Anna Maria Has a Name Like Hills

by Elaine Kehoe

She is a collector of names, and this one catches her dreams by the throat, this name on the day’s guest roster.


He sits in the alcove between the rocks, watching the moonlight wander over the folding waves. He looks to the sky and gives up the bitterness, makes an offering of it to the moon, and for a fraction thinks he sees it clouding the moon’s face, then passing over. For the first time in months he smiles, fully, with his heart. And now, finally, the first line is free to come to him: She was just one girl, just one in a throng. The pain of memory begins to transform.


Miranda loves this little alcove in her bedroom, her refuge from the demands of family and business: the bed-and-breakfast guests, the food to prepare, the bedclothes to be washed, the house to be kept clean. Her mother’s and aunt’s dependence on her.

The moon outside the window pulls her thoughts toward it like the tide. She decides to go for a walk on the beach. There is an alcove there, too, in the rocks. It’s like a grotto where a penitent might go to pray, where the moon is a window to heaven, where the mind can wander among the wonders of the world and of God.

The guests have settled in, her mother and aunt gone to bed, the house quiet. But the one name she was most anticipating hasn’t been checked off on the roster.

She loves the way she can get inside a name, roll it around in her mind, parse it. She takes them from books, the newspaper, old movies, writes them in a notebook. She especially likes old character actors whose names weren’t changed by studios. Akim Tamiroff. S. Z. Sakall. Names with sounds she could feel, that made images. Milo O’Shea, with a skip in the middle like a stone over water. Anna Maria Alberghetti, a name that fell and rose like a range of hills.

Words. During a lonely childhood here by the sea, they kept her company. Poetry and names. If college hadn’t been out of her reach, she’d have studied literature.

So she’s eager to know what this new guest, this John Keats, is like. He’s probably an auto mechanic or a lawyer, she thinks. Maybe he never even heard of the poet. She’s disappointed at his nonarrival for her own sake, annoyed for her mother’s. An empty room.

She picks up a peach from the bowl in the dark dining room and puts it in the pocket of her light summer jacket.

Up here along the coast darkness is rarely completely dense, even away from the house and its porch lights that burn all night. Here the stars seem as close as a ceiling. As a child she would watch and wait for them to fall and bounce on the ground in front of her, so she could chase them like she did fireflies. Here the moon catches itself in the ocean and turns it fluorescent. Her eyes adjust quickly to the outlines of the rocks that string the narrow beach with rough pearls. Her body knows the way. The rocks, the waves, the darkness—they belong to her. The surfers own it in the summer days; in the winter, snowshoers and cross-country skiers, those who come to downhill in the nearby mountains. At night and off-season, this place is hers.

Except that tonight it isn’t only hers. She senses it as she approaches the alcove: the presence of someone else. She isn’t frightened. The thought excites her.

It’s he who starts when she says “hi” in a soft, casual voice, as though they were neighbors meeting on a morning walk.

“Well, hello,” he says. “I didn’t think I’d meet anyone here.”

“Neither did I.” He’s close in height to her, maybe an inch or two taller. She can’t see him well but the outlines of his face and body clarify a little as she looks at him. His face a little round. At first she thinks he’s bald, then realizes it’s one of those closely shaved cuts that she doesn’t like on a man.

She sits on the flat boulder in front of the alcove, sits to one side, giving him room to join her. He does, and neither speaks, two strangers who just happen to sit on the same bench at the bus stop. She takes the peach out of her pocket, starts to move it to her mouth, then stops and offers it to him. He hesitates just a moment, then takes it.

“I like eating peaches down here,” she says. “The wetness just seems to go with the ocean.”

“A peach on the beach.” He smiles. “Do I dare to eat it?”

She regards him through the sides of half-closed eyes. “It’s such a sensuous fruit, don’t you think? The velvety skin, the soft flesh, the sweet juice, and the hidden pit, like an embryo, inside.” He hands it back to her, and she bites out a large, soft, wet chunk. The juice trickles over her lip and down her chin, and she wipes it away with her hand. He’s watching her more closely now, and she feels the charge of it.

She holds out her right hand. “Hello, John Keats. We were wondering where you were tonight.”

“Ah ha. I thought you just arose from the sea, like Venus. You’re from the Alcove, then. Alice Mallon?”

“That would be my mother. I’m Miranda.”

Now she can see his grin, wide and white in the moonlight. “‘O brave new world that has such people in it.’”

Her laugh is rough, almost mocking. “Oh, now, you can’t really be. I mean, I was daydreaming about you being a poet, but I never thought for real. But Shakespeare and Eliot—most people don’t quote them when they meet me.”

“Well, I’m afraid that’s the English teacher in me. I’d give you an A for recognizing the poetry. Were you named for The Tempest?”

“No. Miranda was my mother’s favorite aunt. But I like to pretend I was.” She tosses the peach pit hard and it spans the sand, splashing into the shallow surf.

