Sample K23 from Frieda Arkin, "The Light of the Sea," in The Best American Short Stories 1962, edited by Martha Foley and David Burnett. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1961. Pp. 2-6. A part of the XML version of the Brown Corpus2,025 words 199 (9.8%) quotesK23

Used by permission of Frieda Arkin.0010-1730

Frieda Arkin, "The Light of the Sea," in The Best American Short Stories 1962, edited by Martha Foley and David Burnett. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1961. Pp. 2-6.

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It was not as though she noted clearly that her nephews had not been to see her for ten years , not since their last journey eastward to witness their Uncle Izaak being lowered into the rocky soil ; ; that aside from due notification of certain major events in their lives ( two marriages , two births , one divorce ) , Christmas and Easter cards of the traditional sort had been the only thin link she had with them through the widowed years . Her thoughts were not discrete . But there was a look about her mouth as though she were tasting lemons .

She grasped the chair arms and brought her thin body upright , like a bird alert for flight . She turned and walked stiffly into the parlor to the dainty-legged escritoire , warped and cracked now from fifty years in an atmosphere of sea spray . There she extracted two limp vellum sheets and wrote off the letters , one to Abel , one to Mark .

Once her trembling hand , with the pen grasped tight in it , was pressed against the paper the words came sharply , smoothly , as authoritatively as they would dropping from her own lips . And the stiffly regal look of them , she saw grimly , lacked the quaver of age which , thwarting the efforts of her amazing will , ran through her spoken words like a thin ragged string . `` Please come down as soon as you conveniently can '' , the upright letters stalked from the broad-nibbed pen , `` I have an important matter to discuss with you '' . To Abel : `` I am afraid there is not much to amuse small children here . I should be obliged if you could make other arrangements for your daughters . You may stay as long as you wish , of course , but if arranging for the care of the girls must take time into account , I think a day or two should be enough to finish our business in '' . To Mark : `` Please give my regards to Myra '' .

She signed the letters quickly , stamped them , and placed them on the hall table for Raphael to mail in town . Then she went back to the wicker chair and resolutely adjusted her eyes to the glare on the water .

`` My nephews will be coming down '' , she said that evening as Angelina brought her dinner into the dining room , the whole meal on a vast linen-covered tray . She looked at the girl speculatively from eyes which had paled with the years ; ; from the early evening lights of them which had first startled Izaak to look at her in an uncousinly way , they had faded to a near-absence of color which had , possibly from her constant looking at the water , something of the light of the sea in them .

Angelina placed the tray on the table and with a flick of dark wrist drew off the cloth . She smiled , and the teeth gleamed in her beautifully modeled olive face . `` That will be so nice for you , Mrs. Packard '' , she said . Her voice was ripe and full and her teeth flashed again in Sicilian brilliance before the warm curved lips met and her mouth settled in repose .

`` Um '' , said the old lady , and brought her eyes down to the tray . `` You remember them , I suppose '' ? ? She glinted suspiciously at the dish before her : `` blowfish . I hope Raphael bought them whole '' .

Angelina stepped back , her eyes roaming the tray for omissions . Then she looked at the old woman again , her eyes calm .

`` Yes '' , she said , `` I remember that they came here every summer . I used to play with the older one sometimes , when he'd let me . Abel '' ? ? The name fell with lazy affectionate remembrance from her lips . For an instant the old aunt felt something indefinable flash through her smile . She would have said triumph . Then Angelina turned and with an easy grace walked toward the kitchen .

Jessica Packard lifted her head and followed the retreating figure , her eyes resting nearly closed on the unself-conscious rise and fall of the rounded hips . For a moment she held her face to the empty doorway ; ; then she snorted and groped for her fork .

There's no greater catastrophe in the universe , she reflected dourly , impaling tender green beans on the silver fork , than the dwindling away of a family . Procreation , expansion , proliferation -- these are the laws of living things , with the penalty for not obeying them the ultimate in punishments : oblivion . When the fate of the individual is visited on the group , then ( the warm sweet butter dripped from her raised trembling fork and she pushed her head forward belligerently ) , ah , then the true bitterness of existence could be tasted . And indeed the young garden beans were brackish in her mouth .

She was the last living of the older generation . What had once been a widespread family -- at one time , she knew , there were enough Packards to populate an entire county -- had now narrowed down to the two boys , Abel and Mark . She swung her eyes up to the blue of the window , her jaws gently mashing the bitter beans . What hope lay in the nephews , she asked the intensifying light out there , with one married to a barren woman and the other divorced , having sired two girl children , with none to bear on the Packard name ? ?

She ate . It seemed to her , as it seemed each night , that the gloom drew itself in and became densest at the table's empty chairs , giving her the frequent illusion that she dined with shadows . Here , too , she talked low , quirking her head at one or another of the places , most often at Izaak's armchair which faced her across the long table . Or it might have been the absent nephews she addressed , consciously playing with the notion that this was one of the summers of their early years .

