Twin Lakes

Fiction
Scott Chiusano


Photo Credit: Don Graham/Flickr (CC-by-sa)

Joyce had already committed to buying the Red Bow Special for herself. Since she’d hit the fork at Kerley’s Corner and taken the right for the diner instead of the requisite left, she’d known. And then in the parking lot when she took the keys from the ignition of the Camry and the gravel dust had billowed up from under the hood like the crescendoing growl in her stomach, she was even more sure. It was what she was supposed to do. Still, she couldn’t be blamed for the certain measure of shock that registered within her when she saw it listed on the encyclopedia-sized menu (which she had conveniently stood upright on the table on three edges, like a science board, so as to hide her face behind it) for $8.99. $8.99!

There were few constants in Joyce’s childhood, though she couldn’t have had the worst of it, think of Wyatt the poor kid, but the Red Bow Special, for $5.99 and $5.99 only, had been one of them. Joyce did some quick math in her head. It was fifteen years since she’d last been here, so maybe, actually, the price increase of three dollars shouldn’t come as such a surprise, being just about right in line with the inflation rate. She thought that might be a good Do Now prompt for her seventh graders when she got back on Monday; they usually became interested by talk of food, but then they’d only want to know why she didn’t bring them any pancakes.

Joyce peered over the top of the menu. She had a straight shot view past the red leather stools at the counter and into the kitchen, where Chet was hunkered over the grill, bacon grease probably oozing into his slimy, ogreish pores. God, she sounded like such a child. Which shouldn’t have come as a surprise. Something about this place that made her revert back to the girl in pigtails and taped-up floaties. Chet started to turn from the grill and Joyce sunk lower behind the menu.

One of the waitresses came over to her table and Joyce was forced to sit up. At least she didn’t recognize any of the girls in their red striped blouses, low-cut. Chet had disappeared somewhere deeper into the kitchen.

“Can I help you, dear? Something to drink?”

On second thought, maybe Joyce did know her. Something about the ginger hair, recently curled, but it couldn’t be Liz. Liz would be what, 33 now, 34? More head math, 18 plus 15, carry the 1, Jesus, this was supposed to be a weekend off. But the waitress was older than that, slightly wrinkled, what 33- slash 34-year-old said dear, and not quite as pretty as Liz either. It had usually taken more than one kick under the table to get her brother to stop ogling Liz while she rattled off the specials. Joyce remembered him once requesting that Chet add more daily specials to the menu. Maximize the time Liz would be leaning over their booth with one button undone, pad in her left hand.

“Dear, to drink?”

Joyce realized now she was the one ogling.

“Sorry, yeah, um, a chocolate milk. No, an iced coffee, please.”

The waitress smiled or smirked. “From around here?” she said.

“Not exactly. Familiar with the area, though.”

“Pretty this time of year, isn’t it?”

“Little warm.”

Joyce knew what she was doing, knew how proud they were in Elizaville, especially about the weather. Don’t chat casually about rain in the forecast, unless you were talking to Ronnie, who owned the eighties jukebox roller rink and made a living on the assumption that it would, in fact, rain twice a week in Elizaville without fail. You just didn’t mention it. And you never, for any reason, complained about the temperature, because you couldn’t change it so what was the point?

So just as Joyce expected, the waitress let out an annoyed exhale. Pleasantries cut off.

“What’ll you be having?” Not even a dear.

“I’ll take the Red Bow Special,” Joyce said.

“Pancakes or french toast?”

“Pancakes.”

“Sausage or bacon?”

“Sausage. No, bacon.”

“Eggs scrambled or fried?”

“Scrambled.”

“White or wheat?”

“You have sourdough?”

“White or wheat?”

“Wheat.”

“Hashbrowns ok?”

“You know what, let me just get two eggs over easy and a half a grapefruit,” Joyce said.

The waitress—Joyce squinted for her nametag but couldn’t quite make it out—it was either Margie or Midge, aggressively crossed out what she’d written until the paper ripped through the middle. She tore it off, stuck it in the front pocket of her apron, scribbled something on the next piece.

