Today wasn’t supposed to happen, but old habits are hard to break, and without thinking about futility and regrets, I knelt for a glance into the familiar shallows.
You know the old saying about life flashing before your eyes as you’re about to breathe your last? Not true. For me, the revelation spilled from one bright globule of morning dew—fat, with a perfect roundness only nature could form—trembling into the water from a hammock of spiderweb caught between the splintery arms of dock pilings.
Even after the whorls of ripples thin, I stare until my eyes get so dry I have to blink. I press my palms against my thighs and teeter upright, transfixed like a bug on a pin of the knowledge of what I was about to do. Random thoughts clutter my mind. I’d always been leery of daybreak in the limitless outside, afraid of the wilting chill of unpredictability surrounding me like critical spectators. I’d finally made a choice to silence them, but now I’m wavering. Maybe the flames of hell wouldn’t thaw my withered heart after all.
The sky pales from indigo to mauve, then shimmers like wet pewter as the air warms. Suspended over the plate glass of Gull Lake is a long tongue of dock that juts away from the looming tumble of shadowed break wall. A cloak of condensation dusts planks of worn cedar and the scarred wooden rowboat trussed at the bow to a rusted wharf ring with damp glitter. A bleached cocktail-cherry sun crowns through a jagged cleft of the Canadian Shield. Arching against the Muskoka hills, the pale trunks of birch trees remind me of the three-day beard I’ll never caress again.
Nothingness has replaced the mess that last winter was me, being left …alone. Not for much longer. I ease my stiff neck and gaze myopically to the west, where stands of shadowy conifers mat the cheeks of the rustling forest. I’m halfway between here and there, not quite sure where or what ‘there’ is anymore. What is semi-certain is my motivation, stoked by memories.
I tremble beneath layers of cotton sweat pants, hoodies and t-shirts. ‘Dead weight when wet’, I’d read when I did my research. I scratch my hip where the lace trim on my expensive new panties – bought years ago in the hope someone would want to tear them off, except that no one did – is irritating my flesh. I’d risen an hour before dawn and crept outside to quiet my pain in a manner of my choosing. The Internet had been briefly diverting. Dr. Google was no help, except for dark moments of hilarity when I’d perused the selection of options from a Wiki list of how to do myself in. Although I’d never been good at holding-breath games, I loved being underwater. So, drowning would do.
They’d search and eventually find the old rowboat adrift, oars neatly stowed, one signature red silk rose tied to the cleat on the bow, trailing white ribbons torn from the bridal gown I’d worn with such anticipation so many years before. For months I’ve been daydreaming a gentle closure, of my eyes drifting shut in the soupy green ribbons of light that quivered on the bed of the lake, of my body suspended, undamaged and peaceful, so tastefully gone without fuss, just as I’d lived my life. I’d dissolve silently, like that drop.
Yesterday, when everyone traipsed to the park for a picnic, I measured out a length of stout line one meter short of the depth at the middle of the lake. I knew the distance I’d need. We’d dived from the warped floating dock for decades, chasing water-logged teddy bears and deflated beach balls to the bottom and bobbing back to the surface, sputtering and shrieking with joy. I’d misplaced my joy long before the rusty moorings had snapped during a forgotten ice-jam.
Attached to the other end of my death-line are two cement blocks I’d heaved onto a stack of burlap in the bottom of the rowboat one night and hidden under a mildewed tarp. I’d greased the oarlocks to thwart the nosey-parker early-risers a few doors down. I had no need of lifesaving. No point in anyone wondering if I could have been rescued, either. Stop dithering. I double-tack my note –written and re-written on pale pink stationery then sealed in a zip-top bag – to the flag pole just steps from the shoreline.
I shuffle in a tight circle like a cautious dancer, taking one last look around. Shards of sunlight on still water. The purity of cloudless sky. So many birds. To my left, round bales of fog tumble down the gravel wash and unravel into pale light over stones roughed up by ancient glaciers. A marshmallow crème haze coats the far banks of the lake, shredding into untidy veils beyond the shallows disturbed by the mouths of feeding fish.
This is to be my last day of being un-wived, divorced by a stranger with whom I’d shared a bed for twenty-eight years until he exchanged me for a younger, more pliant model with an inheritance and a belly unstretched by childbirth. Enraged, I’d shredded the court documents into confetti and soaked them in a pail of water. My business. Finished business. But would he think anything of me when he heard what I’d done, tardily asserting myself without asking permission? I tilt my hand close to my face. The bone-deep indentation where my wedding band used to sit glows pale in the warming sun. Have I done enough to be remembered? What’s my legacy?
My bare feet are cold. My nose is dripping, although I’m starting to sweat. Not tears. No more crying. The breeze rustles the fine hair inside my ears. What is it I’m supposed to hear?
I reach into my kangaroo pocket, rooting out crumpled candy wrappers and a linty tissue stuck to a chunk of chewed watermelon gum. A fragment of lined yellow notepad drops to the deck; my breath catches in my throat as I pick it up. I flip open a creased origami paper fortune-teller and read the quartet of wonky printed messages: “Dear Grandmama your fun. Thanks for teeching me two fish. I lov you verrry much. Kan we ro for icescreem today.”
The words are conduits to a door I’d tried hard to keep closed. I murmur a fragment of prayer, refold the note and tuck it in my bra, over the scar where my left breast used to be. I’m no coward, but it’s hard to evade the pull of the familiar. Being brave is so very hard.
As I organize my stiff fingers to untie the nylon rope chafing my ankle, it dawns on me that, just as the drop of water dissolved, the cacophony inhabiting the spaces in my mind has stilled.
Above the crest at the end of the lake where the day began, a red-tailed hawk coasts the thermals then plunges into the bush. There’s a scream that isn’t mine. Ah. The restless marsh bristles with the catcalls of red-winged blackbirds. A chorus of croaking from scattered throats rumbles from wet holes in the cedar swamp. A brace of crows in the gulley across the way discordantly argue over the cracked carcass of a crab.
By now the sun is fully incandescent. All the dark edges have burned back to clear air. A hare leaps from the trees, catches sight of me then whirls and disappears into shadow. Something mottled and sinuous slides from beneath a stack of firewood off to the right. A couple of skunks pause on the cobbled track from the cottage. The breeze riffles their pelts. We hold still until a door bangs in the distance and a toilet flushes, then they waddle into the brush behind the boathouse.
Off to my left, a trolling motor coughs to life. My stomach rumbles. I accept that my intentions have shifted from caught in mid-air, like that globe of dew on its journey to connection with another destination. The world around the lake is alive. As am I.
Stooping, I coil the yellow line in a neat figure eight around the brass dock cleat. The scents of percolating coffee and frying bacon distract me from lingering doubt, and I strip off the hoodie and my sweatshirt, fold the clothing into a tidy square and tuck it under one arm.
As I back away from the edge, my footfalls on the warming planks send shivers across the skin of the placid lake. At the hump where the deck and the path meet, I stop to catalogue smells that carry memories, neutral now instead of bad – rotting leaves starting to bake, the earth under the canopy of wind-shoved branches giving up its cool. I fill my lungs with the scents of damp mint, rotten-sweet wild strawberries, lemon balm gone wild, wet pine wood chips. I accept that my intentions have shifted from caught in mid-air, like that globe of dew, to connection with another destination.
Screen doors slam. The sharp, high morning chatter of children shatters the silence. A small, insistent voice calls my name.