A single year

Categories: NER Digital

Brook Lane | By Leslie Bazzett

Leslie Bazzett

On a still day, you can see the greater stillness of the homes reflected on the surface of the lake. Houses of stucco and brick, with rows of silent blue-black windows. Some have Spanish tile roofs, and limestone terraces that are leaf-swept and beautifully worn like ancient marble. In August the place begins to empty. Men return to jobs in the city, older residents head south. It becomes perfect and lifeless as a world behind glass. The little street dappled in sun; the covered pools and cracked birdbaths; the hidden, overgrown pathways. On the lawns, cast iron settees hold forgotten shawls and books whose pages are puckered and stuck together from rain. A wordless, privileged place like countless others. Those neighborhoods we drive through slowly, forgetting the flux of our own lives, imagining ourselves fixed inside.

On this particular road, there are seven houses. One of them was mine for a single year, my twelfth. It is the house in which I witnessed my mother marry a second time. This was the place in which I tasted my first kiss. It had been built as a wedding gift to a beloved daughter, its descending terraces meant to invoke the layers of a pale pink cake. But marriages are apt to fall apart. Already at twelve I knew this. Husbands find younger wives and move closer to the city; women abandon the solitude of the lake for solitude elsewhere. In such a world only the children seem fully alive.

And of course, the lake itself.

In August kitchen calendars are marked for school, and the children run laughing as if they might outdistance time. They hide in the weeds beside the old dam. The lake is not yet drained, as it will be in late fall. The bottom is soft with silt, the mud burrowed by crayfish. Near the bridge a single leaf sways downward through the shallows, ushered through thick bands of light. Fish dart past, then suddenly open their fins, and pause. Somewhere a telephone rings, echoing across the water.

In the evening comes rain. The lake’s surface turns silver, mottled like hammered tin. Lightning strikes, and the tops of the trees flash out from the night. The old turtle is ill, he is disoriented. With one false step he slips through the dam, crashing to the pavement below, and dies, his neck swelling like risen dough. In the houses women draw up their feet, and the men build fires, the first of the season. Amidst sounds of rain, the children are put to bed, and they dream of being able to breathe water, their small bodies slick as fish. In pairs they run at the surface, arc through the air like lovers, and descend.

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NER Digital is a creative writing series for the web. Leslie Bazzett’s fiction has appeared in NER (32.2), where it was nominated for a Pushcart Prize, and West Branch. A finalist for the James Jones First Novel Fellowship, she lives in Minneapolis with her husband and two children.

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