HE LAY STILL, ABSORBING HEAT through the canvas of the tent. Eyes closed, he knew the sun was bright and figured it was close to 8 o’clock. A raven clucked outside and he rolled upright, nudging the flap to let in the breeze. A mosquito darted through and homed in on the back of his hand. He ignored it, lit a cigarette and stepped outside, squinting in the light as he looked around.
The cruiser bobbed gently on her lines. A troller had tied to the dock overnight. Noting the name, Happy Hooker, he swung his gaze to the head of the bay where several houses perched along the boardwalk. One in particular caught his attention. A platinum blonde was bent over the rail, her attention focused on the beach below. Two little girls stood side by side, offering their bucket of treasures for her approval. From several cabins away he could hear low voices and the clatter of dishes, the aroma of bacon lazy on the breeze. Along the flats, the storekeeper was hanging towels on the line, laundry from the previous day’s patronage of his hot tubs. Half a day by water from the nearest town, the little community busied itself with another early summer morning.
He stood, smoking. Overhead, the sun made its way across the sky and he turned his attention to the end of the boardwalk where a muddy path took off up the hill. It was shady there and swarming with biting insects intent on taking warm-blooded sustenance. Anything bigger was not on his mind as bears were busy on the upper reaches, in meadows filled with tender spring grasses. Later in the summer, as the fish began to run, he knew he’d have to be aware. For now, mosquitoes posed the bigger nuisance.
He turned toward the falls and the blonde. She was perched on a stool, bent over the bucket between her feet, cutting her hair. Upside down, she brushed it forward and snipped it off with scissors. Occasionally, she’d sit up and toss her hair back, feeling the length and evenness of it, bending over to cut some more. Walking easily along the boardwalk, he glanced into doorways where people inside were pouring coffee, visiting over breakfast. Here and there he was noticed and greeted. He waved back, and continued his walk. When he got to the opening in the handrail, he turned and went up the stairs and came onto her deck. From between her knees she saluted him and laughed that this was what she quit movies for – to cut her hair over a bucket. He nodded and leaned against the rail, content to wait until she was finished. Below, the little girls poked at the bullhead swimming in their pail, unconcerned with the conversation above them. He gazed at the line of laundry hanging motionless in the sun, noting the artful geometry of the storekeeper’s effort – bath towel, hand towel, wash cloth, hand towel, bath towel. Stepping up and down like building blocks, they decorated the view. Someday, he mused, someone will take a picture of that and frame it. For now, it was simply washday.
He turned as she spoke, and watched the curious routine. He found it absurd to have a mirror in a place like this, amused at her concern for appearance, this woman who would cut her hair like that. She stood and shook her head, and stepped through the doorway of the Pan Abode. She reappeared with two mugs of coffee, handing one to him, motioning him to sit. When he was settled he took a sip and looked at her.
“I can manage the summers, Pete, but I haven’t spent all year here. Will you be out here this winter? I’d like to give it a try.” She set the mug on her knee and waited.
“Winter here is a whole different story, Loraine.” How could she be serious, this woman? She was clueless and he wasn’t about to commit to the responsibility and end up doing all her work.
“I think you ought to go back to town and wait until you have a man, a hired man or someone else who can help you all the time.” Pete looked at his cup and then lifted his gaze to meet hers. “Some women can do this, are tough enough, but I don’t think you’re ready.” He stood and set his cup on the rail. “Good luck, though. Let me know if there’s anything else you need and I’ll see what I can do.” He saluted and grinned, and headed back to the flats and his tent.
She watched him leave and, tossing the contents of her cup over the rail, she turned her attention to the girls. They’d made their way along the beach and were now at the wooden steps near the base of the falls, engrossed in whatever they’d discovered beneath a rock. They knew where they could go and what they had to stay away from, each of them aware of potential dangers. For their ages, they were capable and responsible, and she trusted them. Where spruce shaded the corner of the deck, she leaned into the shadow and slowly smiled to herself.