Kelly stood silently watching the ripples spread across the water. It was a toss up as to whether or not they would reach the kayak and Pat nearly hidden by the play of light and shadow on the lake face. He was physically quiet, her brother. The paddle, balanced and resting evenly in his relaxed hands, his forearms resting easily on the craft’s frame, seemed to say that his stillness traveled inside as well as out. The flat stone Kelly had throne to skid the surface for nine perfect jumps had not broken his attention. She knew he never heard it’s first ker-plunk or the puh-puh-puhs that followed in unison, fainter and fainter until it finally sank.
She had aimed the stone to skip clear of the kayak and, surprisingly, it did. More surprising than the accuracy of her throw was that she bent to pick it up in the first place. She was 58 years and 3 days into this new year of living and bending was not a thing she did with ease or grace — not anymore. Pat, on the other hand, still did all things with ease and grace–it wasn’t fair. He seemed never to age and would frown at her for saying as much, but she didn’t actually ever come right out and say it. And her thoughts, she would tell you if asked, were hers to own even if she was the youngest.
What was he thinking now, so unmoving out there, his head cocked back just slightly as if he looked from under the khaki hat brim to study some thing or movement a bit further along on the shoreline? More than once she tried to follow the general direction of his gaze, but she saw nothing to hold her attention.
Dividing her time between searching out another flat stone to throw and watching him watch the shore, she sometimes lost him in the dazzle off the lake. Her pulse would take up a race with itself where, if she had a brown paper bag to breathe into, she would . . . but then the shade would shift again and the burn of bright water subside.
There! There! Did you see it? Kel? Did you see it? Do you? Can you?
Pat is as silent as ever out on the water. What Kelly hears is a playback inside her head; Pat’s voice, that’s for certain, but from more than forty years back, when he’s a senior and she’s a freshman and they’re on summer break from high school, taking in some Ohio sunshine on a raft anchored offshore from this very spot.
“Old” Kelly looks out beyond Pat in the kayak, but the place where the raft used to be is just a flat few acres of more water, a still lake face with no wooden respite for weary swimmers to climb aboard and sun dry.
Where have all the flat stones gone to, that’s what I want to know. It wasn’t the first time Kelly had asked herself this question; it wouldn’t be the last. She would bring stones with her next time. She would buy an extra bag of those shiny decorative stones she used around the ficus to keep Tygger and associates, both known and unknown, out. But instead of glossy brown, she’d buy white. The one skipper she’d thrown today was white. Not that color made one whit of difference.
Lord knows she had thrown every color of natural stone nature made flat enough to skip over the years. Point in fact: they were all out there in the lake now. Lots of things out there in the lake. Lots of things. Kel never saw whatever it was Pat saw that day back when she was thin and could bend like a swan or a jackknife in dives from the raft or the pier. She never did know what he saw. Wishes she had seen it too, with all her old heart, she really does wish she knew — but she doesn’t and Pat, once they brought him up, well, he never said. He never did. But they came here, Kelly and Pat, often enough.
Sometimes, when the shore was white and the trees heavy with snow, they just sat in the cab of Pat’s old Dodge pick up with the heater running and watched mist rise off the water. It was quiet then, even quieter than now. Snow put a hush on everything. And sometimes, not every winter, but sometimes the lake froze up for a good distance out, further than Kelly could even think about skipping a stone. These were the most worrisome times because Pat would hardly have it but that he walk out there, testing fate every step of the way.
But, when the weather was good, like it was today, they hauled the kayak up and Pat rowed out safely enough. If he went too far, and sometimes he did, Kelly’d call out, “Bubbba! Don’t make me get wet now, you hear?” and he would turn the kayak back, mindful of her worry. He was the kindest of brothers; always had been; always would be, and Kelly adored him. She just wishes she knew what it was that he saw back then, on that day, that one particular day, in the lake.