Papa said it wasn’t good to keep secrets so the morning after my nightmare I told him about it.
He told me not to worry. “It’s normal to dream about your Mama.”
I had woken up crying and my eyes felt crusty along the edges. I picked off the dust. “Do you dream about her?”
“Sometimes.” He turned back to the nook in the wall he called the kitchen and flipped the eggs. “Just means she’s on our minds is all.”
The lake water cast reflections that glittered along the ceiling in the morning sun and it made me remember my dream again. Mama used to call those Glimmer Fairies and we’d pretend to catch them in jars when I was little. She’d put the mason jars out on the front porch that overlooked the lake. At night, she’d say they’d gotten out. “You can’t keep them captured up for long. They always get out.”
Papa put my eggs on a paper plate and ate his right out of the pan. We’d been at the cabin for four weeks now and I was starting to think we may stay here forever.
“We’re just going to get away for a while,” Papa had said as he packed my duffel bag back home. “A change of scene would be good, right?”
I’d nodded and told him yes, and hugged him around the neck and waited for his arms to wrap around me. I let go when they didn’t.
I thought we’d go somewhere new. A vacation somewhere warm maybe. I thought maybe Papa and I could drive down to North Carolina or Florida, somewhere with a beach, and we could lay in the sun and both of us not talk for a while. I thought of us giggling over salami sandwiches (“more sand than wich” he’d say) and slathering on sunscreen.
I didn’t think we’d be going to Mama’s cabin in Michigan. It took us hours to drive there from our house in Ohio; Papa drove slow. I watched the sprawling green and yellow farmland roll past, one ocean of vegetation looking the same as the next.
It was the first time I’d gotten to make this drive in the front seat, but the view looked the same. Just less tinted.
It didn’t seem right, being here without her. She’d grown up in the cabin, coming here with her own parents on weekends and holidays. Then she took us here, letting us shape her place into something that was ours. Now it was ours and not hers. We’d stolen it.
I wondered if people still owned places after they died. I’d gotten her costume jewelry, scarves, and a few antique pens she’d loved. They were packed in a box somewhere – Papa had put them away.
We ate so quiet I could hear a boat’s motor rev up across the lake. The dead-wake hours must have ended. I wanted to ask Papa to take me in the fishing boat. I wanted him to ask me to go on the boat. He’d been working on the engine in the motor for days, cursing and spitting over the gunwales, hands streaked with oil. Once our old boat was up and running I wanted him to take me through the canal. I wanted to go fishing in the lake that connected to ours; it was bigger and had larger fish, or so Mama used to say. But Papa hadn’t gotten the motor started yet, so I didn’t ask him.
During the day there wasn’t much for me to do. Papa worked on the boat and I fished off the dock for minnows using breadcrumbs and a large net. After I caught them, I threw them back. I didn’t need bait.
I shot bottle rockets at the ducks floating by until Papa told me to stop the racket and let them be. I tried talking to Papa and asking if he needed help but he told me go run off somewhere. Where would I run?
I didn’t want to be bored. I wanted to find something engrossing, something that filled me with such interest that I didn’t mind that his back was towards me as he leaned over the glossy black motor.
I was dipping my net back into the water when I heard Papa yelling and the engine spitting into life. His hands were pumping above his head, and he leaned back in a way that could only mean victory. He was still holding his wrench, and for a moment I worried he’d drop it on his head, but then he tossed it aside and clapped with a whoop. He turned around to face me. “I got it,” he said, a smile spilling across his face.
And just like that I felt a lightness grow within me.
I knew he’d take me on the boat tonight and we’d watch the stars come out of a dusky blue sky and make our own constellations. I knew he’d tell me stories about times they went camping and then he’d coast the boat towards the middle of the lake. I knew I’d fall asleep on the leather seats, lulled by the rocking and the smell of gas and lake water.
I knew I’d put my mason jar out on the front porch overnight and see if the glimmers stayed, just this once, until morning.
Madeline Anthes is the acquisitions editor for Hypertrophic Literary, and her work can
be found in WhiskeyPaper, Third Point Press, and more. Read more about her at madelineanthes.com or follow her on Twitter at @maddieanthes.