silent unspeakable memories
A mist drew breath along the glass face of the lake. Somewhere beyond the hills of pine and birch the morning sun stretched, making its way through the thick dark branches and hidden caves. Another day began in silence. I stood on the dock, naked, pausing only long enough to take a deep breath before diving into the crystal clear water. The shock of the cold water shot through me like electricity. I knew better than to open my mouth in surprise. Lips pinched closed, I felt my lungs start to burn as I swam with long strokes to the surface again. The air felt warm when I broke through. I swam easily to the center of the cove and lay floating on my back, watching the last stars disappear while the sun rose steadily up into the sky. A loon called, and another answered. Even with my ears submerged I could hear their mournful conversation. They were nearby where I floated. I wondered briefly what they thought of the pale fleshy body in their water. My breasts stuck up higher than my belly, two small mounds of flesh, faintly scarred circled by the dark water. The contrast made the fragile skin paler and the nipples shone deep rose as I drifted into a shaft of golden sunlight. The loons called again. I stretched my arms above my head and pulled them through the water down to my hips, then let my feet fall as I glided through the water. Within seconds, my face was cradled by the water briefly and I let myself sink into the depths. As I drifted, I turned my face up to watch the rippling window above my head. Blue and gold swirled around me. The further I slipped the colder the water became. I waited as long as I could before pulling myself up again. I turned to see the cabin in front of me. The windows were dark and empty. No smoke rose from the small stone chimney. My stomach grumbled. Not one to argue, I began to swim back to the dock slowly, letting the currents made with moving caress every inch of my body. The loons nodded in approval as I hauled myself out of the water and onto the dock like a bloated sausage. They swam happily through the reeds, chuckling in a way only they could. I made a face at them before padding over the worn wood and dried pine needles to the porch.
Inside, I dried off with the towel that I had forgotten to bring with me down at the dock and climbed reluctantly into clothing. The morning routine unfolded without any hiccups until I heard the popping of gravel in the driveway. I put down the novel that I was reading, and stood up to look out the window. I looked at the calendar on the wall by the light switch. The moose in the photograph above the boxed lines of days stared back at me. I traced the lines with one finger. I was not wrong about the date. The moose agreed. I lifted the red cotton curtains to see who had arrived. I didn’t recognize the truck. I cursed inwardly, not wanting to break the silence, at least not yet. I lowered the curtain, hoping that whoever it was who came in would leave just as quickly. It was too early in the season for tourists, but I couldn’t think who would come to the cabin without an invitation. There were footsteps on the porch. I bit my lip and cursed everyone I could think of. Before I could run through the complete list, a hammering knock shook the door. I sighed, knowing there was nothing else to do except answer it. The latch gave way when I turned the knob. The door swung open effortlessly to reveal who the thunderous knocker was. He was young, tall and dressed in a crisp officer’s uniform. My eyes flit to his name badge.
“Sorry to disturb you Miss. We are just checking the cabins around the lake. Two of the cabins on the other side of the bay were broken into and ransacked.” Officer John Stoneridge told me. I didn’t recognize him. I wondered where he had come from, what part of the province and why he chose here of all places to work. Maybe he didn’t choose but was sent. I didn’t know how it worked. The black fabric of his uniform impressed me. Not a thing out of place. He kept his hat on. I was relieved at least that he wasn’t planning to stay or tell me any bad news. They held their hats so awkwardly, I thought, when they had to tell you the truth. Stoneridge slipped his hand into his breast pocket and took out a card. He handed it to me.
“If you see anyone suspicious, will you call us?” he asked. I took the card and held it gingerly.
“I don’t have a phone here, and my cell doesn’t pick up until the highway, but if it happens, I will find a way to call. I don’t want anyone snooping around here.” I said. Stoneridge smiled and nodded. I wondered where his partner was. The ‘we’ that slipped out did not go unnoticed by me. Poking around outside the cabin I imagined.
“Ok good. Thank you…” he said extending his hand this time. I shook it.
“Alexa Stevens” I said. I suspected that he already knew who owned the cabin. His hands were rough and strong.
