You realize the boat is sinking, but that’s not the worst thing that could happen. The worst thing happened last night.
I had to get away from the house, away from the guests, away from my husband. I didn’t sleep well, and the headache just got worse. So I launched the 16’ fishing boat heading out to the middle of the lake to think. The aluminum boat, lightweight and quick, even with a small engine, got me to the middle in no time. I could barely see the shore on three sides of me, but the lake is long, so the shore to the south was invisible.
Things were fine on the way out—I was going at a good clip. But soon after I stopped, I knew something was wrong.
I was leaning back in the padded seat, my baseball cap shading my eyes from the morning sun. I began thinking back to yesterday, and the events that transpired. It started at lunchtime.
We had another couple up to the lake for the weekend. Jim and Julie were old friends of my husband’s, and they had never been to visit. It was the second marriage for both of them, and this time it seemed to be working. They had been married now for 25 years or so. Jim was a trim guy, average height, average looks and average-ly nice. Julie was the spitfire of the couple. She was blonder than a woman her age normally would be, and clearly spent a lot of time working out. She was fit and trim. A guy would probably call her sexy. There might have been a face lift factored in there someplace as well as a little augmentation to her breasts—not that I was noticing it or anything.
Wes was grilling burgers and brats for lunch. We grill the old fashioned way, over a fire in the firepit. It takes a little longer, but it’s worth it. Julie was down by the dock, so Wes went down to join her after he put the burgers on the grill. Jim was sitting on the patio, right in front of the firepit, but he was leaned back, his fourth beer wedged between his gut and his resting arm, snoozing. I was upstairs getting the beans, chips and condiments together.
The next think I know, I look out the open sliding glass doors overlooking the firepit and see black smoke billowing up! I race over and take a closer look, leaning over the balcony railing, to see the burgers and brats in flames, charred even at my distance. I look out towards the dock and see Wes and Julie, looking down into the water. I yell, “Wes, your burgers are on fire!”
Then I shout, “Jim, can you salvage the burgers?” He looks up at me groggily. Not many birds in that birdcage.
So I ran downstairs and out to the patio. I grabbed the spatula and tongs, one in each hand, and began flipping burgers and grabbing brats ambidextrously—I felt quite accomplished. Wes and Julie came up about then. He grabbed the spatula, but too little too late. All was lost.
We ate beans and chips. I pulled out some cold cuts left over from the day before. I was peeved. I gave Wes one little job, to grill the burgers and brats, and he’s looking at snails in the lake. Julie was extra quiet, too. She was the distraction, I’ll bet. Men.
I decided to run into town later that afternoon to buy the steaks for supper. Jim wanted to nap and read his book. Julie wanted to soak up some sun. Wes said he would clean up the grill, and get the boat ready to take out later.
The meat market is in our little town close to the lake so the shopping was easy. I decided to stop at the post office to pick up the mail, and then got some gas at the convenience store. I was gone maybe an hour.
When I pulled up to the house, I could see Jim down by the firepit, his mouth ajar, snoozing in the sun. Wes wasn’t at the dock but the grill looked clean. I got my packages and walked into the house. I needed to pee, so I walked back to the back bathroom, and noticed our bedroom door was closed. “That’s odd,” I thought. We always leave the door open when we’re not in it.
Then I heard unmistakable noises—a thump, thump, thump of the headboard. The muffled grunts of extreme effort. The sounds of Maria Sharapova’s baseline returns.
OMG! Wes and Julie? I couldn’t believe my ears! I didn’t know what to do. Do I knock? Do I scream? I wasn’t ready to confront this. I walked back into the kitchen. These were FRIENDS! What the hell, where’s Jim? Asleep?
Finally, I called out, “I’m home!” like I just got there. Sweetly, innocently. I went into the front hall bathroom. I sat. I peed. I held my head in my hands. I busied myself in the kitchen, then went down to the firepit. Jim opened one eye, looked at me, and then closed it. He said, “I love it here. It’s so quiet, so peaceful. I could stay here forever.”
“Not likely,” I thought to myself.
Wes came out first, a little crumpled, but if I hadn’t known, I wouldn’t have thought anything about his shirt being buttoned off one, or his shirt tail partially tucked in. We’re at the lake, after all. He sat down across from Jim and started in on the pro baseball teams.
Julie came out a little later, looking perfect, not a strand of hair out of place. “This wasn’t her first rodeo,” I thought.
But the coup de grace came close to midnight. Our little dog, Fluffy, went out for her evening constitution. We always let her out just before going to bed. I stood by the window watching her. Out of nowhere a coyote pounced! Little Fluffy was done for in an instance. I watched as the coyote shook her like a ragdoll, her sparkly little collar catching the porchlight with every shake.
So that brought me here, to this moment, floating in the middle of the lake, wondering what karma brought these events together. The sun was warm, I had kept my eyes closed, letting the pain surface and then dissipate. I was almost done freeing myself from the horrors of the day before, when I felt water on my feet. I opened my eyes, and saw the back of the boat sagging under the weight of the water.
I tried starting the motor, but the battery was in the back of the boat and was swamped. I turned looking for a life vest. I didn’t see one, and I realized that I hadn’t grabbed any from the boat house. Wes always liked to put the life vests in the boat house to keep them nice. There was an old seat cushion. I grabbed it. Thank god! Because, you see, I can’t swim.
The boat kept taking on more and more water. The drain plug hadn’t been replaced. Finally, only the tip of the bow was above the waterline. Then that slipped away, too. Oil and gas slicked the surface. I clung to my seat cushion that was partially submerged. It felt waterlogged. I had to kick to stay afloat. The water was a bit chilly at first, but then I got used to it. The waves were gentle, but every once in a while, one would wash over me. I was too far from the shores to be seen. I considered paddling toward one shore, the one I felt would be the closest, even though I couldn’t see it anymore.
I thought about Jim, Julie and Wes. Maybe Wes and Julie were back in my bed—barely cooled down from my body heat. I felt so sad. I didn’t want to confront them, didn’t think I had the energy to make a fuss. I was so sad and shocked about Fluffy. And I realized it was the end of the month, and I’d have to start paying bills again—writing checks against an account that never had enough money in it.
I felt a weight on me, pushing me down, pulling at my ankles. My arms hugging the cushion, growing weary, aching with fatigue. I pulled my wedding ring off my finger and looped the cord that was on the cushion though it, then tied a knot.
I wondered if we had enough ranch dressing for the salads. Or if Wes knew the combination to the post office box. The sky was so blue, the sun was getting higher in the sky. I never could figure out how people could tread water for hours. I knew it wouldn’t take long—I couldn’t tread water for minutes, let alone hours. Darn, and I had just put the new license on the boat.