The Lake House, Later — Brenden Wysocki



         A woman is dead, I know this.
         There is a police station, a polygraph, and a political favor to speed up the process, I know this because this is what I am told.
         My parents usher me home. I sit one row in front of them, in first class, on a flight from John Wayne to O’Hare.
         At baggage claim, the bags come quickly. I know this because it happened before. The voice overhead tells me that bags left unattended are confiscated by members of the Chicago Police Department. I don’t see any abandoned bags.
         The voice overhead also says not to accept rides from the upper levels. I follow my parents to the parking garage. They look tired. I think I might be tired too. I’m surprised they drove and parked at the airport.
         “Honey, what level are we on again?” My mother asks my father.
         “The Cubs.” My father turns to me, “We aren’t even finished with spring training and already they stink. Probably should have parked on the Bears level, they‘ll be good this year.”
         My parents have forgotten where on the level they parked, and my father presses the panic button on his remote. We follow the blaring car alarm.
         Sleepover. On the floor. At the foot of my parent’s king size bed. A ritual once sparked by fears. I leave that space at fourteen without vowing not to return. My mother sets down cushions from one of the older couches in the never used upstairs office.
         “Since you aren’t fourteen anymore, plus now we have wood flooring.” She drapes a sheet over the cushions, sets down a blanket and two pillows. Lights go off. We go to sleep.

#

         I wake up on top of the duvet cover in the late morning. I don’t remember walking to my bedroom in the middle of the night. I go into the bathroom and see my California tan in the mirror. I trace my fingers over the hair stubbles on my chest. I can’t remember the last time I took a razor to my skin. For the smoothness. In California, I am embarrassed to have chest hair. I do not know why.
         A surge comes and my brain feels like it’s being electrocuted. In the aftermath of the shock, brain rattles around my skull, and images come.

The key turns.
The door sticks.
A slight nudge with the knee.
There is no pubic hair.
No stubble.

         I open up the window: gray. April is nearing an end, and the weather is still calling for wool. I will die in a Midwest spring, it’s inevitable. My bedroom-turned-guestroom has a dresser with two drawers filled with my sweaters–never the need for them in California. I put on a gray sweater with a red stripe plastered across the chest.
         Empty house. Downstairs on the kitchen counter is a pound of coffee and a folded piece of paper. With a black sharpie, my mother has written: “We renewed your membership at the health club. And here is a piece of mail for you. Love, Mom.”
         My best friend Hannah and her boyfriend Garrett, now living in Texas, have already sent me a postcard. It’s a rectangular beer coaster, and on the back, she writes: Garrett and I miss you.
         I take my cup of coffee outside and recline on the Chaise. The temperature drops. The house has red bricks and I count each one. My sweater isn’t enough warmth. I pour the rest of my coffee into a pot with dirt that is at least a month away from receiving flowers. A woman is dead.

#

         I stand on the treadmill inside the health club. It may not have been the same treadmill as years ago, but it’s the same spot: lengthy mirror behind and the basketball court ahead. Years ago, I use a bright red marker to draw a diagonal line from Chicago to Los Angeles on a large map of the United States. I log my miles and use a blue thumbtack across the bright red line. I think the map is gone now, probably destroyed at some point by a spring flood in the basement. The tack probably made it to the Arch. I look at myself in the mirror, now stripped of sweaters, I am wearing things found in my father’s closet: a lime-green Danger Brothers 1987 concert t-shirt, and orange University of Illinois mesh shorts. I roll up the elastic waistband of the shorts and double knot the gym shoes. The belt moves, I feel the consistent, methodical movement that once trapped me into images of going west. And now I run with the thought if I am an escapist, it means I am omnipotent. Half of a mile. One mile. A mile and a quarter.

Surge. Shock. Rattle. And.
The key turns.
The door sticks.
A slight nudge with the knee.
It’s cold, colder than normal.
Closed mouth and open eyes.

         I pull the emergency stop cord, jump off the treadmill and run across the basketball court while a game is in progress. The dribbled basketball, a drumbeat warning. The door of the stall swings back and hits me while I hover over the toilet, offering only dry heaves.
         I grab a white towel emblazoned with a big Z, the club’s logo. I push the cheap material against my face. The surges hurt, but so do the images. Standing over the sink, I see in the mirror an old man air-drying. The old man’s sagging belly isn’t large enough to hide his genitals. Pubic hair would go gray with age.
         I mutter, “Did something bad happen to her?”
         “Yeah, some weather we’re having,” he says and then smacks talcum powder over his belly and genitals.

