From the book
In the time it takes for her to walk from the bathhouse at the seawall
of Fortune's Rocks, where she has left her boots and has discreetly
pulled off her stockings, to the waterline along which the sea
continually licks the pink and silver sand, she learns about desire.
Desire that slows the breath, that causes a preoccupied pause in the
midst of uttering a sentence, that focuses the gaze absolutely on the
progress of naked feet walking toward the water. This first brief
awareness of desire -- and of being the object of desire, a state of
which she has had no previous hint -- comes to her as a kind of slow
seizure, as of air compressing itself all around her, and causes what
seems to be the first faint shudder of her adult life.
She touches the linen brim of her hat, as she would not have done a
summer earlier, nor even a day earlier. Perhaps she fingers the hat's
long tulle sash as well. Around her and behind her, there are men in
bathing costumes or in white shirts and waistcoats; and if she lifts her
eyes, she can see their faces: pale, wintry visages that seem to breathe
in the ocean air as if it were smelling salts, relieving the pinched
torpor of long months shut indoors. The men are older or younger, some
quite tall, a few boys, and though they speak to one another, they watch
Her gait along the shallow shell of a beach alters. Her feet, as she
makes slow progress, create slight and scandalous indentations in the
sand. Her dress, which is a peach silk, turns, when she steps into the
water, a translucent sepia. The air is hot, but the water on her skin is
frigid; and the contrast makes her shiver.
She takes off her hat and kicks up small splashes amongst the waves. She
inhales long breaths of the sea air, which clear her head. Possibly the
men observing her speculate then about the manner in which delight seems
suddenly to overtake her and to fill her with the joy of anticipation.
And are as surprised as she is by her acceptance of her fate. For in the
space of time it has taken to walk from the seawall to the sea, perhaps
a distance of a hundred yards, she has passed from being a girl, with a
child's pent-up and nearly frenzied need to sweep away the rooms and
cobwebs of her winter, to being a woman.
It is the twentieth day of June in the last year of the century, and she
is fifteen years old.
* * *
Olympia's father, in his white suit, his hair a fading ginger
and blowing upward from his brow, is calling to her from the rocks at
the northern end of the beach. The rocks upon which it has been the fate
of many sailors to founder, thus lending the beach and the adjacent land
the name of Fortune. He cups his mouth with his hands, but she is deaf
from the surf. A white shape amidst the gray, her father is a gentle and
loving man, unblemished in his actions toward her, although he believes
himself in possession of both her body and her soul, as if they were his
and not hers to squander or bestow.
Earlier this day, Olympia and her father and her mother journeyed north
from Boston by train to a cottage that, when they entered, was white
with sheets and oddly without dust. Olympia wished when she saw the
sheets that her mother would not ask Josiah, who is her father's
manservant, to take them off the furniture, because they made
fantastical abstract shapes against the six pairs of floor-to-ceiling
windows of the long front room.