Gay Head, 1980
A true-ish story.
Frankie was the daughter of her father’s third marriage, the one to the striking British woman who shot herself in the boathouse when everyone up at the house thought she was just out for her morning swim.
No one ever expected Livvy do so such a thing. They all knew she was unstable. She was alcoholic. Probably bipolar. Still, Wescotts didn’t do this kind of thing. They got suites at McLean’s when they needed help. They didn’t off themselves in the boathouse where the Portuguese help would find them.
Living with Pete Westcott was a challenge, no doubt about that. He got rich shipping lumber down from Maine. Some said he made his real money running booze during Prohibition. He bought the estate overlooking Narragansett Bay at Hawk Hill from a family ruined during the Depression. People knew his sailing yachts—Zenith, Apogee and Apex—from the Newport Races. He spent lavishly on the boats, but was otherwise cheap, and serially unfaithful. He drank too much. Women flocked after him for his wealth. Four were foolish enough to marry him. Each went crazy in her own way from trying to live with him.
Frankie was his pride, the one good thing that came from the marriage to Livvy. She loved to sail with the old man. She looked more like him than her mother. She had his blond hair, his freckles, his blue eyes, his funny way of cocking his eyes when something interested him.
After Pete died and the two stepsisters from the first wife were paid off, Frankie stayed on at Hawk Hill. She’d never gotten along with Celeste and Oriana. They’d never forgiven their father for driving their mother to alcoholism. Neither cared for Hawk Hill and were easily mollified with parcels out at the front edge of the property, the proceeds from the sale of which allowed them to live comfortably.
A few young men on the make ventured out to court Frankie. But she preferred her own solitude, especially in the winter when the wind howled off the bay almost nonstop from October through to Easter. When she did desire company, Frankie hung out with the guys who worked on the Block Island Ferry. They were a rough, hard working bunch. Pete would have approved of the democracy of their work ethic, but not of their inability to give Frankie a good life.
Frankie became a seeker. For a period of years she followed other spiritual seekers in an experiential quest for revelation. It didn’t surprise anyone when she decided to try hallucinogenic drugs. One of the handymen who worked at Hark Hill later swore that Frankie told him she’d met Ken Kesey in Mexico one winter and that he was the cause of what became her drug problem.
But the drugs, whatever they were, never got completely in the way. Frankie drove Pete’s old pickup truck into town most days to pick up the mail. She had lunch occasionally at the Dockside with her friend Lucy Cornell. She was generous to the relatives with whom she did maintain contact, welcoming them to summer in the guest cottage at Hawk Hill. As she got older, they sensed they Frankie was losing touch with reality. They invited her to come spend winters with them in Boston, Toronto and Florida. Several times she agreed to visit. The relatives felt good because they thought she was reaching out for help. But she always cancelled her plans at the last minutes or just didn’t show up at the airport when they went to meet her.
One late March day when Frankie had failed to show up for lunch at the Dockside, Lucy Cornell drove out to Hawk Hill to check on her. She found the truck in the barn. Lucy let herself in through the kitchen and wandered around the house calling for Frankie. When got no answer she went upstairs and found Frankie dead in the big-claw footed tub that overlooked Narragansett Bay. The water was still warm, stained red from the blood of her wrists.