#

         Argyle sweater with many shades of brown Wednesday. The door near my edge of the patio opens slightly and a child nearly two runs out and goes right to the rocks that are placed around a low row of once lush and well-manicured bushes.
         I hear my sister yell, “Have fun you two. Avery, don’t let her boss you around.” My sister doesn’t stay, she is late for work, my niece comes over more often than before. I think my sister and mother are conspiring by using the presence of my niece, nearly two, to help me forget, help me move forward.
         My niece likes to be outside too. She likes to inspect the rocks. First, she picks up a rock, looks at every part of the surface, then holds the rock and picks up another rock. Inspects. Holds. She tries to put three rocks in a hand, but her hand isn’t big enough. She decides to put two rocks in each hand. She walks to the other end of the bushes and drops them onto the pile of rocks. Then she bends down at that end and does the whole process over. Inspect. Hold. Drop off. She never looks back at me, I’m not even there, she is so focused on her geological project. Such focus. I see my mother watching us from the kitchen window. There are limestones beneath me, I count them.

The lighting is soft and slightly dimmed.
No freckles and no moles.
No blemishes.
No tattoos.
It’s cold, colder than normal.

         I mutter, “Was she killed? Did she kill herself?”
         I can see out of the corner of my left eye my niece has turned to look at me, and I see her nodding.
         “Which one?”
         She’s back to inspecting rocks.
         I get up and pour my coffee onto the dirt in the pot. I drop the mug on top of the dirt. I put my hands on my knees and try to focus out the rattling.
         “Are you OK?” My mother asks as she walks up to me.
         “Fine.”
         “Another day of inspecting rocks, huh?”
         My mother hands me another homemade postcard from Hannah and Garrett. Hannah has put a laminate over a photo and wrote: Texas Spring: 103° F
         The picture is of the three of us in Pasadena near the Rose Bowl Stadium.
         “Maybe this week we can go get a frame for the picture,” my mother says to me as I stare at the photo.
         It was Hannah’s first trip back to Southern California after college. She brought Garrett. They met on a dating site. She moved into his place several months later.
         I drove Hannah and Garrett beyond the marine layer, through the four Figueroa Street tunnels, little portals on the 110 freeway. The heat surrounded us when we pulled open our beach chairs on the pavement. The parking lots around the Rose Bowl Stadium would provide the best view. Then we waited. In the distance was an unobstructed view of the San Gabriel Mountains.
         It was all Hannah. She needed to see the skywriting. Bruce Nauman was going to write to us. Thirty years he has been planning this display. We were waiting for the skywriting.
         After a time we figured we have missed it, but when we got up from our beach chairs to leave, the language was right behind us. How did it happen, so quickly, the smoke of: LEAVE THE LAND ALONE. And then we saw five planes in a straight line writing out the letters, so quick were the planes to create these words. And then the smoke dissipates, but the planes will create over those words, always creating: LEAVE THE LAND ALONE.
         Driving back to the Orange County, I tried to understand if this was eco-rhetoric, but that made the display ironic: leave the land alone, but contribute to the pollution by having these five planes fly over Pasadena? Hannah told us that the information she had gathered over time, suggested that the intent was not an environmental slogan, it was a human directive. How we should leave the land, or perhaps how we will leave the land. And here she sends me this picture, is it merely a coincidence? Is this only a nice picture of a fun afternoon? Or this is a directive, a human directive within an ongoing narrative?

#

         The library is next to the health club. Time length at the health club can be indeterminate. A workout routine provides an open timetable, a safe cover. The library is nice because the air conditioning is fierce and my wool sweaters don’t attract attention. The library ladies have thick, wool, oversized sweaters with a belt for cinching, much like a little short bathrobe.
         I feel comfort in our communal wardrobes, but I still sit at the computers farthest from them, there’s no need for me to be muttering at them. Believe me? Don’t believe me? Search to find concrete evidence, simple facts. This will exonerate me. But nothing has changed. The woman has never been identified, there are no leads. The case is closed. For now. I log off, and I’m counting the books on each shelf.