“Be a few minutes,” she said over her shoulder and walked to the kitchen, slapped the paper on the order queue. Chet came to the window to inspect it and Joyce disappeared behind the menu again.

She knew it was silly, a fruitless effort, she’d have to interact with him at some point, or at least confront the memories. That much had been clear as soon as she agreed to make this trip, after having avoided it for fifteen years. Joyce hated driving on the Taconic, the relentless winding of the parkway made her nauseous and the speed traps were brutal, begrudging troopers always able to tell which cars were coming from the city. Then there was the image always in the back of her head of Mom’s totaled car, passenger side bumper ripped entirely off, even the steel guardrail had taken a dent, phone call to dad going to voicemail, Chet coming to pick them up, the way mom folded into him, his right hand on her thigh the rest of the ride up. So yes, Joyce told herself, it was that fear of the Taconic that had kept her away for so long.

The waitress had slid into a booth across from an older man in a Bills cap, must have been a regular, because there never were irregulars at this diner. Joyce knew they were talking about her from the way Margie or Midge would jerk her head over her shoulder with little subtlety. Every so often the Bills fan would smile and sip his coffee. Outsiders were an easy conversation topic in Elizaville.

A bell rang and the waitress got up, picked up a plate from behind the counter and brought it to Joyce’s table.

“N’joy,” she said.

Joyce’s heart double-dutched for a moment. Was the waitress lying about not recognizing her? How did she know her name? But then she realized she’d misheard, she must’ve just been saying enjoy, not Joyce. Just another reason to hate her name, the way it sounded exactly like a word, but wasn’t actually one, in fact didn’t really have any meaning at all. My pride and Joyce, Mom used to say whenever she did something decent as a kid, like tie her shoes the proper way instead of bunny ears, and god she’d grown to despise all that, because why not just name her Joy then? It felt like her mom thought she’d made a mistake with the name, was forever trying to amend it. Like she wished Joyce could be someone else. To Dad she was just JL, her initials, it was music when he called her that.

The eggs were a little runny, but Joyce didn’t care, she hadn’t even had a snack on the three-hour drive up, not that there was anywhere she could’ve stopped on the Taconic. Joyce wondered now how none of them had ever gotten tired of the food here, because as far as diner food went it was nothing special. You could pop into basically anyplace in the city and get a better stack of pancakes. But every Sunday morning for three months of every summer for twelve years, this was where she ate, all the campers piling in at nine a.m. sharp, girls in the booths on the right side, boys on the opposite end, one booth left open for Mom and Dad. It was one of only two times per week the boys and girls were all allowed in the same room together.

When she was fourteen, Joyce remembered, Savannah Hemming had snuck a fifth of Captain Morgan from her dad’s liquor cabinet into her duffel bag and kept it hidden away until the last Saturday of camp, two days before pickup, when she’d passed it around to everyone in B-bunk. Savannah—of all the uppers she was notoriously the most developed (the boys called it something else)—must have been taking longer swigs because they had to drag her out of bed the next morning to make it to the diner in time, and she was so pale it looked like she’d spent the entire summer locked in B-bunk. At breakfast, Joyce had to prop Savannah’s head up to keep Mom and Dad from getting suspicious, and when Liz took their order, Savannah asked for an omelet.

“What would you like on it, sweetie.”

“Nothing. Just an omelet,” Savannah said.

“No cheese,” Liz said.

“Nothing.”

“Why not just order scrambled eggs then?” Joyce said after Liz left.

“I wanted an omelet.”

“Well it’s not gonna be an omelet.”

“Can you stop screaming at me please?” Savannah said and Joyce caught her just before her lolling head landed on the tip of the salt shaker. When the “omelet” came, just a flat crescent moon of egg, Savannah took one look at it and sprinted to the bathroom. Dad was enjoying his Red Bow Special too much to notice, and Mom was somewhere in the kitchen lending extra hands or other body parts come to think of it, so nobody ever saw or heard Savannah Hemming puking up Captain Morgan in the diner bathroom, Joyce holding her hair back and thanking God Savannah hadn’t touched her eggs.

