Thursday, July 07, 2005

ON LAKE MERRYMOORE

“Of course he’s late,” Bernice Hathaway said to her brother Thom while irritably skimming the tip of her pinky finger over the surface of her cheese fondue, which had developed somewhat of a skin. “He’s an idealist and that’s what idealists do. They show up late to everything and when they do manage to finally arrive they just sit there brooding with that vacant, moony look in their eyes and you know that their mind is miles away from the rest of the world.” She licked the tip of her pinky finger, violently thrust it under the running tap for a moment, then wiped it dry with a dishtowel that had a cow wearing sunglasses and was chewing on a daisy on it.

Thom pulled out a cigarette and lit it.

“Take that out on the deck, would you? It makes the carpet stink and I’m not in the mood to call the cleaners and look at their clunky old van in my driveway all afternoon.”

Without putting on his shoes, Thom opened the sliding screen door and padded out onto the deck, which overlooked Lake Merrymoore—a very small body of water shaped roughly like a peanut butter sandwich with one generous bite taken out of it. Although it was still pleasantly warm, the water was growing a dark blue gray and the sky was a fertile white color. “Is that what you think is the matter with him?” Thom called from outside.

“With who?” Asked Bernice. She was rummaging through the fridge.

“Karl. That he’s an idealist. That’s what you think is the matter with him?”

“Oh absolutely.” Bernice slid the sliding screen door open and carried out a tray of cubes of bread, which she set on the picnic table. “That’s exactly what his problem is. It’s like he’s got his principles and he sticks to them no matter how far away from the rest of the world he gets. He’s an island of moral judgment and he’s just gotten too far for anyone to even throw him a lifesaver.”

“Maybe the island’s nice.” Thom offered, stabbing his cigarette out on the underside of the deck railing and flicking the butt into Bernice’s potted azalea, which was slumping over from lack of watering. “A tropical sanctuary.”

“He wouldn’t care if it was a floating oil drum, all squalid and rusting and mosquito-ridden sinking out there in the middle of the ocean. He’d contract malaria and get all weepy like it was a special gift from God.” She went back into the kitchen to retrieve the fondue pot and a handful of menacing looking skewers. Her sandals flapped loudly against the soles of her feet as she walked. “But that’s not his problem,” she insisted, setting the pot down loudly on the table.

“His problem is that he wants to affect change. What Karl doesn’t get, I don’t think, is that you can’t change a damn thing by setting a good example. You need to be able to sell yourself.” She straightened the pale yellow tablecloth. “Boomer! Come eat! Bring that lemonade on your way out here.”

“Aren’t we going to wait for him?” Thom perched himself up on the railing.

“He’ll come when he comes.” Bernice said. “And it’s going to rain any minute now.” She pushed the sliding screen door open a little farther to make way for her nine-year-old son Boomer, who was carrying a very full glass pitcher of lemonade with some trepidation.

The ice clinked against the side of the pitcher as Boomer inched across the deck, the untied laces of his gray canvas sneakers trailing behind him. He was clad in a pair of cut off Boy Scout trousers and a just barely undersized maroon polo shirt. “Aren’t we going to wait for Uncle Karl?” He asked, relieved to set the pitcher down.

“We most certainly are not,” Bernice curtly replied.

There was a tremendous crash in the living room and they all three rushed inside. Karl was standing next to the stone mantel, gaunt as ever, holding a large, dark green urn while the wheels of his overturned bicycle spun noisily.

“What happened?” Asked Bernice.

Karl’s eyes perked up and he gazed lazily around the ceiling before coming to focus on his sister. “I knocked it off,” he calmly explained, “so I dropped my bicycle so I could catch it and it wouldn’t break.” He stopped the bicycle wheels with the heel of his foot and replaced the urn on the mantel.

“I wish you’d be more careful. That’s our father in there, after all.” Bernice said, glancing disdainfully at the bike on the floor.

Thom and Karl exchanged a worried look.

“I got rid of him months ago.” Karl said after a pause.

“You what?”

“We did, really. Thom and me. I just didn’t see it being the right thing for dad. In the jar. I don’t think that’s what he would have wanted, so we took Old Armanauk out on the lake one day—Boomer came too, but don’t worry, we had him wear a life vest—and we sprinkled the ashes over the water.”

Bernice collapsed heavily in her Eames chair. “I don’t understand. Boomer too?”

Boomer sat down on the floor and attended to his shoelaces.

“Old Armanauk can’t float, it’s got holes all over it.” Bernice said. “Remember at the reunion—it’s got to be ten or twelve years ago now—when you and Gary took it out? You were on one of your spiritual journeys and Gary finally got fed up with you, we all did, really, and came at you with the paddle?”

