Feeling the tall grasses pulling at her skirts, Mary holds out her hand palm downward to skim over the tops of the blades, high now and up to her waist. They are more smooth than rough, her hand gliding easily as she walks, but the edges of each has tiny hooks or hairs that catch ever so slightly. She walks slowly to let the fabric of her dress make as little contact with the grasses as possible and turns her face toward the pier. Saul is comfortably sitting there, pants rolled up to just under his knees, dangling his bare feet over the edge. He’s too far away to hear her approaching just yet, so Mary observes the gentle rippling surface of the water. She sees a few ducks land, go tail up to eat smaller fish and bugs, and then flap their wings and take off again only to set down in another section and repeat the maneuver. Some insect, a grasshopper maybe, makes a creaking kind of buzz which causes its neighbors to echo it. Soon, the whole field is filled with the low buzz and they begin jumping from one blade to another.
Saul turns, almost unconsciously, to investigate what’s disturbing the insects to see Mary heading toward the pier, carrying a small basket covered with a dish cloth.
“Hey, there!” he calls. “What brings you out to the lake?”
“Today was bread-baking day. I have ten new loaves and one with extra butter just for you. It was such a pretty day I decided to take a walk and drop this off,” she said, handing him the basket. “We can have our visit here and then I’d like to explore the shore a bit. I’ve been here more than three months already and realized I’ve only ever looked at the lake through the window. It’s time for me to learn a bit more about where I live.”
Saul gingerly lifted the corner of the cloth and inched his nose closer to the fresh loaf. With a deep breath he involuntarily closed his eyes to take in the scent. “Ohhh, that’s good! Thank you very kindly.” He set the basket down behind himself and returned to his fishing rod. “Why don’t you join me while I fish? I have another rod you could use.”
“That sounds nice. I haven’t gone fishing since I was a girl. My sister and I used to wade in the stream and catch minnows for bait, then head to my uncle’s pond for some bass. What do you use for bait?”
“Well, if my bread gets stale I might use that, but since you’ve been baking I eat it all before I have any to use. I have a special net to catch some of the grasshoppers you just scared, too. I know a shady place that draws in the earthworms so I dig up a bunch when the ground is soft, like it was yesterday, so today I have worms.”
“Perfect. I think earthworms lure in the biggest fish.” He quickly ran for the rod hanging on the side of the enclosure on the boat and handed it to Mary. She dug into the tin pail for a few seconds and came up with a wriggling and thick worm. With two fingers pinching it, she slid the hook first through its wide pink segment and then again about an inch from the other end. Then she removed her shoes and stockings and draped her lower legs over the edge to match Saul’s position. They both cast out together, careful not to cross lines, and sat quietly while the sun shone on their bared faces.
After some time with no bites, Mary laid down the rod and turned to look at the boat.
“How’s your roommate?”
“Roommate?” he asked, looking at her strangely.
She looked him straight in the eye. “Yes, the hairy one with four legs.”
He laughed out loud and said, “What a way you have with words! Why didn’t you just say ‘the dog’? I guess he’s alright. Quiet fella, doesn’t whine at me or beg for attention. Only barks at the fish if he’s sitting with me when I catch one. Real polite about it, though. If he wants to eat one, he’ll sit next to it while it flops about and then look at me, waiting for my go-ahead. He only snatches it up when I say he can. Too bad for whoever lost him, but I’m sure pleased with him.”
“Did you name him yet?”
“No, can’t seem to think of anything that fits. Sarah was always …” He paused and looked at her, catching the surprised expression on Mary’s face. Before she could think what to say next he continued, “Sarah was better with animals. I know Matthew never talks about her so I haven’t either, especially when he could feel the hurt all over again if I mentioned her around him.”
