Sue Anne had to look up “Isthmus“ in the dictionary before she moved to Nahant, Massachusetts. She’d lived in the hot, flat country her whole life and yearned for the ocean, for a small town. Nothing smaller than the smallest town in one of the smallest states, connected to the mainland by a strip of land the size of her pinkie.
She was thirty when her mother joined her father in the cemetery. She hadn’t visited him since they buried him there when she was eighteen. She waited until her mother’s coffin was in beside him, then had her Aunt drive her to the airport.
“You don’t have to disappear,” her Aunt said after a long silence. “I can help you with the baby, you don’t have to be alone.”
“Thank you,” Sue Anne said after another pause. “But I do.”
Her hands rested on her swelling belly. Only five months in. She did it artificially, which bothered her mother, but Sue Anne was desperate for children and not very desperate for a spouse. She was running out of time, and she knew that. She was running, and she knew that too.
Nahant. One square mile, though far from being square. It hung off the side of Massachusetts like a splinter. Surrounded by strange, Massachusetts-y sounding towns like Swampscott and Saugus and Peabody, it was easy to find from Boston. Sue Anne had bought a little, crumpled white house that was just far enough from the water that she would have to walk to the beach. She had only seen the house online, but in person it seemed even smaller. Perfect. She needed small.
It came fully furnished, smelling of moth balls and the old couple who had decided to drop everything and retire to Florida. The overcast sky and September chill made Sue Anne wonder if they had the right idea. No matter. A living room, a kitchen, two bedrooms, a bathroom, and a spare room. Perfect for her little family.
She didn’t like the furniture, but she didn’t bother buying anything new. It was free, after all, and the sailboats and fishing net décor did go well with the ocean and seagull sounds outside. She had a little yard, with a birdbath and a small brick border where a garden probably was at some point.
She spent the night sitting on her porch in an old rocking chair, sipping at a glass of wine—the wine came with the house, too. One glass per day, the doctor had said, though she wasn’t sure if her fancy new Boston doctor would have a different idea. She rubbed her tummy. It pushed back.
She held perfectly still. Nothing…she rubbed her stomach again, firmly, and her stomach pushed back. Yes, definitely, that was her baby. It kicked her. She leaned back in her chair, and her baby settled down again. Sue Anne began crying, her tears as salty as the ocean air.
As she rubbed her tummy, holding her breath for another movement, a couple walked by her new house.
“Hello, neighbor!” The man said. “Are you moving in here, then? Do you need help?”
Sue Anne waved. “Oh, no, I’m all set, thank you.” Small town, Sue Anne, small town. “Would you like a glass of wine?”
They talked on Sue Anne’s porch for about an hour, and even made plans to have dinner the following weekend. Sue Anne kept feeling her stomach, waiting for more kicks, but her baby must be asleep.
The woman noticed first, and asked with careful words if Sue Anne was expecting. Yes, she was.
“There’s no father, before you wonder,” Sue Anne said. “I wanted a baby but I didn’t need a husband.”
They all laughed. As the couple left, to go pick up their children at school, they realized they had never exchanged names.
“I’m Suzie Quentin,” Sue Anne said. “They used to call me Suzie Q.”
As she said it, she remembered how the name used to make her furious, how it was the name her dad called her before Alzheimers made him call her a stranger, how she wanted Sue Anne because he never said that unless he was yelling at her, how Michael McClane, her high school sweetheart, broke up with her over the phone and said that he wished he could have his Suzie Q back. She realized, now in this tiny town with boxes to unpack and a fatherless baby in her belly, miles and years away from her father and her mother and her Michael, that she was ready to have Suzie Q back, too.
“Suzie Q,” the man said. “That’s a great name.”
And so, with everything else fighting for her to become an island, the name “Suzie Q” became a welcome isthmus.