“John Stoneridge” he said as I nodded, pointing at his badge with my chin.
“Yes. thank you for stopping by John.” I said. I let his hand fall.
“No problem. You up here by yourself?” he asked. Something rippled across his face, like the small waves in the lake after a stone had been dropped into it. I nodded.
“Yes, I’m a writer. Up for a retreat for a few weeks before the tourist come. Need the silence to finish my book.” I offered. I didn’t tell him the truth. I couldn’t bring myself to say the words. I had not written a word in the week since I arrived. Swimming naked in the lake and reading trash novels was all that I managed to do. I knew that it wasn’t a good to lie to the police, but as I watched John’s face, I knew he had not picked up on it.
“I see, interesting. What kind of books do you write?” he asked. I felt the prickle of sweat between my shoulder blades. I didn’t like being asked about my work. I didn’t know why exactly, but it felt like I had to defend my choice of profession. I held my tongue and thought quickly.
” Fiction.” I managed to squeak out. The officer smiled broadly and was ready to ask his next question when his partner appeared in the doorway. I was relieved to not have to explain further. The partner was even taller than John.
“Everything seems clear around the cabin, John. M’am.” the partner said, tipping his hat to her. I groaned under my breath but managed to smile.
“Good. Tim this is Alexa Stevens, she owns the cabin. We’ll keep an eye out for you ok?” John said. He moved to towards the door to follow Tim out.
“Thanks.” I said following them both out onto the porch. The sun was high in the sky dripping gold on the lake water. A pilliated hammered in a dead tree somewhere in the woods. The officers turned one last time and said goodbye. They climbed into their truck and reversed down the lane. The front of the truck disappeared into the shadows. I left the porch and walked down to the dock. The old canoe peaked out from behind the woodpile. I considered going for a paddle, but decided to wait until the next day. I wanted to sit in the sunshine instead. I wanted to drink in every single ray and fall into the deep water. I wanted to wash the silent unspeakable memories that haunted me away into the dark depths, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that someone was watching me. I walked back to the cabin and went inside, locking the door.
The remaining hours of the day were uneventful. I stalked the two tiny rooms on the first floor of the cabin, walking around in awkward circles I gave up. I fell into a heap on the sofa, shoving my head into one corner on a pile of pillows I had made the year before. The truth was, I realized as I stared at the wood plank ceiling, there was no access road that led around the lake. Each inlet had a separate entrance, and unless the person knew the area well, they would not know on this side of the lake where to go. On the far side, the cottages were lined up like ducks on a log, just off the junction road; easy targets for wayward youth. I thanked the rational side of my brain and got up to make tea.
After the officers had stopped by to tell me, I was ready to pack my bags and head home to London two weeks early. Now, I had no reason to leave. The police officers knew that I was there, and I sensed that John, the tall young blond would swing round at some point to check on me. The kettle clanged against the edge of the old sink. The wood handle vibrated in my hand. The water pipes sang as I waited for the kettle to fill. It was time, I decided as I watched the bubbles in the mouth of the kettle bounce around, to start writing.
I set the kettle down on the stove and turned the element on high. I converted on corner of the living room into an office when I first arrived. My laptop purred when I turned it on. I waited. The lake was quiet. The traces of a small breeze could be seen across the water. No large waves or white caps that came with approaching storms, just movement. The sun had diligently passed overhead and was very close to disappearing behind the line of trees at the far end of the lake. I could see the orange and violet light spilling into the water. The lake fascinated me. Each hour brought a different scene to me as the shadows drew other lines. I leaned forward and pushed the window open further to let the early evening breeze in. The heady smell of pine came with it. I looked down at the screen. It was waiting patiently for instruction.
Writing, I once told an old friend, was like opening a bottle of red wine. I needed time to let it breathe before pouring it out. I chuckled to myself as I began to tap the keys. Sometimes I really was full of shit. The evening soon gave way to night, and I forced myself to stop writing once in order to turn on a few lights. I didn’t need more than the light from my laptop to guide my fingers, and then not even because I didn’t need to look at my fingers. They knew the way by touch not sight. I was lucky that way. My fingers seemed to work independently of the rest of my body, including my mind. It allowed my thoughts to wander and weave themselves through while I was ‘working’. I thought about Cassie, who was probably curled up in the corner of her room, with her head tucked under her paw while Joe watched television. My ex had graciously offered to take my cat while I was away.
