I inhale the night air, a deep draught fills my lungs. I hold it for as long as I can to savour its flavour, then ever so softly, let it leak out of me. Vapour forms then gradually dissipates in the air overhead. It tastes good up here. Not like the city with all of those pollutants permeating everything, the cars, its sirens, smog, the lights, conversations. It’s endless. There’s a full moon tonight. A huge clear thing with craters on display, giant gauges taken out of a shiny ball spinning alongside us.
The lake is still, flat, a solid surface that only shifts when I do. I pull a cigarette from a crumpled pack and tuck it into the corner of my mouth. You’re right, I’ve brought the city with me. I use my lighter to open a bottle of beer, twist the tips of two fingers and shoot the cap into the lake. Despite the chill, I’m hot. Beer and tobacco were made for each other, one starts a fire inside you and the other puts it out. For the first time in a while I feel relaxed, genuinely chilled out, here in the middle of the lake. Tall pines and a mountain range disappear into the darkness, a carpet of stars dot the night sky as far as the eye can see. Sam’s propped up against the bow of the boat. It’s an oversized wooden dinghy we’ve taken from the dock of an empty cottage. They won’t miss it for a night.
I raise my drink to him. ‘Nice out here, isn’t it?’ I said.
Yeah, it is.
‘It just feels good to be alive. Doesn’t it?’
Wolves howl from a distant corner of the lake, one ignites the other as we’re treated to a chorus of voices. It’s surreal to know they’re out there, several baying in the direction we had left from.
‘Listen, man, this whole thing, it didn’t have to happen.’
I think it did. Just didn’t pan out the way I’d hoped.
‘Really? What was that?’ I asked.
What do you think?
‘You’re such a prick. You know that right?’
Why don’t you take a look over the side sunshine?
‘Say what you will, I’m not listening.’
Really? You’re doing all the talking.
‘Just chewing the fat is all.’
He ignores me and I’m okay with that. He’s a pain in the arse at the best of times. I don’t know what she saw in him. I draw from my cigarette, watch the tip of it glowing, burnt orange against the darkness. I blow a smoke ring then flick the cigarette through the centre of it. The smoke ring separates, wraps itself around my hand. It throbs. I roll it back and forth. I can see cuts and bruises from the day’s exertions. Maybe I’m getting soft with old age, too much time behind a desk. I was a boxer back in the day. These hands could break things back then. I’m not proud of some of them.
There were other girls. None of them stacked up. She should’ve been mine. Sam and I both went to school with her. With Emily. She lived next door to me. We got married at the tender age of seven amid daisy chains and buttercups. Somehow Sam moved in, lucked out and I was forced from the picture. Gracious in defeat, I stayed in touch, watched from a distance as their lives unfolded. Watched as he became the thing I had always planned to be.
‘You still awake there, partner?’ I whisper.
Do I need to be?
A shooting star flies across the horizon. Its tail, a brief streak of light that sparks before it disappears into a wash of stars.
‘No. But you’re missing out. She’s putting on a display up there tonight, and you my friend, are sleeping through it.’
What can I say? Today’s not a day worth taking notice of. You’ve let yourself down.
I lit another cigarette. There’s no fanfare with this one, it’s just there.
‘You had it coming,’ I say leaning back in the boat.
Why, because she chose me over you?
A second beer joins my cigarette — partners in crime.
‘You were always such an arsehole Sam. Like she was an entitlement for you. Some sort of trophy to be won. But I saw what you did. What you continued to do.’
Which was what exactly?
‘The other girl, Sam. Madeline — isn’t it?’ I ask.
Don’t lecture me, Eddie. Like you’re impervious to temptation. Look at the string of disasters you’ve left in your wake. She talks about them, you know. Hannah. Phoebe. The girl from out west, what was her name … Rachel. And the basket case … Paula. That’s’ it. Almost too many to count. And do you know the conclusion we both came to? The only common theme in all of this is you.
‘Shut up Sam.’
Struck a nerve didn’t I buddy?
Why? So you can absolve yourself of blame? Fool yourself into thinking none of this is your fault? And what are you going to do now? Rekindle a romance she doesn’t want?
‘We’ll see buddy. A package arrived for her today. I had the pictures blown up to A4’s. Great images of you and your friend Maddie getting to it. In full colour, I might add. At home too. All pretty ugly son.’
I don’t understand, how did you-
‘Simple. I paid for her. She organised them herself. They’ll follow the emails and phone calls I’ve already sent. Think you’ve laid the groundwork for me wouldn’t you say?’
Clouds shift across one corner of the moon.
‘You’ve gone a little quiet on me. That’s understandable given your current situation. It’s getting cold,’ I said rubbing my hands together. ‘Think I’ll head in. You’re going to love it out here.’
I rolled the black plastic tarp to one side of the boat. Did it slowly to ensure it wouldn’t tear or tip us over. I checked the tape. It was secure. The last thing I’d want is a stray limb floating to shore. The head and shoulders are the heaviest part of the body so I worked those over the side first. Only his legs remained with his body submerged. I took both feet and slid them gently into the cool dark waters. I reset the oars and rowed myself through concentric circles that gradually disappear, erasing his resting place.