The Ski Rope

Windy Lynn Harris

Photo Credit: Lisa Donoghue (CC-by-nd)

Photo Credit: Lisa Donoghue/Flickr (CC-by-nd)

Maxi looked down at her bare feet. The AstroTurf her grandfather had stapled to the dock was itchy and ridiculous. The wooden planks looked like they’d grown grass. The ducks thought it was marvelous, though. They’d cover the dock each morning, preening and napping, leaving feathers for her to collect.

Her toes pulled at the green plastic blades of not-grass, avoiding the blobs of sun-whitened duck poop. Her grandfather started the boat and tossed her the rope. Her left hand quaked a bit, like it had the day before. She shook her fingers behind her where her grandfather wouldn’t notice, then slid one foot into the faded wooden ski beside her. This year, it finally fit. She tested the cracked vinyl foot cup as her grandfather eased his boat away from the dock.

Legend had it that Maxi’s mother could start from that same spot, standing tall, her right foot tucked into that slalom ski. She would hold the rope handle tightly and lift her thumb into the air, a signal for Maxi’s grandfather to hit the throttle. Her mother would watch the length of rope rush its way through the water as the boat picked up speed. The moment the slack tightened to a vibrating string, she would leap off the dock and land on the water in the perfect skier’s recline, face to the sun, like she owned the lake.

Maxi has never seen her do this.

The stories she’s heard about her mother’s days on the lake all starred a woman she wouldn’t have recognized, a historical figure that later morphed and gnarled into the oddly shaped woman Maxi had known as Mom. Her grandfather had hired an endless array of people in white lab coats, and one in particular who brought Maxi foil-wrapped caramels, but the army of doctors had not been able to outsmart the blueprint in her mother’s DNA. Last fall, it had ended in a whisper-quick goodbye.

Her grandfather idled his boat and waited. Maxi knew the girl her mother used to be played the oboe and wrote poetry. She sat still in the pew at church and sang along with the hymn book. One day, she even swam the whole way across the lake while her father rowed a small dinghy beside her.

Sunshine glinted off the peaks of lake-ripples. Maxi adjusted her grip and took a deep breath. She stood tall at the end of her grandfather’s dock and wondered if she would be able to jump when the rope went tight. She wondered if she was anything like her mother in any of the ways that mattered to her grandfather. And she wondered about her mother’s hands.

Someday she would ask the man smiling at her from the wheel of his boat about small tremors and twitch fingers, but not just yet. First, she would make him proud. Maxi put her thumb in the air and kept her eyes on the rope.

pencilWindy Lynn Harris’s short stories have been published in several journals including The Literary Review, Crack the Spine, and Arcadia. She is the Tips editor at The Review Review and runs a Market Coaching for Creative Writers program where she teaches writers how to professionally submit their work to literary magazines. She is currently working on her first novel, a war-of-the-sexes story that explores gender roles and gender identity, and our evolving definitions of both. Email: windy[at]

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