“Oh don’t worry, you know how I love cats. Cassie will be fine here. I don’t mind at all.” Joe said. I had no reason to doubt him. We had parted ways on friendly enough terms, though his initial leaving was like being cut in two by a white hot sword. It took a few years for me to find my feet again after that. Friendship, I realized not too long after was about all I could hope for from him. There was no one else in my life, other than Cassie and Joe. I was secretly relieved we had no children together, though I had always wanted them. His sudden leaving would have meant more than one casualty in me. I couldn’t bear the thought of the pain our children would have had to go through. I cried on the shoulder of my friend Tracy, letting the words become blurred with saltwater. She patted my back and said to me:
“Alexa, you know that kids are pretty resilient. They would have come through it, maybe a little worse for wear, but with you as their mother, you know they would be ok.” Tracy hugged me. I nodded in agreement, but knew in my heart it would have been devastating to those unborn angels. I would have never wanted them to go through what I had already gone through twice as a child. The memories flooded back as I sat in front of the window. The lonesome call of a horned owl brought me back to the desk. My chest ached a little. It always did when I thought about the past. It was like some unseen hand was able to reach inside my chest and squeeze just hard enough that breathing became a problem. I wished suddenly that I had brought Cassie with me instead of leaving her behind. I needed a furry body to hold. A window suddenly popped up on the screen of my laptop. The accompanying bell that alerted me to new mail made me jump and almost fall out of my seat.
I had no internet service at the cabin. I was adamant with the contractor that none be put in. I refused the intrusion of the outside world while I was writing. No phone, no internet, no electronic pollution. I stared blankly at the little window as it faded slowly from site.
“You have 3 new messages” blinked and then was gone. My fingers automatically clicked and a web browser page opened before my head could scream to stop. I looked at the clock on the stove in the kitchen. 9:30 pm. Ten minutes. I would only give ten precious minutes to whatever the emails might hold. No more, I swore as I punched in my password and waited for the page to load. I was relieved to see that two of the three messages were junk mail. I deleted them quickly. The last mail set my heart pounding with dread. I was tempted to delete the third one too, but thought better of it. I hid it instead, in a folder I labeled word vomit then logged off. I disconnected from the internet, making a mental note to find out how my laptop suddenly was online and resumed writing. Two hours later, my head was finished and my eyes heavy, ready to sleep.
The tapping on the window woke me up before the sun rise. The cabin was silent otherwise until the first low rumble of thunder shook the walls. I realized the tapping was from the rain. Rolling over in the blankets, I squinted through the dim light. I could barely see across the room to the desk and the world beyond the window was still dark. I had no idea what time it was. I reached blindly for my watch which sat on the arm of the sofa bed. Almost dropping it, I snatched the wrist band and felt around for the button to turn the little light on. 4:00 am. I groaned and rolled onto my back. Another loud crack of thunder ripped through the sky above the roof. I had only been asleep for a few hours, but it felt as though I hadn’t slept a wink. Lightning shot across the sky. I had a perfect view of it from where I was laying on the bed. I waited for the thunder to follow, counting slowly. Thunder roared three seconds later. The storm was on top of the cabin. I rolled onto my side, tucking my arm under my ear and watched as more lightning zigzagged in different directions over the lake.
Dream fragments began to sneak in as I was watching the storm. I was standing somewhere, in a small lagoon. The water was blue and clear. It reminded me of the ocean in the Caribbean though I had never been. It looked like the photos that I had seen of the beaches there. The water was warm. I waded to the white sandy shore. A man sat on the edge of the water, his feet fully submerged and his pants rolled to his knees. I noticed how smooth and shiny his dark skin was. The man was digging out the inside of a coconut with a small knife, and eating it. As I approached him, he smiled widely – his teeth were brilliantly white. I remembered clearly his deep throaty laugh as I walked closer to him. It was so warm and inviting. I felt completely at ease beside him. He gestured to me when I was about twenty feet away from him.
