Summer at the Lake

For years, I have watched people come and go from the house on the edge of the lake: some of them came back, a favourite holiday haunt. There was a couple from San Francisco who barbecued on their last night; a group of friends who would go drunk skinny dipping; and another couple who spent most of the time having sex by the shore. My favourite visitors were always the families. During the warm summer month, they’d arrive, cars overloaded, kids overexcited, parents overtired. It wouldn’t take long for the car to be unpacked, and the children to rush into the water, splashing each other and enjoying the cool.

This is usually when I’d disappear, to avoid being seen. Sometimes I’d be too slow, a child would catch a quick glance of me, but I’d be gone before they knew for sure. The parents would say they were just imagining things. The rest of the holiday they’d keep an eye out, ready to catch me as they swam, played, and rowed. One boy, one summer, even tried to get me on camera, hoping a movement would trigger the flash. When he never got his shot, he gave up. The next summer, he was too busy ogling girls and trying beer to look for me again.

There’s only ever been one, a little girl who said her name was Poppy, who I ever showed myself to. She’d busy herself among the rocks, talking and singing to herself, singing of magic and enchantment. I can’t remember if she saw me first or I her, but neither of us strayed when we met. I asked her what she was doing and her name; she told me she sang to attract the faeries that lived in the lake. She bit her lip, winced at me, and looked down her feet, guilty of what she said next. She said that she knew what I was and, although I wasn’t a faery per se, she wouldn’t give me her real name. Instead she told me to call her Poppy. I told her that there were no faeries here- it was just me, drawn by her song.

For hours, days, we asked each other questions, our answers opening up worlds we only knew very little about. Every day, she would sit by the rocks and sing, knowing that I would hear and come to her, We would give each other little gifts, trinkets from our worlds. I would give her sparkling white stones from the bottom of the lake. She would give me a silver fork, secreted away from the dinning table. I would show her all the creatures that lived with me, hurrying them into a little pool. After her dinner, she would come and let me try her human food: a veggie sausage and coleslaw.

When the summer began to end, and Poppy and the family had their traditional final night bonfire, I would watch from a distance, waiting for Poppy’s last visit. She would give me a, a…marshmallow, and I would give her a final gift from the lake: a shell spiralled in many colours, or a medal lost by the winner of the boat race. She would look down, her tears rippling the surface of the lake. I told her not to cry, that I would see her next summer, and the one after that- we promised.

And we both stuck to it. Without fail, her family would come, and she would find me, from the car being parked to her mother calling her back on the last night. Poppy grew and grew and grew. Even when she came to the lake with more family, with friends, even a boyfriend once, she would come and talk to me: even if that meant sneaking out in the middle of the night with a torch. She would laugh and cry, ask and answer. When she couldn’t get away, she’d send little messages written on paper folded like boats. She would tell me about her world, and let me try her wine. I would tell her about my world, and push her boat faster than the rest. Yet each ending was the same. She would cry, and I would promise, and every year she came back.

It was still autumn when Poppy’s family came back to the house on the edge of the lake. They were all black and walked down the end of the jetty. After a few minutes, they sprinkled something into the lake. Then they each took a flower, a white rose, and set it to sail on the lake like Poppy’s messaged paper ships. She never came back to the lake. I never came back to the surface.

Her name was Kate.

by James Reynolds

[17/02/17: picture of a house at a lake]

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