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The Displacements


Shortly after sunrise, a squall off the Gambian coast joins a rank of thunderheads crowning miles into the stratosphere. Dueling systems, two storms converging where the Canary Current dips to meet the North Atlantic Equatorial. A play of lightning and sheeting rain roils the ocean waters. Whitecaps foam the crests of waves.

Late the same morning, from the south and the scattered islands of the Bijagós archipelago, another storm edges in. Lower, more tempestuous in its churnings. The third system carries warmer waters beneath its front. The storms mingle and convect, a cycling dance of sea, sky, and rain.

Hundreds of miles to the south-southeast, the father-son crew of a fishing charter off Cape Verde help a banker from Lisbon struggle a blue marlin to the deck. Once the fish is stowed in ice below, the three clients arrange themselves along the gunwales, swilling coffee from foam cups while the craft rides the swells.

Without warning, a heavy gust sweeps the deck, wrenching cups into the sea, slamming one of the men against the superstructure. The other two clients share a good laugh at their companion's expense.

The captain and his son trade looks. A subtle wag of the father's beard. When you've fished the countercurrents for going on thirty years you know a thing when you smell it. The pressure rises in your bones and bends the invisible air. Even the son knows what this new sea means.
Another hour, two at most, then it's all out for São Vicente. The Lisboans will not be pleased.

The gathering storms fuse and collide. For hours the system remains loose, a disturbance in the Atlantic weather pattern.

Deep within a high cloud there is a shift in the convection flow and a modification in vertical temperature variation. The system organizes the warms, rallies the winds, until, as one, the three storms accelerate and spin.

A slow cyclonic spiral 108 nautical miles north of the equator. The rotation is counterclockwise. By 4:00 p.m. Gambian time, the satellites have captured enough data to effect a change in status. The system upgrades to a tropical depression, drawing more eyes to weather screens in the Caribbean islands, along the eastern seaboard of the Americas.

Five hours later, the depression has matured into a tropical storm. She spins and strengthens until she is hale enough to earn a name.

She is Luna.



She spins and pedals and turns the clay mound until a cylinder rises in her hands. With four fingers in the mouth and a sponge on the shoulder she lightens the walls, creating form. The glaze will be an aquamarine, one of twelve shades Daphne and her Key West client have selected for the installation, a spectrum of blue-green hues inspired by the client's love of the Caribbean Sea. Six finished vessels already line a shelf and gather the sunlight brimming off the lagoon. Today Daphne has been working on the seventh, but each time she pulls, something goes wrong. Too much water, a flinch of the hand. Some unseen flaw in the clay.

She pinches along the neck ring so the mouth floats above the body, creating a slight pressure with only her pinkie engaged, to the edge of what the thickness can withstand. The wall thins, goes thinner still-

Too much, and the neck collapses into the base. She rams the sponge down through the upper walls until a shapeless lump sits on the bat. She pulls it off and slams it into the reclaim bin.
Cricket, alarmed, cranes up from her bed. "It's okay, girl." The beagle mutt lowers her patchy head, brown eyes moist with concern.

Daphne stretches on her stool and breathes in the earthy air of her studio, a high-ceilinged room flooded with light from windows on two sides, so different from the old converted garage back in Ann Arbor, where she belonged to a co-op and relied on a collective kiln. Here she has her own high-end Paragon, a guilt gift from Brantley after the move. Built-in shelves along the walls display her work, over a hundred figures in ceramic and porcelain, many shipped from Michigan, others crafted here in Miami. Sentinel stands at the highest point with her floating tendrils and her many eyes, looking down on it all.

There are years of labor in this studio, countless hours at wheel and workbench. Daphne could sell every piece if she wanted to. But Pilar Guerra, the Miami Beach gallerist who represents her, likes to hold back stock to keep potential buyers hungry. Daphne's most important pieces are already out at Gallery 25 on South Beach, installed in advance of next week's opening. Hybrid beasts of sea and air, delicate fantastical creatures that make even her newest vessels appear weighty and dense. For two years her art has been building toward this moment-which makes this sudden dry spell all the more jarring. There have been other stale periods, though nothing like this summer.

No mystery why. Bedsprings creak from upstairs, plucking her nerves as if connected by some invisible filament to the tendons in her neck. Now a parade of stomps into the bathroom where her stepson pees a stallion-worthy bucketful, slams the lid, and thumps back into his lair to collapse on his bed. His bass amp powers on and the thudding reverb rattles Daphne's sculptures like the percussive ring of a bomb.

The suite on the second floor was supposed to stay unoccupied, reserved for occasional visitors. Instead, Gavin has colonized the space since moving back home in March, nested like a buzzard up there. She imagines him rolling over to check his phone, fast-forwarding through stale episodes of Survivor.

A puff of plaster dust loosens from the acre of drywall. A five-thousand-square-foot house and yet every thump of the kids' feet pounds through the floors, every flushworth of waste rattles the drain pipes. You'd think the architect might have anticipated a soundproofing issue, that Brantley might have lavished as much attention on noise-reduction technology as he did on the Miele convection range in the kitchen, or the LG Signature washer-dryer sets in both laundry rooms, or the "tropical landscape package" installed around the yard.

The wall clock reads 3:12. Oliver's eighth birthday party starts in less than two hours. After a few minutes cleaning her equipment, Daphne hangs her smock and trudges into the kitchen, where the party list sits on the counter, staring her down.

"Alexa, start the Odyssey," she says, so the minivan will be cool when she leaves. The AI burbles and chimes.

