Mother's dead now. She passed away the year after I graduated from college. Lymphatic cancer was the symptom; Dad says she was just worn out with living.
So, now when I visit the lake, it's just me and Dad. We don't talk much--he always said that Wisconsin woods respect silence. Besides, after we talk about our jobs for the first few hours, there's not a whole lot left.
He loves the lake. He bought the cottage when I was five. Every kid should grow up on a lake, he used to chuckle, hen he'd swing me around in the air and hug me to his scratchy face while my mother laughed and told him to start grilling dinner.
So, I grew up on the lake--and I grew up with Sally. Her family lived on the next lot. Our parents were friendly in that way that cottage neighbors always are: beer around the fire at night, picnics together, taking care of each other's kids. Sally and I fell in love when I was seven and she was five. It's hard to remember what we did back then, or how to describe two young children in love, but our parents remember that life was miserable if we weren't playing together.
Children grow up quickly, viewed from the vantage point of age. I spent two summers two summers during high school working out of state to raise money for college. I had to come back the summer of my senior year. I was worn out and cynical in that way that only college bound teenagers can be. Now I was eighteen and Sally was sixteen, and Sally was beautiful. In two years she had turned into a breathtaking sight. Her long blond hair cascaded over her shoulders and back and glistened in the sun. She was long and lissome with a tan tantalizing in its white borders. I'd forgotten how blue her eyes were. She welcomed me back as I climbed out of the car with a kiss and a hug, pressing her breasts against me and then running off to the lake telling me to come swimming as soon as I was unpacked.
We were alone on the beach all day that day, and we talked for a long time. I told her the truth I'd been hiding for a long time, that I was afraid of college. I told her I was full of self doubt, and that I didn't know what I wanted or where I was going. She laughed and talked to me about parties. She ran with the popular crowd at her school, and while I lay on the dock in the sun, she told me about wild nights driving on the back roads with friends. Hot young bodies wrapped around a case of beer, four bottles of wine, and an ounce of purest gold--air hazy with the burning of it.
"Let's go to Loon Cove tonight." I said.
"I'd love to." she answered, and dove off the dock
Loon Cove was on the north side of the lake. It got its name from the many families of loons which lived on it. Sally had always loved it. As kids, she used to tell me over and over again all the tales that our parents would tell us at night about the loons: how they had been tricked by an angry god years ago who had hidden their souls underwater, and thus their cry was so sad, and they were always diving to look for their lost souls. But her favorite story was about how when a loon lost its mate it flew up to heaven to become a lonely star: loons mate for life.
I met her at sunset with a six-pack, and we climbed into the Starcraft. My father's pride and joy was his cottage, but his baby was the Starcraft. He had taught me everything about taking care of it three years ago. At the time he had winked a lot and said that Sally and I would love the boat someday. At the time I had blushed, but now I smiled at the memory and reached under the dash.
"What are you doing?" Sally asked. It was a hot night, and she was wearing a yellow bikini.
"I'm hot-wiring it." I explained. "We lost the keys last year and never bothered to get them replaced."
"Let me watch." she said. And I took a deep breath as she lay down at my feet peering up under the dash. She was ravishing.
I took her hand and showed her what to do.
"Disconnect the red wire at its base here, and the green wire from the column. Twist them together and then wrap the black wire around this screw." The engine caught with a cough and settled down to a steady rumble.
"Mm, that's easy." she said, and slid her fingers from my hand and down my leg. Then she stood up and threw her hair back from her face. "Let's go." she smiled.
It didn't take long to get there. I dropped anchor and slid into the back seat with her. We both cracked a beer and I put my arm around her. As she settled back a loon began to call.
We went to Loon Cove every night that week, and I'd always bring wine or beer. We'd drink and talk, and as the moon rose we'd kiss with my hands trembling behind her back. She'd close her eyes and kiss hungrily, and our tongues would meet briefly. Kisses were heaven. If it got hot, we'd swim from the boat. Loon Cove was beautiful.
It rained that next weekend, and I stayed home with my parents. I saw her Monday on the dock. She dove into the water and swam to the float, and then called back smiling that she had forgotten her suntan oil. If I brought it out to her I could rub some on, she teased. I laughed and dove in to reach her.
When I got to the float, she was lying on her stomach with the back of her bikini top untied. "Do my back, will you?" As I rubbed the hot oil on she said, "Let's smoke some grass tonight at Loon Cove." and came a little up on her arms to look at me.