After wiping her plate clean and slurping up the last bit of juice from the grapefruit, Joyce signaled for the check. She felt a little bad for throwing Margie or Midge for a loop with her order earlier, so she left a nice tip. Twenty-five percent. No sign of Chet.

Outside the diner, a flock of geese had gathered at the edge of the lake. On the opposite bank she could just make out the dock at girl’s side, the slide, the lifeguard chair. She stared for a while, heard low voices on the lake, some splashing around in the water though nobody was there at all, wondered if she was making a mistake, got in the car and reversed out of the diner parking lot, made a left for Camp Twin Lakes, watched the geese scatter while the engine coughed up dust.

*

The sign for Twin Lakes was crawling with ivy, which was how Joyce knew summer hadn’t really started yet. Her dad used to wait until the last day before campers arrived to cut the vines away, because they grew so fast and by the third week they were back again. Visiting parents would complain about missing the turnoff sometimes because they couldn’t see the sign, and Dad would have to trudge out with the clippers and hack away, always knowing they’d regrow, like the tail of a snake. She wondered if Mom did it now, or Chet, or maybe it never got done at all. But Joyce was on autopilot, the sign could’ve been buried in the ground and she would’ve known where to turn, even after all this time.

Joyce stopped the car across from the big house, facing the rolling green of the driving range. The yard markers were brown with rust, the 50 still bent from when her brother had rammed it with a golf cart, five Miller Lights-deep trying to keep up with the older counselors. With the engine idling, Joyce looked out the rearview mirror and could see Wyatt in the oversized rocking chair on the porch, sitting duck-duck-goose-style swaying with the music from his headphones. She took a moment to gather herself, put the car in park, shut it off, got out, thirty years old and headed in reverse.

Even though he had the earbuds in, Joyce could hear Wyatt’s music as she walked up the steps to the porch. The Barney theme song. She knew the pains Mom went through to get him to stop, to listen to Timberlake or Britney or other crap a normal 15-year-old would like. What did it matter? He’d never be into the same things as other kids his age, hard as Mom tried, blocking Barney videos from his YouTube and hiding Joyce’s old Boxcar kids collection in the basement of the canteen because all he ever did was rip the covers off, carry them around ketchup stained, never reading the insides.

“Hey bud, what’s up? You listening to music?”

He stared blankly out at the driving range, his finger on the pause button of the iPod mini. He pressed. Then rewound. I love you. You love me. Pressed play again. We’re a happy. Rewound. I love you. You love me. It was dizzying, or the hearing equivalent of dizzying. She wondered what he was searching for.

“Wyatt? You remember me?” She hadn’t seen him since Christmas time two years ago, when Mom took him into the city to see the Lloyd and Taylor windows. Chet hadn’t made the trip so Joyce joined them, held Wyatt’s hand awkwardly while he watched the fake snow fall in the display, one finger pressed to the glass.

“Joyce,” he said without looking at her.

She was impressed even by that.

Wyatt was nodding but it seemed more to the music than in answer to her question. She knew swimming was one thing he would do, unless you pushed too hard. She thought it would be a good thing to take him down to the lake at some point, good for who she wasn’t sure, but since she was here.

“Know where your mom is?” Like talking about someone else’s mother.

He pointed out past the tennis courts to the pavilion.

“Thanks bud,” she made to tussle his hair but he yelped and pulled back. “Maybe we’ll go swimming later.”

Joyce headed for the pavilion to find her mom, following the driving path instead of cutting across the green, got to the Please Honk sign and panicked. She remembered the stories about Wyatt wandering off—there was nothing to stop him from leaving camp—how one time Chet had found him seated on the side of Route 9 picking grass, cars screaming past. She whipped around but he was still there swaying with apparent content, and only then did Joyce notice the rope around his wrist double-knotted to the leg of the rocking chair.

