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ZIP Code 01951: 'The Sea Gives'06:26
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Zip Code Stories
The waves crash in on this Plum Island beach. (rutt/Flickr)
The waves crash in on this Plum Island beach. (rutt/Flickr)

Radio Boston and The Drum, Boston’s Audio Literary Magazine, have teamed up to ask you to write about your favorite neighborhoods in a project called ZIP-Code Stories. This round's winner is Laura E. Miller with her story "The Sea Gives" (which you can read below).

Miller lived on Plum Island for a decade, and her ZIP-Code story is based on one particular beach house there:

There was a house right on the ocean that ended up being condemned because of all the erosion. There was an older woman who had retired there because of her husband. Just the day before Thanksgiving, the foundation got so deteriorated that she had 12 or 24 hours to clear everything out. One thing that really struck me in this story is just how dignified this woman was — she had lost her home and 40 years of memories.

"The Sea Gives" unveils the unlikely friendship between two characters, Klya and Mrs. Santangelo. Miller explained:

I pictured Kyla as kind of a lonely, adrift youngster. And here's this very kind, older person who could set her on the right path... But there's also a cost sometimes of the expectations that can be placed on the younger person.

That inherent tension in the friendship surfaces when Kyla has to deal with the demolishing of Mrs. Santangelo's home, forcing her to reevaluate whether she still has a place in Mrs. Santangelo's life.

Guests:

  • Laura E. Miller, author of “The Sea Gives”
  • Henriette Lazaridis Power, editor of The Drum and co-creator of ZIP-Code Stories

More:

  • Next Round: Your fiction or non-fiction story must be 500 words or less and include the words apple, pickup truck and mask. The deadline is October 31 at 10 p.m. EST. For full rules and instructions on how to submit, see our submissions FAQ.
  • Previous Winners: Listen to and read from the ZIP-Code Stories archive.

"The Sea Gives" by Laura E. Miller

She saw something at the water’s edge, and when she knelt down, the tide carried it into her open palm. What she caught was triangular, hard: a little piece of china. The girl glimpsed the faint after-image of the original design: interlocking leaves, bleached out after months of tumbling in salt water.

Blue-and-white, Mrs. Santangelo had called it. At home the girl ate cereal from old margarine tubs, but at Mrs. Santangelo’s she had drunk lemonade and later coffee from those cups with interlocking leaves.

Mrs. Santangelo had never stopped seeing the good in the girl, whose name was Kyla, even when Kyla did everything possible to deflect all belief in her promise. She had begun dressing like certain other island kids, symbolically raising her middle finger to the tourists’ bright jams and "Life Is Good" T-shirts.

Even with her hair hacked short and dyed black, her knuckle rings and grommetted boots, Mrs. Santangelo had welcomed her, served her cookies on those fragile plates. They had sat quietly on the porch and watched the tide come in, the gulls glide overheard. It was then Kyla had felt what she might describe as her soul float free.

Some people on the island gave their houses names, Severance or Gram’s Retreat, to reflect a long-held dream. The house where Kyla lived was nameless, the blue one on Third Street with the sagging porch. Mrs. Santangelo’s husband had named their house Thetis, carved the name on a wooden sign. He’d caught stripers on the island’s north end, gone clamming on the flats.

"The sea gives, the sea takes away," he said once about island life.

Over the years, they’d winterized and added rooms, planned to live there fulltime once he was done pushing papers at the IRS. He had died ten months after he retired. Kyla had read these facts in the paper afterwards.

But Mrs. Santangelo had stayed on. She said the place was in her blood.

She didn’t know the ground was giving way underneath her, that she’d wake up one December morning to an eerie creaking, the foundation starting to buckle. She didn’t know the house would be condemned, that she’d have 24 hours to clear out before the wrecker hit.

The scoop had smashed clumsily, drunkenly against Mrs. Santangelo’s house. It split the walls open, baring the insides to everyone who watched. It had been grotesque and thrilling. Kyla had stood watching, too. After the gawkers and news crews had gone, Mrs. Santangelo’s son stayed on, to pick through the remains.

"Can I help you?" he had mouthed to Kyla who was still standing there, in her black hoodie, blasting Leviathan through her iPod.

"Please leave us alone," he mouthed again when she didn’t answer.

Mrs. Santangelo had returned to the mainland, to live with that son or maybe with another. A cheap wire fence now surrounded the sand where the house once stood. She would never come back for a piece of broken china, Kyla knew. Kyla slipped it into her pocket to save it, to answer the son’s unasked question that winter day: What business did she have with them?

This segment aired on September 19, 2012.

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