#

         This day. Oldest wool sweater. Junior year of high school. It’s black, maybe a little bit charcoal, with three buttons and a collar. By far my favorite, the one more distinguished than the rest. I’m sweating a little bit, there’s afternoon sun.
         It’s bagel time with my niece. My mother is driving and I am in the back seats next to my niece who is propped up in her car seat. She’s flipping through catalogs, and I tell her, “point to something you like.” Sometimes taking her time, sometimes not, she shoves her finger onto a section of the page and then looks back at me with a smile.
         My mother follows my niece as she makes her rounds in the café. My niece holds a gnawed off blueberry bagel in her left hand and with her other hand, she waves at each person she encounters. I put a few ice cubes into my coffee so I can drink it right away.

The key turns.
The door sticks.
A slight nudge with the knee.
No smell.
Legs not crossed.
Feet together.
Well-manicured nails.

         In the bathroom, after I vomit, I hear a man near the sinks say into his mobile, “No, man, I’m in the restroom. I think there’s someone with food poisoning. Let’s hope he didn’t have the lox.”
         Even back in the car, my brain still hasn’t quite finished rattling.
         My mother whispers to me, while my niece is napping, “You know, your dad and I were thinking that maybe you want to talk with someone, a doctor, someone who might prescribe you something, get you through this, this initial, initial shock.” My mother wants to keep driving around rather than risk waking my niece by stopping our movement, and bringing her inside the house. “Avery, it wouldn’t mean doing it forever.”
         I’m only interested in a drone strike on my memory. I don’t want my thoughts to be excised and placed on a couch and examined. She was there or she wasn’t there. No need to extrapolate from that reality. A woman, who I don’t know, is dead.
         “I’ve been thinking about it. I mean, maybe. I need more time to acclimate to something like that.”

#

         In my yellow sweater, I read while sitting on the Chaise. To my right, my mother is gardening.
         “You aren’t hot in that thing?” My mother asks.
         “Well, it is yellow.”
         “It’s wool.”
         “I’m fine.”
         “Are you expecting a call?”
         “What?”
         “You brought the house phone outside here with us.”
         “Oh, well, since we were both out here, didn’t want us to miss any calls.”
         “Are you expecting to be someone’s lifeline?”
         “Mom.”
         “I think you smiled a bit.”
         “That show isn’t even on the air anymore.”
         Hannah sends an email yesterday to let me know that her aunt, on a whim, has decided to go to Europe, for a vague amount of time, and asked Hannah if she would look after her lake house in Wisconsin. She wants to know if I will join her and Garrett. I’ve asked her to call with the invite. I don’t want to have to explain my little field trips to the public library.
         “Glad to see you reading again. So many books you still have to get through, which one is that?” My mother asks.
         “Different works by Samuel Beckett, stories and plays.” I hesitate and then say, “Beckett makes sense to me. He once said about his characters, them and me we’re quits, let them unravel without me.”
         “We would pick up your sister at some faraway soccer camp and you would read to me while I drove. Could you read a little bit for me now while I plant these flowers?”
         I slowly read a few pages without raising or lowering the tone of my voice.
         “He certainly has a way with words. I’ve never heard of Samuel Beckett. I’m guessing he’s someone famous or was.”
         A faded blue birdbath swings from a branch above my mother. There’s pain and then.

Too cold inside to be California.
There are no tan lines.
The key turns.
There are no rings on her fingers.
The door sticks.
No blood.

         I set down my book, and as I near the door I hear my mother say,
         “Everything OK?”
         I use the upstairs bathroom for privacy.
         When I come back out, I tell my mother, “Another bad bagel, I suppose.”
         She hands me the phone, “Hannah called. I didn’t realize you were keeping up with them, other than the postcards.”

