Sherrie Flick

Oar

The canoe skimmed the lake like a giant water­bug. Late evening eased in, damp and stub­born. The fish­ing pole dan­gled idly over the boat’s side. Sharon rowed.

They’d emp­tied the ther­mos of cof­fee, and the sog­gy sand­wich­es rest­ed in the bot­tom of the back­pack. Sharon shiv­ered. John looked out toward the hori­zon.

Wouldn’t it be great,” he said, “to row and row until we aren’t here any­more?”

We’d still be some­place, John,” Sharon said. She didn’t want to row for­ev­er. She was cold, and although it was a roman­tic notion, she didn’t want to ven­ture out into the fog­gy unknown.

You have to ruin every­thing, don’t you?” he said. “Just go with it, Sharon. Just believe for a cou­ple sec­onds here, okay?” He lift­ed his oar, put it del­i­cate­ly into the water, pad­dled them fur­ther out.

Now the big­ger waves lapped at the canoe’s sides, threat­ened to hop into the boat. Sharon sat stone still on her tiny perch. She didn’t pick up her oar in return, even though she loved to row, the steady team­work of it mak­ing her feel secure. But this seemed dif­fer­ent. This wasn’t team­work.

John dipped into one side and then the oth­er, as if test­ing a soup over and over to make the sea­son­ings right.

Sharon could sense the stars start­ing up, and then it would get windy, and they’d have to hus­tle back to not get run over by a power­boat.

She put her oar firm­ly into the water, mak­ing the boat spin. John sighed. Stopped. And then they pad­dled togeth­er, back toward shore to their friends and fam­i­ly who’d already gath­ered wood for a bon­fire, who’d already changed from bathing suits to jeans and sweaters. The scene, with the small spark of fire and the beau­ti­ful peo­ple, drew Sharon in from the chop­py water.

Sunburnt and fish­less and hun­gry they hit shore, drag­ging the bogged canoe behind them. It scruffed into the sand; they clunked the oars inside. John took Sharon’s hand then, for a sec­ond. He squeezed it, right before they grabbed their stuff, took the haul up the hill, walk­ing in sil­hou­ette. Tired and sore from the fast pace back, they both sat for a moment at the cottage’s kitchen table.

I want to leave here,” John said qui­et­ly. He placed his fore­arms on the table. “I only stay here for you.” He ran his fin­ger along the table’s met­al trim, trac­ing it. He looked out the blank win­dow at the dark night, as if he could wish him­self out.

The failed fish­ing, the sim­ple rou­tine of it all. Sharon would remem­ber it tinged with a kind of lust in lat­er years as she walked the shore, look­ing to the hori­zon, think­ing some­times that she saw John out there row­ing.

This night they joined every­one cir­cling the edge of the fire. Sharon nudged sticks into the mess of flames. John kicked the sand to make a dent where they nes­tled their blan­ket. A friend played gui­tar, the notes merg­ing into the waves.

Sherrie Flick is author of the nov­el Reconsidering Happiness and the flash fic­tion chap­book I Call This Flirting. Her work appears in many jour­nals and antholo­gies, includ­ing Norton’s Flash Fiction Forward and New Sudden Fiction, Ploughshares, Chicago Quarterly Review, Wigleaf, SmokeLong, and Booth. She lives in Pittsburgh and teach­es in Chatham University’s MFA pro­gram.