The Lake

A short piece I wrote a while ago. It was an exercise in the second person, which is an odd tense to write in but I really warmed to it.

You roll over, trying to ignore the alarm. You’re not used to drinking, and your head is throbbing from the half bottle of wine you drank last night. But the alarm persists and so you throw off the covers, shivering in the cold that rushes in to envelope you on that late autumn day.  You catch sight of yourself in the mirror that hangs on the bedroom wall. A man in his mid-thirties stares back at you. You note the dark circles under his eyes, the stubble that will become a beard before long. You hardly recognise yourself in his features.

Downstairs in the open-plan kitchen, you fill up the kettle and light the gas. While you wait for the water to boil, you look out of the kitchen window at the expansive scene before you: rolling grey clouds reflected in the wind-disturbed water of a black lake, a border of dark green forest in the distance.

“Why is it always so dark here?” you ask out loud, not expecting an answer. You seem to be looking far beyond the landscape that depresses you, at something no one else can see.

You’re thinking of the spot at the bottom of the garden, just out of sight, where the ground gives way to the lake, the spot where the body was found. On that day, you’d come home to flashing blue and red lights, police cars, an ambulance. Someone official had asked you to sit down: they had something to tell you: a body had been found in the lake next to the house. The description matched your partner. Did you know where he was?

Later, there were questions about suicide. Were there any signs? No, you’d said, there weren’t, we were very happy. You’d been sure about that, if about nothing else. But then you’d started to wonder. Then, you’d started to doubt.

Suddenly, the kettle is whistling and you haven’t even got your mug out of the cupboard. You scoop instant coffee into your cup hastily, hardly noticing as you scatter granules across the worktop. The bitterness wakes you up, but still you stare out the window at the shaded morning. You hear a rumble of thunder.

When you get back from your first day back at work, your head aches from pretending to be all right. Your cheeks ache from smiling at people when they asked you how you are. You thought you’d been hiding it well, but at the end of the day your manager had called you into his office.

Perhaps it was too soon for you to come back, he’d said. Why not take another few weeks off?

You’d agreed with a shrug. It didn’t make much different to you.

Are you going to keep the house? he’d then asked.

Yes, you’d said. You said you’d be fine, with time.

You didn’t say that actually you couldn’t bear the thought of moving on, that you want to stay in the house near the water because, for you, the water is the keeper of your memories. He was found in the lake: the lake was the last one to touch him alive, to feel the warmth of his body. It had been there in his final moments and known him in the most intimate way that anyone can be known: in the intimacy of death, where all illusions are stripped away and all that remains is the core of what we are. And you knew that as his life drained from his body, it had only one place to go: into the lake.

In the hall, you shrug off your wet coat and leave it where it falls on the marble tiles next to the front door. You drop your keys on the sideboard and leave your phone there too.

You watch the sun set behind the clustering clouds as the silence stretches into darkness. As the moon rises, you slide open the glass doors that lead outside and make your way to the lake’s edge.

“Why did you go?” you call out. “Why did you leave me?”

The surface of the lake ripples, though there is no wind: was that a whisper you heard? Was it your name? You move forward into the water.

The water is cold, yet there’s a familiar warmth in it as well. You move further into the lake, launching into a swim when your feet can no longer touch the bottom. The water swirls around you, holds you like a living thing. You take a breath and dive into its darkness.

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