This Conquered Lake

A perverted intelligence. In the car, the voice picks and extracts (*) and arranges them in a violent and suggestive quilt. “What isn’t true, is true; what isn’t wrong, is wrong; you are wrong, everything you say is wrong.” It’s all delivered in that gruff voice of his, the one that isn’t heard in front of his colleagues but makes its appearance, like a bird darting out of a hole, as soon as we get in the car. The change is instant. He has peeled the mask off–and we, for unknown reasons, have become the centre of some storm brewed elsewhere, one we are only caught in, and it is our loose fibres, snagged in his rhetoric–the tail ends of coats, a lost mitten, a single strand of hair–that reveal his probing agenda, his belief that we are (somehow) living off his buck, (somehow) responsible for his uneasiness when we don’t see him often and it’s often that when we do see him he treats us like children.

The dragon only calms down after he’s eaten his dinner, which he ate running one talon through envelope after envelope, interjecting our conversations only to point out this or that item on a bill, something wrong that someone else has to fix, someone like his secretary, who has made us dinner and is always up to no good.

And then “papa” as he’s called, calms down, sitting in front of the television, and comes to us later, all of us, and begs us to take the dogs for a walk, in that cloying manner of his that is almost childlike–his “do something for me, do something for me please, I am helpless to do this without you,”–a ceremony that us older members have learned to see through and ignore, so he doesn’t ask us, or asks it of us anyway, expecting nothing. The one he still has power over goes, as all of us expected he would.

The older dog’s hair is receding from her back, a bleeding and scabbed tonsure. We all love her but when it was time to go back on her medicine she had improved so much that she had gained weight and, even suspecting this, nothing was done about it, so the medicine no longer worked and the wound was allowed to grow and to fester. She shakes for other reasons–her arthritis–but it is hard not to feel sympathy for her when she steps, slow and unsteady, over the cement porch.

***

I find it uncomfortable when Lisa leads, and I try to lead, and our arms pull each other, and the dance breaks down into nothing. So we experiment and I ask her if I can lead her, and with my arm and my hand on her spine we go up and down, back and forth, and we have fun. When the one song comes on that everyone dances to we dance to that. We dance to the other songs too: the song we think is “Pokerface”, but it isn’t; the fast country song that I kick my legs forward quickly for, as if I was tap-dancing, making Lisa laugh; the first two slow songs that get us reacquainted with each other’s rhythms, and the rhythms of other couples.

“Let’s find a dark corner… and make out.” Behind her grandma, maybe, or underneath a table full of cousin’s crossed-legs and talking about this or that. Of course I’m joking.

She laughs. “You said that four times today.”

The above moment happens in whispers in Lisa’s ear and is captured in a photograph, from a camera on the other side of the table.

Someone starts a conga line.

“I think this was on Jeremy’s list, from the last wedding.”

She laughs again.

We don’t join, but sitting down we watch the conga from the table. I have only seen it insincerely, in the school gym, kids not really trying, four or five at a time, making fun of everything, dissolving after eight kicks, reabsorbing, shrug-shouldered, into the crowd. Here, as it devours the entire dance floor, I am not sure if it is insincere or sincere. I don’t know what a conga line is. Why I am trying to weigh it in my head I don’t know. It is only something that people do. Someone in the middle of the line doesn’t want to put his hands on the layered rolls of the middle-aged woman in front of him, to him the idea may seem indecent, and so he raises his arms alternately and pretends as if he’s shaking maracas. The line moves on.

***

After the ceremony Lisa put her sunglasses on, with the black and white checks on the sides, and I put on my green and brown toque, with the triangle flaps on either side.

“You two look too worldly.”

“They made that announcement about smoking for me. I was smoking.”

“I was scratching a tattoo into my arm using a shard of glass.”

The wedding is of Jehovah’s Witnesses.

***

The old building where the dancing is is in the shape of a boat. The windows form into a diagonal prow and during the meal fireworks are set off across the bay, lord knows by who. We turn around and point it out to the head table, I with chicken in my mouth, still chewing, but they look confused and act as if we’re trying to play some kind of indecipherable trick on them until the MC makes an announcement which vindicates us:

“Everyone, if you like you can turn to the windows–there are fireworks going off across the lake.” Some people turn and look, others get out of their seats and press their noses into the cold black windowpanes.

***

Without my jacket on, just my ornate shirt and tie, I reach into Lisa’s purse and take out my hat. I pull it on and go outside, through the door they’ve opened up into November so that the dancing doesn’t make the place too hot.

Outside it is immediately sane. The music is concentrated into the yellow windows and the wood and cement rigging. A path goes down to the lake. It is empty, and a distance away from the hall, below a concrete cliff, and I wonder if someone is hiding down there ready to come at me with a knife. I go anyway. I think about who this person will be. Will he be happy, in this remote place, to catch someone from Toronto? I only have $25 in my wallet, I could give that up without much remorse. And if they take my bank card I could give them my old pin and it will come to me so readily it will seem convincing.

I step out onto the steel platform the boats slide down over. My shoes are for dancing and they don’t have much traction. I think about the story from the summer. “A promising young boy disappeared at a concert at the docks and the next day was found a ways away floating dead in the water. It was the boy’s first trip alone to Toronto.” Could I be that story? Only my tragedy would occur during my first visit to “Central Ontario’s most enchanting harbour.”

***

This conquered lake. The sweep of men around its crescent. A dead tree, its white branches. Four black ducks escaping across the water. The lights blinking across the bay.

We are dragons and warriors.

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