Water and Ash
by Abigail Russo
We eat scrambled eggs around the scratched wood kitchen table, wiping the sleep from our eyes and kneading it from our necks. We slather sunscreen on the babies’ puckered faces, we haul the pink-and-white umbrellas out of the garage, we crunch on grapes, we claim no interest in the lives of the celebrities featured in the magazines we devour, we doze off by the water, we go home to nap, we shower and we eat. It’s lovely and mind-meltingly agonizing. We laugh so that we can forget how we have to force ourselves to laugh. Solitary confinement at the family summerhouse is a non sequitur that we have all turned into an accepted truth.
Each day is the same, of course.
Mom loves that we’re all here and anxiously glances at everyone – aunts, cousins, babies, dogs – whenever we’re all together to ascertain that the level of family enjoyment is satisfactory. Prime indicators are the volume of the belly laughter, the amount of food spilled onto the carpet, and number of times my grandpa calls the president “a confused communist.” I share a room with my cousin Tina, who hangs over the side of her bed each night to talk about boys and “experimental” birth control while I’m trying to read the newest Toni Morrison novel.
At 2:00 am on Wednesday night, I wake up. Summer wind whistles through our window shutter and lightly moves Tina’s quilt over her curled body. I slip out of bed, down the stairs, out the back door, and down to the lake.
Skimming my toes over the surface creates tiny ripples in the grey-green water. This never ceases to amaze me, this movement that is perfectly symmetrical and gorgeously fleeting.
“Did you see it?” he asks, sitting down beside me and pushing his hand under my thigh. He arches his hand and my leg rises. I point my toes in the water, admiring the dirt lurking beneath the corners of the nails.
“See it?” I parrot. My feet flex and point, flex and point. I am the green-spotted water swan.
“The future, in the water,” he explains, cocking his head to the left as if it will give him a clearer glimpse through the murkiness.
“The future,” I say, pausing, “is no water. We’ll have turned the world to hot ash.”
“I hate the heat,” he says, as though this alone will keep the world from collapsing unto itself in fire and in screams. He slides into the water, fully clothed, sinking silkily under the surface. His hair floats at the surface, a swirl of jet-black bobbing gently, and I nudge it with my toes. He pops up, soaking and gasping.
“The fright of the full moon,” I say with a smile, and he yanks me into the water with him.
Afterwards, we lay on the deck for minutes and then hours, shivering terribly. His fingers feel frozen to my skin, grafted together. If we move, where will we go?