A mystery, surreal piece, in which the protagonist attempts to understand the woman on the lake.
It was a pleasant ride to the lake. The smell of oak shavings and old compost thickened at the bus stop, where I was the only one to get off out of the thirteen passengers seated. I caught a glimpse of the lake there: it had a glow, an unnatural glow, as if someone threw two gigantic blue bath bombs into the water and they're at the bottom rotting away, feeding the lake its blue colour.
The lake was about ten minutes away. I walked on a dirt path carrying mud and pebbles on the soles of my shoes, and in my hands two bags filled with clothes, hygiene products and my laptop. Walking was difficult: there were roots tripping me along the path, trying to pull me down. I heard a woodpecker like a hatchet cutting into a tree's back. Bushes shook, and my muffled steps kicked leaves into the air, which drifted into my path. The sun buried itself below the horizon, its glow vanishing from the sky, but I was at Lake Spirea.
Willow trees loomed over the lake, their branches like dangling fingers ready to tear into the water; rocks stuck out from the lake with pointed tips like boning knives. I carried my bags to the inn close by, the Spirea Inn. It was rustic, an old place forgotten by the world, left alone at the lake's side.
A chime announced my arrival. The owner looked up from a cooking magazine and smiled. I asked for a room: I was staying for a couple of days until I got the whole story.
The owner's name was Brome, and as I received the key card to my room, I asked if I could see the woman on the lake. There was a pause. Our eyes met, Brome leaned in and offered to take me after showing me to my room.
Brome handled my bags and we went upstairs. The hallway was filled with old paintings and taxidermy quails, ducks, a fox and a moose head in the lounge area. The inn felt empty. There was no one here except us.
“You came at a relaxing time, in a few weeks people will show up,”Brome said. “Most of my staff are locals, who live about a half-hour away. I basically run this place all by myself. It can get lonely, but I'm always excited when I get a guest, especially a new one: new people often have stories to tell.” Brome's brown hair swayed to the right when looking back at me, and each soft footstep took us closer to my room. Brome's smile was large and warm, inviting me to speak; there were pauses, moments where I could ask questions or respond, but my mind was occupied: she was outside on the lake.
Inside my room, I saw a reflection from the window; we looked distorted, almost joined together in an unreasonable way: our arms morphed together and our legs were tacked on to our thighs. Brome dropped my bags and left to get ready. My shoulders tightened, I felt detached from this place, but I went back to the front desk and waited for Brome.
Brome returned with provisions: a spotlight and fanny pack with a flashlight, a whistle and a flare gun in case something happened. We seated ourselves on a launch boat and the engine ripped into the water. I shone the flashlight ahead waiting to see her rise from the lake.
We were on the lake for ten minutes, but we didn't see anything. It was quiet and ominous. I dipped my hand into the cool water, small waves pulled my hand below. My heart pounded waiting for her to appear, but it was too dark, and we couldn't distinguish her from a rock. We would have to come back in the morning. We turned the boat around and returned to the inn. Air tickled the back of my ear, it felt like a hushed breath.
I grabbed my laptop from my room and typed my journal in the lounge. Bromi asked if I needed anything. I just needed to record my thoughts and experiences, but I felt eyes digging in the back of my neck trying to catch every word I took down, so I returned to my room, turned on a desk lamp and went back to writing.
I wondered if she'd be on the lake waiting? I'd heard she just appeared on the lake; some people think she doesn't exist, but I'll see.
I dreamed I was drowning, my lungs filled with blueish water. This massive thing grew out from my head and was large enough to penetrate the surface, while I stayed below the water. I struggled to remove it because this thing held me in place: I felt squished under its weight, my head sunk into my chest and my chest sunk into my legs; I felt my body being torn apart and reassembled, until suddenly I was dancing with a pink tangerine, under a sun, but it was a lamp. We danced until I grabbed the tangerine's skin and twirled it; the skin peeled off and there was nothing underneath, and I woke up.
I brushed my teeth and my hair, while gazing out the window; I had the perfect view of the lake and I saw a small blob: it was her. I rushed out of my room, but as I opened the door, the smell of ginger floated on the air. Brome had made sweet potato and ginger soup for breakfast.
