[Today is about conclusions, readers, but that doesn't mean you can't relive the summer in back-issue form! To time-warp to the beginning of this very unusual season, just click right HERE.]
Well, readers, it’s been quite a summer, hasn’t it? Yours, I hope, has been at least as enjoyable as mine, and a deal less dramatic. The last few weeks in Prism Bay, I am happy to report, were utterly unexciting, the weather warm and placid, as though to make up for the stretch of abysmal awfulness that came before. Now, cool breezes have begun to blow across the waters of Prism Bay, bringing with them the spicy scents of autumn. Since taking up residence in this little seaside town, I’ve become much more aware of the turn of the seasons and the movement of the heavens, and thus am well aware that the equinox is drawing near, and with it, the end of my summer at the Hemlocks on Prism Bay.
Being the concerned readers you are, I’m sure you will want to know how Prism Bay and its people have fared since my last post. You might recall that the town, brought to the verge of collapse by a strange weather phenomenon known as an ethereal vortex, had just survived a second storm, and was finally showing a few tentative signs of recovery. For the first time in days, people seemed to have hope for the future. That hope was not misplaced, readers. Repairs are well ahead of schedule, and while there is still a long way to go, we have every reason to believe Prism Bay will not only survive, but emerge stronger than ever. The local economy has made an impressive comeback, despite the fact that many places of business remain in less-than-presentable condition. Prism Bay has become a place of open-air markets, of food carts and street vendors, and shoppers have come out in force to make up for lost time.
I am pleased to report that Amy’s All-Hours Confectionary Kitchen and the Dancing Squid have both resumed operation. Restoration of the town center is still far from complete, but the rubble and blubber have been cleared well enough to allow foot traffic for those seeking donuts and/or fine dining. Amy’s was the first to reopen—though in my view at least, it never really closed. Its main location might have been rendered unsafe for human occupation, but Amy’s All-Hours Confectionary Kitchen goes wherever Amy does. For a few days, at least, it was established at the Hemlocks. As for the Dancing Squid, well, let us just say that the market for celebrations of escape from disaster is experiencing something of a boom.
Yes, readers, it seems there’s no reason to worry about our friends here on Prism Bay—and a good thing, too, because the autumnal equinox is this Sunday, meaning it’s time for me to skedaddle. For all Mrs. Sylvester’s hospitality, the dates of residency were laid out clearly (or anyway, pretty clearly) in her very first letter of invitation, and I have no desire to overstay my welcome. And so I have packed my things, and gone to say my fare-ye-wells—not goodbyes, because I plan to stay in touch—and stopped off at my wonted Starbucks outside of town to make one more post to you, dear readers, before heading south to Boston.
The end of summer is a melancholy time, especially a summer in which one has discovered a new place and made new friends—but Prism Bay will still be here, of course, as will its people, even if that special summer magic is gone. Still, Ta-Ta-For-Now at Amy’s All-Hours Confectionary Kitchen and the Dancing Squid did get a little misty. Amy sent me on my way with a baker’s dozen (right now I’m enjoying a round flavored in “crisp autumn air”, saving “summer’s last languor” for when I get home) and a long hug, while Pippa was almost inconsolable—more over summer’s end, I’m guessing, but I can still flatter myself by imagining she’ll miss me. The man of middle years who has been successful in business, meanwhile, offered me the firm handshake of a man of middle years who has been successful in business. “We’ll meet again, Mr. Black,” he said. “Perhaps sooner than you expect.” When asked when he thought that would be, he only slapped me on the shoulder and raised his martini in a last toast to summer.
My final farewell of the day was with Mrs. Sylvester—the longest, too, and not just because I’d prepared a little speech intended to express my gratitude for her hospitality and the fantastic experience she had made possible for me. When I had returned to the Hemlocks and loaded my car with all the accessories of my summer, I went looking for Mrs. Sylvester, and found her in the small office beside the library, talking on one of the house’s old-timey phones. When I made as if to leave, however, she waved me to a seat nearby—but if I took this to mean her conversation was nearly over, I was mistaken. The call went on for another twenty minutes at least, all with me sitting right there.
I don’t mind sharing a bit of this conversation with you, dear readers, because I know you are discrete and thoughtful individuals, and also, if Mrs. Sylvester had really wanted to keep any of it private, she would have let me retreat to some other part of the house, instead of conducting her business in the presence of a known writer, and a blogger at that. Nothing terribly scandalous was said—most of it was rather dull, in fact—but it was nevertheless enlightening in its own way, because it was the only time I have ever heard Mrs. Sylvester mention inviting anyone to the Hemlocks other than me.
From what I could gather, the party on the other end of the line was a prospective future resident of the Hemlocks. This party, who Mrs. Sylvester addressed only as “sir”, was apparently quite anxious over several matters pertaining to next summer, and Mrs. Sylvester was doing her best to offer reassurance. When I first sat down, the mysterious “sir” seemed convinced Mrs. Sylvester intended to renege on her invitation. I could hear his aggressive, even accusatory tone—though not his actual words—emerging from the handset, which Mrs. Sylvester held several inches away from her ear. She, meanwhile, remained ever patient, no matter how many times she repeated the same message: “As I have said, sir, our agreement stands: you will have full residency once the season begins again.”
