She wakes up and the air in the room is thick and hot despite dark, heavy canvas curtains standing on guard at the windows denying entry to the morning sunshine. The slick feel and salty smell of sweat sticking her hair and pyjama shirt to her body.
Her brother is sleeping soundly on the bunk below and her sister’s tiny frame is curled into the snoring bulk of her mother’s body on the double bed against the opposite wall of the tiny room. Blinking she wipes the sleep from her eyes, sits up and quietly roots through the suitcase at the end of the bed containing her and her brother’s clothes. She quickly changes under the covers, pulling on a bathing suit, t-shirt and shorts.
She stealthily climbs down from the bunk, slides open the accordion door and is in the kitchen. Sun streams through the windows warming the worn linoleum under her feet. As quietly as possible she arranges breakfast items on the counter top, bowl, spoon, milk. She pours the Froot Loops and they clatter out of the box and into the chipped porcelain bowl. So as not to disturb her sleeping family members any further, she brings her cereal outside to the front step to eat.
It must be early, none of her cousins are running around outside, none of her aunts are sitting outside on their plastic lawn chairs with their morning tea or coffee. Her father and uncles are awake and she can hear their voices echoing through the trees. In the morning it is easy to hear, even things far away. They are already arguing about something, more than likely the manner in which a small engine such as a trike or generator should be repaired. She listens to them between crunching mouthfuls of over-frosted cereal. She can hear the thud as one of them drops a tool, perhaps a wrench, something with weight behind it, onto the peat like earth.
The morning is still very new and she breathes in the crisp coldness clinging to the air, contrasts it with the heat of the sun on her exposed skin. A nearby robin cuts through the morning quiet with a whistled blast of four notes. Within a few moments it is answered by another and another, each one further away.
Out of the corner of her eye she catches quick movement under bushes and a small brown squirrel appears, twitching, pausing, scurrying back and forth in its nervous squirrel panic.
Moving quickly, but not so quickly as to startle the neurotic little creature, she disappears into the cabin. She frantically disposes of the cereal bowl and digs through the cupboard pushing aside Vienna sausage and spaghetti cans in search of some sort of squirrel treat. Her hand lights upon a loaf of bread and she quickly un-knots the bag and pulls out the two crusty end pieces.
Back outside she thinks the squirrel has moved on. She peers around the bushes and is startled by machine gun-like chatter from a nearby tree. She tears the bread into small crumbs but the squirrel will not be coaxed down. Instead it leaps from tree to tree, waving the top branches like a false breeze. She throws down the bread crumbs and scuffs off toward the beach.
Halfway down the beach and her sneakers, black high-tops with pink laces that she had begged her mother to buy, are full of sand. She had meant to wear socks but had left them on her bed, preferring to be without them. Now the sneakers are holding sand and small rocks against her skin and digging into her feet. She kicks the sneakers off, quite literally, seeing how far she can make each one fly, smiling when one nearly gets stuck in the high branches of a nearby tree. She leaves them where they fall and walks down to the waters edge.
She peels off her t-shirt and throws it into her father’s open boat that is hauled up onto the shore. Holding on to the black gunwales, she tests the water by placing one foot in, ankle deep. It is cold, very cold, even though it is the first week of July. She breathes deep and holds the breath, puffing out her flat chest as she wades out further. Here the bottom is rocky. She watches water beetles and pin fish dash out from under footsteps that stir the water into clouds of sand and bog.
Out further the bottom of the lake turns to sand rippled by waves, so soft you can sink your toes in. There the water is perfect. Waist deep the pin fish that flee in shallow water will curiously circle around as if you’ve made the transition from land monster invading their waters to a bonafide inhabitant of the lake. You swim; therefore they believe you must be a rather large and odd looking fish.
Still further out the bottom is all slimy sticks of sunken driftwood left at the bottom when the hydro company cut down the trees and flooded the area. A man made lake. She hates the feel of the algae covered logs, prefers not to venture out there, pulls her foot back fast whenever it happens to light upon a piece. Imagines leeches and ugly dragon fly larvae living inside or under, ready to chew into her feet. Vampires of the lake.
But here at the back of the boat the water is only up to her knees. She is examining rainbow colours floating on top of the water. Gas spilled by the engine. Purple, pink, blue and green swirl and dip due to the little waves she pushes with each step.
As she walks out into the lake the water climbs higher. Her breath stops, but she keeps walking out, gradually getting used to the cold invading all her warm and sensitive areas, the small of her back.
She is glad her cousins aren’t out here, they would ruin the slow motion ballet involved in slowly getting used to the water, arms out at her sides, balancing as she moves through the steps. They don’t take the time or care, just jump in, kicking and splashing, shocking their systems and those of anyone nearby.
When she is finally chest deep in the water she stops. Arms still out for balance, she plies, slowly inching her arms and shoulders into the water, grimacing as the cold envelopes the remainder of her body. By now her feet and legs are warm as is most of her body. She watches a huge blue dragonfly swirl around in the air. It skims across and lights on the water. It looks foreign floating, its body half submerged, like it is dead: a piece of bait thrown out on the end of a hook.
She decides to dive under, soak her face and hair. She ducks in and slices through the water, surfaces in front of the dragonfly who, startled, pulls itself out of the water and takes off. She can hear the quick fluttering of its iridescent wings as it swoops away.
She floats noticing the morning air getting warmer and the stouts that are buzzing about. She periodically dips her head underwater trying to drown any that have chosen to land and prepare her skin for their morning meal.
The obnoxious buzz of a chainsaw cuts through the stillness of the morning. Her forest defiling uncles have decided that it is time for anyone left sleeping to be awoken. They are always clearing trees, opening up new areas, chopping firewood.
Within a few minutes she starts to notice movement. An aunt slips out through a screen door, mug and crossword puzzle book in hand. Certainly her children are awake inside, eating toast and cereal, slathering sunscreen on skin already burnt pink from the previous day.
Her brothers bobble-headed frame appears running carefully, picking his way down the beach. He looks like a specter in blue swim trunks, hair bleached from golden blonde to near white by the summer sun and skin pale, preferring only to burn, peel and return to white instead of ripening to a dark brown tan like her own. Within a few minutes her father will notice him outside and yell out to him, asking him whether he has sprayed on the SPF 75 sun-block bought most specifically for him.
“Sissy!” He yells as he spies her floating. “Sissy can I swim too?”
She tells him yes and he awkwardly climbs into the boat, pokes about until he finds a life jacket that fits him and buckles it on. He has a more difficult time climbing out now that he is wearing the thick Styrofoam padding and manages to fall halfway into the water.
He wades out carefully. He is always somewhat nervous in water because he hasn’t yet learned to swim, panics when he gets his head wet.
She notices her cousins barreling down the beach with swim rings, life vests and towels fluttering behind them. Her brother is now dog paddling toward her holding his head high out of the water and sputtering as he tries to speak between quick breaths.
“Sissy, guess what? I saw a squirrel!”