Originally published in Funicular Magazine (Issue 3, December 2019)
I told her it was probably best we get out of the house for a while, out of town. I thought she’d be able to forget about it. New place, with new smells, new tastes, new sounds. She could start to move on like I had. That’s what I thought.
We picked Lake Kushaqua. I picked it, and she nodded at me the way she’d been nodding at everything lately. I’d tell her something and she’d do that nod. I’d give her advice. She’d nod. I got mad at her once about it and told her to stop nodding all the damn time. She said sorry to me and nodded while she said it.
On the drive she got sick. Throwing up, sick. I had to pull over and let her finish. People in cars going by looked at us. I got out and pretended to adjust the straps keeping the kayaks in the bed of the truck. Some deer were in the field by the highway, watching me. A doe and two fawns. I looked into the truck at her holding her gut, her arms crossed in front of her.
I said to her, “You alright girl?” She’d always liked it when I called her girl. But I guess that had changed since this whole thing and she turned and looked at me and said, “Don’t call me girl.”
I said, “Okay.”
I thought she’d like camping. We used to camp up there by Saranac Lake for our anniversary. We’d done that I don’t know how many years. Probably ten years we did that and then we just stopped one year. No discussion to it. Just didn’t go back. And then never went back.
The site we got was right on the lake. Right on it so you could’ve heard it clapping on the little rocky beach all night long. I thought she’d want that. She should’ve wanted it, anyway. It’d be relaxing to her if she’d just let everything else go and let herself enjoy it. But she complained about the humidity there. It was humid, yeah, but not that bad. She said her stomach was hurting her still, so I set up the tent myself. She sat on the little picnic table and looked out through the trees at the lake. Once it was up, she said she wanted to rest her eyes for a bit. I was thinking we’d go kayaking right away. Get ourselves on the water like we’d always done, spend all day out there. I remember when we were just starting out, still young, and she’d get herself a book, paddle out into the middle of the lake where there’s no shade, put her feet up on the bow and read. She’d sit out there for hours, floating around and reading.
I got pictures of her doing that somewhere back home.
But she didn’t want to kayak right then. She just wanted to sleep, she said. So I laid out her sleeping bag on top of the mat she liked and let her sleep some. Didn’t even unload the kayaks.
I walked to the campground’s office and bought some firewood. I must’ve had a face on or something that told him I was frustrated because he sort-of looked at me sideways when he give me my change. I thought about telling him to go fuck himself for looking at me like that. But I didn’t.
She slept for about an hour, I’d say. I heard her start moving around in the tent and went and unzipped it and looked in at her. Asked her how she felt, and she said a little better. She was real pretty there lying in the tent. The light was coming in through the thin material and it was softened. She looked rested, her cheeks a little flushed. I asked her if she wanted to get out on the lake and she said she was hungry. I told her I’d get a fire going and she said she’d rather drive into town and sit down someplace.
I said, “That ain’t much like camping."
And she said, “So?”
The restaurant she picked was in a hotel. The food was good, but it was overpriced, I thought. It must’ve been new since neither of us remembered it from the last time we were there. Then again, it’d been some years since we walked around that little village. New to us, I guess I should say.
We didn’t talk much while we ate. I guess we were both kind of frustrated with each other. I could tell she was, and I’m sure she knew I was. So we just ate like we were alone. At least we weren’t like one of these young couples sitting there on their cell phones, though. I look at them and just think, My god what a waste. Sitting there spending the best moments of their relationships looking at what other people are doing.
I never really noticed the mountains much, how the town was held by them, filling this little valley the way it was. Made the town feel safe or something. Like it was protected there the way a womb is supposed to protect a child. An egg in a nest of twigs.
The drive back to our campsite was quiet the way dinner was. The truck echoed with the sound of the road passing underneath. She looked out at the mountains, the river winding along the highway. I’d see her turn her head every so often, like something had caught her eye and she wanted to see what it was. Maybe a moose, I thought. She’d been on the lookout for moose every time we ever came up here and never did see one.
