There is a Lake in a Wood
Outside of the town so full of crumbling people and flowing tears, there is a lake in a wood. The lake no longer fills and is stagnant around the edges, the scurf giving the impression of a distorted, shimmering halo. On closer inspection, the shimmering halo becomes a disparate collection of plastic bottles, bird shit water, and broken feathers.
Beside this lake, this lake in a wood, there sits a man.
Charlie is a family man, an accountant by trade, a doting father, once a loving husband. But now, at this moment, he feels himself to be nothing at all. That is why he is sitting by this lake in the wood eating sandwiches from a plastic box, staring out at the water that no longer moves.
The serenity of the scene is broken by Charlie's Banana Splits ringtone.
La la la, La la-la la La la la, la-la la-la la.
One banana, two banana, three banana four . . .
The kids love it. His manager thinks it puerile. His wife hated it. Whenever it sounded at home, she would raise her eyebrows, hands on hips, mouth clenched tight. And some part of him, almost all of him, in fact, loved that she despised it so. He'd hold her stare, imbibing her hatred. Saving it up.
Charlie cuts off the call.
A man approaches the far side of the lake and begins to set up his fishing gear on the grassy bank. Charlie watches, impressed by the fisherman's deliberateness, his surety, his sense of purpose. And he is reminded of a book he once read of a man who built a log cabin by a lake in a wood, and lived there for a year or two, fishing for his supper, writing down his thoughts in the moonlit evening, alone and satisfied.
When Charlie had finished reading the book, he remembered swearing to himself one day he would be that man building the log cabin, bucking the trend, sticking two fingers up to this throw-away age of empty conformity and mindless pursuits. He would not be tied down. But he'd read the book when he was young, when the fire was in him, before he had fallen in line, compromised his dreams.
Like his father and his father before him.
Like everybody else.
And now, looking past the filthy scurf at his feet, into the immeasurable depth of the centre of the lake, he hates himself for it. he wants to scream himself free of it.
This life, this daily grind.
He finishes off his last sandwich and packs the empty box away in his briefcase. Time to go. But before he does, he thinks of the man in the book, writing in the moonlight, building his house out of wood. And he looks around the perimeter of the lake, looks around for a suitable space where one could construct such a cabin. His eyes light on space enough, at the far end, to his right. Where a huge oak, long fallen, lies alone.
Charlie shuts his eyes. He sees himself cutting the wood with a sharpened axe, checking his plans, sitting down for a rest on the banks of the lake with the water that does not move, mopping his brow with a chequered handkerchief.
He is smiling now, the fever creeping over him.
A good fever.
The fever of being alive.
La la la, la la-la la. La la la, la la-la la-la la.
One banana, two banana, three bana-
The mobile phone sinks to the bottom of the lake. It will ring no more.
An empty gesture, perhaps, Charlie thinks to himself, but a gesture, nonetheless.
The second step in the right direction he's made that day.
And the kids, he will bring them here, to this lake in the wood, this lake where the water never moves. They will love it. He will play on the large, fallen oak with them, tell them the story of the man who built a house by a lake in a wood, even take them fishing.
He turns once more before he leaves the clearing. And he gazes out towards the deep centre of the lake and pictures the mobile phone spiralling down down down to the muddy bottom.
His eyes narrow.
His mouth tightens.
And he goes to fetch his wife from the boot of the car.