About the Book
Forty-year-old Amelia Earhart is lost on an island in the Pacific, yet finds herself resurrected in her sister Muriel’s study just outside of Boston. Seventy-nine-year-old Muriel is reeling from the double loss of a son and a husband. Seventeen-year old Sam Barry, winner of the Amelia Earhart Scholarship, is just beginning her life as a coed, trying her best to separate from her needy mother and her dysfunctional family. Their lives intersect in surprising ways, and long buried secrets come to light, revealing the special, powerful intimacy women share, whether they are siblings, best friends, or mothers and daughters.
AMELIA DUG HER navigator’s grave all day, using rocks and shells to shove back the earth. Her fingers were blistered, torn. But at least Fred was decently buried underground. On the forty-seventh day you rest, she told herself. Yet, it was more than that long. She knew from the notches carved into the bark of the palm tree. Fred had been dying for much of the time and she’d been nursing him through. It rained as she dug, making a mess of the grave. The hollowed out coconuts were filled to the brim. Not that it would do him any good now.
To think she’d imagined herself lucky, managing the landing without dying on impact. Fred had been able to pull the emergency radio out with him. That first day, they gathered wood to light a signal fire. Amelia’s lighter was still in her pocket, but soaked so thoroughly the flint wouldn’t catch. It took over an hour for the old scout method to work, sticks rubbed together, then finally a spark. There was a flame; a funnel of smoke that blasted up into the empty night sky. As it grew, they were both elated believing that the Itasca, the rescue boat that was tracking them just in case, would have no trouble spotting that tornado shaped cone.
Even as the battery weakened she sent out distress calls. “This is Amelia Earhart. I am stranded due west of Howland Island. Can you hear me?” No one responded.
It was hard not to lose hope, hard not to blame yourself. The jungle beyond the beach was impenetrable. And no one had emerged from it to find the castaways.
Amelia ran over it in her mind again and again. It always came out the same. The storm clouds had been too thick. She’d had no choice but to cruise at a higher altitude. Of course, doing that meant the fuel burned faster. And when the sun came up, there was no landing strip, nothing but choppy green water. The glare reflected off it, the sun all but swallowed up. She radioed to the Itasca again and again. She got no answer. Finally, Amelia used what was left of the gas to ease the descent. It worked and they were able to ditch instead of crashing into the water and dying on impact. It was truly a miracle.
A miracle of a sort. Every day, the sea birds wheeled above. They had no rifle, so they built a makeshift hunting implement using Fred’s pocketknife, attaching it to a branch with a strip of cloth torn from her shirt. Fred’s wound was infected. She kept cleaning it with salt water, but it still went septic. Thus Amelia was de facto hunter, gatherer, and cook. She waded into the surf, stabbing the fish to death, roasting them over the fire, sucking the flesh off the bones. She made him soup out of them when he could no longer chew, Amelia using a handmade spoon to ladle it into Fred’s mouth. The wound in his chest was swollen by then, the odor foul. He was feverish, delirious.
She promised him many things as he lay dying.
She would tell his wife he loved her.
She would make it clear it wasn’t his fault.
She would swear they’d been on course and Amelia had been the one to make the critical miscalculation.
She’d bring him home and bury him decently.
No, she would never mention the drinking. Amelia would say he’d been sober as a judge.
When it was over she couldn’t bear to leave his body out to rot. She told herself that if they were ever found, she would point out the grave and they could unearth him. Then she dug as best she could, scooping out the earth with shells. Amelia recited the Lord’s Prayer over him, although she hadn’t been to church since Grandfather and Grandmother Otis took her in Atchison.
“Our father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.”
She had termed religion claptrap, and had been known to spout Marx when pressed. Yet, after the prayer, Amelia raised an invisible glass. Would that there was a bartender up in heaven. Then Fred would be having his usual Scotch. A psalm sprang to mind. “Though I walk through the valley of death I will fear no evil.” Fred had never been afraid, even when he realized he was dying. It’s the breed, Amelia thought. We’re all fatalists. It’s how we explain what we do to ourselves. Exhausted, she shut her eyes. Above her the night sky glittered with stars.