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.