Academic journal article Michigan Quarterly Review

Tabor Lake, 1993

Academic journal article Michigan Quarterly Review

Tabor Lake, 1993

Article excerpt

From the lifeguard's chair Katherine notices the white pickup truck entering the lake property. It rattles down the gravel road and stops about a hundred feet away. The driver, a short, body-builder type in an orange tee, jumps down from the cab, stirring up some dust. It's unusual to see an outsider in the private lake community on a weekday afternoon, but it's especially weird if that stranger is male. Most of the able-bodied men leave their cottages on Sunday night, she's noticed, and don't return until late Friday, if they return at all. This muscular guy in the orange tee saunters over to the old oak at the edge of the water like he's thinking about bench-pressing it. The tree reaches at least thirty feet into the sky, and its branches sprawl out over the water. The trunk is so enormous a skinny decrepit man can hide behind it, apparently, because here comes Mr. Hurley seemingly out of nowhere to shake the stranger's hand. She loses interest then-the lake president is older than the tree and one hundred percent duller-and she turns her attention back to the swimmers and to nursing her perfect misery.

After weeks of faulting Teddy, she blames herself now, which makes their breakup a little easier to bear. If she hadn't gone to work at that stupid upstate New York camp, she tells herself, they might still be together. She accepted the job months before they met in February. It was supposed to be her big adventure since, unlike most of her friends, she isn't going away to school in the fall; instead, she'll be commuting to the state college with her older brother who owns a car.

How could she know then that losing her virginity to Teddy would so thoroughly uproot her? The first few times she phoned him from the camp office, he sounded disengaged, like he was working out a calculus problem or building a model airplane while he talked to her. Worried that she was losing him, she told him about all the fun she was having with the two local boys who worked in the camp kitchen. Any moron could have predicted how that would turn out. Every time she called his house after that, his mother said he was out. After the last futile call, Katherine sank to the floor and sobbed in front of the moose-faced secretary who, smiling to herself, continued typing. It makes Katherine cringe now to remember it. With two weeks remaining in the session, she quit the camp and took the train home, only to discover that Teddy was still "out" every time she called.

When the shouting starts on the lake road, Katherine turns toward it grudgingly. The voices are muffled by the shrieks and screams of the swimmers, but it's clear that someone is mad about something. It's the heat, she thinks. The late August humidity presses down on New Jersey like a steaming iron, flattening everyone's spirits. There are three men by the tree now: Mr. Dinardo, the beach manager, wearing his usual Hawaiian swim trunks and red bandana, has joined old Mr. Hurley and the muscle man. She considers Mr. Dinardo her friend even though he's old-at least sixty-five. Tall, lanky, and quick with a joke, he shows up every day at one o'clock to relieve her while she eats lunch and uses the bathroom. He appears at other times of the day, too, and he always brings her a cold coke. She thinks he might be lonely. He lives alone; his wife is dead.

For some reason, it appears that Mr. Dinardo is preventing the muscle man from reaching his truck. When the younger man steps closer, Mr. Dinardo takes a swipe at him and misses. Katherine stands in her seat, the whistle touching her lips. If they fight, she thinks, Mr. Dinardo will definitely lose to that bruiser. She looks around for help and meets the eyes of Mrs. Sheehan, who's nursing her baby on a beach chair.

"I was afraid it would come to this," Mrs. Sheehan says. "They've been fighting over the tree since June.'' She's stocky, and her flame-colored hair is held back from her round, sensible face by a white headband. …

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