The HomePort Journals
by A.C. Burch
The HomePort Journals is a love story on many different levels: love between men, love across the divides of age and social status, love of the family we create for ourselves, and the sometimes arduous struggle to love one’s self.
Fleeing New York City and an abusive partner, would-be writer Marc Nugent finds work at HomePort, the Provincetown mansion of Lola Staunton, a fabulously wealthy recluse. Aided by an attractive-but-unattainable artist and an all-to-available cross-dresser, Marc investigates accusations of rape and murder that have estranged Lola from a childhood friend for more than sixty years. Past and present converge when a long-lost journal reveals tales of infidelity, adultery, and passion that mirror the life Marc has recently abandoned. When his ex-lover arrives in search of revenge, Marc must confront his past, his notions of family, and his capacity for love.
Chapter 1 – Kismet
November 13th, 2008 – Provincetown
You never really know a place unless you live there. Until last night, Provincetown was a state of mind—a place that spoke to my heart. Now I’m actually here, I’m not so sure….
Setting down his pen, the young man cradles a cup of hot chocolate, then scans the near-empty café. His light blue eyes reveal exhaustion and disillusion. When the theme from Mission: Impossible shatters the midmorning stillness, he snaps shut a leather-bound journal and rejects the call.
Right on schedule. Brandon’s never up before eleven after a night of party’n play. What could he think we have to say to each other?
Offshore, a nor’easter closes in on the back beach. Ominous clouds darken the dunes of East Harbor, then the East End. Raw, heavy mist bathes trees and buildings in a prelude to the pelting rain to come. As the storm moves ashore, Long Point recedes into a murky, gray infinity.
When the phone rings a second time, the young man mutes it, eyes the screen until the name fades, then stares out at Commercial Street in search of distraction. There isn’t much to be found. Provincetown has entered its dormant phase. Worn, tawdry, and forlorn, the scene before him shows no trace of the vibrant mecca that captured his imagination just weeks before. It had been Carnival then; thousands of revelers, raucous laughter, outrageous costumes, and general goodwill had crowded Commercial Street in a euphoric celebration of summer, sun, and sex.
In the muted November light, the bleak streetscape retains few traces of those frenetic days. Cockeyed, scruffy buildings with peeling paint, faded fliers tacked to telephone poles—their events long forgotten—boarded windows with hastily scrawled thanks for “another great season,” all contribute to a petulant air, as if the town begrudged those who decamped at summer’s end.
The only person in sight, a stooped old woman with a large paper bag in each arm, shuffles along the sidewalk. She’s tiny, even elfin. Her face is furrowed; her back hunched under a thick wool coat laden with damp. When the downpour starts, she seeks refuge in the café. As she tugs the door open, a gust of wind rips it from her grasp. Before the young man can come to her aid, the bags give way. Cans, bottles, and packages roll down the steps and into the street.
“Goddamn son’s a bitches,” she mutters, hands on hips.
When he sprints past her to save a large can of beef stew from an oncoming car, she yells into the quickening gale, her shrill voice rising high above the wind.
“Thanks, dahlin’. You’re my knight in shinin’ ahmah.”
While her knight scavenges the flooding gutter, she seats herself at his table. Her dark, penetrating eyes never leave him, watching his every move with amusement and subtle assessment. By the time he’s salvaged everything in a pile by the door, she’s ensconced like royalty, greedily downing his hot chocolate.
“Hey kid, your phone’s lightin’ up. Oops, you missed the call—some Brandon fellow. ”
Incredulous, the young man stares at her, his blond hair plastered to his head, his sopping clothes glued to his pale skin. Her eyes twinkle, and the corner of her mouth starts to curl as if she’s losing the battle to suppress a smile.
“I didn’t answer, in case he was a trick. Didn’t want him thinkin’ your grandmother was nosin’ ’round your love life.”
She chuckles lasciviously, then extends a gnarled hand.
“He’ll call back, no doubt. Dorrie Machado.”
“Marcus Nugent,” he responds, dazed by a dose of frigid rainwater, the loss of his hot chocolate, and a strong sense of déjà vu.
“Well, Marcus Nugent, thank you for savin’ those goddamn groceries. Most folks wouldn’t do such a good turn for an old lady they didn’t know from Eve. Somebody brung you up right, that’s for damn sure.”
Marc studies her wrinkled face. She’s eighty if a day, with close-cropped white hair, a little flap of skin under the chin, and leathery, wind-burned skin. There’s something mischievous in this woman’s bearing—a smug sense of knowing—as if she’s watching an opening act with full awareness of the final outcome.
“You’re new here, Marcus. I ain’t seen you ’round.”
“Just got here early this morning. Please call me Marc. I’ve never liked Marcus. It sounds too much like a character from ancient Rome.”
“If that’s what you want, that’s what you’ll get. Now tell me, Marc. Are you running from somethin’, or did you come here to find love?”
“You heard me. Don’t go gettin’ all bitchy-queenie with me. I’m askin’ are you runnin’ or searchin’? There’s only two things that bring you boys to town this time of year. I know that much after more than eighty years of livin’.”
“I’m not sure that’s any of your business.”
“Ha. Ha. Ha.”
Dorrie’s brittle cackle fills the room, coaxing a grin from the man behind the counter as well as two men at an adjacent table who’ve been surreptitiously studying Marc’s physique, his sodden clothing having left little to the imagination.
“If you’re gonna live in this town, dahlin’, everybody’s gonna know your business whether you want them to or not. There are busybodies at every corner, just waitin’ to get the goods on you, and not all of them are old bags like me.”
Dorrie glares at the two interlopers to drive her point home.
“Better get used to that sorta bullshit from the get-go!”
As the two men rapidly split a newspaper between them and dive for cover behind its pages, the counterman produces a large cardboard box for the groceries. A wide, self-satisfied smile softens Dorrie’s rough-hewn features, showing decades of cigarette stain. Marc smiles back despite himself.
“You got a cah?” she asks, looking up at him with a slight tilt of her head, like an inquisitive fowl.
“A place to live?”
“Tell you what. You get me anotha one of these here,” Dorrie says, holding up his empty cup, “and a ride home, and I’ll do somethin’ ’bout that.”
His phone vibrates. Dorrie nods in satisfaction.
“Ah! Brandon! Him again. I figured as much. You’re a runnah!”
Marc shrugs, orders two hot chocolates, and throws in two pieces of chocolate cake for good measure.
The rain stops as suddenly as it had begun.
A.C. Burch is a long-time Provincetown resident. He spent his early summers on Cape Cod and since then, the sand has never left his shoes. His first visit to Provincetown sparked a romance with the town and forged a love of the sea that continues to this day—most summer days will find him sailing on Cape Cod Bay. A.C. trained as a classical musician, but his passion for the arts extends to photography, the art scene in Provincetown and Miami, as well as the written word. His literary icons run the gamut from Jane Austin to Agatha Christie by way of Walter Mosely and Patrick Dennis.
For more information, including background information on his debut novel, The HomePort Journals, please visit his author’s website and social media profiles:
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