There was a leak in the pavilion, and Joyce found her mom on her knees squinting up at the ceiling like it was the Sistine Chapel, trying to find the precise spot to place a bucket to catch the intermittent drops.

“Bad rain last night?”

“May in Elizaville.” Mom stood and wrapped her in a bony embrace. “What else is new?”

She held Joyce at arm’s length, inspecting.

“You look good sweetheart.” She patted Joyce’s bun, then tugged at it.

“Mom,” she pushed her hand away and held the bun in place, re-wrapped her hair tie tighter. “Seriously?”

“I just wish you’d leave it down all the time. Cover that face of yours some.”

“Have you lost weight? You look like a stick.” Taking the high road was not Joyce’s specialty, though when her mom slunk wounded back to the bucket she instantly regretted it. That’s how it worked. Take all the punches, never deliver them, and when she did, feel lower than dirt.

“I’m glad you were able to make it up.”

“Yeah.” Joyce crouched next to the bucket, felt a drop hit her forehead. “You know how much I love coming back.”

“This is your childhood, Joyce. Place has given you so much. It wouldn’t have killed you to come visit. I mean it’s been how long since you’ve been here?”

“You know how long it’s been.”

Her mom searched for somewhere to rest her eyes that wasn’t on Joyce, landed on the hoop over her shoulder.

“I have to find a way to fix this damn leak before week one. It’s landing smack in the middle of the paint. Begging for a sprained ankle.” Something about the watermark forming around the bucket made Joyce profoundly depressed. Her brother’s tears splashing on the blacktop, her chin resting on his shoulder.

“Have Chet do something about it.”

“He’s so busy. Trying to keep up with that IHOP on I-9. You know it’s drawing a lot of the rest stoppers.”

“Not surprised. Eggs were a little runny.”

“You were there?” Her mom clawed at the neck of her pullover, sports bra flashing underneath. Joyce didn’t feel like recounting her covert breakfast operation.

“How’s Wyatt?” she said.

“Wyatt’s Wyatt. There’s good days and bad.”

“Still biting?”

“It’s been better. Latest specialist told us to try a gluten-free diet. Supposed to stunt the tantrums. So we’re doing that. Or I am. And Wyatt obviously. The no bread is what kills me. It’s hard on Chet.”

“Yes, poor Chet.”

“That’s his only child, Joyce. I love Wyatt but I’ve got you. And your brother. You have to understand. Being you’re around kids every day and all.”

“So was the leash your idea or his? Or maybe handcuffs would be a better description.”

“Joyce, please.” She grabbed a towel and bent over to pointlessly scrub the spreading watermark. “You’re upsetting me.”

“God forbid.”

“You know how he runs off. What am I supposed to do?”

“Oh, I don’t know. Bring him with you when you go to boys’ side? Let him sit here?”

“It’s not so easy. He fights me. He’s getting too big for me to be dragging him around unwillingly. And I’m getting too weak.”

“He’s autistic, Ma. This isn’t a fucking zoo.”

She stood slowly, dropped the towel, rubbed some feeling back into her knees and thighs. “I need a walk. I’ll be down by the lake.”

Joyce watched her go, wondered why she seemed unsteady on her feet. Chose not to follow.

There was a basketball stuck under the bleachers, and she reached far to roll it out. At one time Joyce was the best shooter on girls’ side, consistently winning the three-point contest during color wars. It was only worth half a point to their overall score. But still. The boys were usually impressed. She stood at the top of the key, formed the L-shape of her elbow naturally. Like riding a bike. Let the ball go. It was short, nicked the front rim, bounced twice and knocked over the bucket.