#

         As my father drives out of our subdivision he says, “This should be fun, you’re like an old time Chicago mobster, summering at a lake house in Wisconsin. I think your old time mobster name should be Avery ‘The Avalanche’ Collins.”
         I ask, “Can we make a slight detour before we go to the aunt’s home? I want to go to Popeye’s in Lake Geneva.”
         “Will we be getting the garlic cheese mini-pizza, then the bacon cheeseburger and seasoned fries,” he adds.
         “Yes. All of it.”
         “Excellent. And the time it will take from Popeye’s to the aunt’s house will give you enough time to work off a grease stomachache. Now I’m thinking your old time mobster name should be Avery ‘The Axe’ Collins?”
         Today the fries are no longer seasoned, and the mini-pizza has been removed from the menu. I still manage to create a grease stomachache. As soon as we are back on the interstate, my father talks about the upcoming Bears season, he thinks the woes at quarterback are finally over. Although I agree with him, I stay silent, as I sense this is a lead-in conversation.
         “Take your time out here, call us when you’re ready to come back home.”
         “Should be back before the season opener,” I say.
         “I know mom had a conversation with you about this, but I too want to say I think talking with someone, trying it out, see how it might go, wouldn’t hurt.”
         Several nights ago, I couldn’t sleep and thought I could if I was at the foot of my parents’ bed. At the door, I hear the whispering, the conversation that I am all too ready to overhear.
         “Everything was so subtle,” I hear my father say.
         “He’s twenty-four now, it might be something else. Maybe it’s not that bad.”
         I look at the grazing cows, rather than my father, “I won’t go back to California.”
         I will try and count the cows we drive by.
         “I know.”
         “You guys don’t really want me to, do you?”
         “Not really, but that’s not.”
         I interrupt, “Yeah, maybe a doctor.”
         My father’s turn to interrupt, “A person to talk to.”
         I want to give them something, “OK.”
         “You’ll take a break and we’ll have some people lined up for you to see when you come back.”
         My father parks the car in front of a small two-story house with faded yellow paint that almost looks white. I walk to the front door and my father follows me. I push the doorbell and then knock on the door several times. No one is answering and my father looks around.
         “Give ‘em a call,” my father suggests.
         I tell him that they’re as bad as I use to be about misplacing or consistently having the mobile in silent mode. He hands me his phone. We hear a ring near the door.
         “Door is probably unlocked,” my father says as he easily turns the knob.
         I follow him inside and he says, “It’s a lake house in Wisconsin, after all.”
         I can feel something coming, but there is a hardwood floor, lots of natural light, and I can see Garrett’s stretching mat near a far window and I’m able to breathe in and breathe out, no thoughts in between.
         My father and I yell for Hannah and Garrett until our movements take us beyond the back door. We are standing in front of the very large lawn with very leafy, large branched trees, keeping the grass very green, even during a summer with little rain. And beyond all that is the lake. The lake is so present, aware of its beauty, aware that you have to stand and take it in.
         “You don’t have to wait with me. They’re probably out for a run or something.”
         “Have the best time ever. Here’s a little something for a barbecue, some beers.”
         “Thanks,” I say taking some bills from his hand and shoving them into my pocket.
         I wave as my father navigates in reverse down the long narrow driveway. When he gets to the end, Hannah and Garrett are making their turn into the driveway from their run. My father stops and brings down his window.
         All three talk. And they talk. And talk. It becomes too much talking. I take the first step towards them, I see Garrett pointing at his dog, and I stop and smile, know Garrett is telling my father, “This is Vixy with a V.” My father must be thinking the same thing I did when Garrett introduces his dog to me as Vixy with a V: what other letter could it be?
         As my father drives away, Hannah and Garrett are running towards me, yelling my name.
         We hug and Vixy with a V paws at my leg.
         “You’ll love the simplicity of your bedroom. The window, dark blue shades, a dresser, a desk and three well-placed lamps. There’s also a quilt my aunt stitched. OK, maybe the quilt is the something I love,” Hannah tells me.
         Hannah smells very fresh after her run, she’s glowing. A Wisconsin lake locale suits her far better than the heat of Texas or the looming smog of Southern California.
         “I’m going to leave you to put on your swimming shorts, come down when you’re ready and we’ll jump in the lake together.”
         I come downstairs, Hannah is changing out the current light bulbs with energy efficient bulbs and Garrett is stretching.
         “Hey A, I made muffins, if you want one before we go outside,” Hannah offers.
         “Bran muffins. Bran muffins with flax seeds,” Garrett grunts mid-stretch.
“A little extreme. Do we really need that much cleansing?” I say, “You probably need a little cleansing, I know you and your dad stopped and had a grease-fest on your way up here,” Hannah replies.