I sat down and was greeted by Brome. The soup melted on my tongue, and the creamy texture slid down my throat; once the bowl was empty, Brome filled a plastic baggie with double dark chocolate pecan cookies on the table for me, in order to satisfy my hungry while I was on the lake.
We went out on the launch boat and we saw her floating on the water. She made no movement. Brome told me to walk on her; I was hesitant—what was stopping her from taking me below the water? But I was reassured she wouldn't budge. I planted my right foot down on her back, or what I assumed to be her back; she didn't move, and I planted my left foot, bringing my whole body on top of her. I felt like a toddler stepping on their parent's palm; no struggle, she didn't care: her body didn't even move with my weight; my muddy shoes made no mark on her skin. She was inviting me: her body was easy to walk on, safe, but she wasn't human; however, her body resembled human limbs or were similar enough to describe her. I told Brome to pick me up in a couple of hours.
I walked from the feet to the crown; she was long and wide, and she resembled playdough rolling down a hill, catching the shapes of twigs and rocks, contorted and put together without any idea/shape in mind. She seemed foreign, alien even. One arm stuck above the surface, with all her fingers joined, except one, and beside the arm, there seemed to be an opening with oily stains inside and outside. Her head rested on the water, as if she listened to the lake and her neck cleaved at the chin/left jaw to her body. She had eyes that resembled two brown dots, but lacked eyelids. Her mouth had lips, but could of been a swollen gland, and her teeth were yellow, or were a row of yellow growths. She seems to have little legs coming from her shoulders, with wrinkles and ridges similar to the ones on ankles and knuckles: they felt harder in the middle, smoother on the ends. There was a roundish part sticking out near the wound, like a skin tag; it was soft and comfortable. Her hair was thin and wavy, while her skin was pink. She was constructed in a way that made no sense, almost forced together, but she floated on the water.
A couple hours passed; we floated to the shore then out again. She seemed to drift around, I didn't know if she moved on her own or the water was pushing her along. I finished my cookies, after setting a few in front of her eyes, but she saw through them. No reactions to anything: a gull landed on her hand, pecking her one finger, until it lost interest and flew away; I didn't see any blood, but how could she float without flinching from its beak? Even when ducks passed by, grazing her skin with their ticklish feathers, she continued resting on the water. I wanted to know her thoughts: she noticed no living creature on her or around her, not even the sun. I was surprised she had no sun burn, her skin seemed fine and water didn't prune her: she was resistant.
Brome picked me up and we returned to the inn for a quick lunch of oyster fritters and chocolate banana pudding; it was a great lunch, I wished there was more. For the first time, I never noticed how cozy the inn was; it felt empty and dark yesterday, I constructed a very different image. It was peculiar how quickly an image could change, depending on the mood I was in. It was different than my cramped apartment, a lot more colour: the inn was filled with pinks, browns, yellows and reds. Birds' chirps flew in from the open windows, along with ladybugs. My bed sheets smelled like lilac and the floors smelled like lemon. If I wasn't preoccupied with my story, I would of enjoyed everything here.
Brome was concerned for me: if I was hungry, thirsty, or tired, Brome would offer me a sweet peach, or a glass of sangria, or a comfy pillow. Brome was also talkative and curious, wanted to know more about me. Why I was here? Where did I come from? What did I do? We were in the lounge when I was asked why I came here.
“I came here to write about the woman on the lake,” I said. “She's kind of popular online, so I thought this would be perfect for my followers: something new. I usually write about local events, nothing big, but hopefully this story will grab some attention.”
“You're a writer,” Brome said. “Never had those come up here before, not much to see but trees and water; I don't think that's what most writers write about anymore, but the woman on the lake will definitely excite your readers. Maybe you could even mention my inn, just a small mention. It would be amazing to get more people to come here.”
I never considered myself to be a writer, more of a blogger who wrote about experiences and feelings to myself, so I could organize my thoughts and words for my followers later, although, I'd been told an editor would bury a couple of typos in my work. This story was going to break me out of my routine in the city. Every week I would right about a festival, a party, a scandalous politician, but I wanted to write something bigger and new.
Brome explained the inn had been owned by some distant relatives, and they passed the property to Brome's parents, who passed it on to Brome; Brome's parents would rather live on their beach front property than run an inn, which was perfect: when Brome graduated university and didn’t know what to do, the inn sounded amazing. The locals helped Brome run the inn for the first few years, and this year is the tenth.
