We are going to Wisconsin
. I am seven years old and riding shotgun
. Erin is five. She is sitting behind me. Daddy has taken us out of school for a week to go on a fishing trip. We feel very special and slightly smug that we are missing school. Mom lied to the princpal.
"Great-Aunt Bernice died."
We don't have a great-aunt Bernice. We are conspirator
s. We are naughty
. This pleases me greatly.
Right Said Fred
is on the radio.
We stay in a cold little two-bedroom cabin with itchy red wool blankets and dry, shinysmooth pine paneling that is honey-colored and slippery to the touch. The kitchen is just a little white 1950's GE stove and matching domed refrigerator. The 1950's design fascinates me. I run my hands over the bomerang handles. I peer into the stove's sightless knob eyes, making faces at my bent reflection. The cabin is like nothing I have ever seen before. I come from a world of sanded wood and linoleum. I am very pleased by the novelty of icy porcelain basins and sunflowers winking at me through the windows. The air tastes good, like thunderstorm and beachglass.
I am cold and clean. The water is dark and secretive. I like to imagine that there are giant kookamunga fish and ancient treasures and murdred outlaws and jilted lovers swimming in the soup our boat bobs on. It would take many, many colorful stories to make the water such a dull brown. This is why the water is pretty.
The sky is hard and very white. The locals explain that this is because of a terrible storm the previous week. I do not mind because this makes it easier to see the bald eagles. I perch at the end of the boat with my father's binoculars, pretending that I am a carved figurehead with flowing hair and unmoving eyes. I am enchanted by the eagles. They coast on the air, rarely moving their wings, weightless and huge and effortlessly powerful. My father tells me that their wingspan is six feet. I am four and a half feet tall. These birds are beastly and delicate. I watch one fly to a nest. I tell myself that it is the mommy.
My pole spends most of its time pinched between my knobby little knees while I hunt flora and fauna with my binoculars and concoct stories in my head about the lake's sordid past. Erin catches a fish that is four and a half feet long. Dad catches a slightly smaller one. I catch a turtle. I pet his his beaky little leather head, but he doesn't like this. Erin and I paint out names on his back with red nail polish and gently return him to his wet home. His name is Clarence, I think.
At night we shiver back to the little cabin. Erin and I take a hot bath together and put on flannel pajamas. Dad tries to build a fire, gets frustrated, and we settle for roasting marshmallows on the little white stove. I had never seen gas jets before. I had never seen such a violently beautiful shade of blue, either. Dad expertly roasts his marshmallow so that it puffs up like a mushroom. I purposely set mine on fire, messily blow it out, and happily lick it off of my fingers. Erin toasts hers golden and eats it in ladylike bites. We ask dad for a story.
"Once upon a time, there was a beautiful young lady,"
"Did she look like me?"
"She had Erin's dimples and Jennifer's dark hair. ANYWAY, she fell in love with a nice young man, and he gave her a lovely diamond ring with their names carved inside of it and asked her to marry him. They had a lovely wedding."
"Was it like yours and mom's?"
"Yes, except they didn't have the horrible cake with a fountain inside of it. And your mom was even prettier. ANYWAY, they got married and spent their honeymoon at this very lake. One day they were out paddling around in a rowboat, and she dipped her hand in the lake. Her ring fell off and sank to the bottom
"Did he jump in and get it?"
"No, he would've drowned. So they lived happily ever after anyway, and had three children and got old. One day he died, and she was heartbroken. Her grown-up children took her back here to the lake where they spent their honeymoon to cheer her up. She spent all her time out in the rowboat, remembering the good times and feeling sad because he was not with her anymore. That day her oldest son caught a gigantic fish,"
"Was it as big as the one I caught?"
"Almost. So he caught this huge fish and took it back, so that he could cook it for the family to eat. But when he sliced open its belly, he found something small and hard. He cleaned it off, and do you know what it was?"
"Yes! And she put it on and realized that he would always be with her. The end."