“Forgive Me, Irene,” a short story from Jamesville-Dewitt middle school teacher Andy Starowicz, Syracuse, NY
“I have lived on this island for thirty-five years, that’s even longer than you’ve been alive, so you better let me over this bridge.” Grandma says in a loud voice. A voice that means she is angry.
“Madame, I understand, but the damage from Hurricane Irene is pretty severe and the authorities are still checking the structural stability of the houses that are still standing.” The young police officer replies with a quiver in his voice.
“I was forced off the island by you police officers, and now that the storm is over, I want to go home. I want to talk to someone else.” Grandma is starting to lose her cool with the young officer.
Mom, who is sitting in the passenger seat of the car, rolls her eyes at Grandma’s stubbornness. Mom is always saying that Dad gets his impatience and stubbornness from his mom, my grandma. The young officer has had enough of Grandma and gets the chief to come over to our car and deal with her.
“Madame, what seems to be the problem this afternoon?” Says the chief.
“Stop with all of this Madame stuff. I just want to get across the bridge and go home. I have all of the proper identification. My family is here with me and they drove all the way from New York for this vacation. The hurricane is through and that young fella,” she points over to the other police officer that was just assisting us, “says that my house is not structurally damaged, so what is the hold up here?”
The look on the chief’s face says it all, he is about to give into Grandma’s stubborn pleads. “Give me a minute and I’ll have them move the barrier and you can go through. Promise me that you will be careful when you get to the island. No one is allowed on the beach and I’ll send a couple officers over to check your house. You folks have a nice –.” But before he can even finish his sentence, Grandma rolls up the bag window and commands my dad to drive.
As we drive over the bridge, I beg my parents to drop my sister, Katie, and I off at the pier, so we can go down to the beach. My mother turns around and says, “The officer just said that no one is allowed on the beach.” But before I can plead my case, Grandma says, “Oh what harm could it do? Those officers have no idea what they are talking about. The media blew this storm way out of proportion. If the kids want to go down to the beach, let them.” I can tell that Mom is furious by Grandma’s reply and she looks at Dad for some reinforcement, but all Dad says is, “Grandma’s right, it can’t hurt, I will drop you two off at the pier, but be home in an hour.” It looks like steam is coming out of Mom’s ears, she is so mad.
We walk down the beach path that leads to the pier and immediately see the damage done by the hurricane. The high tides left behind beautiful shells and whole sand dollars for as far as the eye can see, but the beach is also littered with cans, broken bottles, fish skeletons, and skeletons of boats. The surface of the ocean is dark green, an unusual color for water. Katie must be reading my mind, because she says, “It looks like the ocean got turned upside down. I feel like we are looking at the bottom of the ocean.” I agree with a nod.
Due to the debris scattered all over the beach, we slowly walk down to the water’s edge. At the exact same time, Katie and I spot a large bottle that reads Devil’s Rum with a picture of skull and crossbones underneath the text. Katie picks up the bottle and as she holds in out in front of us, we are both startled by someone yelling from the pier, “You two need to get off the beach immediately. The beach is closed until further notice.”
A man, wearing a jacket with an insignia that reads Sunrise Island Beach Patrol, runs up to us. Before we can say anything, he says, “Are you two crazy? No one is supposed to be on this beach. The hurricane caused extensive damage and the beach won’t be open for at least four days. Who are you staying with on the island?” I am annoyed, because it is evident that we are not in grave danger, but I play dumb and reply, “Sorry, we didn’t know that we couldn’t be on the beach. We are visiting our Grandma Tanner with our parents. She lives at 412 Main Street. You can even check if you want.”
After hearing my response, he calms down and says, “I didn’t mean to get so angry, but it is dangerous to be out on the beach. Please go back to your grandma’s house immediately.” I put on a fake, innocent smile, “Will do, officer. We won’t come back down to the beach until the police say it is okay.” He is happy with my response and heads back to the pier. As we walk off the beach, I lightly grab Katie’s arm and whisper, “You got the bottle?” She grins and nods.
When we are back on Main Street, which is an obstacle course of roof tiles, large pieces of plywood, patio furniture, and tons of glass. We examine the bottle and find there is a note inside. Kalie unscrews the cap of the bottle and pulls the paper out slowly. The paper is thin and stained a yellowish, gold color. I open the letter very carefully, being careful not to rip it, and find a letter written in old style text. I read it aloud to Kalie.