Unable to help herself, Mary blurted, “I’m so sorry, I didn’t know…”
“How would you? No, don’t worry about it.” He stopped for a few seconds, seemingly catching his breath and gathering his courage. “Sarah was my little sister. That’s how they met. She was visiting me and I took her into town to show her around. She rarely left the homestead, busy raising the horses and tending whatever other animals were running around. Our parents have a farm about ten miles to the north, along the river that feeds Lake Promise. I came out here after a fight with Pa, and she was kind of a communicator between Ma and me. Anyway, she loved animals and couldn’t help admiring this horse hitched up outside the mercantile. I recognized it as Matthew’s, and told her I’d introduce her to the owner. They were nearly inseparable after that.”
“It must be painful for you…” Mary couldn’t get herself to ask the question, but continued, “to talk about her. It seems you were close.”
“It’s nice to talk about her. She was one of the best people I’ve ever known.” He stopped again, getting up, “but you were asking about the dog. I bet he’d like to say hello and thank you for taking care of him.” Saul headed down the pier and stepped onto his boat, disappearing from view. Mary turned back to her rod and cast out again, but a breeze picked up just as the line was about to hit the water and pushed it into the reeds growing near the shore.
Reaching the mass of plants, Mary began to untangle the line. Noticing some movement off to her right, she turned and looked toward the pale thing in the water. With a gasp, Mary recognized the pretty young face and blond hair, the same as the person she saw behind the barn. This can’t be real she thought, wondering who it was and why she was in the lake. Looking more closely, the image wasn’t under the water, it wasn’t a body. It was a reflection. “You’re not here, I would have seen you walking toward me.”
This place is mine
The whispering voice floated next to Mary’s ear as the reflection’s mouth moved on the water’s surface. Curious and drawn to the image, Mary reached down toward the speaker, her fingers reaching toward the woman’s shoulder and down into the water. Something grabbed onto her hand, enclosed it, and Mary felt as if she couldn’t move a muscle in protest. The voice whispered more loudly This place is mine!
Footsteps hit the wood of the pier, heavy from the man and light from the dog, moving away from the boat house and toward the end of it. “Mary!” Saul called, “quit fussing with your line if it’s caught, I’ll string it over again. Come on back. Someone wants to meet you.”
The reflection glanced away from Mary and toward the boat. Its expression changed from the intense insistence of a moment ago and saddened, releasing its grip on Mary. She stood quickly, suddenly relieved to be able to move away from the shore. The image rippled and faded in a second.
“R – right, um, be right there.” Drying her hand on her sleeve, she also rubbed away the goose flesh that she hadn’t realized had popped up. Walking over to the pier got her blood moving again and she began taking deep breaths.
“You upset about the line?” Saul asked as she reached him, “because it doesn’t matter. I have plenty to fix it.”
“No, it’s not that. I, uh, well, I think when the wind picked up I caught a small chill.” She bent down to pet the pair of fluffy ears. “He looks much better now that he’s clean.” Timid, and still shaken, she asked, “Do you mind if I sit inside the boat with him and warm up, out of the breeze?”
“That’s alright, as long as you don’t mind the cramped quarters. Or my mess,” he said with a smile, trying to lighten her mood, disappointed he was unsuccessful. He took her by the elbow and guided her through the doorway. “Have a seat where you like. I’ll just fix up the rod.” As soon as he turned away Mary collapsed onto the bench that ran the length of the small table near the back of the boat. The dog sat down by her feet and rested his head on her lap. Closing her eyes and stroking the soft fur, Mary’s thoughts returned to the woman’s face. She doesn’t want me here. Who is she? Will Saul think I’m crazy if I ask?
After taking a few minutes to steady her breathing Mary got up and began to walk around the space. Looking for a cup to fill with water, she opened one of the cupboards. Rather than typical kitchen utensils or pots, Mary found an old photo album. Not expecting much but Saul’s former life inside, she began to flip through its pages. A few were of a wooden farm house with the family, which included several generations, lined up on the porch. Another was of two children, a boy and a girl, obviously Saul and Sarah when they were small. A few flips later revealed a wedding photo. The groom was Matthew, clean shaven and in a dark jacket next to his bride. She was beautiful, young, and blond. That smiling face was much happier than the one she had just seen floating in the lake, but it was unmistakably the same person.
My question here – should she make a hasty escape, an excuse to Saul and leave? Can I leave this hanging before the next part?