by Candace Webb
A German shepherd sprawls on the kitchen floor. My mother is doing the breakfast dishes, chatting to the dog, whose name is Sasha. Sasha blends in with the brown-and-gold linoleum tile. I kneel on the floor, bury my hands in her coat. Her hair is silky, her skin warm.
I hated that kitchen. It was small and dark, that brown floor siphoning all the light that came in through the single tiny window above the sink. The cottage was in the forest, and sunlight didn’t penetrate the canopy. I don’t remember where the dog came from, but I loved her.
On a July weekend, my cousins on my mom’s side come to the cottage. I’m the youngest by at least five years. They lead me down the hill to our beach on Pigeon Lake and dig into the wet sand, heaving it aside to make me a pool. Once they get down far enough, water fills the hole from the bottom. I sit in the middle, laughing. The water like chocolate milk.
My dad appeared on the beach like a bonfire. I don’t know why he was so angry. Maybe he just wanted to hassle my cousins, especially the rich ones.
The snowmobile tears through the woods. It’s dark. The track is barely visible, the birch trees skeletons. I sit on the front, my dad behind. He lets me drive, but I’m so scared, my hand is glued to the accelerator. He pries my fingers off to avoid crashing. When my dad tells this story, wolves are chasing us, their howls surging above the engine’s roar.
The only thing louder than my dad was that snowmobile. His voice made me flinch well into adulthood. He was probably exaggerating about the wolves.
We stand at the top of the hill leading down to the beach. It’s unpaved, gravel. My parents encourage me to coast down on my bike. It’s 1980, before the evolution of helmets. I straddle my bike and lift my feet up. It’s fun at first, but the bike accelerates and skids. I just miss crashing into the picnic table and end up splayed on the sand.
I can’t remember whether my parents came down to help me.
I’ve been asking to invite a friend to the cottage for months, and it’s finally happening. Sarah and I are playing on the deck when my dad’s youngest brother shows up. He thinks it’s funny to sit on us, crushing our bellies, pinning our pelvises down. We squirm. This is no game we want to play. My friend tells my parents she wants to go home.
This same uncle will later pull his shirt out from his chest, and ask, “What are these?” in reference to my developing breasts. At my grandmother’s apartment with my partner, he will sit on the other side of me and say, “Can you handle two men?” I will say nothing, my face hot with shame.
On a breezy August evening, we’re having dinner on the deck. It’s fifty feet off the ground, perched over a steep slope. I never look down. Instead, I focus on the fluttering maple leaves above. My mom is having her annual smoke, my dad on his tenth of the day. They are drinking red wine. Even though I’m finished eating, I stay. I’m never allowed to be excused until he’s done, which feels like forever because he lingers for hours, drinking. They start yelling. I put my hands over my ears. My mom stands, says she’s leaving. I’m scream–crying. Wondering if they’ll both leave or if I’ll be left here with him. Wondering which would be worse.
I’m almost certain they were fighting about money. We were living on my mom’s inheritance, which they spent as if it were ever-growing like mint. My dad started burning through jobs until we sold the cottage and the bank took our house away.
It’s a bright, sunny day in January. I’m skating on the lake. Alone. My skate blades slice the surface, scratching and chiming. In some spots, the ice is opaque. The clear areas, where you can see into the lake, are black. As I skate over them, my heart hops. When I stop to look for fish, I think about how thin the ice might be and shudder. But then I twirl away and keep skating, long after ice crystals form on my scarf and I can’t feel my toes.
I’m still happiest when I’m alone.
Candace Webb (she/her) is a recovering research scientist who writes and edits in Belmont, MA, where she lives with her partner, two daughters, and two cats. Her family is tame; the cats are not. Her work can be found in Five on the Fifth. You can find her on Instagram @cweedwrites.