#

         Outside, Hannah uses her left hand to rub sun block on my back and uses her right hand to rub sun block into Garrett’s back.
         “Are you getting it all over, really blanketing me. I don’t want to turn into a spotted cow later tonight,” I tell Hannah.
         “I don’t know man, her dominant hand is right.”
         “Well, she does have skill doing it simultaneously.”
         “Such a good swirling technique.”
         “The utmost thanks for the critique.”
         I’m the first to run down the small hill to the water, but Hannah and Garrett follow and quickly pass me. We dive off the tiny dock and swim to the neighbor’s inflatable raft. We jump, and jump, and jump off the raft. We tread water together in a circle. Little drops of water cling to Garrett’s face and Hannah’s face. We’re silent and we wade as if it’s a test of wills. But it isn’t a competition. There is no on your marks. There is no get ready, get set. There is no go. Hannah and Garrett swim back to the plastic island. I follow them. On our island, I lie between them. Hannah and Garrett are tanner than I am.
         “I can’t stop thinking about it, what happened that night,” Garrett says breaking the silence.
         “Garrett, we agreed.”
         “I’m sorry. Just came out of me. Sorry, Avery.”
         “No, it’s OK. I don’t know who she was. I don’t know how she got there. Why was I chosen; I hope they had a reason. I don’t blame myself. But sometimes I hate myself. And my hatred has nothing to do with the naked woman who was stretched out on my bed. The woman who had no pubic hair, who had no tan lines. The woman’s face was… dead. There was a, there was.” Hannah glides the tips of her fingers over my stomach, over the hair growing in thick. “There was a time, I thought I knew more than I realized, maybe even did something to her, put her body in my bed. But I didn’t. I keep having to insert that into my narrative. This is something that could happen at random, could be random. I didn’t do anything. Literally, she was there, in my bed, when I came home.”
         “When you found her did you, I don’t know, like touch her?” Garrett asked.
         “I didn’t touch anything. I sat down right where I was. Why couldn’t she have taken Nauman’s directive to leave the land fucking alone?”
         “Maybe she did,” Garrett says.
         And maybe she took me with her.
         Hannah sits up, “I guess you have to find a safety that’s inside the violence.”
         “It’s safe here. This lake. These trees,” I say.
         “I forgot how much green there is here. And there’s always a deer. A deer is always there, in some spot, during my run. Probably not a good segue, sorry Avery, but I have to go. Do you think your body lets you pee and tread water at the same time?”
         “I think I did it once, I think you can,” Hannah says.
         “Anyone else need to go?”
         Hannah shakes her head and I say, “I’m good.”
         Garrett dives off the plastic island, loudly splashing into the lake.
         I turn to Hannah, “I’m not going back to California.”
         Garrett yells back to us, “It’s harder than I thought.”
         Hannah whispers to me, “We know.”
         “I will probably go to some doctors when this is all over with. The well has been poisoned. I can’t bring myself to trade on this tragic moment, so I don’t know what happens after all this, this lake house.”
         There are already bills I’ve found. Paper-clipped. From as far away as England. Doctors. Added to that stack.
         Garrett makes a couple of attempts to get back on the plastic island. The raft tips up a bit and Hannah’s head knocks into my shoulder.
         “That kind of hurt,” Hannah says as she tries to move back to her spot.
         “Almost got it, almost there.”
         “How’d it go?” I ask.
         “I felt like I emptied places I didn’t know held pee to empty.”
         “Avery, tell Garrett about the first time you saw a transvestite because you really had to go to the bathroom.”
         “I really had to pee, had to go like a banshee.”
         “What is a banshee?” Garrett asks.
         “He doesn’t know,” Hannah says.
         “She’s right. But rhythmically, the word felt right. Oddly enough, there was a bathroom in the parking structure. I’ve never seen a bathroom in a structure except in.”
         “Santa Monica,” Hannah interjects. “In those structures that all look the same, and the bathrooms are sort of below street level. Even the lights outside scream horror film franchise.”
         “Garrett, I was in the fifth grade. And I imagine it will be quite the cliché when I say that it happened in San Francisco. If this was a fictional story, I would say like Boston or Denver.
         But then again it was the early nineties, your options for witnessing this in public were limited. Anyway, I release my stored fluids, make my way to the sink. Garrett why are you laughing, I haven’t.”
         “Oh man, I was thinking of you as a kid going to wash his hands in a bathroom in a parking structure, but I don’t know.”
         “I wasn’t that bad back then, but probably compared to another boy from the Midwest, I may have been. Again, anyway, at the adjacent sink was a man putting makeup on, a white base, as if he was transforming himself into a pantomime. No one else paid him any attention, figured he was a street performer getting ready for his show. But I paid him mind, and when our gazes collided in the mirror, his eyes seemed to siphon every thought out of my brain. I left the water running, rubbed my hands on my jeans, and got the hell out of there. After about two or three hours of urban walking and stopping off at different tourist hot spots, my family and I were walking past a rather nondescript apartment building, and on the steps was a woman who was looking at a photo album. After she looked at each page, she would smash the pictures up against her chest. And then our gazes collided, and then it was that stare, and it was the guy from the bathroom.”
         “Well, what happened next?” Garrett asks.
         “We kept walking, my family oblivious to what I had experienced.”
         “Is that the end?”
         “Well, that’s the nonfiction ending. But I have never forgotten our collision of stares.
         “How alone I was in those moments, and he knew it, his eerie eyes, knew it, trying to take something from me.”
         “Well then, now we have reached a dramatic ending,” Hannah said.

