Last Time
Dan Crawley

The two sisters-in-law sat on beach towels on the narrow sand bar, the lake displacing hiccups of water at their feet. The older woman wore a pale blue bikini top and cargo shorts. Her breasts rested low-slung across her stomach and her back displayed a galaxy of moles and was as pale as the moon. The younger woman wore a skimpy bikini the color of gold and sat with her arms behind her, her midriff flat and tanned.

"He'll get up this time," the woman in the blue top said. Her hands fidgeted with the corner of her towel.

Not so far out on the lake sat a rental ski boat. A shirtless man, the husband of woman in the gold suit, was at the wheel. Another man, the unmarried brother, already had on his tight-fitting life jacket and stood at the stern, waving around a tiny orange flag. Another man in a bulky life jacket, bobbing in the water a few yards behind the boat, was the husband of the woman in the blue top. And at leg length in front of him, the tips of two wide skis rose and dipped and splayed and rose again and collided with each other on the white-capped surface. Across the narrow expanse of the lake, a swath of pines carpeted a low hill. Where the forest thinned out near the shore, a stand of pines crowded down at the very edge as if waiting for the next ride. Intermittent gusts ruffled the tops of the trees.

"Others want their turn," said the woman in the gold suit, the fabric giving off a laminated sheen dazzling under the high sunlight. "He's had how many tries now?"

"Come on, honey," shouted the older woman, clapping.

"Hit it," said the man's faint voice out in the water. The ski boat's engine whined at first and then sounded like a faraway lawn mower.

"He let go too early," said the woman in the blue top. She pulled hard on the towel. Her crossed legs bounced.

"He didn't even get two feet."

"That bar ripped right out of his hands."

"Look. They want him to get in the boat."

"Come on, honey. You can do it."

"The ladder is over the edge."

"There you go. Swim back and try again."

"Last time," yelled the woman in the gold suit so loud that the two brothers on the boat and the brother in the water turned their heads toward the shore.

"Let Brian keep trying," the older woman said. She squinted at the younger woman until she used her hand as a visor. "He wants to. He is not giving up."

"We only rented the boat for a limited time. We didn't pay to watch your husband hog up all of it." The younger woman's face changed. "We planned this whole vacation for you guys; this last year has been horrendous and you deserve some fun. I mean, on top of everything, even losing your car."

"We got another car," the woman in the blue top said.

The older woman wouldn't look at the younger woman any longer. She cupped her hands over her eyes. Brian fumbled for the rope floating in a circle around him. The tips of the skis came to blows and retreated and then cut the water coming at each other again.

"How did you guys swing that?"

"We're borrowing an Elantra from a friend. We're thinking about buying it."

"Oh, I assumed it was a rental."

"The wind is making the water too rough," the woman in the blue top said.

"Feels good." The woman in the gold suit leaned back and raised her chin to the sky.

A moment later, the woman in the blue top, still watching her husband struggle with the rope, said, "It actually gets great mileage."

"How is Brian, really?"

"Come on, honey," the woman in the blue top called out toward her husband. Then she waved her hand in a dismissive way. "He's doing great these days."

"If the bank kicked me out, I'd crawl into a hole. Stay there for the rest of my life."

"We moved into a rental that is the exact same floor plan as our old house," the woman in the blue top said. She said, now brightly, "In fact, it is the model home on the street so we're enjoying the upgrades. Granite counters and wood floors."

"You mentioned that this morning over breakfast. But you know what I think? That'd be too rough." The young woman lolled her head slowly from shoulder to shoulder in a leisurely way and stared at her feet crossed at her ankles. "Around every corner, doesn't it remind you of your old house?"

"Everything is upgraded, I said." The woman in the blue top stood up quickly and the waist of her shorts teetered on the overhangs of her hips. "We have a stainless steel fridge and tiles in the bathroom and pleated blinds on every window. It's like a brand new house."

"Hit it," Brian called out and the younger woman said, "Hit it" in a high falsetto and laughed.

"Get up. Get up!" The woman in the blue top rose on the balls of her feet, her toes digging into the wet sand.

"He's dragging face first. He looks like a submarine coming up for air." The woman in the gold suit now clapped. "Well, he got about ten feet that time."

The woman in the blue top stepped ankle-deep into the water. She waited for the ski boat to pull up next to her husband floating on his back, for the engine's silence. This time she cupped her hands around her mouth and shouted so he could hear. She shouted for Brian not to get back in the boat until he could stand up and, for Christ's sake, once and for all, stay up.

Dan Crawley lives in Phoenix. He's got work in or coming from SmokeLong Quarterly, North American Review, Quarterly West and others.

Read his postcard.

Detail of photo on main page courtesy of D. Garkauskas.

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