Brome handed me a tablet and I typed in my blog for Brome to read, and I was left alone to think. I wanted to ask Brome about her and get more detailed information, but I thought maybe exploring would have bought me closer to an idea. Who was she? That was the biggest question. Most people online thought she was fake, a hoax, that she was made of cloth and plastic, but I stood on her and knew those were speculations. Does she eat or sleep, or do anything? To me she was a mystery who rose above the water.
I returned to her and decided to communicate with her. I exposed her to music, pictures, anything that would cause a reaction. Nothing stimulated her, nothing intrigued her; she floated. I showed her pictures of cats, celebrities, cities, and played music and outlined triangles and squares on her back, I pinched her sides and blew her hair, and she wasn't bothered or entertained. I didn't know what to do, or think. She was frustrating me, nothing I did mattered; my blood boiled. There must have been something I was missing that had not surfaced yet; maybe something would pop into my mind.
I was reading forums under the thread “woman on the lake.” Some people online believed she came from another world, and I thought so too. Most commentators thought she was an alien from an amazonian planet, and her voluptuous form was squished and burned after passing through our planet's atmosphere. Some believed she was part of a conspiracy, she was a distraction created to hide fantastical creatures. One said she was an alien robot sent here to catalogue our planet, and judge if humanity was worthy to meet their advanced society of boneless blobs. Most people wanted some explanation or at least air out their fantasies.
I woke up late: the curtains were pulled and blocked out the sun; I enjoyed sleeping in the dark, just like at home in the bright city. I brushed my teeth and my hair while looking over my words, and I hadn't seen anything yet, no ideas. She wasn't on the lake today, so I explored the inn for a bit, but it wasn't too big, only two floors with a large shed in the back and some boathouses near the lake.
The paintings, which Brome told me were of dead relatives, hanged in the halls and dining room. Along the bottom of their frames were their names: Jane Charlotte, Victor Mary, Dorian Oscar and others long dead. They all were painted in a similar position showing the head down to the belly. Most of them had a stilted smile, rosy cheeks and green eyes, similar to Brome. I imagined how uncomfortable it was to stay in the same position for hours. I wondered if they counted down the minutes and seconds, or what they thought about. It must of been difficult for the painter to convey each person's characteristics, piecing them together to form a realistic picture: tacking on a nose, an eye, a wrinkle, a dimple, a pimple, a nostril, all these parts to form one beautiful image.
Brome gave me a plate of Parmesan pumpkin lasagna for lunch; I ate it slowly, savouring every bite until the plate was empty on the table. It tasted great, but I wanted more, until Brome shared some details.
Brome told me she appeared on the lake a year ago, she just popped up from the water with foam bubbling around her, which prompted Brome to conceal her away; she was tied to the end of the launch boat and was pulled lightly into the boathouse: she didn't struggle. She was strange, yet magical: the world would easily exploit her, and she remained in a boathouse under a tarp for most of the day.
“I thought she was a nymph that came from the rocks in the lake,” Brome said. “It's pretty stupid to believe that, but are aliens any better?”
“You could believe whatever you want,” I said. “I still have no idea. Did you tell anyone about her?”
“I told my employees to keep her a secret; they didn't care, most of them are old and thought she was an island. There was nothing special about her other than she was different. I took some blurry photos and videos, and started spreading the rumour that she was a hoax, so people would leave her alone. She doesn't seem to be part of this world; I think it was normal to protect her from others; however, she has some way of avoiding others as she disappears for days. Some people don't have the chance to see her. I sometimes think she might leave forever. If anyone decided to come see her, they would have to stay at the inn first, and pay, which most don't want to pay or would rather talk about her online. Although, I'm not against people seeing her, but I'd rather have people come here for the inn.
“That was you; I was hoping she wasn't a hoax,” I said. “I would have came her for no reason then.”
Brome cared for her, made her meals, read books, talked to her, but she never ate, saw, or listened to Brome. Brome even slept with her, but she didn't sleep, or she slept with her eyes open. Brome felt horrible trapping her under a tarp for so long and she was released two months ago, around the same time she existed online.
