Even after a day being parked at the trailhead, she has yet to discover the name of the trail, this stretch of boot prints in mud from which wetlands spew, the lake to one side and to the other some turtles sunning in muck, hurling themselves off logs as she nears. The lake is Lake Buttes des Morts, that much is certain. It means Mound of the Dead, which is most inaccurate. The sedges dead or alive make ribbons of gold. Pelicans mass at the opposite shore, and yesterday noon a colossal white pedal boat turned out to be an actual trumpeter swan that flapped effortfully airborne at her approach, the bay quaking underneath. The old man just now waking on the director’s chair set up to one side of the fishing bridge might once have been skipper of just such a seaplane, his dreams steeped in specific amnesia of it, crumbs all around when she gives him his breakfast, his teeth chomping on bread he once was able to taste. His name is Peter DeVoogd. He keeps it folded in his wallet, which she spies on the ground along with a venerable ring of dropped keys behind a flap of loose seating between the legs of the chair.
“Excuse me, Sir. There’s a hole in your pocket.”
The old man only blinks, barely turning his head as she hands him the wallet. There’s an awful lot of cash, the ridiculous amount old men like to carry, one sheaf in one flap and another in another, except they’re every single one of them Monopoly bills. The keys too are defunct, all doors immaterial.
“You must be Peter De Voogd?”
At which he gapes not at her but instead at the toddler, their eyes not meeting but colluding, twining avidly between. She shakes the old man’s hand, then inquires of the toddler, “And what’s your name, Little Sir?”
The toddler shakes his head no. It’s his only language. Would you like another bite? Holding up a wedge of sandwich. The boy shakes his head no. Could it be bathtime? No. Are you a scientist? No. Do you believe the election was stolen? No. But he’s never unhappy, and makes so little trouble it might be easy to forget him if he didn’t help out by wheeling his sister ahead in the stroller. Aside from being terrified sometimes of orange, the baby doesn’t fuss, either. Side by side, they’re like packages missing off stoops, allowing no way of knowing what you might find if you could open them.
“Time to go,” she says, to which the old man springs with surprising alacrity out of the chair. “Take these,” she instructs, handing back the lost keys and keeping her own looped tight to her belt. Only after the trio sets off down the trail does she squat carefully to pee then wait two minutes while gazing at a cobweb extending unanchored over the bay, the lake appearing unimpressed by this next wondrous thing to happen to it. She stands there forever, then stands there some more and still overtakes the stroller on its trek to the car. One key opens the trunk stuffed with blankets, canned peaches, winter socks and the checkers board, the second key drives off and the third’s for the console with coloring books. The car smells like a rodent. The can opener is broken. The toddler shakes his head no, a fourth spoon has gone missing and the test turned pink so that new box of Tampax is proven superfluous. The dogs bound up where the road loops sideways from out of the trees to accept her offer of teething biscuits, their tails ricocheting. She holds her face to their noses, their ruffs to her ears. “Just who do you think you are, Sirs?” she asks. “And where do you think we’re all going, this morning?”
Abby Frucht is the author of eight books of fiction including Fruit of the Month, which won the Iowa Short Fiction Prize for 1987, Licorice (Graywolf), and A Well-Made Bed, which she wrote with Laurie Alberts. Her recent book, Maids (Matter Press) was a finalist or semi-finalist at the Marie Alexander Poetry Series, the Debra Tall Lyric Essay Book Prize, the Robert C. Jones Prize for Short Prose, the Slope Editions Book Award, and the 42 Miles Press Poetry Award.