Summer, Summer
Jeff Landon

There was a girl at the end of the public dock, a teenager, older, maybe in high school, maybe a freshman at some second-rate university. And this girl kept slapping a flip-flop against the dock piling. My kids—Jack and Maura, ten and eleven—loved the echoing thwack of it all. We followed Maura—she's inquisitive—to the end of the dock and formed a half-circle around the girl. We studied her, and Maura said, "Why are you doing that?"

"I hate my boyfriend," said the girl. Her teeth were brown and badly shaped. Her skin all splotched with acne. She might have been beautiful if her parents worked better jobs.

"Where's your other shoe?" Jack asked.

"It drowned," said the girl. She stood and tossed the remaining, shell-shocked flip-flop into the water. "Join your twin," she said. "Free Willy." She walked away, back to the clutch of young beer drinkers and cigarette smokers and jet-ski wahoos. They were staying illegally in the cabin next to us. All the cabins were tiny, white clapboard, tin-roofed, shiny red-doors—all of them built too close together and meant for families. Families Only, the sign out front said.

At night a Ferris Wheel and Merry-go-round spun to life, and in motion they looked pretty against the darkening sky. I stood outside, smoking. Jack and Maura were safe in front of the TV, drinking chocolate milk and scribbling terrible pictures in the expensive sketchbooks their mother, convinced of budding genius, bought for them. Night softened the homelier features of Kenny's Lake. In the next cabin, the front door opened and music poured out—one of those rap songs—and the girl from the dock sat by the front door in a foldout chair. A boy or man—I couldn't tell—started talking to the girl. The girl jumped up and yanked off his cowboy hat. He pretended to be mad, but then she perched herself in his lap and kissed him hard on the mouth.

Maura counted my empty beer cans on the kitchen counter. Seven tall-boys. I wasn't trying to hide them—it was a vacation. The kids ate chicken nuggets, dog paddled in the polluted lake, and watched age-inappropriate videos, and I drank beer.

"Mom drinks too," Maura said, but I didn't want to talk about mom.

"Let's do something," I said. I roused Jack off the couch, clicked off his video game, and we walked outside, where the air felt thick and smelled like mayonnaise. We walked down a low-sloped hill, over baked brown grass, to the boathouse. There was an ancient canoe propped up in the corner, large enough to contain the three of us. I jammed clunky orange life preservers over the heads of my children. Their hair looked so clean in that boathouse light.

A fat moon, nearly full, striped the lake. We paddled to the middle, parallel to that stuttering stripe of light. Fish flopped and frogs croaked and this far away we could barely hear the people on land, the constant rattle of music and obscenities. We were quiet, rowing, but Jack looked sleepy and bedraggled, so we paddled back to land.

On the shoreline, we lifted the canoe, the three of us. A woman's voice carried from the cabin next to our cabin.

"You are not Kurt Cobain," she yelled. "So stop wearing that sweater in summer, Tommy. It's summer, summer, summer."

"Next year," I promised my kids. "We'll go somewhere nice."

Maura and Jack made a tent by stretching a king-sized bed sheet over four high-ladder chairs. Under the sheet, they'd placed an air mattress that looked diseased. I tried and failed to sleep on a normal bed. Some girl outside kept yammering, "Jody said he'd fix my flat." She repeated the phrase with shifts in inflection. "Jody SAID he'd fix my flat. JODY said he'd fix my flat." I wanted a coyote to eat that girl. Urban coyotes had been in the news all summer. They arrived alone or in pairs, sinewy and toothy. They shadowed solitary joggers on back roads and devoured chubby housecats.  

Jack and Maura slept easily, and I decided to draw a picture for them. I had a sketchbook and charcoal pencils and time on my hands. The refrigerator made a clunking sound behind me, and next door, glass shattered. It didn't sound like a bottle; it sounded like a car window. It didn't matter. I drew a river down the middle of the page, a snaking, slow bend river. On the banks, I drew all the animals I could draw—representations, really, of monkeys, zebras, giraffes, cocker spaniels, and eagles flying over pine trees and oaks. Maura liked monkeys, so I went a little crazy with them. Under a drawbridge, boats filled with tiny passengers passed by in a steady line. All the boats moved as if on a conveyor belt, perfectly spaced, around a bend, off the picture, and into a new world. On the banks, more monkeys gathered. They sang their somber monkey song off-key and jiggled arms goodbye.

Jeff Landon has had stories in Crazyhorse, Hobart, Quick Fiction, Another Chicago Magazine, SmokeLong Quarterly and others. He lives in Richmond with his family.

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Detail of painting on main page courtesy of Cole Willsea.

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