I hope that you did not forget our promise. I will be back for you after the next hurricane that takes your beloved name. I have dreamed about seeing you ever since the tragedy occurred on that awful night. I love you. We will meet just west of the pier at midnight. I can’t wait to see your beautiful face.
“Oh, how romantic.” Katie sighs.
“Do you know what this means?” I say.
Katie shrugs her shoulders and says nothing. “The hurricane touched down yesterday, which means Captain Blake will be back for Irene tonight at midnight. We should sneak down to the beach and see who these people are from the year 1591.”
“I don’t know if that is a good idea, but we can ask Grandma if she knows anything about this Captain Blake guy.” Katie says, taking the note from my hands.
“That is a good idea.” We pick up the pace towards Grandma’s house.
When we walk in the house, Dad meets us in the kitchen and says, “Do you two want to go down to the beach for a swim?” I can tell by the look on Mom’s face that she does not think it is a good idea because of the rip tide warnings and the damage done by the storm. Grandma also notices Mom’s look and says, “I have been living on this island for thirty-five years, and I have swam during storms more powerful than Irene. You worry too much, Kristin.” Mom looks really annoyed, but Dad’s impatience and curiosity of the roaring ocean wins out and before I know it, we are on the beach.
I keep quiet about the officer telling us to stay off the beach. Dad and I go running into the water. We can’t coax Katie to come into the water, so she sits on the beach next to the dunes. Dad says, “She is becoming more like your mother every day. Nervous about everything.” The violent waves are raging, and I need all my strength not to be pulled to the ocean floor. This is an ocean experience that I have never had before, the ocean is lashing out like an angry young child. After getting tossed around for about twenty minutes, Dad says it’s time to head back up to the house. On our way up to the house, Dad is bragging to Katie, “You should have come in the water with us. It was awesome!” I had to agree with dad, it definitely was awesome.
At dinner, I finally ask Grandma about Captain Blake. She looks at my dad, smiles, and says; “I have not heard that name in a long time. When I was a kid and we used to visit this house, my parent’s owned it at the time, the kids all talked about the pirate named Captain Blake. His story is island legend. He tried to navigate his boat through an awful hurricane and nearly capsized it, but before he could get control of the ship, his young fiancé, or girlfriend, fell overboard and into the ocean. Her body washed up onto Sunrise Island. It was about three hundred years ago, so technically it was not yet called Sunrise Island, but people claim they have seen her walking the beach looking for Blake’s ship to come back and get her. I can’t remember her name.” Dad smiles, “I know the story too. Her name is Irene.” Grandma looks at Dad with surprise on her face, “That’s right. How weird that her name was Irene? I wonder if she had anything to do with the big storm that closed the island for the last two days. I’m sure the rumor mill will be buzzing when all the kids get back to the island.”
Katie pulls out the letter and is about to show Grandma, but I softly kick her from under the table to stop her from showing anyone the letter. She understands, and does not pull out the letter.
Katie and I decide to sneak out of the house at around eleven o’clock. We get out of the house without a problem, walk quickly down Main Street in a light rain and arrive at the west side of the pier at around eleven thirty. We lay in the dunes, growing more impatient by the minute, until the ship, which truly looks like a ghost ship, arrives at exactly midnight.
To our left, we see Irene, or the ghost of Irene; walk from the dune towards the ship. The sight of her causes goose bumps to form on my arms and legs. She is breathtaking, with long dark hair, a beautiful face, and a long, slender body. She moves, almost flows, towards the oncoming ship. The ship comes all the way up the sandy beach to greet her.
“Now is our chance to jump on the pirate ship and take a look around.” I whisper to Katie.
“Are you crazy? I am not going anywhere, this is weird enough.” She whispers back.
“Suit yourself. Dad is right, you are just like Mom, always worrying.” She rolls her eyes at me and before she can say anything else, I get up and say, “I’ll be back in a few minutes. I promise that I will get some good pictures of the inside of the ship with my phone.” And I am off running towards the boat.
