On Water

Marvin Shackelford

My wife goes out to the lake with a handful of the other teachers and some of their kids after school lets out Friday. One of them’s borrowed a boat from her father, and they motor out into open water where the kids can drop nets over the side, sweep in a handful of perch like New-Testament disciples before Christ, while the women drink. They empty lime slices from plastic baggies, squeeze some through the necks of their beer bottles and feed the rest to their children. It’s been a long day, they say, and they rehash it all again: administrative incompetence, problem children, absentee parents. They need this. Their husbands and ex-husbands wait at home for supper or sex or something unimaginable altogether. They work to let the last of the sun and the waves rock them loose. They’re going to be late.

My wife drives home a little drunk, or at least tired, doing fifty down the four-lane and keeping easily between the lines. “I guess they could have pulled me over for driving too slow,” she says, and she laughs, growing angry when I say it isn’t funny. But she’s too tired to argue. I watch her sleep a while, waking every few minutes and saying sorry. She’s forgotten where she is. She smells of fish and dirt, the earth’s surface and human body stripped of salt. “Sorry,” she says again without opening her eyes. I wonder what she’s dreaming. I ask her questions she won’t answer and for favors she won’t give: Where do you go at night? What bodies keep you suspended at their surface? Can you see me from there? “Sorry,” she says one last time, and then, “No,” and then her eyes open. We look at each other. I think she’s awake. I say there’s no point talking about it now, and she tells me, gently, “Go back to sleep.”