“How old are you?” The question is sudden and impolite, but she doesn’t play at being offended or shrug it off.

“Twenty-four. You?”

“Thirty-three. And I am a complete cliché. A would-be poet, yes. Very much would be at this point. That’s partly why I’m here. To see if I can take out that ‘would.’ And yes again, that’s my real name. John Jefferson Keats, to be exact. If—when—I write something for public consumption, I’ll take out the John. To avoid bad jokes and loathsome comparisons.”


He shakes his head.

She smiles an invisible smile, a reverse Cheshire cat.

“Well, Mr. Keats,” she stands up and brushes off her jeans. “I guess we’d better get you checked in. The lights went out an hour ago.”


He’s with the other guests at breakfast. Miranda serves the omelets and vegetable fritters and muffins she’s cooked, moving efficiently from kitchen to dining room, friendly to everyone, but always watching him surreptitiously. Her mother and aunt stand at the farmer table in the kitchen, preparing fruit, keeping coffee brewing.

“Mr. Keats would prefer tea,” she says, grabbing the large pewter kettle and banging it down on one of the six stove burners.

“He got here awfully late last night,” her aunt says. “Where was he, anyway?”

“At the beach. He wanted to see it at night, spend some time alone with it before he came here, into company. He said.”

Her mother shakes her head. “Now I’ve got two dreamers in the house. At least one’s only a guest. Here, take these blueberries in.”

She’s slightly disappointed now that she sees him in the daylight. Now he looks short and boxily built. The buzz cut wasn’t so obvious in the darkness, and his face is of only average attractiveness. He isn’t her ideal of a poet: the beauty of his namesake, of Shelley or Byron. But he will do for her. She remembers the feeling she got from his body next to hers in the dark.

She’s been up since five o’clock, when she drove to the farmer’s market for the eggs and fruit. After breakfast she’ll clean up the kitchen and dining room, change the linens in all the rooms, do the laundry. She gives the other guests brochures as though handing them their hats, showing them what there is to do in the area. The young couple with two children will be going sailing. The older couple plans to shop in town. As for John Keats—“I’m just going to wander around for a while. Spend some more time by the water.” The wide grin again. “Think. Write. I hope.” She thinks he’s much more attractive when he smiles that way.

Her mother and her aunt will do the afternoon marketing for food for the dinner option offered to guests. The family says they’ll be back; the older couple says they’ll eat out. She helps make up the shopping list. The family doesn’t look gourmet, she tells her mother. Let’s stick to plain food this time. Chicken, pasta. That will make things easier and give her more time.

By three o’clock her family has gone. Miranda rushes up to her room on the third floor. She takes a quick shower, then picks out a light soft-cotton tank top and skirt. A hot-day outfit that she doesn’t wear often, but it’s in the eighties this afternoon. She slips her feet into sandals.

He’s there, as she hoped he’d be. She finds him sitting not far from the alcove, closer to the water. The tide is going out and the beach is wider than last night.

“You’re not writing.” She’s disappointed to see that he doesn’t have a notebook with him.

“I need to think first. Get it all out in my head.”

“Maybe that’s why you haven’t written much. Keeping it in your head doesn’t get it down on paper.”

He laughs. “Miranda, are you looking for a job? Muse? Or agent? I could use either.”

She sits down on the rock opposite him. “Tell me what’s in your head.”

“Can’t yet. I’ll surprise you. I will write it down.”

She takes out the two peaches she’s brought. “Then tell me why you came here.”

She’s too intelligent for the looking-for-inspiration-from-the-wild-ocean story, and she senses he knows that. He pauses, staring out over that wild ocean before turning back to her.

“I’ve left my job.”

“You’re not going to teach any more? Tired of it? Sick of the kids? Or going to dedicate your life to writing.”

“A little of all. And none. Teaching just seemed—too futile now.” He pauses, and when she doesn’t interrupt, starts again. He’s making little circles with his finger in the sand on the rock. “I come from a small town in Massachusetts. Hardesty. No one’s ever heard of it. Very self-satisfied place. Happy to be a ‘typical New England town.’ Mostly white, middle class but gradually climbing toward upper middle. People who worked in the city would move there for their ‘quiet retreat.’ But during the recession things started to change. People started moving to look for jobs. House prices dropped. Different elements started moving in, and gangs and drugs started to appear in a few areas.

“I had a student from a good family, bright girl, good writer, creative. A teacher’s dream. She was so advanced that I started working with her extra time, giving her reading way beyond the class, then discussing it, getting her to do some creative writing. I thought we had a great mentor-protégée relationship.

“One day I was called down to the principal’s office. There was a couple I didn’t know and two police officers. The couple was glaring at me like I had horns. My student’s parents. She’d been out of class for about a week, and I was afraid something was wrong. It was. They had sworn out a warrant for my arrest for inducing a chaste minor to have sex.”