Karl turned his head up toward the light coming in through the screen door, revealing a thin scar running across the right side of his forehead. “I remember.”

“We haven’t taken Old Armanauk out since then.”

“That’s the other thing,” said Karl. “We patched up Old Armanauk.”

Bernice stiffly rose from her chair, walked over to the mantel (after having to awkwardly step over Karl’s bicycle), and took the urn in her hands. She swallowed hard, opened it, and peered inside. Livid, she replaced it on the mantel and said, “you’re late. We were waiting until you got here to eat.”

They all returned to the back deck, Karl pushing his bike carefully to avoid knocking into any furniture. It was an old ten-speed with curved ram horn looking handlebars covered in grimy blue electrical tape. He balanced it up against the railing and sat down with the others.

“I don’t know why you insist on dragging that thing on the train with you.” Bernice said. “You know you’re perfectly welcome to use the Rover anytime you want. It’d be much easier to just drive it down to the park and ride. It’s not like you don’t get enough exercise at your job, anyway.”

Karl worked on the grounds crew at Our Lady of the Holy Heart Grotto, a Catholic compound consisting of a small convent, a large garden, and a moderately sized gift shop, where visitors could look up the patron saints of television and of amputees. Traditionally, Our Lady hired recently released convicts to work in the garden. Karl, with his scarred forehead and vacant look, fit right in. His job was among the most coveted on the team. He was in charge of maintaining the growth around each of the statues in the garden. There was a path where visitors could stop at an ornately carved shrine of each of the twelve Stations of the Cross. In addition to the twelve, the garden also featured a rather large statue of the blessed virgin, her heart protruding from beneath her demure shawl and her hands cupped heavenwards. The birds had a propensity to crap right in her hands and scraping the residue out was frequently made Karl late to the family dinners to which he was infrequently invited.

Boomer, seated at the end of the table, swung his legs gleefully and plunged his skewer into a piece of bread.

“I can’t believe you helped him, either.” Bernice looked at Thom, who was struggling to pour himself a glass of lemonade. “You’re supposed to be the rational one, after all.”

“Why am I the rational one?” Thom asked without looking up.

“Because you are. He certainly isn’t.”

“I’m sitting right here.” Karl pointed out. He was swirling his skewer slowly in the congealing cheese. Neither he nor Bernice had noticed that Thom hadn’t eaten a thing.

“I don’t know how it got decided that I was the rational one.” Thom said. His voice was shaky.

“I really don’t know what makes me so rational.”

“What,” Bernice demanded, “you don’t want to be the rational one? You’d rather be the unstable, perpetually misunderstood one who has ill-fitting clothes and who they always talk about like he’s Howard Hughes at the post office?”

Karl’s posture visibly worsened.

“Thom, it’s a compliment that you’re the rational one.” Bernice concluded. “Would you like to have been institutionalized four times?”

“Two,” Karl corrected her. In truth, Karl had been institutionalized three times, and had raved about the oatmeal they served at the hospital more earnestly each time he’d been released.

“Few people who are genuinely misunderstood want to be understood,” Thom began. The look on his face suggested that he wished he’d never started. “But it’s not like people always know when they’re misunderstanding someone else.”

“It’s because I didn’t want you to smoke in the house, isn’t it?” Bernice asked. “You’re moody about that. Well don’t be. If it’s going to make you this unhappy, smoke the whole damn pack in the house. Grind the ashes into the carpet. Better—ash your cigarettes into father’s urn.”

“Hey, now.” Karl said. He was looking straight up above him into the white sky.

Enormous raindrops began falling, splattering all over the surface of the deck, battering down the long grass around the lake, and disturbing the previously placid surface of the water.

“Get inside.” Bernice began lightly swatting at Karl with her hand, pushing him toward the screen door. When she got him in, she turned around to see Boomer standing at the edge of the deck. “Don’t just stand there, sweetie!” She said. “Come inside!”

Lightning struck on the other side of Lake Merrymoore.

Boomer, his polo shirt dripping, scurried inside and slammed the screen door behind him.

“It came on so suddenly.” Bernice said when they were all inside. “Where’s Thom?”

“He jumped off the dock.” Boomer said, and hopped up onto a stool pulled close to the kitchen counter.

3 comments:

Katiett said...

I miss you.

Todd says you died.

I'm hoping you're just pretending and I can steal you from him when I MOVE TO NYC IN A WEEK.

Anonymous said...

last night i was talking to brinton jones of the rock band palomino
and he lives in salt lake city and we were talking about provo.

(i'll be there august 15-28)

the daily kirk said...

I read half of it till I realised it wasn't a porn. But the first half was really good.