Horseshoes
Patricia Parkinson

Here we are once again on the shores of Lake Okanogan. It’s a different holiday this year, as we’re not drinking, which I don’t miss as much as I thought I would. Yesterday, however, while sitting on the beach with Joe, looking very much the suburban happy couple watching their two children frolic in the waves, I saw a woman in a lawn chair lifting a condensation-covered glass of white wine to her lips. The glass was a globe—not a white wine glass, a water glass. Gauche.

She lifted the glass and in that moment I believed I could transport myself across the beach, my sarong flying out behind me—a cape—to her chair, swipe the glass from her clutches, and swill the first sip through my own lips, down the thing all while being invisible.

This morning, I’m hanging out at the campsite. The kids are off with the wind. Emma has so many friends, new and old—Carly, who has a boat and is Emma’s pen pal, deserving of first tubing rights, and Paige, the new girl. Yesterday Emma agreed to tube with Paige, who is not only one year older, but also has a boat.

“Gasp!” I said, when she came to ask if it was OK, after telling Paige’s parents it would be. What choice did I have? Say no? You can’t go? Never mind that I’m not acquainted with Paige’s dad or his boat-handling capabilities. Rules go out the screened windows of camping life.

Carly got upset at Emma’s duplicitous tubing pact. As it turned out, Paige didn’t go tubing and Emma saw Carly’s boat cruise past the beach while Emma stood on shore, lifejacket in hand.

“Carly waved,” Emma said.

There were many tears in the trailer behind closed doors. I didn’t say, “I told you so,” but sent her off with a message, yelling as she rode away: “Everyone plays or we don’t play at all!“

Words to live by. I am lame in my attempts and resort to cliché. “Do unto others.” This saying, I believe, will get my children through life unscathed. My wisdom is astounding, I know. I won’t see Emma now for the rest of the day, other than flashes of her riding by with her crew, asking for money. But we have the best treats. I am looking at seven half-drunk bottles of Gatorade and an empty donut box. I am, the kids say, “a nice mom.” This makes me happy.

Emma is big now. Yesterday I remembered a woman’s voice saying to me to me, “It happens in grade six. They leave in grade six.“ Emma starts grade six in two weeks. Do I, then, have only fourteen days left with my little girl?

I looked at the lake, a watery tunnel of my life, Emma swaddled in my arms, nursing from my breast, toddling toward me, her first day of school, how she raced out to the parking lot and had to be physically removed from my body—all so she can now tube.

Dylan has found Jayden, another square-eyed gamer who will be arriving momentarily. Dylan now says, “Love you, Mommy,” without provocation, guilt, or bribes. He is my child who will ask, “Are you OK, Mom?” when I bump myself or stub my toe, who watches out for me too much, I fear, who took me to the bike jumps alone yesterday and said, “You can do it, Mom!” and I did, and I cheered and he rolled his eyes. Dylan has recently been swayed by the lure of tubing by Jake, Carly’s brother, who is grounded for the summer because he took his mom’s credit card and bought three hundred dollars’ worth of video games online. I’m not promoting this friendship.

Joe and I have developed a fondness for extra-hot coffee with Bailey’s flavored syrup and whipped cream, our pretend “special coffee” that we drink while sitting late at night at the picnic table. We listen to the hum of the Coleman lantern, discuss home renovations, and agree how the flavoring tastes just like the real thing. Even on holidays, there are times when caffeine doesn’t cut it. I try to understand how it is for Joe. I still don’t.

Tonight the crew will gather on our fold-out couch for Hillary Duff in Raise Your Voice, now showing in our trailer between nine and ten-thirty until Thursday when we will premiere Grease. My pick! The kids are groaning, though they’ve never seen it. By the end of the week, they’ll be imitating Sandy to perfection! Glee is such a rare commodity. After movies, we’ll walk the kids’ friends to their own sites and Emma, Dylan, Joe, and I will go to the dock and sit at the end facing the moon. The kids will dangle their legs, stretch as far as they can and hope, again, that they grew overnight and can now touch the water.

Maybe Joe will grab me, gently, by the shoulders and pretend to nudge me off the dock so he can be near me, put his arm around me. I will have to laugh too. I cannot pull away. The kids and I will hold hands until Emma thinks we’re within eyeshot of her friends. Dylan doesn’t let go. But he will, one day, and I’ll require a lot more than wine. Maybe by then I’ll understand.

We’ll walk past the arcade and the forty-year-old pool table to our spot, two over from the playground and one row back from the showers. If I’m lucky, I’ll slip into the kids’ sleeping bags, feel the dusty smoothness of their feet against my legs, smell their sunscreen hair, and taste this summer day on their skin.

Every morning, an old man walks through the campsite carrying a case of horseshoes. He’s hunched in his plaid flannel shirt and baseball cap and pants that are cinched at the waist with a belt. I watch as he kneels at the pit and clicks open the case. Taking a long time, resting his hand on his knee to help himself up, he stands, uneasy, the horseshoes weighing him down on one side. He steadies himself and turns to the pit. Extending his arm level with his eye, he gauges the distance and in a moment, a flick, that is unexpectedly graceful, he releases the shoe. I hear the clang as it hits the spike, solid with each toss, and I am encouraged.


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