FamilyThe man tells the girl to stay put, and stepping to the water’s edge, swims. The girl eats a plum. The picnic table she writes on is rutted. The girl on the page, disappointed and bored, runs off with her mother’s man; the mother works nights and sleeps days and drinks and takes drugs. The girl on the page has the girl’s short hair, the same gray and white swimsuit. The man’s taller and younger than the man in the water and more fond of scones, with eyes dark like onyx.
Out in the lake, sculling, the man gazes back, not at his daughter but the girl he helped raise. Since the mother relapsed he’s been inconsolably glum. He knows he’s fighting what cannot be fought, but still loves what feels palpably his, indecisive as he’s been. Yes, he should’ve asked before skipping off thus, but the mother’s unfair, unpredictable, rude. This was the daughter’s idea, not his.
The girl tosses a bread crust. A gull gobbles it down. Another gull swoops across, shrieking. In the tale, now nearly done, the man knows what’s what. He makes the girl milkshakes and takes her to movies; he wants a family. He’s brave, resolute—Sir John of the Lake, the girl calls him. But the mother won’t marry. She’d rather drink, sadly. So the girl puts Nyquil in her coffee—overkill, really—and plots her own kidnapping.
The man treads upright in the lake as if pedaling. Clouds rumble in. The sun dims. The water feels cooler.
Onshore, gulls gather. The wrecked sandwich is gone and the pretzels and cheese. The girl flings a plum. Then spicy red peppers, all of what’s left of leftover Chinese.
The mother has not made it easy. But neither has he, the man thinks, swimming on. She pulled it together last year at one point and he believed it would fly. That they’d fly, he and she. Well, almost believed. Believing’s the rub. Lack of faith in himself will sink them both, it would seem.
In the story the police appear suddenly. The girl tries to run but can’t in flip-flops. Helicopters hover over the pines. Army and navy and coast guard arrive, aiming guns. The man, still swimming, flees, skimming the lake like a jet ski. Meanwhile the girl slips away, crawls through the woods to the secret inlet she and the man fished long ago, the place she knows he’ll be hiding.
Swimming back, the man gets sloppy. A wave slams him. He swallows lake water, founders. The winds blown him off course. Rather than struggle he settles for the shallows just east, a confusion of water and land where reeds and horsetails are heavy. He drips up the beach to the girl as the rain begins falling. Lightning is striking the lake. Did we worry? he asks.
Gulls stand around with their burning beaks open, looking astonished, outraged.
The girl doesn’t speak, leaning into the page.