Joanne can see a lake from the road. There are a few boats moving across the water. The sunlight catches against their waves and it looks like a thousand little lights are going on and off within the depths of the lake. She closes her book of crossword puzzles to turn and watch the water sparkle.
The beach reminds her of the hot summer days when they used to rent a paddle boat and kick their way out into the center of the lake, laughing. Fortune riding in between them, his oversized orange life vest pushing awkwardly up against his neck.
There were the countless bags of chips swept off the beach blanket by the wind and the seagulls that ate them, the games of volleyball, Fortune on the swing set, his small body speeding down the slide. There were the times Fortune got upset watching the sand castles he built get ruined by the water. And then there was the day that Fortune finally gave up on castles and began to dig holes in the sand instead. He would dig on the beach for hours until he hit the water with his bare hands. When she asked him why he had given up on castles, Fortune told her that since so many had washed away; he was going to start getting to the water before the water got to him.
Joanne twists and turns in her seat trying to get into the most comfortable position that she can find. She wants to go to sleep because she can’t stop thinking about the lake and right now she just wants to stop thinking all together. Nowadays, when she sleeps she dreams about being alone in places that no one else can get to. Nowadays, Joanne sleeps as much as possible.
When her mind is working too fast and she is thinking too much she takes pills to calm down. She can’t fall asleep. Her pills are in the back of the van and the smell of the lake is still in her nose and it won’t go away. She can feel the warm blanket underneath her in the sand. She can see Fortune as he kneels down on the beach and puts his hands down into a hole.
In the van, she opens up her crossword puzzle and scans for the easiest problems; hoping to take her mind off the water.
ACROSS 47) This can help you see me better.
DOWN 3) Beautifier
DOWN 32) “Star Trek” character, Walter.
She sets her booklet back down on her thigh. What does she fucking know about “Star Trek?” Why do all these puzzles always reference the worst shows? Why aren’t there ever questions about the shows, movies, and books that she likes? If there were questions about “The West Wing” or “Grey’s Anatomy,” she would answer them in a heartbeat. She knew that for a fact. If they made a whole booklet of them she would buy it and finish the entire thing within minutes.
His smile was so big that day she could see it better than the writing on his t-shirt. She watched him reach down into the hole, watched as he pulled out his hand, covered in blood. He had cut it on a piece of broken glass. He looked up at her. His face was so pale. He looked frightened and lost. He cried loud and the blood wouldn’t stop, the whole beach seemed worried; it flowed so fast that it dyed the sand red. When she knelt down to rub her hand on his back, her knees pressed into a mix of water, blood and pebbles.
She leaned in close and whispered into his ear: Everything is going to be ok. There really isn’t that much blood. Daddy is coming. And that’s when she screamed for Jeff.
She sees the look on Jeff’s face as he turned away from the line at the concession stand, and jumped over the fence, and started to run towards them. He moved so quickly. It was the first time in her life that she noticed that her husband kicks his feet out to the side when he runs. He pushed through a crowd of people and dropped his hot dog and it fell into the sand. His sunglasses were bouncing up and down on his collarbone. It was the fastest she had seen him run since college.
He got to Fortune and knelt down beside him. She felt his hand on top of hers on top of Fortune’s back. She felt him squeeze her fingers the way he used to. When he let her know that he was there and everything was fine.
He looked down at Fortune and his finger and then kissed him on his forehead and told him about the 34 different types of ice cream they were serving at the concession stand. He told him they had cotton candy flavor. Fortune stopped crying when he heard that he was going to get any three scoops he wanted. And Jeff rested his cheek against Fortune’s and sighed. He looked up at Joanne and in the moment their eyes met; he was staring into them, not through them, in the afternoon sunlight.