He stops. He digs a hole in the sand with his bare toe and puts the peach pit in it.

“She was out of school because she’d had an abortion. She claimed I was the father. Of course I told them it was ridiculous. I was placed on formal suspension. But it seemed they couldn’t prove that she’d been ‘chaste.’ The girl confessed. She was involved with the bad kids, drugs. Got hooked. Slept with her dealer to get the stuff. He was the father.”

Miranda closes her eyes.

“She had everything going for her. It made me wonder what was the point of trying to teach literature to kids in a world like this. I’d had enough.”

Miranda slips off her sandals and digs her toes into the sand. “What if I’d been your student? Would you have wanted to mentor me? I would’ve liked that.”

“Why do you stay here, Miranda? Did you go to college?”

She shakes her head. “No money for college. And I had to help my mother.” She stops, trying to leave the story there, but his eyes are kind and curious. He wants more, and that wanting feels like a drug to her. “The B&B was my father’s dream. He put all his savings into it. But he died when I was twelve. My aunt came to live with us then and help with the work, but they’re both getting older. They can’t handle it all alone.”

“But what about your future?”

“I guess this is it. When they pass on—or get too old—I’ll take over.”

“But you could sell the place. Go to school.”

She shakes her head. “It’s got two mortgages. There wouldn’t be much left. Besides, this is my home. I love it here. I’m used to the work, and I get to meet interesting people.” She gives him a deliberately sidelong glance. She hoped to sound matter-of-fact but she’s heard the wistfulness in her own voice and hates it that she let him hear it.

He clears his throat once or twice. Then he says, “I’ll tell you what I was thinking—what I started to write. In my head.”

She sits up, a small anticipatory smile just raising the corner of her lips.

Venus Miranda, sea-born, island-bred.

Did Botticelli dream you, the red

of your hair, your innocent face?

You seem so lonely in this place

Caught between here and nowhere

Your tempest spirit—

“That’s as far as I’ve gotten.”

“Thank you,” she said.

“Well, it’s just a beginning. The start of a draft.”

She nods, her eyes down, studying the sand. Then she raises her head and smiles fully at him, and he reels back instinctively, then slowly returns her smile.


The next evening they’re both there again, but she carries something with her, more than a peach this time: a kernel of knowledge. They sit within the embrasure of the alcove.

“I found your local paper,” she tells him. “I looked it up at the library. It didn’t say the same things you said. It didn’t say the girl confessed anything. It said you settled out of court and agreed to resign.”

His finger trails gently along her arm. “Don’t you think I’m innocent?”

“I really don’t care.”


She looks at him. “I’m over twenty-one. I’m not your student.”

He gazes back at her; his eyes brighten. A smile grows between them. The walls of the alcove enclose them.


They meet at the alcove when they can: very early in the morning, before her mother and aunt are up, before breakfast, and she runs back to the kitchen, her apron and cooking smells covering, she hopes, the telltale odor of the truth. At night, after dinner, walking to the beach, knowing he will be there. When her mother and aunt both go shopping, he comes to her room, clandestine and the more exciting for it. In between she leaves him to his poetry. He spends days at the beach, even in the rain, protected by the alcove.


When he leaves she feels relieved; his presence was starting to burden her. She wishes him well. He will write, she thinks, become the poet he wants to be. He’ll work at some ordinary job to support himself. He’ll marry and maybe divorce, maybe more than once. He won’t remember her.

But she will always have this: that she has been a poet’s lover. And if he writes a book, she’ll frame the cover and hang it on the wall, and show it to all her guests, and say he’s a poet. He spent time here. We were very close. And the married women will smile and nod, happy that the innkeeper has had her day of passion. They will think her mysterious; keep closer eyes on their husbands while she’s around.

And there will be more. She looks at the calendar on the door, where she has marked off the thirty-eight days since he left. She smiles. There will be her son. She knows it will be a son. She’ll keep him warm within her over the winter, and he’ll warm her, and in the spring he will come, and by the time the gladioli break the surface of the soil she will know him.

He’ll have mystery in his life. He’ll be the son of a poet, and words will run in his bloodstream. And she, Miranda-of-the-island, will create an alcove for the two of them. She will teach him to love poetry, and he will become a poet of the lusty ocean. And she will name him Keats, because names are words, and words are her magic.




Elaine Kehoe has degrees in English and psychology. She has studied both fiction and creative nonfiction and loves writing that explores the mysteries of the mind and soul and the presence of the transcendent in human life. Her work has also appeared in Rosebud, Word Riot, Postcard Poems and Prose, and Relief Journal. She is a freelance copyeditor and lives in Providence, Rhode Island, with her husband and their dog, Honey, the real boss of the house. She is also working on the second draft of a novel and trying to learn to draw. She keeps a sporadic blog at (but is really a technophobe by nature).