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Linda and the Lake

by Nancy Ames

Barefoot, she stepped out onto the rough boards of the back porch and walked quickly
between the overgrown willows to the beach. A strong sun was rising above the open
water and her jitters were calmed by the sight of the bright horizon. Dalton`s
snoring was getting really hard to take in the morning lately. The house was still
full of darkness and noise.

She bent down to examine some stones and shells that sparkled in the lapping water,
picked up a few and put them in her pockets, breathing in the fresh scent of the
lake.

Linda was usually as happy as a child at play and spent much of her time exploring
the little wilderness of the island, where she had grown up summering with her
Grandma Sutton and several cousins. This year, however, she had started hanging out
at the aging artist`s place, and now she generally slept there as well. Dalton
tolerated her presence because he had recently run out of wives and badly needed
somebody to take care of him, although he would never admit any such thing and
Linda had never thought to discuss it with anyone.

The few paintings he produced were very large, intricate, and colourful. The rich
and famous lusted to hang them on their monstrous walls. None of them knew about
the borderline squalor he lived in or about the desperations clawing at his heart.

Some people were beginning to assume they were lovers, actually, but they weren`t.
Dalton had lived rather too well in his youth and had never, apparently, learned
to take care of himself properly. Or perhaps he thought he was above doing his own
dirty work. Anyway, there he was. And the physical repulsion Linda felt was almost
as powerful as the magnetic attraction of his mind.

All her life, she was dominated by her desire to learn. Yesterday, he had called
her his "little data-bank" and his mouth was open and laughing.

A pair of shaggy dogs raced toward her across the sand. She stood up to greet them,
speaking quietly and holding out her hands. This was becoming a daily routine. She
picked up a length of driftwood and hurled it far out over the waves. The dogs
barked joyously and plunged splashing into the lake. Linda lifted up her long skirt
and waded in above her knees, watching them.

Dalton himself took scarcely any notice of her. He had given her his full attention
once and been shocked by her formlessness. She seemed like an embryo, indecently
weak and transparent. The artist in him wanted to cover her up. He was always buying
her expensive and beautiful clothes, which she never wore because she hated to draw
any attention to herself.

The artist slept in his spacious studio and spent most of the day there as well,
absorbed in his painting. He insisted that no one disturb him then but he usually
talked or even sang to himself - or to the painting or something - while he worked
and she could easily read his voice. And in the evenings, when his bohemian friends
and admirers showed up to appreciate his booze, she watched over him. The
fashionable multitude were often conscious of her mild blue gaze. She knew when
they were lying.

Last night, after the midnight ferry had carried them all back to their neon world,
she had asked him directly how many of them he thought he could trust. She was
starting to be seriously worried by his tendency to let it all go by rather than
take on the mundane task of judgement.

He had laughed at her puny indignation. The two-faced and many-headed were an
occupational hazard, he said. They supplied him with movement and colour, a sort of
smokescreen between his solitude and reality. The full blast of reality was painful
to his sensitized nerves, he said. He had finally, archly, informed her that he had
several reliable friends scattered around the globe. They travelled a lot. He got
postcards.

A crumbling cement pier extended some distance out into the lake and it had a small
lighthouse at the end, complete with a foghorn, which was silent now but during the
long, foggy nights its dismal hooting could keep her on the edge of sleep for hours.
The sight of it depressed her so much that she lowered her head as she walked,
giving her attention to the various clutter that had been washed up on the beach
overnight. She always felt so sad after one of the big storms, seeing all the
battered and broken things tossed up on the shoreline, displayed like a prosecutor`s
evidence. After a while, she picked up a large broken shell and sat down on her
heels, looking out across the shining water at a row of small pink clouds low in
the morning sky.

The dogs began to bark suddenly and then both of them raced toward the pier. The boy
was there again with his boat, in the angular black shadow beside the concrete.
Angrily, Linda twisted her feet in the sand, turning away, and walked quickly down
the length of the beach. The pockets in her long skirt were bulging with the
morning's collection and banged awkwardly against her wet legs. She was disgusted
with the dogs because of the way they had wagged their tails and trotted up to the
boy, who was patting their shaggy wet heads with both hands. Then she remembered
that the dogs had been rolling in some dead fish and giggled maliciously, hurrying
away from the sound of his invading voice.

03/06/2019

Author's Note: This is the introduction to "Maroon Afternoon". Humans adapt culturally, and this story describes a relationship that is purely cultural. Lots of friendships are like that.

Posted on 03/06/2019
Copyright © 2019 Nancy Ames

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