#

         Garrett is stretching and Hannah is reading in bed when I step into the bedroom.
         “Can I sleep in here tonight?” I ask holding couch cushions and the homemade quilt.
         Hannah says sure, and I place my things at the foot of the king-size bed.
         “Good night Avery and Garrett,” Hannah says as she turns out her lamp.
         “Good night Hannah and Garrett.”
         “Goodnight Avery and Hannah.” And with that Garrett turns off his lamp.
         I hear their soft breathing and I command the memory I have been hoarding.
         I’ve dialed 911, I say there is a dead woman. Excuse me, sir. I say again, there is a dead woman, there is a dead woman in my bed. I don’t understand, sir. I don’t know who she is. Are you in danger, sir? I’m sending help right now. The operator wants me to stay on the line. But I don’t because I want that piece of broken glass on the oatmeal carpeting. I bend down, pick up the piece that my mind covets. I place the sharp edge to my skin, to finish the job that they so callously started. That they botched. That they didn’t complete. Working my way from light pressure to something more, black hands gently take the piece away from my fingers. The police officer puts his arm around my back and escorts me outside where the ocean breeze is very cold when it hits my skin. The officer puts himself between me and his squad car.
         “You’re all right,” he says matter-of-factly.
         The officer opens the car door and ushers me into the backseat. I see others running inside the building. The officer gets behind the wheel, and we drive without his patrol lights, without the siren. It takes a considerably long time to get to the station.
         I hear Vixy with a V’s paws on the floor. She rests herself right next to me.

#

         The days go by here at the lake house. We swim. We BBQ and drink beer. We play Bocce Ball and I win a lot. These days, I don’t get electrocuted, so then there is no rattle, there isn’t what comes next. We go to a bar, with a full, mounted American Black Bear that greets us at the entrance. We’re there several times a week for live music. It’s been only cover bands, until tonight. Coming on stage, is a girl from Arizona, with an acoustic guitar, who looks familiar, but I used to think everyone looked familiar.
         She adjusts the microphone and says, “I’ve never been to Wisconsin before. They told me it was green here, but it’s really green.”
         This singer, she looks familiar. Almost everyone buys her CDs, buys more than her current CD. Her surprise at this outpouring is genuine, her smile is real.

Electrocuted. Crash around my skull.
Straight brown hair to the shoulders.
No Blood.
No makeup.
The door sticks.
Slight nudge with my knee.

