This is The Lake

Warm, hot wind. Waves licking the shore. The flash of an eagle’s wings against its white head and the blue sky.

This is the lake.

Unforgiving sun. The relief of the shade. The gentle rocking and leaning of the old, groaning dock. Generations of spiders’ webs and swallows’ nests in the paint-flecked eaves.

This is home.

We wake early, to the sprinklers spraying against the wooden fence, carving faded white arcs into the dark brown planks. The morning doves coo and shush in the familiar pattern like scolding mothers. We pull on our bathing suits and drag ourselves down the yellow hill, over the shifting rocks, onto the old, groaning dock. We carry skis, coffee, begrudging smiles.

This is tradition.

We putter away from the dock in our yellow boat, black and yellow like the yellow jackets that hover over our waffles and rivers of sticky syrup in the mornings. The sky blushes blue, pure and untainted. The waves shimmer green, but every valley and peak is painted yellow and blue, yellow and blue, for the sky and the sand.

I jump into the water, rope in hand, and let loose a caterwauling wail as the cold water bites into my still-sleepy skin.

“It’s as warm as a bathtub!” calls my dad. (This is our well-worn joke, familiar and welcome as an old dollar bill folded in your back pocket.)

I bob in the water like a duck or a cork, my ski sticking awkwardly in the air. It wobbles as I falter in the water.

Then I say, “Hit it!”

The boat roars, nothing like the yellow jacket’s lazy drone, and I rise from the water like Poseidon behind his chariot of hippocampi.

Well, that’s not true. This is true: I lurch forward and swallow a mouthful of water as the boat rips the rope from my fingers.

This is expected.

I shiver and chatter, but the water somehow feels warmer after I’ve been doused in it. The air is my enemy now, its teeth sharper than the tepid lake.

The boat turns smoothly, a sinuous curve it’s carved a thousand times, a hundred thousand. It winds around me like a snake, pulling the rope behind it.

“Be the ball!” the hecklers shout from the boat. “Boat driver error!” my dad yells.

“I just need to get used to it!” I holler back.

This is ritual.

Twice more, because three time’s the charm. And I rise, if not behind a chariot, then to the best audience I could ask for.

My ski is a knife, a thin blade that swoops and cuts and rides the churning water. My thighs shake and quiver, my calves quake, the wind whistles and howls, and something in me howls back.

I swerve. I soar. I slice.

This is living.

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