After a few more shots she found her stroke again; it had always been there, dormant just below the surface like bubbling lava. Swish. She pulled off her I.S. 278 hoodie, tossed it to the baseline. Swish. 2-of-3. 3-of-5. 5-of-12. Nearly fifty percent. Starting to break a sweat now. Her bun came undone, curly hair spilling down her back. Spin the ball out past the arc. Miss. Long rebound, right back to her. Swish. More stains on the blacktop, these from sweat. Maybe Mom was right. This place a part of her and her of it, something missing long ago buried within this court these grounds the lake that sprawling expanse of field. Swish. Grass burnt at the edges. Campfire charcoal smell soaked into wool Twin Lakes sweater. Miss. Miss. Sticky white marshmallow remains on twig tips Dad is leaving your mother’s pregnant miss miss miss 8-of-15 8-of-18 percentage dropping lake water rising tears on the blacktop miss. Miss.

Joyce fell to the ground in exhaustion, leaned back on her elbows, wiped away the necklace of sweat. A swim in the lake would be bliss, she thought.

*

On the dock her mom lay on her back, toes dipped in the water. Her shirt was tied around her waist and Joyce could see the sharp outline of her ribs. Maybe she’d been too callous. How could she know what it was like to raise such a severely autistic kid, fifteen years old, mental capacity of a four-year-old? Back when she was living with her dad in Sheepshead Bay, he’d called it karma what happened to Wyatt. Joyce sided with her father on most everything but that she thought was borderline cruel. Wasn’t the kid’s fault. Wasn’t anybody’s fault, really, though Mom and Chet swore it was the vaccine, the crippling 108-degree fever, fear they might lose him. Science be damned. God’s fault maybe. Joyce didn’t invest much in God, even after years of Dad bringing her to St. Mark’s on Sundays. Confirmation. Smokescreen confessionals. Bishop exiled for keeping altar boys late after mass. Cardboard host. Whatever.

A school of minnows was gathered in the water around Mom’s feet. Joyce sat down beside her on the dock, peeled off the sweaty T-shirt, dipped her own toes in the lake, frigid after the rains.

“Careful, they’ll nibble on you, remember?” her mom said. “How you used to hate that as a kid.”

Joyce felt the tickle of scales and yanked her feet out of the water, sending the fish scrambling for cover. “Yeah. Slimy creeps. I still hate ’em.”

“Get over yourself,” her mother laugh-coughed.

There was no movement on the lake, the waterfront residentials across the way eerily desolate. But she could hear the echo of playful shouts coming from somewhere, the sound of splashing, like before at the diner. Joyce wagged her head to the side, as though trying to knock water loose from her ear.

“You OK?”

“Yeah, yeah.” She must have looked insane. “Feel like taking the canoe out?”

“Not sure I could pull my weight. Feeling a little achy.”

“Come on. Doesn’t look like you have much weight to pull these days.”

Her mother sat up and pulled her knees into her chest.

“OK fine. How about a pedal boat?”

“Pedal boats are gone. Chet sold them last summer.”

“What the fuck did he do that for?”

“Joyce.”

“Well. What for?”

“We only had one hundred registered last summer. Seventy-five boys. Every year it drops more, especially the girls. They’re just not coming.”

“Jesus, we had 250 my last year.”

“It’s not the same. Kids want different things. Competitive spirit, camaraderie, they could care less about that stuff. Chet says it’s the social media, but you know that’s everybody’s excuse for everything. I chalk it up to bad parenting.”

“Oh yeah?”

“Anyway, we needed to pay the groundskeepers. Needed serious re-sodding after the crazy amount of rain last spring. So Chet… so we sold the boats. Kids barely ever took them out. Paint was chipped and the insides were rusting.”

“Well it wouldn’t kill you to make some renovations around here, actually. Can’t really expect these Gen-Y kids to have the same interests. I mean come on, the pavilion still has Larry Bird posters up.”

“It’s not so easy. With that mathematical mind of yours, you should take a look at the books.”

“Better you than me.”

The minnows were back, dark eyes unblinking below the surface. Joyce felt like she was being watched. Couldn’t they just leave her alone?