I must’ve missed my turn because we ended up on a road that was only sort-of half-paved, big spaces of dirt showing under the macadam. I acted like I knew where we were, and she didn’t say anything, but I was pretty sure she knew we’d taken a different route. We were on this road for a long time, and I’m cursing myself looking at the sky getting that pale blue the way it does just before it starts bleeding red and orange and then dark. I think about turning around, but then it’s like it’s too late to go back, and I figure this road has got to lead somewhere. Someone’s got to live on this road or work on it or something. But we don’t ever pass a house, or a farm, or anything really. It’s just woods on either side the whole way. Thick woods. Lush almost.
I finally said to her, “I think I’m lost.”
“You been lost awhile,” she said.
She was angry at me, or still angry maybe. Might not have been new anger. I couldn’t tell. So I just shut up and kept driving, swerving old potholes probably been there ten years or more. Every so often we’d pass over the burned rubber marks some kid left after doing donuts, and it made me feel better. Like an affirmation we ain’t the only ones using this road.
She rolled her window down at some point, and the scent of them woods hit me strong. Sweet and clean, a little wet in my nose. It was getting to be dusk then and I took my eyes off the road and looked at her and she looked beautiful with the wind in her face. Her hair getting pushed back, and her eyes squinting but relaxed until she shouted, “Stop!”
I hit the brakes hard without even looking. We skidded some and I could feel the kayaks thrust up into the front of the bed with a thump. We came to a stop, and in my headlights was a cow moose. On her far side was a calf I could just barely see through her legs. She looked at us plainly, like she’d known we weren’t going to hit her.
The two of us were quiet, transfixed. The moose stepped gracefully toward the edge of the road and into the woods and the calf followed slightly behind with long legs, too long for its body it seemed. Our eyes followed them, admiring the way they stepped so purposefully into that forest. Sure-footed, like they had all the answers. Even that mama’s face and that plain stare she gave me. She never even questioned I’d stop.
“Is that a lake over there?” she’d said at some point.
I looked hard through the trees and could see they thinned a-ways off and it did look like water that way. “I think so, yeah.” I said. “That must be where they’re going.”
“C’mon,” she said and got out of the truck.
I got out too. “What are you doing?” I said.
She started undoing the straps for the kayaks, furiously like she’d been running out of time. “Let’s paddle that lake,” she said.
I thought about fighting her on it, but I could see she was going with or without me. So I helped her with the straps and unloaded the kayaks and set them on the shoulder at the edge of the woods. I pulled the truck off the road and she was already walking after the moose with the kayak above her head. I hopped out and scooped mine up and tried to catch up.
The lake was closer than I’d thought. It was thin at this point but looked to be wider at either end. It curved around the land so I couldn’t see it entirely. She set her kayak on the small beach there and got in and started scooting herself into the water. I found a log nearby and rolled it to the water’s edge and stood it on its end to mark where we’d come in at and then got in the kayak and paddled after her.
The lake was calm. Like wind hadn’t touched it in days. It was dusk at this point, and I was wondering how long we’d even be able to paddle around before it was pitch dark. And I worried about finding the truck again.
There were blooms of white lilies on the surface and water flies hopping from one to the other. The forest all around was dense. Virgin forest, they say.
She’d paddled to the middle of this thin neck of the lake and stopped and just sat there floating. I came alongside her and playfully bumped her boat with mine. She smiled at me for the first time in a long while, but it was a sad smile. There was a cloud building up itself behind her, and it was stark pink against the evening blue and gold sky. When the commotion from our boats stopped, there was no sound except that of nature breathing.
And then the loneliest of sounds I’ve ever heard came from somewhere out in that place: a lamentation of mating loons trying to find each other in the coming night.
We rested for a long while there, listening to the desperate wails of those hidden loons drift across that glass lake like mothers mourning lost children. And she was crushed by it. I could see it on her face, registering the cries. And I thought she might join them in their sobbing.
So I waited.
And when she finally did wail, I listened.