She thought again of her children , those two who had died young , before the later science which might have saved them could attach even a label to their separate malignancies . The girl , her first , she barely remembered . It could have been anyone's infant , for it had not survived the bassinet . But the boy the boy had been alive yesterday . Each successive movement in his growing was recorded on the unreeling film inside her . He ran on his plump sticks of legs , freezing now and again into the sudden startled attitudes which the camera had caught and held on the paling photographs , all carefully placed and glued and labeled , resting in the fat plush album in the bottom drawer of the escritoire . In the cruel clearness of her memory the boy remained unchanged , quick with the delight of laughter , and the pain with which she recalled that short destroyed childhood was still unendurable to her . It was one with the desolate rocks and the alien water on those days when she hated the sea .

The brothers drove down together in Mark's small red sports car , Mark at the wheel . They rarely spoke . Abel sat and regarded the farm country which , spreading out from both sides of the road , rolled greenly up to where the silent white houses and long barns and silos nested into the tilled fields . He saw the land with a stranger's eyes , all the old familiarness gone . And it presented itself to him as it would to any stranger , impervious , complete in itself . There was stability there , too -- a color which his life had had once . That is what childhood is , he told himself . Solid , settled lost . In the stiff neutral lines of the telephone poles he saw the no-nonsense pen strokes of Aunt Jessica's letter . What bad grace , what incredible selfishness he and Mark had shown . The boyhood summers preceding their uncle's funeral might never have been . They had closed over , absolutely , with the sealing of old Izaak's grave . The small car flew on relentlessly . The old woman , stubbornly reigning in the house above the crashing waters took on an ominous reality . Abel moved and adjusted his long legs .

`` I suppose it has to do with the property '' , Mark had said over the telephone when they had discussed their receipt of the letters . Not until the words had been spoken did Abel suddenly see the old house and the insistent sea , and feel his contrition blotted out in one shameful moment of covetousness . He and Mark were the last of the family , and there lay the Cape Ann property which had seemed to have no end , stretching from horizon to horizon , in those golden days of summer .

Now Abel turned his head to look at his brother . Mark held the wheel loosely , but his fingers curved around it in a purposeful way and the deliberate set of his body spoke plainly of the figure he'd make in the years to come . His sandy hair was already beginning to thin and recede at the sides , and Abel looked quickly away . Mark easily looked years older than himself , settled , his world comfortably categorized .

The vacation traffic was becoming heavier as they approached the sea . `` She didn't mention bringing Myra '' , Mark said , maneuvering the car into the next lane . `` She's probably getting old -- crotchety , I mean -- and we figured uh-uh , better not . They've never met , you know . But Myra wouldn't budge without an express invitation . I feel kind of bad about it '' . He gave Abel a quick glance and moved closer to the wheel , hugging it to him , and Abel caught this briefest of allusions to guilt .

`` I imagine the old girl hasn't missed us much '' , Mark added , his eyes on the road . Abel ignored the half-expressed bid for confirmation . He smiled . It was barely possible that his brother was right .

He could tell they were approaching the sea . The air took on a special strength now that they'd left the fecund warmth of the farmland behind . There was the smell of the coast , like a primeval memory , composed of equal parts salt water , clams , seaweed and northern air . He turned from the flying trees to look ahead and saw with an inward boy's eye again the great fieldstone house which , built on one of the many acres of ancestral land bordering the west harbor , had been Izaak's bride-gift to his cousin-wife as the last century ended .

Mark's thoughts must have been keeping silent pace beside his own , climbing the same crags in dirty white sneakers , clambering out on top of the headland and coming upon the sudden glinting water at the same instant . `` Remember the Starbird ? ? '' Mark asked , and Abel lifted his eyes from the double lines in the middle of the road , the twin white ribbons which the car swallowed rapidly as it ascended the crest of the hill and came down .

`` The Starbird , '' Abel said . There was the day Uncle Izaak had , in an unexpected grandiose gesture , handed over the pretty sloop to Abel for keeps , on condition that he never fail to let his brother accompany him whenever younger the boy wished . The two of them had developed into a remarkable sailing team all of this happening in a time of their lives when their youth and their brotherhood knitted them together as no other time or circumstance could . They seemed then to have had a single mind and body , a mutuality which had been accepted with the fact of their youth , casually . He saw the Starbird as she lay , her slender mast up and gently turning , its point describing constant languid circles against a cumulus sky . Both of them had known the feeling of the small life in her waiting , ready , for the two of them to run up her sails . The Starbird had been long at the bottom of the bay .

They came unexpectedly upon the sea . Meeting it without preparation as they did , robbed of anticipation , a common disappointment seized them . They were climbing the hill in the night when the headlights abruptly probed solid blackness , became two parallel luminous tubes which broadened out into a faint mist of light and ended . Mark stopped the car and switched off the lights and they sat looking at the water , which , there being no moon out , at first could be distinguished from the sky only by an absence of stars .