Excerpt from Daughters of the Sea
By the time the moon rose high enough to brighten the darkness,
Veronica Legacy had been driving nearly eleven hours and was so
tense that the tips of her fingers had begun to go numb from clutching
"I'll drive if you're tired, Mama," her daughter Simpson
said for the twentieth time.
For the twentieth time, Veronica shook her head. She'd stopped
only twice since they'd left the South Carolina coast this morning
and didn't mean to slow down now. The only way to get where you're
going, she reckoned, was to plow on.
Eleven hours before, Veronica had left her husband, Guy, for the
third and final time. Her first major departure, more than eighteen
years ago, was one she rarely allowed herself to think about,
and her second, a year later, had lasted only a week. This would
be different - permanent. The third time was the charm, she'd
"I hope you're not just mad because Dad wants to move again
and get another job," Simpson had said this morning as they'd
packed the car. "He stayed all winter in Beaufort like you
asked him to. You knew it would be time for him to go."
Well, of course Veronica wasn't "just mad." Looking
for another job was something Guy had done three or four times
a year, even before Simpson was born. Nor was Veronica leaving
because Guy's behavior was so irritating or because they'd fought
so much this past year. Veronica was going because she'd watched
Simpson, in cap and gown, walk toward them after her high-school
graduation last weekend, and she'd seen a grown woman standing
before her, tall and slim with lips that seemed sensuous but not
pouty, and a strong, pretty jaw that looked determined without
being stubborn. Veronica was leaving because she'd realized that
if her daughter was a woman, then she herself must be approaching
forty (thirty-eight to be exact), and what had she ever done with
her life except follow an itinerant carpenter from town to town?
Not that she hadn't tried to make a stable home. Oh, she had.
But she'd failed utterly. Last August, after twenty years of wandering,
Veronica had finally insisted they remain in one place an entire
school year so their daughter could graduate from the same school
that she'd entered in the fall. Veronica had chosen the most scenic,
charming setting she could find-Beaufort, South Carolina-and had
rented a duplex only ten minutes from the beach. Guy and Veronica
were both nicer if they could see the ocean whenever they liked.
The duplex had big windows, nearly new furniture, and was so close
to a Laundromat that the air was always sweet with the scent of
You'd think after all that, Guy would have managed to settle in.
But no! Not two months had passed before he'd begun complaining.
"Beaufort's small. There's better work in bigger places.
Foreman's jobs, project managers."
"Guy, you promised."
By Christmas the atmosphere around them had been so thick with
tension that they might have been walking through a maze of spiderwebs.
By spring, Guy was speaking of moving in such a strangled, restless
voice that you would have thought happiness was in the next town,
the next room. But he'd stayed - until one day after Simpson's
graduation, just long enough to take the girl out to a celebration
dinner, get a good night's sleep, and gas up his truck.
Watching him drive off in search of some other coastal town with
plenty of construction work, probably a few hundred miles north
of Beaufort where the summers weren't so hot, Veronica had no
choice but to face the truth she'd been avoiding for more than
twenty years. Guy Legacy would never settle anywhere. He'd wander
from town to town until he was an old man nobody wanted to hire,
never keeping a job or a house even half a year. Unless she acted,
Veronica would settle into her role as an aging camp follower
who couldn't provide a secure haven for her only child.
"We're leaving, honey," she'd said to Simpson. "We're
going somewhere we can settle for good."
"What about Dad?"
"You can wait here for him if you want, but he'll just be
off again somewhere and wanting to drag you with him. The sensible
thing is to come with me."
"Where are you going?"
"To stay with Ernie Truheart," Veronica had said.
"The one who sends the Christmas cards? The one who lives
"But you hardly know her," Simpson protested. "A
Christmas card is not a relationship. What's going on, Mama? This
isn't like you." Simpson extended a hand as if to check Veronica's
forehead for fever.
"I'm not sick, honey. I'm doing this to keep myself well.
We can't live like nomads all our lives. I'm finished with working
in every cheap T-shirt shop in every beach town on this coast."
"You did it this long. You never minded before this past
"Oh, I always minded."
This was just like Simpson, sounding so logical. But Veronica
had only shrugged, because she knew it was impossible to explain
to a nineteen-year-old what it was like to reach the very middle
of life - thirty-eight! - married to a person who insisted on
wandering the countryside, never living a neat plait of life but
always a wild and unruly tangle, a thousand strands blown in every
direction by the slightest wind.
"All I can say, honey, is that my mind's made up and it would
break my heart if you didn't come with me." Veronica had
seen that Simpson thought she had no choice.
So at dawn this morning they'd finally locked the trunk on what
looked like pathetically few possessions to show for twenty-one
years of marriage. Pathetically few. She motioned Simpson to get
into the car. She couldn't bring herself to speak for the entire
first hour of the drive north.
By the time they crossed the Cooper River at Charleston, she'd
begun to revive. Before long they were gliding along on what was
now an older, more rutted section of road. Every ten minutes or
so, Simpson cast a furtive glance in Veronica's direction. She
was almost relieved when her daughter finally blurted out, "Tell
me the truth, Mama. Daddy called you from somewhere, didn't he?
He found a new job and we're meeting him. Tell me the truth."
"I did tell you the truth. We're going to see my friend Ernie.
She's been asking me to come for years. What makes you think we're
"This is exactly the way he would have come."
And it was! Veronica was following Guy's path not out of nostalgia-certainly
not!-but by force of habit, having traveled this way so often.
"This is ridiculous," she said.
"Of course it is, Mama," replied Simpson in her nurse-in-an-insane-asylum
tone. "We need to head back to Beaufort right now.
"Never." Veronica switched on the cruise control and
headed for the highway. This trip would go exactly as she'd planned.
She was finished forever with sleazy apartments in beach towns
they couldn't really afford. She was finished with T-shirt shops.
She would work in the big garden on Ernie's farm, maybe have a
garden of her own. She would put down some roots.
So why was it that, the farther west they drove, the more she
kept hearing the lapping, surging, sometimes pounding of the surf
in the recesses of her mind? Why did her hands feel drier and
more chapped with every mile they traveled? Was it just because
she was nervous? Or was it, as she suspected, because every bit
of moisture was being sucked from her skin, little by little,
the farther she got from the ocean?