We’d just been laughing about the Beast’oun deck shoes: how absurd it was that they were the only footwear he’d brought to the cottage. I’d warned him to be careful while walking in the woods, over rocks and along slippery leaves. We were headed downhill back to the canoe, tied up to a tree branch and resting in the lake. While I steadied myself, I saw the Beast with his arms in the air like he just didn’t care, sliding down the escarpment on his butt.
“Are you okay?” I shouted.
“Yeah, I think so.”
“Did you do that on purpose?”
“Why would I fall down on purpose?”
“To make me laugh.”
He hadn’t. But we couldn’t stop laughing. It looked like instead of grabbing onto something, he just gave up and let gravity do it’s work. I suppose he had.
We’ve been at the cottage all week. After I filed my Metro column on Tuesday, I tried to unplug in order to help unravel the ball of nerves wrapped up tightly inside of me. But then there was that James Comey business and that time the country’s top editors—all white—publicly pledged money to start a literary appropriation prize. I watched it explode from the sidelines, wondering if what started as a joke—the lame sort your uncles tells around the dinner table—had descended into earnestness.
My only contribution was to unfollow the joke’s architect, my former boss, on Twitter. Not so much because of his boorish behaviour but because I’d realized that at some point he’d unfollowed me. That’ will show him, I thought. (It showed precisely nothing, save that my ego is intact.) I put down the phone.
We’ve gone for walks in the woods, where we saw an incredible beaver dam, but no beavers. I spotted two snapping turtles and a heron. In the woods, we treaded carefully, trying to avoid stepping on the trilliums—white, pale pink, red, and purple—that are moments away from achieving full bloom.
I just heard the whip of a humming bird’s wings.
Most days, we’ve sat on the dock reading our books while lake water laps against the dock.
The Beast finished a tome on post-war Europe and has started a Ralph Lauren biography. I finished The Handmaid’s Tale, and the first three books of Edward St. Aubyn’s Patrick Melrose series. The only time we lifted our heads was when a pair of loons came to visit, like clockwork, every late afternoon, or to talk about big things, like the nature of existence, and why they don’t make packages of hot dog buns to match the number of hot dogs.
The Beast turned 34 on Friday. At 3:00 p.m., I popped a bottle of Veuve Clicquot rosé Champagne, and brought it down to the dock along with a sliced-up piece of cacciatore and a wedge of Manchego cheese.
At the grocery store in Parry Sound, where we stocked up on firewood and water at the beginning of the week, I suggested we get a cake mix for the Big Day. “I don’t really like sweets,” the Beast said. I found a frozen vanilla Deep n’ Delicious cake in the freezer aisle. “You love this kind,” I told him as I added it to the cashier’s conveyor belt. “You love that kind,” he said.
The first night at the cottage, I wondered how I could wait six days before having a piece of that delicious cake. Then I decided I didn’t have to. We were going back into town and I could get a Betty Crocker cake mix, and make a proper cake, because I wasn’t going to serve the Beast this frozen thing, which I proceeded to eat the entirety of over the week.
He didn’t have one piece.
He chose lemon cake mix. He also picked up a bag of sweetened shredded coconut and a tub of whipped vanilla icing. I couldn’t find round cake tins at the cottage so I baked the cake in a 9 x 13-inch glass pan. The bottom of the cake burned. I carefully sliced that away. After cutting the cake into two squares, I filled the middle with a lemon curd I’d made, covered the whole thing in icing, and sprinkled the coconut on top. It was a real hit.
We’ve eaten well. Sausages, lots of grilled asparagus, hot dogs, pork chops, Greek salad with prosciutto and grilled bread, and for the birthday dinner, peas with mint and butter, crispy potatoes, and Cumbrae steaks done in the cast iron pan.
I still smell like meat this morning.
It looks like next week it’s going to be sunny here. This week, however, it has been cold and mostly overcast. The sun has peaked out just long enough for us to strip down to our underwear and suntan on the dock before it disappears again behind clouds and we, shivering, put on our sweatshirts and pants.
I haven’t seen the temperature in the cottage rise above 61 degrees, save for the couple of afternoons we had fires and the room was a comfortable 70.
In the evenings, we’ve played Scrabble. When I won the first game, the Beast insisted that letters were missing so the win didn’t really count. We took two sets of Scrabble and combined the letters so that there was a complete set. He won the next night, and the night after that.
One late afternoon, when we spotted the loons, we got into the canoe to follow them.
“This would be a good reality TV show,” I said. “The Loon Hunters.”
The lake was still. Not a ripple on it. The silence was interrupted by crows on the island in the middle of the lake.
“Did I tell you my joke about the crows?” the Beast asked.
“Not yet,” I said.
“It’s like Crowchella over there. It’s like a party I’m not invited to, full of great feathered outfits, probably from H&M, and brimming with a bunch of noice I don’t understand!”
Waiting for the loons to resurface, I didn’t respond.
“Didn’t you like the joke? It’s like Coachella, but it’s crows instead. Crowchella.”
“It’s good,” I said. “Do loons mate for life?”
“Yes, they do.”
“Just like us.”
“I was thinking we were more like Ralph and Rickie,” he said.
I didn’t respond.
A train whistled in the distance. The loons resurfaced and then disappeared again. We paddled home.