Labor Day weekend arrives on dark, angry storm clouds. It rains all day Saturday and Sunday, and even though I can feel my plans washing away, I try to keep my focus on cooking. But as I look out the kitchen window at the rain that turns our gravel driveway into a stony soup, I find myself cursing up a storm. When all my cooking is done and the rain still has not let up, I pace the living room like a caged animal and brace myself for Roman, my ex-husband, to call and cancel. If I don’t see my daughters this weekend, I’ll have to compete with friends, school, and extracurriculars for their time, and that’s not a competition I can win.
Clyde slumps on the couch, concave save for where his stomach bulges, and turns up the TV. “It ain’t that big a deal, Rose. If it gets rained out, we just do something else.”
“You know they’re not going to come over here.”
He shrugs. “Why not? We got board games and shit.”
Clyde’s son Purness is restless as well, sitting in one spot for a long time before suddenly bolting up and moving to a different room. Twice he comes and shakes my keys at me, indicating that he wants to borrow my car. Twice I tell him no, even though, deep down, I understand. He’s got nowhere to go, but now that my daughters are no longer just girls he passes in the hall at school, he’s no longer safe from humiliation even in his own home.
Rock, my golden retriever, is a holy terror. At every lightning strike or thunderclap, he runs into the bedroom and cowers beneath the desk, or else waits by the back door and barks and barks until I come open it. Then he whimpers and looks up at me with pleading eyes the color of wet dirt. Can’t you make it stop?
By Monday morning, though, the sun blazes in a cloudless sky and the temperature is in the high 80s. Clyde whistles as he gathers his fishing gear. I prepare a bag with sunscreen, swimsuits, and towels and load it in the car along with a tablecloth and the food. Purness stays in his room, cocooned in bed until the moment Clyde drags him out. Then we all pile into my SUV and drive out to Fort Loudoun Lake.
The cove, just past the Concord Yacht Club, is detached from the rest of Concord Park, but it’s just as crowded. There’s a gazebo, a volleyball court, and a public beach, but I ignore all that in favor of a relatively secluded spot beneath a lonely willow tree, right on the edge of the lake. We drag a picnic table over and set up.
I warn Purness to keep Rock on the leash, but then Clyde removes the leash and commands, “Heel!” To my surprise, Rock obeys. I look at Clyde and he flashes a boyish grin. At some point, when I wasn’t looking, my husband somehow managed to make my dog less useless. Rock follows him as he goes to the car and returns with the fishing gear.
Purness sits against the tree and loses himself in his phone. Rock comes over and licks his face, but Purness pushes him away, as indifferent to the dog as he is to me. According to Clyde, Purness never got over the loss of their dog Buddy, who ran away when he was just little.
I try not to stare at the boy. Even now, I’m still uneasy around him. Blond, with haunting eyes and a runner’s lean body, he’s a constant reminder of the dead woman whose smile flashes at me from so many photographs in our home. At 17, Purness is too old for me to have any real motherly influence. He tolerates me the same way he tolerates everything else – in silence.
It’s not so bad, though. Here, away from the crowd, I can appreciate the beauty of Fort Loudoun Lake, as calm as a bathtub. On such a beautiful day, it’s easy to believe that things are going to work out the way I want them to. But this feeling lasts only until the moment I hear the obnoxious roar of an expensive engine.
A forest green Mercedes swerves into the lot with a screech. I hold my breath, waiting to see if Roman is going to get out of the car and force me to make conversation with him. Sabrina and Haley climb out of the car, shielding their eyes from the vicious sun. They stand, listening, and then the car backs out and drives away. I release my breath.
The girls glance around, blinking, until finally they spot me and head over. Time to put my game face on.
The first time my daughters came to visit me in my new home was four months ago, just a few weeks after the wedding. When I announced that they were coming over, Clyde decided that would be a good time to take Rock for a walk. I teased him on his way out for letting two teenage girls chase him out of his castle, but secretly I was pretty nervous too. I raised my girls to always speak their minds, and that’s come back to bite me in the ass in the past few years.
They sat on the loveseat with their hands wedged between their legs and wrinkled their noses as if smelling something rank. I watched their eyes pass over the trailer’s fake wood paneling, buckling in places, and the mounted deer heads, whose glassy-eyed stares are inescapable no matter where you sit. When I first told the girls I would be living in a trailer, they hadn’t believed me. I don’t know if they’re more horrified by that, or the fact that I’m still paying off student loan debt in my forties.
Sabrina, my oldest, asked me, “How can you possibly live here?”
“It’s not so bad,” I said. “Just a bit of a fixer-upper.”