a few bodies here too. 

As I walked up the familiar path towards the Atlantic, I noticed that parts of the boardwalk had been replaced. It wasn’t made of wood, instead it looked like it was made out of some synthetic non-splintering plastic material designed to replicate wood. I wasn’t sure I liked it, but if the stuff eradicated splinters, that would be a good thing. The fire department and police department buildings looked essentially the same. Maybe the gods liked them as much as I did. There was a little post office across from them that hadn’t been there before. I wasn’t sure how long it had been in existence, but it was quaint and made me wish I had the money to rent a house here.

I took my time walking towards the beach because I wasn’t looking forward to seeing the casino. The name was misleading because it was actually only a restaurant. Maybe it was a mob thing. I struggled to remember what the original building had looked like. I remembered the outside was a dark grey and it was furnished in dark woods and cigarette smoke. As I approached, the building loomed in the distance and I saw that the outside had been rebuilt with white siding. I wasn’t sure that I liked it. The showers and bathroom that stood to the west of it were also completely remodeled. I was fairly certain that they had been destroyed once as well. 

I stopped at the top of the stairs that led down to the dunes. A gust of wind blasted my face; the salty air teased out long-forgotten memories. A boy running towards the water took my breath away. If he had been carrying a raft, I would have broken down. 

“Sam,” I whispered. 

The sand burning under my feet brought me back to the present. The ocean wasn’t rough or calm, it was just right. I knew it wasn’t just climate change that affected the sea levels; the gods of the bay and the lurkers in the ocean affected it too. I just hadn’t realized to what extent until I saw the remnants of the oceanside beach. Pretty soon, it would look like the Sandspit. I wondered if Fire Island would be reclaimed by the sea during my lifetime and I had the strong suspicion that it might. 

I placed my blanket down onto the beach near a lifeguard, just behind the tell-tale remnants of seaweed marking high tide. I took several pictures before hiding the camera at the bottom of the bag again. The water looked cleaner than I remembered. Either the conservation efforts were paying off or the lurkers demanded their own sacrifices—it was probably a combination of both. I walked slowly down to the surf and stuck a toe into the water. I asked them if they were in need of an offering as large as Fire Island, but they remained silent as always. I thought they might tell me something if I went in, so I jumped in and swam until I was tired. I debated whether to eat at the Casino, but in the end decided against it, even though I longed to. It felt too final. This way, if I were ever to return, I’d have a reason to, or at least reason enough for me to justify the trip to myself. It wasn’t until I was headed towards the docks to catch the ferry that I realized that the lurkers had not greeted me as they had in the days of my youth. 

I sat on the top deck of the ferry again and waited impatiently to leave. After we pulled out, I saw that a few people were anchored in the bay. They waved at us from their boats as we left. I smiled, remembering when I would drag Nicky, Rosie, and Freddy with me. I missed them and couldn’t wait to see them again the next day. Thanks to the miracle that is social media, we had kept in touch much more frequently. There were horrible things about the platform, but I was grateful for the way we would be able to see small snippets of each other’s lives as if we were still living in the same neighborhood. 

As we approached Patchogue River, I was struck by the increased number of waterfront homes littering the bay. They looked like summer houses or rentals. I couldn’t see any wild areas near the river. I wondered what the gods of the bay thought about them. 

I didn’t go directly to Jimmy’s afterwards, instead I drove to the old neighborhood again. I didn’t want to go near the old house, and I ended up back at the beach. No one was there, so I felt comfortable approaching the water for a little chat with them. On a whim, I threw in a small picture of Nicky, Zoe, and me that I had placed in a small glass bottle. I was going to give the offering to the Atlantic, but I changed my mind; the lurkers weren’t as friendly as the gods. 

The gods still weren’t happy though; the reeds on the opposite shore of the canal wailed. I wasn’t sure why at first, until I had a flash of a large wave towering above a beach and landing on a large white building before everything was dragged back into the depths of the ocean. I ran to the car intent on seeing Rosie and Freddy. 


Jo Fontana lives in Denver, Colorado, with her family and special-needs pets. She is a hybrid author who had a children’s book series published by a small local press. She has written a collection of stories called ”Approaching Darkness,” which contains the award-winning story, “The Plant Lady”.  Her fantasy novel, “Brotherhood of Blood” was released last summer. 


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