I came to some conclusion: she's unknown. I've closed myself off (in my room) thinking. I asked Brome to look over my journal and critique it.
“It's good, I'm really enjoying it, like the way you describe her arm,” Brome said. You're really good, especially with the inn, I could picture it.”
“Is that all, anything specific? Like I'm trying to really capture her, find an aspect my followers will relate to,” I said.
Brome told me to talk about the inn more, which was fine, I will, I had plenty of information. I guess Brome's not a blogger, and was too scared to give me a proper critique, but writingwithout any interesting conclusions won't get me far with my followers. I was missing something, maybe I needed to count the number of wrinkles on her skin or I needed more similes.
I went to the hills with Brome's binoculars, used for bird watching, and tried to look at her from the highest point. The sun shone brightly and filled the woods with sounds and smells, but she looked the same. After coming down the hill, I decided to row a boat, instead of taking the launch boat. I slowly made my way to her, her body slowly growing the closer I came, but she stayed the same. I came up with a different approach and dove underwater beneath her. She looked the same underneath, more wrinkles and bumps, and a long arm that reached toward the bottom. The arm had three conjoined fingers, which moved through the water. She swam but at a very slow pace; she moved freely through the water.
I couldn't come up with anything interesting for my followers, I couldn't come up with a story. I sat on the couch drinking spiced cranberry sangria, hoping something would pop into my mind, while Brome was hanging my clothes under the sun to dry. My mind and body were not cooperating, I felt separated. My frustration was getting the best of me; I peeled a piece of skin sticking from the line between my finger and nail, but I peeled it a bit too far. Blood poured out, but I continued peeling until I took the skin completely off and discarded it into my watery sangria, and watched it sink to the bottom and latch itself onto a melting ice cube.
Where did she come from? Was she just a discarded piece of flesh? Did she come from a bone or a sack, from dirt or water? I went back to my room and rinsed my cut with hydrogen peroxide, which numbed my wound, and I noticed the purplish pink colour and ran to the boat. The colour matched her, she had the same colour as a cut rinsed in hydrogen peroxide. I stood on her and felt amazing piecing things together, tacking all these ideas on her. The small hairs hanging off her head looked like strips of damaged skin from a sun burn. Her teeth were the colour of calluses on the bottom of a foot. Her eyes were brown like a mole.
Brome was concerned over my dramatic run to the lake, but I was thrilled to have a breakthrough. The table was set with a classic meal, but reinvented with a bit of spice; I ate roasted red pepper mac and cheese. Small spice pinches awakened my mouth and I cleaned my tongue with a peach tea cocktail. I thanked Brome for making the best meals, before returning to my room.
There was little to do at the inn, besides eating, sitting and writing. I counted the number of apples in a bowl, the birds that flew by the window, Brome's squeaky sneezes; all together I counted ten, but I could be wrong: my phone was chirping with updates and news, distracting me. She was still floating on the lake.
Brome and I decided to build a jigsaw puzzle outside, the inn was getting cramped. On the cover of the jigsaw box was a painting calledProserpine. I was told there were more in the closet under the staircase.One of Brome's relatives collected jigsaw puzzles. It was a fun game, relieved me of my thoughts, while we drank spiced cranberry sangria.
“No way,” Brome said. “My parents also made me drink a shot of bourbon on Christmas Eve: I hated it. It was part of some weird tradition; there's actually a bottle of it in a cupboard by the fireplace, don't worry we won't drink it. I don't talk to my parents much; I think they visited me ten times since I've been here.”
“My parents text me sometimes with a hello: we don't have much to talk about,” I said. “I only visit them on holidays; my apartment is small, I wouldn't want them to eat dinner on my bed. I guess we could go out to a restaurant, but they don't like going out much.”
“You should bring your parents here, I'd enjoy the company. I'd make them some mushroom bisque, and grill cheesed crepes. Right? That would be great? We could eat out here.”
I would come back here after I've written this. We continued piecing the puzzle together, until we reached the head; a piece was missing, the top of the forehead. We looked through the closet and the other jigsaw boxes, then we looked around the inn, behind paintings, under carpets, in cupboards and I searched the top floor and the bottom floor, but the piece was missing. Brome collected all the pieces and threw it back into the closet: no harm was done.