“You should know, Joyce. I’m sick.”

“Yeah, I can tell. You’ve been hacking away since I got here. Allergic to me or something?”

“Like I have cancer. That kind of sick.”

Again, the voices on the lake. Clearer now, and Joyce could make out the game they were playing. The call and response. Maaarco. A more timid Polo, then a quiet splash, someone hiding underwater. Maaarco. A brief silence, then the Polo voice, this time squealing. She must really be losing it. Joyce whacked herself on the side of the head. Snap out of it.

“My god, Joyce, I didn’t mean to upset you. You’ll give yourself a concussion.”

“No. Sorry. I’m good. Did you say cancer?”

“Lung. Starting chemo next month.”

“Camp starts next month.”

“I’m aware.” She turned and Joyce saw her mother for the first time. The skin stretched taut against her cheekbones like a tent flap to keep out the draft. “That’s why I hoped you’d take over.”

Joyce laughed. A laugh that came from deep within her belly and sent the geese on shore scattering into the air. Laughed the way her students did when somebody let one rip in class. Laughed and laughed and laughed to drown out her dying mother and the voices on the lake, laughed to silence the demons urging her to say I hate this place, I’ll burn it to the motherfucking ground.

“I’ve gotta go check on Wyatt.” Anything to get away from a maniacal daughter. Joyce couldn’t blame her.

“Wait, Ma, I’ll come with.”

She had to hustle to keep up, for someone with cancer her mom could still move, staying a few steps ahead through the wooded path from the lakefront to the big house. When she finally caught up, Joyce took her mother’s hand from behind and they emerged from the shelter of trees into the blinding sunlight. They approached the porch and her mother yanked her hand away and screamed so Joyce thought well she deserved this didn’t she, laughing at a cancer patient, it was only a matter of time and then she saw the empty rocking chair, the gnawed through rope swinging in the breeze like an abandoned noose.

*

They split up to search for him which, as Joyce sprinted through the woods, she thought maybe wasn’t the best idea, to leave her mother alone in this state. But it had happened too fast, she had jumped into the golf cart and taken off, telling Joyce to take the lake path to boys’ side and circle back, cover every inch of the grounds while she canvassed Route 19. Joyce passed the arts-and-crafts shed, the canteen, the pavilion with the roof still dripping, her heart pounding like the last minutes of a five-on-five, game 21, score 20-all. She tried to ditch the image of his mangled body on the side of the highway, shattered iPhone screen but the song still rising from the headphones. Like one of those god-awful musical cards that won’t shut off even when you close it. I love you. You love me. Wyyyyyyyatt, she hollered as she ran. Wyyyyyyyyyatt. The screams echoed in the woods. Maaaaaaarco. Maaaaaarco. Fuck fuck fuck. Wyyyyyyyyatt. Her eyes were blurring; she couldn’t tell from tears or sweat. She should’ve known better than to come back here, should’ve known something bad was bound to happen. In that sick part of her brain, that expectation was exactly why she’d come back, like rubber-necking a three-car fire on the highway she couldn’t look away from her family’s mania. Joyce hadn’t anticipated literally everything going wrong, though, Murphy’s Law or something, but it was this chaos in her life she’d been missing. It drew her back in. She envisioned Wyatt’s funeral, hovering above the scene, looking down at his loose-leaf white corpse in the casket done up to hide the horrid scars from the accident, the people coming up to her to give sympathy, her mother in a headscarf hiding her bald head sobbing into Chet’s shoulder, covered by a short-sleeve Hawaiian shirt, the church bells ringing outside. I love you. You love me. Wouldn’t it be nice, to have people feel sorry for her?

Wyatt was sitting at the entrance to the Sunset Trail when she found him, his feet hanging off the cliff that overlooked all forty acres of camp, high above the lake. He was rocking back and forth as though he were still sitting on the porch. Joyce’s spent legs folded like a cheap beach chair and she lay back next to him.

