Home > The Matchmaker(5)

The Matchmaker(5)
Author: Elin Hilderbrand

“There is no university on Nantucket,” she said. “Otherwise, I would have matriculated there.” She picked at the last remaining fries, swimming in gravy. “It’s a phobia. I leave the island and I panic. I only feel safe when I’m on that island. It’s my home.”

I told her my home was Plettenberg Bay, and that I had not, until two days earlier, ever been out of South Africa. But Plettenberg Bay wasn’t an island, and I had traveled around the country quite a bit with the choir of my church youth group—to Cape Town, Knysna, Stellenbosch, and Franschhoek, to Jo-burg and Pretoria, the capital, and to the fine beaches of Durban. Compared to Dabney, I felt worldly.

“Also,” she said, “I’m in love with a boy named Clendenin Hughes. He goes to Yale, and I’m afraid I’m going to lose him.”

Ah, she had me there. At that time, I knew nothing about love.

Dabney and I remained friends for all four years at Harvard. She went home to Nantucket each weekend and over the span of each school vacation, and every time she left for home, she invited me to come with her. I had an idea of Nantucket as a white place, an expensive place, an elitist place, and despite the fact that someone as fine as Dabney lived there, I felt that a painfully lean, dirt-poor African boy with purple-black skin on a church scholarship would not be welcomed, and I always said no.

But then finally, during spring break of senior year, when I had been accepted at medical school at Columbia Physicians and Surgeons, and I had a pocket full of money from working as a bellman at the Charles Hotel, and my self-confidence was plumped not only by my future as a doctor and ample pocket cash but by the realization that I had become sort of American (I enjoyed movies with the actor Mickey Rourke, I drank the occasional beer at the Rathskeller), I said that yes, I would go.

Dabney drove, at that time, a 1972 Chevy Nova, which I folded myself into for the ride to Hyannis, where we would catch the ferry to Nantucket.

Dabney said, “And guess what? My friend Corinne Dubois is coming, too.”

I didn’t want Dabney to sense my disappointment. I craved Dabney’s attention; I didn’t like the idea of being rendered mute while Dabney gabbed with her girlfriend, this Corinne Dubois.

“She’s great, wonderful, beautiful, smart, you’ll love her,” Dabney said. “She’s about to graduate from MIT with a degree in astrophysics.”

We picked up Corinne Dubois outside the Museum of Science on Edward Land Boulevard. She had curly, copper-colored hair. She wore long silver earrings and a long peasant skirt and dark round sunglasses. I noted these things in an instant and I was not particularly overcome except by thinking that Corinne Dubois did not look like a person about to graduate from MIT with a degree in astrophysics. But when she climbed into the car, I smelled her perfume, and something stirred in me. She slammed the door and pushed her sunglasses on top of her head and I introduced myself.

“Albert Maku,” I said, offering my hand.

She shook it mightily. “Corinne Dubois,” she said. “Lovely to meet you, Albert.”

Her eyes were green, and they were smiling at me. And although I had not known what love was, I felt it then.

Dabney noticed. She looked at me and said, “Albert, you’re rosy.”

And I thought, How does a man with the blue-black skin of a plum look rosy?

But I knew she was right.

Dabney Kimball Beech was descended from a long line of strong women, with one exception.

Dabney had been named after her great-great-great-grandmother, Dabney Margaret Wright, married to Warren Wright, who had served as captain of the whaling ship Lexington and had died during his second trip at sea. Dabney had three sons, the youngest of whom, David Warren Wright, married Alice Booker. Alice was a Quaker; her parents had been abolitionists in Pennsylvania and had helped fugitive slaves. Alice gave birth to two girls, and the elder girl, Winford Dabney Wright, married Nantucket’s only attorney, Richard Kimball. Winford was a suffragette. Winford gave birth to one son, Richard Kimball, Jr., called Skip, who dropped out of Harvard and scandalously married an Irish chambermaid named Agnes Bernadette Shea. Agnes Bernadette Shea was Dabney’s beloved grandmother. Agnes gave birth to David Wright Kimball, Dabney’s father, who fought in the Americans’ first efforts in Vietnam, then came home and served as one of Nantucket’s four policemen. He married a Nantucket summer girl named Patricia Beale Benson.

Patty Benson, Dabney’s mother, represented the weak link in the genealogy. She left Nantucket when Dabney was eight years old and never returned.

When Dabney discovered she was pregnant (and really, if one wanted to talk about scandal, there was no greater scandal in the year 1988 than Dabney Kimball’s becoming pregnant out of wedlock), she had wished for a son. To have a daughter after growing up without a mother seemed a challenge beyond Dabney’s capabilities. But when a baby girl was set in Dabney’s arms, the love specific to all new mothers overtook her. She named the baby Agnes Bernadette after her grammie and decided that the only way to ameliorate the pain of her mother’s abandonment was to do right herself. She would be a mother first, a mother forever.

As Dabney approached her house on Charter Street, she saw Agnes’s Prius in the driveway.

Agnes! Dabney’s spirits soared. Agnes had come home for Daffodil Weekend! Agnes had surprised her, which meant, Dabney assumed, that all was forgiven.

Dabney didn’t want to think about the misunderstanding at Christmas. It had been the worst misunderstanding since, well…since the only other real conflict Dabney and her daughter had ever had, back when Agnes was sixteen and Dabney had explained who her real father was. Compared to that hurricane, the blowup at Christmas had been minor.

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