Clem stood on the bank of the lake. The reds and yellows and pine-tree green triangles and orange oaks of the opposite shore reflected in the darkening surface of the water. Sound traveled effortlessly on the lake at night. Clem learned that long ago, back when his family started coming up summers. He learned to keep his voice down, his thoughts low.
The paddle of a lone kayak dipped rhythmically away, ripples left to make their ruckus on the taut skin of water. The colors danced in the last rays of sunlight. On shore and on the lake, explosions of quiet fire. A fish broke to Clem's left, under the hanging boughs of the old weeping willow that forever skimmed the shimmering lake with string fingers and marked the boundary of their shoreline to the west. Clem thought about grabbing his fishing pole, but that meant going back inside. He looked at the edge of the soft bank and saw the smooth scrape of mud where Ted had lost his footing earlier and almost slid into the cold water of the lake, only catching himself and his balance at the last moment. Smaller feet than mine, Clem mused, judging from the width of the furrow. Ted had insisted, he had, that everyone pile out and take a long, loving look at the foliage decorating the perimeter of their “little slice of heaven,” as he liked to call it, but the word “foliage” was coming out “follage,” and Brenda had that look on her face that grew there when Ted had been drinking too much. Or was about to. When he slipped, nervous laughter tightened the night like a wrench. Ted's muddy boat shoes were drying on the porch, next to the cat dish and the rock shaped like a dinosaur egg painted red. When Ted and Clem were boys, Ted convinced Clem to sit on that rock, to see if it would hatch. When their Dad got back from town that night he laughed like hell when Clem told him what he was doing, sitting on the rock on the porch in the dark. Ted was like that growing up.
Clem took a couple of steps out onto the dock. He tried not to make any noise, but he didn't know why. The light was fading from the sky, blue turning slate, the colors in the water dull burnt versions of their brighter selves. The trees were fluttering their leaves, as if to shake them off, as if they'd had enough of them for now. Some of the leaves were showing their undersides and Clem thought of rain and wondered if it would. Between the spaces of the boards beneath his feet, he caught glimpses of swaying dark water with moments of diamond shine, the light from the house windows starting to stick to the lake. He heard the clattering of the supper dishes in the sink as Brenda and Susan chattered away, their conversation unintelligible to Clem's perception, the distance between him and them just far enough to lend mystery to the mundane. Ted was probably in the good chair, asleep in front of the TV. Clem never wanted to go back in.
He held his breath and heard the Turnpike hum through the trees, winding its way upward and west through the Berkshires. Clem thought of the people in their cars, going places. Seeing things. The world at seventy-miles an hour. Rest stops and fast food meals, numbered for gypsy convenience. The smell of gasoline, the satisfying click of a gas cap turning home. Change in the console. Who were these people on the road, burrowing into the cocoon of night? Were they happy? The sound of the highway faded as Clem tried harder to capture it. With concentration, silence. It felt like a moment a fish should jump - a brief escape from its water world - but the lake was silent, too. The women were done with the dishes. The house was silent. Clem hoped they would stay inside.
Mark T. Alamed, Westfield, Mass., October 3, 2008