Reunion at Red Paint Bay - By George Harrar

’Tis a pleasant thing, from the shore, to behold the drowning of another … not because it is a grateful pleasure for anyone to be in misery, but because it is a pleasant thing to see those misfortunes from which you yourself are free.


Simon Howe, editor of the Red Paint Register, drove south toward home, into the fading light. Beyond the rusting town sign, as far as one could see into the scrub pine woods, there was no other imprint on the land to suggest what lay ahead. A sign wasn’t really necessary. People didn’t just happen upon Red Paint. If you took the spur road off the interstate, you probably already lived there and knew where you were going. Simon reached over the gearshift and let his hand fall on the knee of his wife, Amy. She had been quiet for miles, unusual for her, all the way from their dinner at the Bayswater Inn. Maybe she was worrying about their son, home alone for the first time. If there was separation anxiety, he figured it was more on her part than Davey’s.

A small flash of light in the brush caught his eye as he approached the train tracks. He stopped as if the wooden barrier arms were down and felt the night breeze dampening his face, bringing with it the faintly dank smell of the marshes. “Lightning bugs,” he said, “there were always hundreds of them in our yard in summer when I was a kid. I used to snatch them from the air and put them in a glass jar. It was like catching fire.”

Amy followed his gaze into the woods to see what he was seeing. “Maybe that’s why they’re disappearing, all the little boys putting them in jars.”

Simon stared into the tall weeds for a minute, watching for another flicker, but there was none. He drove on, the old Toyota rattling across the tracks and straining up the steep hill. At the top the length and breadth of Red Paint, four miles by three, stretched out ahead of them. It appeared like a watercolor of a town, a still life at dusk. There was no main road, just a narrow ribbon of asphalt snaking from the cottages on the bay to the bungalows dotting the eastern pine woods. In between lay the town center, an irregular common of grass bordered by brick storefronts. In the middle, a red-and-black bandstand, dated 1813. From its steps, visiting politicians invariably praised the good citizens of Red Paint for sticking to their roots. Staying put turned into a virtue.

“How many people do you think will show?” she asked.


“Your reunion. Think they’ll fill the ballroom?”

“I don’t know. I hate reunions. It’s like turning into your own embarrassing teenage self again for a night.”

“I’m looking forward to it, meeting your old sweethearts.”

“I had girlfriends, not sweethearts.” Ginnie, Nora, Lauren—he hadn’t thought of them in years. Except Ginnie, once in a while.

Amy tapped his arm. “I forgot. I promised Davey we’d bring him a cheeseburger and fries for staying alone.”

Simon glanced in the rearview mirror before slowing. “He didn’t need an incentive. He practically shoved us out the door.”

“He was putting up a good front. I know he was nervous.”

Simon did a U-turn into the dusty parking lot at Red’s Diner, circled the flashing RED’S sign, and pulled back onto Route 7, Bayswater Road.

Amy angled the air vent toward her face. “So,” she said, “what are you leading with this week?”

She often asked this. Sometimes he made up absurd stories of UFO sightings over Red Paint Bay or terrorist groups training out by the old gravel pits to avoid mentioning what always filled page one—tedious articles about variance applications and town meeting procedures. Tonight he just wasn’t in the mood to pretend. “I suppose I’ll play up that guy who lost his toe in the landfill accident last month. He’s filed suit against the town. I was thinking of the headline Big Toe Worth $500K?”

“Provocative question.”

“Right. The city papers will be all over it for follow-ups.”

He came up fast on a turning car, and Amy stiffened against her seat as he veered onto the gravel shoulder, then back onto solid road. He drove past Black Bear Miniature Golf and Ten-Pin Alley, neither with any visible signs of life. What were the other 7,140 citizens of Red Paint doing in their houses at this hour, watching some alternative reality on TV? “I was thinking of a new tagline for the Register,” he said, “Nothing