I decided to stay up all night with her, I had a blanket and pillow. The night sunk in, the stars shone and twinkled. I checked if she was asleep, but her eyes were open. The air cooled, and I huddled under my blanket and took my shoes off. She sometimes made noises, muffled saliva noises, I think. She sounded like she was drowning, but it could of been the waves brushing up against her. I wanted to withdraw from everything. I felt buried like an ingrown hair, stuck underneath the skin winding around and forming a red bump above. I wanted to sink into my dreams and let the world rise above me.
I dreamt an odd dream. I was on a date with a woman, we were at a movie theatre and she was holding my hand, pulling me through a crowd. We sat down, her hand was on mine, tickling my fingers. Then we were in a kitchen cooking; she let me skin potatoes and carrots, one of my favourite tasks, and she smiled and laughed. Then we were in bed tickling each other until we couldn't anymore, and she waited for my eyes to close first, before she would close her own.
I woke up with a sense of hopefulness; the sun was shining and I was on the lake. Brome came to get me. We went back to the inn and I sat on my bed brushing my teeth, staring at the blue wall, wondering where that dream came from. Was it her?
When I woke up in my bed, she was in my dream again: we were on a couch eating sliced apples, watching something; she snorted when she laughed and occasionally covered her mouth. We were at a grocery store after, where she pushed herself off my shoulders and grabbed a pasta sauce jar; she was reckless, but refreshing, she was aware, and accepting of herself. The dream felt soothing and calm, allowing me to experience moments of pleasure and beauty, but waking up left me wanting more. I asked Brome at the dining table, while eating breakfast.
“You too!”said Brome. “It's wonderful, when I slept next to her, I dreamt this man would pick me up and whirl me around the room, until we collapsed on the floor. When we slept, he would always pull the cover over my exposed arms and make me feel warm and secure. He'd even bend down and tie my shoes when I was lazy. I don't know if she's the exact cause, but I always had the same man appear, sometimes, when I slept next to her or on her: she just has this power, I guess. Imagine all the people who would want to see the ideal one, the one from their dreams.”
Brome then placed a tablet into my hands. Brome wanted me to look over a personal essay. The essay talked about cooking, about food, about Brome, about school. It was fine, I don't know what Brome expected, but I gave the tablet back with a smile and Brome laughed; seems like Brome may go to culinary school. Although, it was odd as Brome had a similar reaction when I asked him to critique my work. We were both scared to share our opinions, athough I was more of a writer than Brome. Why was I scared? I was caught under my own skin like a net, trapping me under my fears and self-doubt. I became even more determined to figure her out, to rise above this mystery.
She wasn't on the lake this time. Brome fed some ducks, dusted tables and read cooking magazines, while sipping apple sangria. The day felt longer, and I'd convinced myself to stay on the couch and do nothing, but I couldn't: I needed a story, or at least something more.
Brome wore the same plaid shirt, but in different colours: pink, brown, yellow and red. The lake kept its blueish colour and the sun continued shining; I watched ducks waddle and quails roost. I could hear Brome exercising behind the inn, and if I had the strength, I walked over to the window and watched the little fuzzy pink ball sway on Brome's wholly hat, while Brome ran in place. Brome's cooking kept me going, we had chocolate chess pie and hoop cheese biscuits; the food was light, I wanted more, so Brome promised to make me some roasted rosemary chicken for dinner.
The taxidermy quails, ducks, fox were all animals hunted and preserved by a relative, or multiple relatives; Brome wasn't sure. Most of the birds had their wings positioned in mid-flight, except one, whose wings lifted towards its head as if it was saying “I don't know.” The fox's head was turned back, checking on something, maybe Brome's relative holding a gun, or waiting for Brome's spectacular meals. Their positionswere interesting: all the time and effort to clean and pose them, create an image of something that existed before, and to hide their seams. It must have taken hours to preserve their former images. The moose head looked straight ahead, nothing amazing, except a white cat who interfered with my train of thought.
The cat restedon the head with its tail tangling off, oblivious of what it was lying on. I asked Brome who it was: she was a wild cat who lived around the inn. She stretched and arched her back when Brome walked up to her, and she walked from the bottom of the moose's neck back to the top of its head, scratching at the moose's skin. She was distracting, andturned around, lifting her tail at me, before jumping down on a table nearby.
