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.