BONNIE AND THE PONTOON SKY
We sat on the dock at the cottage where my Grandma and Grandpa once lived. My feet hung completely in the lake, Bonnie’s red-nailed toes, bent the way most toes are, did not quite reach the cool water. We were drunk, telling stories and sorting out smooth stones that we had picked along our shoreline walk from our campsite to the old cottage. It had been over a decade since my Grandma and Grandpa sold the place: flat-bottomed orange pontoon boat, furniture, stemware, and all. The dock had seemed so much longer then, like it went out into the middle of the small lake. It was almost embarrassing now, looking back, remembering how frightening it used to be.
The badminton net was gone, no footballs in the grass, no lawn chairs, folded or unfolded, no Grandpa dozing off in the sun with his permanently maple skin, tiny mahogany nipples and silver chest hair that looked like a mess of tangled-up fishing line on one of his old reels. There was no Grandma, no endearing smiles of hers, frilly pastel suits, crossed legs, or moles sprouting from her skin, sticking out like singing children wanting to be heard. My Grandpa’s homemade kneeboard was gone—it was a piece of sanded-down plywood with a headrest taken from a seat in their conversion van. We’d spend entire days getting pulled across Clear Lake on this home-made kneeboard by the motorized orange pontoon, Grandpa standing at its wheel, shirtless, bald and bronze, the sun lighting up his liver spots like bike reflectors.
Not gone were the swaying dock Bonnie and I sat on, and a pedal boat resting up against the weeping willow which hung over the shore’s soft clean sand. It looked like the same pedal boat that rested in that spot a decade before. Bonnie looked at me, rubbing her thumb over a deep red stone, a cigarette wedged between her fingers, her ashes falling, floating in the water as perch darted underneath. We knew that tomorrow our stones would be dry, their beauty lost, that we’d laugh at their plainness and wait until we got home to run them under the faucet and restore the memory of our walk and our time at the cottage.
This girl Bonnie had never met my grandparents, had never ran barefoot up and down the sandy two-track rut-road like my cousins and I had, yelping when our bare feet hit hot spots where the sun had been beating all day on the packed sand. She had never heard my sighs when I’d bury my feet with the earthworms in a shadow of cool, wet dirt. She’d never booked through trails chasing whitetails, scuffing her feet over their tracks that looked like knuckle imprints; my older cousins laughing, calling them pussies in the sand. She’d missed the ferns slicing up our tan ankles and calves, as we’d jumped over tiny balls of rabbit-turd, stopping now and then to pick raspberries and blueberries, purple smeared all over our hands and faces like we were savages.
I remember once when my cousins and I came across a decomposing carp that seemed twelve feet long, back in the woods, laying over a group of ferns, and we never thought anything of it, how it got there. We just hauled it back to Grandpa, fish-shit and sperm oozing out on our wrists, scales flaking off. It had paranoid eyes, dug out like someone had used them for fishing lures; something I remember my Grandpa showing me with little perch on the long green dock; small, eyeless fish flopping around. Bonnie was never there to watch me cry, or to take me by the hand and run off into the woods when my older cousins teamed up and did what boys do.
Bonnie was somewhere else, living in what would become her version of my memories, her own memories of fantastic orange suns and vague smiles that project themselves at the very back of your skull, but feel like they should be right there in your eyes, swimming around in your pupils like minnows in a bait pail. Bonnie knew what I was talking about, had been there, just like everyone has; moments of childhood, an entire childhood in one moment, like all of summer relived; the short half-hour drive, a giant turtle on the roadside, a whitetail carcass, another, and another. And as I talked, there she was, with me, straddling a shining silver pontoon tube on my Grandpa’s orange boat, myself on the other shining silver pontoon tube, reaching across to hold her hand, the water ripping through our toes as we looked down through the lake to see its bottom, crossed logs hung up on each other, yellow life growing over the soft bark, the occasional trout coasting by. There she was, her hair blowing, her smile, eyes big like stars.
We tipped the pedal boat from the weeping willow tree and slid it into the water. Bonnie found a pen in her purse and wrote a note on the back of a beer label. “We borrowed your pedal boat. We are very sorry. We will take good care of it and return it before dark. We sincerely thank you, Bonnie and Kevin.” And we pedaled then, years after somewhere I wished she’d always been. Behind us, an empty dock, the weeping willow over soft sand and tall grass, an unlit cottage, and—me—a rediscovered boy.
The sun was disappearing, turning the sky the same color of orange as the pontoon. I would run with Bonnie forever, over hot, two-track sand, past sharp ferns, dead carp, and blueberry bushes, hopping over her tracks until my legs gave out from underneath me. Right then, our pedaling feet, the solemn loons, and our laughter were all that we heard. Bonnie held my hand, met something in me that I never thought I’d see again, and put her lips to the freckles on my tan shoulder as we moved slowly across the lake with our pile of stones, pedaling toward anything that we wanted.
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