Daniel Meehan: By the Lakeshore
Fiction by CW&P Student Daniel Meehan
When I was a young boy, and the ducks still bobbed along the little teeming lake of our backwater home, and the fish dove deep by the breast-high shoal out in the wasted wetlands, the sun sank half as slow. The sunset was twice as red, the darkness of the night deep and rich, the pinpoint stars dangling in the sky. I walked under a mild wind, careless, happy to roam within the blind pine forest. In the bright sun days, I saw the woodpecker jostle the tenderly dying tree, heard the fat squirrel chattering high in the branches as the sun baked the summer leaves a light green. My mother, not far away, yet miles gone to my child’s mind, huffed along in our house, teeming with yeasty bread and inexhaustible shelves of books.
She loved the books as physical objects, the bound and glued pages, collected piles of them in the sunny upstairs corner of her office. Even in quiet moments of motionless exhaustion a book was near, sometimes held lightly at her fingertips, sometimes resting on the table beside her. Often, she snored an hour-long nap away with a book balancing precariously in her hand, and I stood beside her, waiting to catch it as it fell, not wanting the dull thud to wake her.
It was my mother who bought me my first dusty paperback from a cardboard bin outside of a bookstore. She gave me a reason to come in from the woods and read with her. But I was lost in the wilds, intrigued by every toad and wave-smoothed stone along the thin strip of sand by the lakeshore. My mother stayed in the house when the weather turned, surrounding herself with paperback novels and heavy Harvard Classics.
As I grew and the grass shot through the cracks of the concrete patio, I became restless. At college I met Sandra, who loved to paint sprawling landscapes. When I told her about our wildlands, she needled me for days until I took her home with me. There my mother sat, on the empty porch, a book in her lap, her hands clasped like a dove over the cover of a collection of poems by Cesare Pavese.
When Sandra and my mother got past initial politeness and plunged headlong into the depths of conversation, they made it sound like art, angels whispering in the backgrounds of Michelangelos. Each sentence was a brushstroke, the laughter was a sprig of clover. For days I hovered around the house as Sandra and my mother talked about the books they’d read. I was happy, out of my element, cheerfully embarrassed.
When I took Sandra out past the shoal, and into the forest carrying a spike-footed easel, and a green canvas bag full of paints, I was in possession of myself. We came past the uneven ground to the wide belly of the lake. She painted the opposite edge of the water with the poplar and maple trees turning golden and red, the green pines dappling the scene. I busied myself watching the ripples of the lake and skipping stones across the calm surface. Some birds flew dolefully overhead and when the sun started to go down, we packed up and I led her back to the house through the half-lit woods.
The next day my mother went with us and brought books to the shore. She sat on an old blanket in her jeans and jacket, as the rags of a summer breeze swept across the lake. The wind lulled. I sat beside her, and she handed me the little paperback she’d bought me years ago which I had never read. And I read it beside her at last.
When Sandra finished her work, she lay down on the blanket, and her painting sat on the easel, drying. She looked at it carefully but soon put her head down, beside my leg, touching my thigh as she looked up at me.
The wind rose and picked up the painting, sending it wafting over the lake. The sun glinted lower each minute on the horizon.