“Be careful of the urchins” he said. I looked down at my feet and saw the spiny black balls floating along the bottom just above the sand. I stepped carefully around them. I knew that if I stepped on one I would be poisoned and in a great deal of pain. When I finally reached him, I was relieved.
“Sit down” he said laughing still. I sat on my haunches the way I did when I was twelve. My feet made indents in the wet sand. The waves reached playfully for my toes. I looked around us. The trees that bowed along the shoreline were slender and deep green palm fronds waved in the breeze. The man continued to dig out the white flesh of the coconut. He offered me a piece. The sweet flavor exploded in my mouth when I bit into it. I felt some of the coconut milk dribble down my chin. I wiped it off with the back of my hand.
“It is beautiful here.” I said. I didn’t know what else to say, but I felt like I should say something. The man nodded, smiling. He didn’t look at me when I spoke. I wondered who he was smiling at.
“It is beautiful yes. I enjoy sitting here. We don’t have a lot of time to chat though Alexa. You need to go in there” the man gestured with his elbow, then continued.
“There is something waiting for you there. You need to see it.” He said. The man turned to me and smiled again. I realized looking at him how deep brown his eyes were. They were warm and sparkling. I didn’t question him. I stood up and followed his arm as it pointed into a grove of trees. I walked closer and saw a small path through the underbrush. The sand on the path was soft, and I stepped easily along the middle, picking my way around the trunks of palms until the path gave way to another cove. In the center of the cover, buried in the sand and the water was a strange wooden structure. I assumed that it was wooden, though I was far enough away to not be sure. As I got closer to it, I realized it was a kind of monument, like a totem pole that might be found on Haida Gawaii, but the carvings were not done by the Haida. They were nothing like the totems that I had seen from the Queen Charlotte Islands. Instead, I began to realize, that every inch of the wood was carved with different carvings, animals, people, objects, symbols. I recognized every single one. They were familiar to me in a way that I could not explain. I waded through the water until I was waist deep in it. I reached out and began to trace the curves and lines with my finger tips. I was in awe. I looked up and saw that the carvings continued to the top of the wood monument. Sitting at the very top was a beautifully carved Buddha sitting on a lotus leaf. It was an image that I was familiar with, but I thought it was strange that this was what was at the top.
“This is who you are” a voice said, as though to answer my spoken question. I turned around in surprise. The man from the beach stood behind me on the sand. He changed somehow into different clothes, white linen shirt and pants. The contrast of the light cotton against his dark skin was startling. He smiled reassuringly.
“What do you mean, this” I asked turning and pointing to the carvings “is me? How is that possible?” Laughter spilled from the man. He stood shaking his head slightly, then walked out into the water beside me. He put his arm around my shoulders and squeezed them gently.
“This tells you the story of your lives, where you have been, where you are, and where you will go. You have already seen this in different forms.” He said pointedly. I stopped and looked up at his chin. I could see the soft black hairs of stubble dotting his skin. He was right. I remembered another dream and then another. In one the carvings were on the walls of a cave. I followed the carvings deeper into the mountain. Then, the carvings were in a book, drawn and carved into the cover and pages. I never understood those dreams until that moment when the man reminded me. He squeezed my shoulders one more.
“What do I do now?” I asked him. I could feel the dream was changing. He looked down at me. His eyes were like mirrors. I could see the water and the cove reflected in the dark circles. He just smiled and patted my arm.
“It is time to go now Alexa. We will talk again sometime soon.” He said. The dream was already fading.
“Wait!” I said loudly. “Don’t leave yet. What do I do now?” He continued to smile, the way a loving father does watching his children play. The last thing I remembered before waking up was his voice, like a whisper.
Another loud clap of thunder shook the cabin. I shivered, pulling the blankets closer around my chin. The storm was getting worse. I could hear the branches swaying and the creaking of the trees as their trunks rubbed against each other in protest. I hoped that the storm would pass quickly, but it seemed that it would not.