As I sat down to write my thoughts and ideas, I felt this nagging thought interfering; it popped in my head: Why was she a she? She looked nothing like a woman or acted like one. Yet the question had never surfaced before: were we projecting? She didn't even look human, yet I compared her to everything I had on my own body. She did nothing, but we still thought of her as a her, even now I can't stop calling her, her. I could say it or they, but she seemed like a her. Maybe she's a woman stripped of every trait and has materialized into this massive blob thing. Everyone wanted to know who she was, but they had already made assumptions, she was a she.
I started a forum online under the thread “why was the woman on the lake a she.” People responded within an hour. Some were offended, that she was a she because she looked different and revolting, but some adamantly felt she had nothing to do with a woman and neither represented one. Some wouldn't accept her based on physical appearance, although one comment told them to slap some lipstick and mascara on her. I still don't understand, how does she represent a woman? What does this mean if we accept her as a woman?
I was awake all night thinking, trying to come up with an answer, but my eyes were heavy and I felt horrible. What does that make me? Was I a bad person? Did I create that idea, or did I just follow along? Who was I? Why would I think this? I felt vulnerable, like my skin ripped off from beneath my clothes. Did she even care what we thought, what I thought? I wanted nothing to do with her; I didn't want to use her for my story, just as Brome wanted to leave her alone.
Brome made pancakes, but I didn't feel like eating. I went outside to relax, but I caught the cat with its head to the ground, shifting its back, hunched over, gagging. Something was trying to surface from the cat's stomach: it was the missing piece, or about half of it, the top portion of the forehead piece. The rest of the piece was still below in her belly and I wasn't going to wait around for it to come out; I didn't pick up the piece, I just pushed it into the water with the tip of my foot, and watched it sink: the piece was still missing, there was no reason to have it.
I wanted to go back to her, but she wasn't on the lake; regardless, I didn't want towalk on her, how could I? It was awful of me to walk all over her like she was an island.My thoughts were dissolving, flaking off. I felt the pieces flowing from my eyes, ears and nose into the blue water; let it sink away, she was feeding on my mind.
I walked back and forth to and from the window, looking over the lake, and she was still missing. My laptop was filled with words and thoughts, jumbled together. It was frustrating, nauseating and cruel: I couldn't take a break, or eat; I rejected Brome's cooking. Thoughts and words popped in my mind in confusing orders and upside down syntax. How was I functioning with her always in my mind? I hadn't figured out why I called her a her, or whatever; that was the last thing to resolve, what I needed to do was complete her, create a picture pleasing enough that would captivate the mind and eyes of all my followers. Who would have been satisfied with the picture of her now? No one. Why would they? I hadn't come to any conclusions about who she was or what she was, except that she floated on a lake. I could have lied, a compromise between what I'd seen and what I knew, expand more and more, add depth and life to her. Maybe relate her to things I knew, compare her to something I've read or seen, a flower or a god, or anything. Embellish, yes, embellish her story, tack things on and make it bigger, larger than expectations can handle—but I couldn't. How could I add more to something that exists, that is right there outside my window? Yet, I needed more, my followers would have never been satisfied with this, they demanded more, they were hungry. Speculation wouldn't do, I couldn't ask more questions, there needed to be answers.
I went back to the lake and sat down on the shore staring at the water, barely able to see my reflection in the blueish pool. She was gone, escaped from the mystery that we all started. I stuck my feet into the lake and moved them: I lost my feet, couldn't see them. Brome was inside cooking, making me a meal and I was exhausted.
Inside the inn, Brome had placed a plate with chocolate cake on the dining table. I wasn't in the best spirits, and slumped into a chair. Brome was worried and offered me a bigger slice of cake; it was simple, yet tasted great. Brome had the ability to draw me in with a simple well-made plate. Cooking was Brome's skill, it connected us together, rather than distract me like the woman on the lake. Cooking kept me going, and kept me coming back for more. Brome was real person and she was a mysterious fantasy that everyone was trying to pin down.
After packing up all my belongings, I went to the front desk, payed and said goodbye to Brome. Brome told me to visit again, and I walked to the bus stop, on the dirt path; the sun shone, the leaves flew on a pleasant breeze and I waited for the bus. I had a new story to write about, the Spirea Inn.