I climb onto the boat with ease and head down the rickety stairs. I walk into the first cabin to my left. I assume this must be the captain’s cabin because of the room’s décor. There are two swords hanging from the wall, a small bag of gold on the nightstand, a skull and crossbones flag hung above the dresser, a few pirate vests and trousers on the bed, and an eye patch on top of the dresser. I am quickly snapping pictures with my camera phone, because I hear the captain and Irene getting on the boat. After taking about ten pictures, I head back up the stairs and towards the back of the deck, which faces the beach.
I get to the railing and I can see Katie waving from the dunes. I grab onto the railing, about to throw myself overboard, when someone grabs my shoulder. I freeze. I turn back and I am face to face with a pirate.
“Where do you think you goin’?” says the mean-looking pirate. He pulls me to the middle of the deck and yells the captain’s name. Captain Blake appears at the top of the stairs. “Hey Captain, looks like we got ourselves a stowaway. What would you like me to do with him?” Captain doesn’t even hesitate, “Good work, Willie. Put him in the rusty cell.”
“What about the toothless Brit that is already in the cell?” Willie asks.
“Get rid of him. He has been nothing but dead weight for the last four hundred years.” The captain says with a scowl on his face.
We go below the deck to the cell and sure enough there is another man in the cell, but to my horror, he is just a pile of bones. This doesn’t seem to bother Willie. He picks up the body of bones, pushes me into the cell, and then goes back to the deck to throw the bones into the ocean.
While Willie is on the deck, I pull out my phone and call Grandma’s house. The phone does not seem to be working. I close it and open it again and it still isn’t working. “Your little communication device ain’t gonna work.” I flinch at the sound of his voice, and he continues, “We already back in the ocean and back in the 1600’s. I do have some good news for ya’ though. Captain says he’s not goin’ kill ya’, so you and I are goin’ to be mates. I’m happy ‘bout this news, ‘cause I been real lonely since the tragic ship wreck when we lost our entire crew.” I am so scared and confused by this news that I can’t even respond. I close my eyes and pray that this is a dream, more like a nightmare.
The Captain, who is standing over me, startles me awake. He pulls me up by the shoulder into a sitting position, spits out the butt of his cigar, lights the other end of it, and stares down at me.
“What’s your name, mate?”
“David.” I barely respond, because I feel dizzy with fear.
“Well David, I am goin’ to spare your life, but you are goin’ to have to make yourself comfortable on this ship, because you goin’ to be with us for awhile. See, I made a big mistake many years ago when I tried to navigate these ocean waters during Hurricane Irene. Irene, here, told me to stay out of the storm,” Irene appears from behind him, he puts his arm around her, and continues, “but my impatience and curiosity got the best of me. I didn’t listen to her and the boat almost capsized. She fell overboard and was gone from me life for four hundred years. I have had four hundred years to brew about me mistake and thankfully Irene forgave me.”
He turns to Irene and kisses her cheek while whispering, “Forgive me, Irene.”
So, the island legend that Grandma told us was true. I can’t wait to tell Katie and her.
Captain continues, “David, you are going to help Willie here with the chores on the ship. Willie is excited ‘bout having a new mate. We will drop you back at the beach after the next Hurricane Irene touches down on American soil.”
I finally realize what he is saying, and the anger inside of me brings me to my feet. “You mean I can’t go home and I am stuck on this ship until the next Hurricane Irene. When is the next Hurricane Irene?”
Captain smiles, “Calm yourself down, David. The next one will be around 2410, about four hundred years from now.” After hearing his response, the dizzy feeling returns and I collapse on the floor of the cell. I cover my face, but the tears are coming. I can’t control my crying and sobbing.
As Captain and Irene leave the cell, he turns to me and says sternly, “You see, David, your impatience and curiosity seems to have gotten the best of you too, just like it did with me. Now you will serve your punishment. I hope that you will someday have a chance to ask forgiveness from your loved ones.” He walks away cackling, with his arm around Irene.
By – Andy Starowicz (6th grade social studies and language arts teacher at Jamesville DeWitt Middle School)
Where – Syracuse, New York
When – Started on Friday, August 26th (the day our family trip to North Carolina was canceled because of Hurricane Irene) and finished on Sunday, August 28th (as the Hurricane Irene rains poured down on Syracuse, New