“Trying to give everyone heart attacks, aren’t you?”

He kept swaying, looking out at the horizon. She reached to push him away from the edge. Teacher instincts. Or sister. Wyatt yelped.

“All right, all right,” she said. “It’s cool. Long as you’re not planning on going over. Not that I’d blame you, with what you’ve got going on.”

“Look I’m sorry, I didn’t mean that. I get it, this is a cool spot, I used to come here too. Quiet. Mount Blushmore we called it, because everyone would make out up here and the girls would climb down with cherry cheeks.”

“Yeah, I know, it was stupid. I did have my first kiss up here. And only. Of camp, you rascal. I know what you were thinking. Trent Dormund. Nickname Doormat because he got walked all over in boys’ side basketball tournaments. He had this mole right on the bridge of his nose, like a third eye. But I thought he was kind of cute. Right there, my back against the tree, wish I still had the scratch marks from the bark to show you. I hope you believe me anyway.”

Joyce remembered her mom was still frantically searching for Wyatt. She took out her phone. ‘Found him on Blushmore. Not a scratch.’ She pressed send, watched the green bar get two thirds of the way and then stop. Never was good service up here, but it would go through eventually.

“Doormat had braces and I didn’t. His bands were red, white, and blue, for Fourth of July. Everyone told me kissing a metalface sucks but it wasn’t that bad actually. Better than some.”

It was soothing, talking to someone who didn’t talk back, who maybe wasn’t even listening. What rough secrets she could unload on him. She followed Wyatt’s gaze. Heard the voices again. Maaaaarco. Polo. Thrashing in the water to follow the sound. Maaaaaarco. Polo. Hand on the shoulder. Gotcha. That meaty hand, gripping her closer. Scent of burnt grease. Cigarettes. Loose fingers traveling south, minnows nipping at toes, bathing suit waistband pulled apart cold water rushing in then the sausage fingers. Pain.

Joyce reached her hand down to her lap, felt the buzz of her phone. ‘Be right there. L M

“Ok fine, you got me. I don’t like lying to you, Wyatt. Doormat wasn’t my only camp kiss. Just the only one I wanted. I probably shouldn’t tell you much more than that. You wouldn’t want to know, right?”

Still he had barely moved during their conversation. One-sided as it was, Joyce wanted to believe it was a conversation. Who else could she talk to?

“Hey Wyatt, are you happy? You know, like content?”

What a mood killer she was. Asking a question like that of a kid who barely knew his own name. Was anybody happy? She looked at Wyatt. Hint of a smile there? He was actually singing now, it had been so long since she’d heard his voice. I love you. You love me. We’re a happy. I love you. She hoped he was talking to her. He carried the tune with ease, fifteen years of repetition. Fast forward, rewind. Same thing over and over again. The words, the meaning, the way his voice cracked, like Doormat’s had when he’d sat with his arm around her and told her she was pretty. Nothing ever changed here.

In the distance she heard the rumbling motor of the golf cart, headlights foxtrotting in shadows through the trees. Joyce stood, the phone sliding off her lap. She put her hand on Wyatt’s shoulder and he did not flinch. She could see the girls’ side dock from here, geese gathered now where she had sat and cackled at her dying mother’s request to take over Twin Lakes. She’d be expecting an answer now. Joyce remembered when she and her friends would climb up on the lifeguard chair and do cannonballs off it to see who could make the biggest splash. She never won. Always found herself unfurling at the last second, going in with her legs straight like a pencil and sinking to the bottom, feeling the sand in between her toes just for a moment before coming up for air. The sun was setting and soon it would be hidden beyond the lake, which was shivering slightly in the breeze. Maybe this was home, Joyce thought. She took her hand off Wyatt’s shoulder, brushed the back of it against his pimpled cheek, and jumped.

pencil

Scott Chiusano is a writer/editor, formerly ink-stained at the New York Daily News, and not yet completely scarred by the journalism industry. Email: schiusano7[at]gmail.com

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