DIONIS MATHER PULLED the hood of her oil-stained gray sweatshirt over her tousled black ponytail. The wind was rising off Madaket Harbor and the temperature falling as five o'clock closed in. Gooseflesh rose on her bare calves. She huddled on the seat of her beat-up fiberglass work skiff and vigorously rubbed the chilled skin her cutoffs had left exposed.
It had been sunny and hot during the multiple runs she'd made that day to Tuckernuck, the small island trailing like an afterthought off the western end of Nantucket Island. She'd rejoiced in the wind and salt spray that ripped past the gunwales of the boat, because it felt like summer on the water—without the dense traffic of Summer People. There was all the bliss of the deep emerald sea arrowing from the bow and the curve of Nantucket's western shoreline, the throttle under her palm and the narrow black band of Tuckernuck coming up on the horizon. Not another craft in sight. Until the clouds rolled in, Dionis had been happy.
She and her dad, Jack Mather, ran a family business that kept them plying the waters between the two islands for at least six months each year. Tuckernuck was a private place off the electrical and cyber grid. There were no paved roads, no market, no bar or restaurant, not even a beachside kiosk selling coffee. No clam shack, no gas station, no place to buy suntan lotion or a boxed lunch or rent a beach chair—and only a handful of ancient cars with their noses tipped into the dunes. Cell phone coverage was sporadic, and internet nonexistent. What Tuckernuck did offer was roughly 900 acres of gloriously pristine beaches, ocean views, and moorland, privately owned by the families who'd built its houses. Some of those houses were brand new, and some of them were centuries old. None of the folks who'd inherited Tuck's isolation and privilege lived on the island past mid-October, and only a few owned boats for independence.
The rest relied on Dionis and Jack Mather—Tuckernuck caretakers—for almost everything they needed to survive: deliveries of milk, fresh produce, and bread. Packages from the Nantucket post office; toilet paper and kerosene for storm lamps; lawn mowers, for those indulgent enough to lay sod in front of their ancient saltboxes; sod brought over on the Mathers' construction barge. Batteries; cases of wine, vodka, and beer; bottled water. Steak. Salad dressing. Playing cards. Roof shingles, and panes of glass for replacing broken windows. I-beams and insulation for new additions. Dog food and trash bags. Solar panels, for those who disdain propane generators. Propane, for those who mistrust solar. Down comforters. Citronella candles and insect repellant. Outdoor table umbrellas and rose secateurs. Guests and their baggage—both physical and spiritual—delivered by golf cart from the Tuckernuck Lagoon's dock. Sometimes the Mathers even ferried medical technicians from Nantucket, to evacuate the sick to Cottage Hospital.
Today, on a Sunday at the tail end of September, only a few of Tuckernuck's houses were still inhabited. Dionis and Jack had been doing mostly end-of-season maintenance runs. Pulling garbage. Tidying flower beds. Draining the plumbing systems of the houses already vacated for the winter, so that pipes did not freeze and burst. Easy work, in Dionis's estimation, after the craziness of July and August.
But now she was cold and the transient happiness of sun on water had fled from her veins. Her muscles were sore. She wanted a beer. And her father was late picking her up at Jackson Point.
The sound of a truck engine drew her head around. Dionis rose to her feet, following the battered Dodge Ram with narrowed eyes as it lurched past the entrance to the Jackson Point lot and came further on, swaying to a halt at the boat landing's edge.
Her father jumped out, leaving the driver's side door open. "Hey," he said. "Let me give you a hand."
She was already lifting some of the knotted plastic bags of garbage from the belly of the work skiff, swinging them toward Jack, who grunted as he hoisted them into his truck's flatbed. A week's worth of trash—some of it the unholy detritus that surfaced at the end of the season—had to be delivered to Nantucket's public waste and recycling center. The bags were already sorted and separated by garbage type: compost, landfill, plastic, and glass. This was the third load Dionis had brought across Madaket Harbor today.
"Temperature's dropped," she observed.
Jack scanned the sea, noting the freshening chop. Crow's feet tightened at the corners of his faded blue eyes. "Nor'easter in the forecast."
"You're kidding." Dionis frowned. "It's way too early in the season, Dad."
"Climate change." Her father shrugged. "Sea's getting warmer, weather's getting weirder. Seasons don't mean anything now, you know that."
She hoisted the last bag of trash and glanced over her shoulder, toward the town of Nantucket some six miles to the east. Its gray-shingled landscape was impossible to pick out beyond the clutter of new buildings on the Madaket shoreline. But the sky was still relatively clear in that direction.
"I'll believe it when I see it," she said skeptically.
"You do that." Jack grinned at her. "Nothing's like it used to be.Remember the polar vortex?"
Involuntarily, Dionis shivered. The previous winter had been brutal. Madaket Harbor froze solid between Jackson Point and Tuckernuck, the ice wave reaching so far inland on the Nantucket shore it had swamped the thresholds of houses. It was true; everything seemed more volatile these days, more extreme. But nor'easters usually didn't hit until well into fall.
"They say there's a chance this one misses us," her father added as she joined him in the cab of the truck.