The King of the Lake

A loose corner of corrugated tin roofing squeaked and crinkled in the breeze. From his supine position on the front porch of the Rattlesnake Lake Resort, Merle opened one eye and spotted the source of the noise. He’d asked Johnny to nail down that corner back in April. Now, in late July and the resort going to weeds and dust, Merle was resigned to the general falling apart of the place and the fecklessness of his brother.

It was a hot day, and approaching noon, but the porch was in the shade of a grove of quaking aspens and the breeze off the lake felt cool as it washed over Merle’s face. He propped himself up on one elbow and looked up at the translucent, paper-like pouch of the nest a hummingbird had constructed directly on top of an opaque orange bulb, part of a string of Christmas lights left up from the previous winter – another job Johnny had neglected back in the spring. Merle watched the mother hummingbird flit from the nest and out of view around the corner of the office and back again a short while later.

It was a customarily slow day at the lake. No, it was even slower than was customary, even for a Wednesday. Johnny was off at a bass fishing tournament in Idaho, and Lesley, Johnny’s girlfriend, was visiting her mother in Seattle. Normally Arnold would have been by to chew the fat but even he was absent, laid up with food poisoning so bad they had to put him in the hospital in Spokane and hook him up to an I.V. One or two boats were on the lake – just locals though. No one had come by the office for a rental or to buy some maggots or just to shoot the breeze. Merle lay his head back down on the pillow and closed his eyes again. He thought about the other day when Arnold had offered to construct a bench for him so he wouldn’t have to lie around on the floor all the time.

“Merle,” Arnold had said, “I had a brainstorm last night and I drew up plans for a bench I’m going to build you so you don’t have to be looking at people’s shins anymore.”

“No, no. I appreciate the thought Arn, but I’m a floor guy. I’ve tried tables and benches and cots, but I like it down here just fine.”

Arnold was visibly disappointed, but he’d let it go with an “awright, if that’s the way you like it” and a shrug. In days past, Merle used to water-ski behind Arnold’s boat, and he was one of the hottest dudes on the lake, skimming the surface and cutting wide arcs like an Olympic ice skater. But now his MS had progressed to the point where he could barely walk and he spent most of his time on the floor of the resort, greeting customers and making change from knee level.

Maybe I should let the old fart build me the damn bench, Merle thought. Maybe I could get him to do it like a waterbed bench, then it’d be just like I was out floating on the lake all day long. Merle pictured himself floating out on the surface of the lake. How refreshing on a hot day. Then he pictured himself diving down, his useless legs no longer hindering him, deep down to the coolest depths and where he would become the King of the Lake.

A loud clunk and a succession of lesser clunks interrupted Merle’s reveries. He opened his eyes, rolled over on his side and stretched his neck to see past the column of the porch to the lake some forty yards away. A swallow whistled and swept under the awning of the porch above him. Down at the dock, a young woman in a straw cowboy hat had just crashed her canoe into the line-up of aluminum rentals rowboats.

“Fuckin’ A,” she said loud enough for Merle to hear.

Merle had never seen the girl before. Where the hell did she come from? Wait, that’s Arn’s old canoe – faded green fiberglass thing he’s had leaning against the back of his trailer for twenty years. The wheels turned in Merle’s head and he recalled Arnold mentioning that his wife Gladys’s sister was going to be visiting from Dallas. So this pretty young thing, Merle surmised – forming a lakeside syllogism out of the canoe, the cowboy hat and the foul mouth – must be the daughter of Gladys’s sister, e.g. Arnold’s niece. (Some weeks later, Merle would misuse this same abbreviation, “e.g.” and be corrected by this same cowboy-hatted college girl: “I think you mean ‘i.e.’ Merle honey.”)

The girl struggled clumsily with her paddle, maneuvering the canoe backwards away from the rental boats and sidling up to the dock. She paused a moment as if to regain her sense of Texas dignity before reaching out to grab hold of the dock. The canoe tipped perilously, but she recovered her balance, adjusted her cowboy hat, and stepped awkwardly but gracefully (like a cat pretending not to notice a moment of spastic unsteadiness) onto the dock. She was pretty. There was no doubt about that. But there was also something rough around the edges about her. Or was it wet behind the ears? Merle couldn’t quite put his finger on the exact quality of innocence he sensed in her, but whatever it was it had a calming effect on him. He felt at ease and in control as she approached. He felt like his place on the floor was no disadvantage with this girl and might even afford him a peculiar advantage. This was a sensation new to the floor-bound Merle, who had once been quite a ladies’ man but had despaired of finding a woman since he lost the use of his lower extremities.

The girl was barefoot and barelegged, tanned dark brown, wore gray athletic shorts that didn’t quite do justice to her nice round derrière, and a yellow tank top that accentuated her sinewy upper half, had glossy black hair that glinted in the breezy sunlight, was only slightly over five feet tall even counting the cowboy hat, and had to pee.

“Excuse me, sir, but do y’all have a bathroom I could use?”

Nice shins, Merle thought. He’d become a secret connoisseur of shins.


  1. Malach the Merciless says

    Nice, stuff. You might enjoy JesusMan.

  2. Anonymous says

    Lately, I’ve been performing a thought experiment where I’m a body which is a brain container held to the surface of a giant sphere by a force known as gravity. This highlights all kinds of mysteries.

  3. Alison Vonderland says

    Nice descriptive prose but you need more smells and tastes and tactile sensations.

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