"I haven't got any." I said.
"I do." she whispered, and lay back down again.
I let Sally hot-wire the boat that night. She said it made her feel deliciously unlawful. When I asked her how carrying around a half-ounce of marijuana made her feel, she just smiled and said, "You'll see."
Loon Cove was just as we had left it: quiet, peaceful, and calm. We swam for about an hour and then climbed into the boat. "Let's get high." she said, and began packing a small pipe.
After six bowls, Sally leaned back and sighed. Then she giggled. "I'd better be careful, or my bikini will smell like pot."
I was stoned. I helped her take it off.
We made love languorously. We made love frantically. We got hopelessly high and made love across the Milky Way while the loons called sadly after their lost souls.
The summer waxed and waned, and Sally and I smoked and made love all around the lake, but it was always best at Loon Cove...
The Starcraft developed engine trouble around the beginning of August, and my father delegated me to fix it. I was in the middle of its disassembly when I saw Sally on the dock.
"I'm going into town. Want to come with?" she asked.
"I can't. Gotta fix the boat."
"What's wrong?" she asked, and I told her it was just some trouble in the carburetor flow. "As long as we can still go to Loon Cove tonight." she smiled slyly, and turned around.
"You can count on it." I called after her.
In fact, I finished twenty minutes later. I thought I'd surprise her, so I followed her into town. There were only a few places she could be in a town that small, and I finally saw her coming out of Kelso's grocery--with her arm around a tall guy with black hair. I'd seem him around occasionally; he lived about seven lots away from us. I'd never talked to him before, and I sure didn't feel like it just now. I ducked behind a pickup. I should have just left, but I was fascinated. The got into a blue Camaro--it must have been his car. The kissed, and he put his hand under her blouse, and I left.
I drove home quietly and slowly. I wanted to speed and throw gravel, but I didn't. I drove home quietly and slowly.
I was sitting in the boat when Sally came out again to the dock. "Is it fixed?" she asked.
"Sure. It's all fixed." I said. "I went into town this afternoon."
"Yeah?" she replied.
"I got a nice view of some guy feeling you up." I spat as I picked up a screwdriver and began toying with it. "Have a nice time?"
She was angry. So was I. "He happens to be the only dealer on the lake, so he can charge what he wants for his weed. You smoke it too! I pay his price and I get what I want. Stop being so naive!"
"You fuck him." I said dispassionately. It wasn't a question. It was a statement. Sally went white with anger.
"That's right, I do, and as a matter of fact I think I enjoy it more with him that with you! At least I never took him to Loon Cove, but I suppose that doesn't mean anything to you."
"It means he doesn't have a boat." I hissed. I knew this was true. His was one of the cottages without a dock. "But I don't care. Fuck him anywhere you want!"
"Maybe I will!" she said with sneer, and whirled back to her cottage.
"Slut!" I screamed after her, and hurled the screwdriver down. She ran from sight, and I looked down to find the screwdriver neatly through the gas line. "Shit." I said, and pulling it out threw it as far as I could out into the lake.
I told my father about the gas line, although I didn't tell him exactly how I'd done it. He said he'd get a new one in town tomorrow. I had several beers with him that evening and went to bed early...
It was a stunning tragedy. Indeed, it took up the whole front page of the weekly town paper. Nobody's really sure how it happened, everything was so badly burned. In fact, it's become kind of a local mystery over the years: our boat, and the girl next door, and the guy down the road, and Loon Cove. Most people favor a freak lightning bolt, but I can propose a better story.
Sally met him down on our dock--prearranged, no doubt. They got in, and she hot-wired the boat. It was easy, and she'd done it a lot. Our cottage is pretty far from the waterline; we rarely hear the boat leave or come in. I'd told her as much on nights when we got home particularly late, so she knew she was safe.
So she took him to Loon Cove, and all the way over gas was leaking into the bilge. I can see them even now, naked, Sally's body beautiful in the moonlight, bent over the red glow of the pipe, their faces illuminated by the pot's smoky light. And sooner, or maybe much later, one of them dropped a match into the bilge.
I still go to Loon Cove every now and then, although now I use a canoe. It hasn't changed much. The loons are still calling and diving. But, on certain nights when it's very clear, I lie back against the stern and stare up, thinking that I see a few, new, lonely stars in the sky.
Christopher J. Cramer