The GPS gets us lost on the way to the boat launch. We backtrack and I take out Google Maps on my phone. We argue, but familiarly. My husband says he’ll know it by sight. I tell him when he’s on the wrong road, but get left mixed up with right. Turn here, I say, waving my hand in a nameless direction.
Pink wildflowers ring the parking lot.
There is a reunion-sized family spread out in the woodsy area past the restroom: a picnic and hammock and pop up canopy and loud boombox. They wear trucker hats and string bikini and hold beer cans and are at home at this lake in a way I am at home nearly nowhere. I wonder if I am jealous of them. I am not jealous of them. I am glad to be of an age where I am no longer jealous of everyone.
Signs say watch out for blue/green algae.
My husband shows me how to hold the kayak as I get in and also with the same hand use the paddle into a stabilizer so I don’t flip the kayak. He shows me this every year. I lack the muscle memory, and can’t get my body to do what he says. I’ve always been like this: ballet class as a child, yoga as an adult. My body doesn’t know how to mirror another.
He ends up stabilizing my kayak as I step in. I fell in love with him a long time ago for all the things he knew how to do.
The tip of my kayak sluices through the water, making its own wake. I point to a couple lounging atop their neon plastic kayaks, their paddles nowhere near water, lying across the tops of the kayaks. The man hangs onto the woman’s kayak so they don’t drift apart. Their faces are turned up to the sun.
“That’s what I thought marital kayaking would look like,” I say to my husband, though I have to shout. He’s way ahead. One of our first dates decades ago was on a lake like this one, and I’d labored to keep up.
The water is blue and beautiful except for the motorboats. The sky is blue and beautiful. All the fir trees. Even some quilt patches of clearcut are beautiful. A bird flies low to the lake’s surface.
“A heron!” I call out, though I don’t know if it’s a heron. Geese sit on a rock.
We sluice through large swathes of weedy green plants. Motorboats don’t drive through the weedy green plants, making it quiet and nice and seemingly our own. One whole hill is clearcut, bald and burnt out.
“Sad hill to your left,” I say into the expensive, waterproof, floating walkie talkies my husband has clipped to our kayaks. Later I will forget to unclip mine from my kayak and we will drive a half hour home before we realize only one walkie talkie made it back. “Over.”
“Say again,” my husband says. “Over.”
“Sad hill to your left,” I say. “Over.”
I watch him look. I watch him hold the walkie talkie close to his mouth.
“Sad hill,” he says. “Over.”
I float in the middle of the lake while he paddles hard to the other end for exercise. This is what we do best: be apart together. Whenever I have to leave town by myself, I love knowing he’s at home. I love him as a concept. The idea of marriage is warming.
For a while I can see his kayak getting smaller and smaller, but when I look away and look back, I’ve lost sight. Something glints far away. It may be my husband glinting.
When I look at the surface of the lake with my sunglasses, it is dotted with tiny particulate. I wonder if this is blue green algae. When I take off my sunglasses, the particulate disappears. I get sunblock in my left eye. My left eye weeps. The far-off glint turns into my husband’s kayak, tiny then bigger, then life-sized.
I say, “Is this blue-green algae?” when he’s yelling distance.
He tells me no. He says it’s an accumulation of lake stuff. It’s a silly answer though he’s not being silly. We’re having a nice day. My left eye continues to weep.
The wind makes it so I have to paddle hard. I get a blister between my wedding ring and the paddle.
“Marriage gave me a blister,” I yell across the water.
“Marriage gave me an ulcer,” he yells back.
We paddle through a swarm of dragonflies when we’re pulling back into the boat launch, the only insects that look beautiful in a swarm. The couple in the neon kayaks is gone. I watch my husband expertly steer his kayak parallel to the shore. I him get out and heft his kayak to dry land. I steer toward shore but end up perpendicular. My husband tells me I’m okay, he’ll straighten me out.
In the parking lot, two little girls are snapping off heads of the pink wildflowers and stuffing them in a plastic grocery bag. They run past us to a woman at the reunion-sized family. The woman yells from her plastic lounge chair, “What did you find me?” and the girls yell the berries looked poison but they brought flowers.
Miriam Gershow is a novelist (The Local News) and story writer. Her stories appear in The Georgia Review, Gulf Coast, and Quarterly West, among others. Recent flash appears in Pithead Chapel, HAD, and Variant Lit, where it won the Inaugural Pizza Prize.
Check out HFR’s book catalog, publicity list, submission manager, and buy merch from our Spring store. Follow us on Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube.