Friday Story — The Lakehouse.
The lake is still tonight, pitch black. It’s the moons reflection and the stars above that make it visible. The haunting call of solitary loon echoes across the night sky as it drifts by leaving thin cuts on its surface. I’m perched in my favourite chair on a wooden deck above it. The chair’s a red-velvet winged number that hides me from view. Its got wheels on its base that I use to roll it out through the double doors at the front of the lakehouse. There’s a fire pit that we built together years ago. It has four layers of circular white soot-blackened bricks that shield the fire from the winds. It throws off a great amount of heat which gets me out here night after night. The wood pops and crackles as its energy is released. I live here alone. Have done for a few years now. The kids are long gone. One of them’s married, the other, well — I don’t know if that’s something she’ll ever settle into.
‘Can’t say we were roles models in that regard, can I Harry?’ I ask the night. And it’s always at this time, that it answers me back.
‘No Caro, can’t say that you were.’
‘Don’t start on me now honey, I’m enjoying myself.’
Its become a bit of ritual for me. To sit out here, to watch the last of the suns rays go down and bear witness as the night takes over. I’m good though. At least I try to be. I have two glasses of wine on those warmer nights and a solitary cigarette. The wine’s a chilled Botrytis that my son sends me from Ontario every so often. It’s an ice wine they grow out there that’s so sweet, it’s like nectar. Each case normally arrives with a note. Can’t say there’s ever much of an update though the sentiment is always a good one. It’s more than I get from my daughter. She lives on the other side of the country. Well, she did last time I heard anyways. I can’t blame her, she’s the oldest so probably remembers more. Look at that. Without even realising it, I have my pouch of tobacco in one hand and paper in the other. It’s always this train of thought that sparks it.
‘Are you surprised, Caro?’
‘Not really Harry. Thing is, you brought it on yourself. The sad part is you dragged us down with you.’
‘That is bullshit and you know it.’
‘Really? What were your intentions that night?’ I ask him.
‘I was just calling in to see you and the kids.’
‘Drunk as usual. And behind the wheel coming in from who knows where?’
‘That’s not fair.’
I light my cigarette. Inhale deeply. It’s always the first hit that tastes the best, everything thereafter feels like a habit. I watch the smoke rise lazily overhead, see it disperse as it expands and disappears above me. The tobacco combines with the wine to drop me in that perfect headspace of nothingness. Just a warm fuzzy place that allows your mind to tread unencumbered by thought. I can feel myself slipping deeper into the chair. A breeze tickles the tops of the trees in the distance. I can see their silhouettes moving as it comes in, a gentle sweep of the lake brushes across its surface before it reaches me. I pitch what’s left of my cigarette into the fire, add more wood before rising to get my second glass of wine.
The loons’ call is silenced by a fish splashing somewhere out there in the dark. I touch the wine to my lips and think of a time before now. Of when the sun just seemed a little brighter, warmer. When the kids used to run around in bare feet and steal each other’s towels depending on whose was closest from where they left the lake. Of you Harry, before the accident. Before the kids could see that what we had was wrong. Before they could actually understand anything that unfolded in front of them.
‘You had a permanent smile on your face, you know?’
‘Did I?’ he says.
‘Just a lazy grin that always seemed to make whatever you were doing, look easy. Those were the best summer’s. We peaked then you and I, didn’t we? One minute it was there, the next it had left.’
‘If you’re talking about our marriage, I don’t think it just left. It was shown the door.’
‘Hmm.’ I take another sip. ‘Tends to happen when one of you isn’t present.’
‘Funny. Wrapping yourself around a tree doing fifty while trying to avoid a squirrel, does that to you.’
‘Is that what it was? Because the animal keeps on changing with the telling. It started with a squirrel, then it grew to a raccoon. I swore I heard you call it a moose at one point before you saw sense.’
‘You think I’m lying?’
‘You stunk Harry! You’d been drinking all afternoon. I found three broken bottles of the six you’d been carrying in the passenger well of the car. Two were empty and the third had embedded itself in your leg, so don’t bother.’
I do love this wine. It’s just so crisp and sweet. I’d been out there you know. Out to those Niagara Falls, climbed up and down those concrete stairs as the roar of the waterfall just seemed to engulf you. How that concrete hardened under all that moisture is beyond me.
‘You would have loved it, Harry. All those beautiful wines and vineyards.’
‘Would I now?’
‘Thing is I wouldn’t have liked it as much as I did, not with you there anyway. He’s a good boy our son. Not like your daughter. She’s got too much of you in her.’
‘What’s that supposed to mean?’
‘Exactly what I said.’
‘Like you’re a saint.’
‘I’m surprised you’re even talking to me. Thought you’d be on fire somewhere? Floating in a deep cauldron of boiling water under his eye.’
‘Haha. Hilarious. I think they’re just waiting for you to join me. Two for one passage I’d imagine. I have to ask though, the night you killed me. Despite being drunk and yes, you drove me to it. How did you do it? Because I remember the kids being asleep. I checked on them before I found you outside. Where you are now actually, facing the lake. Yet here I am now, still rubbing what used to be the back of my head. Strange isn’t it?’
‘If it’ll shut you up Harry, I didn’t. My lover did. That’s why I always smile when a full moon comes out. He helped me paddle you out there and drop you in the centre of its reflection. I like to wait for it, finish the last of my wine before you go silent. I just sleep better that way.’
I drink the last of my wine, wheel my chair inside and climb into bed to lie beside a friend who had always wanted to be there. I sleep without guilt, a dreamless empty sleep. I’ve given the lake and my past its story.