Far more intriguing, from my position as eavesdropper, was how concerned this mysterious sir seemed to be over the effect his presence would have on Prism Bay. He seemed to anticipate some strongly negative, even violent response from the town at large. Mrs. Sylvester, however, was confident she could head off any trouble. “It will be perfectly safe, I assure you,” was one phrase I heard again and again. Also, “I am quite well-versed in special accommodations, even for those of your unusual background.” And, “I have looked into the matter and remain confident no problems will arise so long as the necessary etiquette is observed.” And, perhaps most telling of all, “so long as you have an invitation from the Hemlocks, sir, none can bar your way.”
For some reason, the whole conversation felt weirdly familiar, and as I listened, I realized why: it reminded me of the chat I’d had with Mrs. Sylvester after I asked her to open the Hemlocks to the displaced people of Prism Bay. This time, though, Mrs. Sylvester was the one trying to placate the aggressive, resentful attitude of someone else: this mysterious “sir”. It was as if she had somehow phoned up her past self—that angry, abrasive person so unlike the Mrs. Sylvester I’d come to know—and was trying to talk some sense into her. Which was ridiculous, of course. I’ve checked the special functions listed by Prism Bay’s telephone provider (*69 for the number of your last caller, **8 for the person you’d most like to talk to, *5* for your subconscious, etc.) and ringing up your past self isn’t on there anywhere.
When at last the conversation ended, and Mrs. Sylvester replaced the telephone’s handset on its stand, she turned to me with her usual wry smile. “I hope you will forgive my discourtesy, Mr. Black,” she said. “That call could not wait, and I wanted to speak with you before you went on your way.”
I assured her I didn’t mind at all, and took the opportunity to launch into my little speech about what a wonderful and inspiring summer I’d had, the flowery rhetoric of which I will spare you, readers.
“It has been quite a summer, hasn’t it, Mr. Black?” Mrs. Sylvester said, once I’d finally wound down. “I will admit I was not entirely sure what to expect. As you might have heard, we have not entertained residents here at the Hemlocks for some time. I’m very pleased at the way things worked out.”
“I’m glad to hear that, Mrs. Sylvester,” I said—I do like to know I’ve been a good guest. “I’m still not exactly sure why you invited me, but I feel very fortunate you did.”
This was a less than subtle invitation to explain what had prompted her to send that mysterious letter and fifty-or-so pages of Guidelines and General Information back in May, but Mrs. Sylvester only smiled and said, “Then we were both fortunate, I think. It was a pleasure to have you with us, and I would be honored if you would consider joining us again next season.”
Readers, I won’t tell you how much I was hoping to hear something like this, but I was hoping a lot. I’d been internally writhing with envy the entire time Mrs. Sylvester was discussing summer plans with that unnamed sir—now, it appeared I would have the chance to meet him, and see what all the fuss was about. “I’d like that very much,” I said, in what I’m sure will be a strong candidate for my personal understatement of the year. “I don’t know how to thank you.”
“No thanks are necessary, Mr. Black,” Mrs. Sylvester said, “but I do wonder if you might do me one favor, after you have taken your leave.”
In a more cynical mood, I might have suspected Mrs. Sylvester of leading me intentionally into this exact exchange, but I wasn’t feeling cynical, readers—I was feeling like no favor would be too great. “Of course,” I said. “Anything.”
Mrs. Sylvester opened a drawer at her desk. “A certain item has come recently into my possession, and I wish to see it returned to its rightful owner,” she said. “I hoped I might entrust that task to you.”
“Absolutely,” I said, thinking I would gladly fly to Australia and carry a suitcase of rattlesnakes deep into the Outback for this season’s invitation alone.
“Excellent.” From her desk, Mrs. Sylvester removed a small box—what looked like a necklace case (spoiler alert: that is what it turned out to be, readers)—and an envelope sealed with red wax. “This is the item,” she said, handing me first the box, then the envelope, “and these are the instructions for its return. Please be sure to follow them to the letter.”
I promised I would do precisely that.
“And if you would, Mr. Black,” she said, with another of her wry smiles, “do not open either until you have left the limits of Prism Bay.”
I agreed to that as well, readers, and now that we have said our farewells, and I have left Prism Bay behind, and am now here, at this Starbucks outside of town, I have decided it is time to see what my favor to Mrs. Sylvester will entail.
Inside the box, readers, is the pendant necklace I first saw beneath my desk the day I visited the Prism Bay Beach Club, the pendant necklace I assumed must be an old Sylvester family heirloom, an assumption I considered confirmed when Mrs. Sylvester began wearing it everywhere she went. The same pendant necklace that has not surfaced again, so far as I’ve seen, since the storms cleared over Prism Bay.
Apparently it doesn’t belong to Mrs. Sylvester after all. Who the true owner is, I cannot say—not because I’m being secretive, readers, but because that owner isn’t mentioned in the instructions I have for the thing’s return. The instructions are, in fine Prism Bay tradition, rather unusual, but I intend to follow them to the letter, as promised. I will deal with the pendant necklace of unknown provenance, readers, but it will have to wait—until the equinox has passed and I can secure passage aboard a reliable watercraft. Worry not: you’ll hear all about it.
Until next time, readers—safe travels to you all!