         I go into the bathroom. It smells of rotten eggs. I smack my palm at the stall door to shove it open, but it’s locked and I lean over a trash can and puke. The guys in the bathroom clap and holler. I look at them, “But there was a dead woman.” No one hears me and many others exit the bathroom.
         Walking back to the lake house, Garrett leaves the side of the road and heads into the field. “Only be a minute. I know, I know, should have gone before we left the bar.”
         I look at Hannah, “We might as well go too.”
         We follow Garrett into the field and I am gravitated to the communal experience, like before. But I think a mosquito might take a bite out of my penis, and this prevents me from peeing.
         When we all did this a year ago we were on an interstate in Texas.
         We pulled off onto a gravel road. I’m sure we could have held our bladders in check until we came across a gas station. But I think I kept pushing for us to stop and go right there on the Texas countryside. The sun had set, and it was newly dark along the landscape. Hannah suggested we leave the headlights on, but then we all stared at how bright the lights shined on the area in front of us. No one moved, and then Hannah said, “How about we turn the lights off.”
         I walked farthest away from the car, away from the two of them, but wondered how close they were to each other, how close was their pee experience. I couldn’t go, so I dangled. I stared at a wood pole and tangled up barbed wire, and the idea that a Texas longhorn might come charging at me provided the fear necessary to trigger my bladder.
         I see red and blue lights in the deep dark and I don’t remember that as part of the image in Texas. A cop car is parked on the side of the road and an officer is walking up to Garrett and Hannah. I zip up and watch as he talks and then points beyond them at me. They all turn to stare at me as I walk towards them. “Welcome to the party,” the officer, says to me, and then to all of us, “How about I see some IDs.”
         Garrett smacks a mosquito on his arm and hands over his ID first.
         The officer says, “Texas.”
         Hannah then hands her ID.
         “And another Texas.”
         I am not sure I should give him my ID. What if he goes back to his car and puts my name into his little box, will there be an alert, what will it tell him, what will he do?
         Mosquito. On my neck. Smack.
         Hannah says, “Officer, we were only talking,” smack, “My boyfriend right here thought he saw some deer, and we went to go look for it.”
         The officer won’t take his eyes off me, “Is there a reason you don’t want to give me your ID?”
         Hannah continues, “It’s not every day we get to see deer.”
         But maybe I’ll learn something, maybe this cop will interpret something. To get it over with I hand him my ID.
         “And Cali-for-nia. So, Texas, Texas, and California. You three are a long way from home.”
         He wants us in some way to respond, but we all stand in silence, attacking the mosquitoes.
         “Did we,” smack, “Do anything wrong, officer?” Hannah asks.
         “Of course you did something wrong, otherwise I wouldn’t be standing here. I thought that in Texas and California trespassing was a crime, public urination was a crime.”
         Officers were athletic in Los Angeles, they drove around with the motto, protect and serve. There’s no motto on his car that patrols this town at the lake. He’s not athletic.
         “We are some out-of-towners excited to see,” smack, “the deer.”
         I’ve given you my ID, go back to the car and see what the little black box inside tells you. Or call up the station, see what they tell you. Do something. Stop looking at us. Do something more than look. Do something more than fiddle our IDs with your fingers.
         “It’s usually,” smack, “belligerent behavior, disruptive noise, that attracts us. But I saw you in a field, corner of my eye. Deer, huh.”
         Go back to your car. Find out what my ID tells you.
         “We’re visiting, and we’re out for a walk,” Hannah tells the officer.
         He hands us back our IDs. “It’s late, how about I drive you back to where you are staying. And then we agree you try to hold it next time.”
         All three of us squeeze into the back seat. No patrol lights. No siren. He drives slowly as well.

No Blood.
Arms straight.
Hair flat on the mattress.

         “Is he OK?” The officer asks, looking at us in his rearview mirror.
         “Going through a bad break up,” Garrett quickly answers. Hannah looks at him, he shrugs and mouths the word, “What?” And then she mouths the word, “OK.”
         Adding to the fable, Hannah says, “She was a cop,”
         “Is that so? I guess that’s why you hesitated to give me an ID.”
         Hannah and Garrett fall onto their bed and I find myself on the floor at the foot of their bed.

#

         At first light, I stand up. Vixy follows me out of the bedroom. The only noise is Vixy’s paws on the floor, and skin from my foot sticking to the floor. I make sure to close the back door to keep Vixy inside the house. All the bugs that swarm everywhere at night are now gone.
         The lake is still.
         I take off my shirt, drop it to the ground.
         I walk towards the still lake.
         I stop, push my shorts down and step out.
         I walk towards the still lake.
         I stop, strip off my boxer briefs.
         Being nude outside induces a semi-erection.
         I feel the weight of my penis swaying from side to side.
         I step onto the wood of the dock and I am fully erect.
         I dive into the still lake. The cold water immediately severs my erection.
         I swim until I don’t feel like swimming.
         I turn to look at the house while I tread water.
         I imagine my father picking me up from the lake house. He asks me if I had a good time. I hear myself say, it was good. My father wants to know if I would like to go to the Brat Stop on my way home, get a burger with beef and ground up brat. My father wants to know if I remember the Brat Stop. I nod.
         I tread water until I don’t feel like treading anymore.


***


Brenden Wysocki‘s work has appeared in CutBank. He lives in Chicago, Illinois.