The X factor is the cake. She glances again at the ceiling, trying to decide whether her immediate need is worth another skirmish. Bracing herself, she climbs the stairs and knocks.

"Yeah?" No hitch in the bass rhythm.

The door opens to a waft of late adolescence. Stale laundry, old pizza, open luggage half-unpacked, and, in the middle of it all, Gavin, huddled against a bed pillow two-fingering his bass, with an open laptop and an iPad at his feet, phone by his knee. Behind him rises a floor-to-ceiling bookcase stuffed with volumes he once devoured at the rate of three or four a week. These days her stepson reads on his phone, if he reads at all.

"Hi, sweetie," she says brightly.

"Heya." Two flat syllables from behind the curtain of hair. Cricket noses in, jumps on the bed.

"You busy right now?" she asks.

He looks around blankly as the dog nudges at his free hand.

"I need you to run to Beachery Bakes and pick up the birthday cake. Make sure they've put Oliver's name on it with the soccer decorations. Can you do all that?"

Wrong question. She winces.

 "I don't know, Daphne." Sarcasm thickens his voice. "I mean, I'm a Stanford dropout and this task sounds almost Byzantine in its complexity."

"I'm sorry, I meant-"

 "I'll take care of it. Anything else?"

  "Actually . . ." She glances at her phone. "Would you mind grabbing Mia from gymnastics?"

"I can manage that."

"Thanks so much, Gavin, I really appreciate-" He thwacks the strings, ending it.

Once in the Odyssey she lets herself sit for a moment in the frigid air. As her fingers trace circles on her temples she orders the van to drive to Whole Foods, the sound system to play NPR. The minivan floats through the winding streets of Pineapple Isles, these man-made inlets on the western shore of Biscayne Bay.

. . . a third intifada made more likely by the day . . .

. . . that the unemployment rate may remain above 8 percent, signaling a deepening of the recession . . .

. . . which formed late Thursday night off the western coast of Africa, and is now tracking west-northwest toward . . .

Too much. She touches off the sound. The bay a shimmering flatness, knife-stripe of sun across a perfect blue. Daphne lets the silence carry her on, and remind her how to breathe.



Cricket rolls onto her back with her paws in the air, pleading.

"Okay, girl, you can come along."

Gavin rubs her belly and she scrambles to her feet and trots around him to the Volvo. Once out of the driveway he rolls the windows down. His dad and stepmom keep everything sealed up because they're afraid the dog will jump out to chase a squirrel. But Gavin lets her ride the way she likes, tongue flapping in the humid breeze. Cricket is smarter than they think. Rolling down Bay Boulevard, he texts Mia:


 Two lights later his half sister's reply blips up.

-ready when u r sphinctercountenance

He texts back, launching them into their game.

-stool 4 brains

-kitten stomper

-tick eater

-effluent guzzler

He snorts, chucks his phone onto the passenger seat and merges into the freeway lane. The rule: when the other one makes you actually laugh, you lose. Mia's only eleven but she's getting good, largely because Gavin has made it his personal mission to teach her the fine art of euphemism. F-word, s-word, a-word, c-word: too vulgar, too direct. We're better than that, he advises his little sister, and so far she's been an excellent pupil.

Twenty minutes later the cake sits on the back seat and Mia in front with Cricket puddled in her lap. Gavin cruises along Lagoon Boulevard, picturing the insufferable party to come, Oliver getting showered with parental approval while he lurks around enduring all the waxed frowns from his stepmom and his equally oblivious grandmother.

"Let's go to Kennedy for soft serve," he suggests. "My treat."
Mia gives him a suspicious look. "Aren't you supposed to take me straight home?"

"Daphne'll be psyched we're out of her hair while she's setting up," Gavin says. "Plus Cricket didn't get a walk today. Mea schtoopin' culpa."

"Are you sure? I don't want to get in trouble."


"Bite me."

"It's not like it's a surprise party. Nobody'll care if we're a little late."

"Fine." Mia folds her arms over Cricket's head.

Last year Oliver screamed in the middle of the foyer when everybody sprang out for his surprise. He made them promise not to do it again, and he's been saying ever since how much he hates surprises. I do, too, sweetie, Daphne likes to reassure him, patting his messy head. The next day a magnet showed up on the refrigerator with a quote from Jane Austen. Surprises are foolish things. The pleasure is not enhanced, and the inconvenience is often considerable. Clever, Gavin thought at the time, and everybody laughed.

And so the Larsen-Halls are keeping all the surprises at bay, for now.

 His sister follows Cricket toward the dog run while Gavin makes for the ice cream stand. Halfway there he pats his hip pockets for his phone. He jogs back, grabs it from the console, and goes to shut the driver's side door when his eyes light on the cake baking in the back seat. He hesitates with his hand on the rubber molding and stares at the Beachery Bakes sticker affixed to the box.

Keep chilled until serving.

He imagines sweat breaking out on the neat filigrees of salted caramel frosting. The liquification of the cold custard separating the layers, the slop of all that melt. What delightful havoc the August sun will play with the cake's firm glaciated structure, with the neat cursive inscription of his half brother's name.

Gavin looks up over the Volvo's roof toward the bay and his hand seems to close the door of its own accord as that great Donna Summer ballad fills his head, the one his mother used to sing. What was it again? Something about a cake left out in the rain, sweet green icing flowing down. Not much of a bass line, but still. He saunters toward the ice cream stand, away from the oven of his car.

The Displacements
by by Bruce Holsinger

  • Genres: Fiction
  • paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Riverhead Books
  • ISBN-10: 0593189728
  • ISBN-13: 9780593189726