Our house—a silent husk, its water drained, electricity off—wasn’t much warmer than outdoors. We walked from room to room, opening closets. I found badminton sets, a worn deck of cards, a game of Boggle missing the plastic hourglass, a bag with the bath toys my kids had played with. Maybe it was time to empty closets, fill cartons and large garbage bags, have a tag sale, and contact a real-estate agent. Maybe it was time to sell it and give our kids the money from the sale so they could buy their own houses, places they’d enjoy.
On my way out, I noticed that the rope holding the tire swing had finally given way. How impossible that my boys could ever have fit through the tire, head first, their little behinds sticking out for me to push, hour after hour. I picked it up, placed it in one of the huge garbage cans on Walter’s lawn, and walked back to my car.
In mid-April, our younger son surprised us by saying that he and his girlfriend would like to drive up to the house with us for its traditional April opening. We arrived at the lake so late on a drizzly Friday night that we just went to bed and left the unpacking of the patio furniture until morning.
David and I were having our coffee on the deck when Jake and Julie stepped outside and I saw both their eyes widen. She was awed by the view and he by the realization that this house could somehow be part of his future and figure into the calculus of what he could bring to a relationship.
“When the lake flows to the right, it means good weather, right? “ Jake asked. We all looked to the right—and that’s when I realized the trees were gone.
Walter’s lawn was bald, shorn, dotted with piles of sawdust where the stumps had been ground. In the middle, he’d constructed a huge, circular stone fire pit. Looking further, we could see the curve of the lake and the forested hills on the far side.
“That’s a beautiful vista,” Julie said.
I had to agree.
After breakfast, I went to read where I always sat—in the far corner of the deck, where the sun shone for only about an hour.
“It’s breezier out here, isn’t it?” David asked, looking up from his guitar. “I think without those trees we have better air circulation.”
“Hey, don’t you know any good Italian songs?” Walter yelled, getting out of his pick-up.
David switched to “That’s Amore,” and Walter beamed. He invited me over to stand on his deck and admire his shaved hillside.
“The view I always wanted,” he said. “You know,” he added, looking over at my lawn, “if you want, I can build you a fire pit like mine.”
In truth, I’d always wanted one.
I’m sitting at the dock, Labor Day within sight. I’m smoking a cigarette, something I do about three times a year, most often during my last nights at the lake. Smoking reminds me of being in college, being reckless, something I haven’t been in a long time.
Spending time in the lake’s company is my antidote to facing death, I realize. The water is always in motion, and there’s always more of it. Plenitude and motion, death’s opposite. Except, I guess you could argue, death has its own plenitude.
I don’t see Walter until he’s five steps away, walking toward me on the short lakeside trail that links our properties. He’s chomping on a cigar.
“Don’t tell my wife,” he says.
“Don’t tell my husband,” I say, inhaling deeply.