Sandra Benedetto: Black Spruce Beach (Part I)

Eight brown cabins, lined up like monopoly houses, each one situated on its own section of beach. Eight wooden piers in varying states of deterioration, some threatening stubbed toes and splinters, others recently repaired and painted. Eight large bins behind each cabin, receptacles for buckets, beach balls, ropes and rubber inner tubes. In the morning you might hear eight screen doors slam shut as kids flew down the astroturf stairs and hopped across the circular stone steps towards the sand.

On this particular August morning, the Flanagan’s wood-paneled station wagon wound slowly up the incline, away from the lake.  Enid watched from the kitchen window of her house at the top of the hill. The back of the wagon looked packed to the gills. She could imagine the jumble of second-rate pots and pans, stretched-out bathing suits, cans of bug spray, and a rubber-banded game of Life with a Hot Wheels Flame Runner standing in for the missing pink car. All of these things would be stored on a basement shelf for eleven months, waiting patiently until they could be of use again.

When the car finished its climb and came to a stop, the oldest Flanagan boy jumped out of the backseat. Enid instinctively withdrew from the window even though she knew there was no reason for him to look in her direction. He deposited five metal skewers on her porch before darting back to the car. She hoped that they’d followed her instructions and dipped them in wet sand to scrub off marshmallow residue before returning them. The car pulled away. The Flanagans were the last guests to leave for the season.

Enid continued to imagine the scene in the Flanagan’s car as it turned onto the main road and disappeared from view. There would be some discussion about where to stop for lunch, and in the end they’d decide to skip Glenn’s Drive-In, ostensibly so they could start making headway on the trip home. The underlying reason, one that nobody would be able to put into words, was that the meal would be a letdown. It would stand in depressing contrast to the excitement they felt one month ago when they stopped there for burgers on the first day of their vacation.

Then Jim Flanagan would say something like, “So, kids, what was your favorite part?” or “What was different from last year?” and the girl would say the best part was when they caught Clyde and made a home for him in their sand pail. No, the older boy would say, Clyde didn’t like being trapped in there, you could tell by the way he swam around in circles, snapping his claws at their offerings of algae. He’d say the best day of the trip was when they went into town and ate cheese curds and root beer candy. Then the younger boy would remind them all how funny it was when he convinced his sister that the bats were attracted to blond hair, and she would dig her knuckles into his leg, still annoyed that he was able to scare her with an old wives’ tale.

Their mom, Suzanne, might remark on how nice it was for the people in Cabin #3 to take them out in their speedboat. The kids would hear a note of surprise in her tone, as if it was unexpected that they should be so nice given that they used the word ‘ain’t’ and swore in front of their children. She would say that she wished they’d taken their own sailboat out more, and that next year would be the year they’d teach the kids how to sail. Once they were on the highway Jim would start a game of Twenty Questions and one of them would inevitably choose Evil Knievel as their secret person.

The front door squeaked open, startling Enid out of her imagined journey with the Flanagans. It must be Tom, stopping in for a bathroom break. When Chuck was diagnosed with congestive heart failure two years ago, Tom had taken over for his father in handling the maintenance around the resort. There was a lot to do, between the chalet and the cabins, but he was an able-bodied 44-year-old man. He wasn’t the athlete he’d been in high school, but was fit enough for his age. Plus, if he’d inherited his father’s genes, he would need to be active to stay in good health. She prayed that she would be able to rely on Tom well into the future. Several years from now, Chuck might be gone and she might not be able to take on some of the more physical chores she did now.griswold-mobile

Tom’s jobs consisted of all of the things that had to be done to keep the resort running smoothly, but that probably went unnoticed by the guests. Things like chopping and stocking wood for the fire pit, making sure the canoes were tied up securely after dark, mowing the lawn around the tennis courts. If someone complained that the pinball machines in the rec room weren’t working he was responsible for fixing them. He also did favors for Enid. For example, she asked him to set traps and drown the captured chipmunks in the lake to keep them from eating her flowers.

Tom was in the middle of a divorce, so he had moved in with Enid and Chuck this season. Enid was secretly happy it had worked out that way because she liked seeing more of her only son. It had never been a big secret that she didn’t care for Darlene, anyway. Occasionally, Tom would drive into town for a fish fry with his friend Ray, but usually he was home for dinner. It was nice to eat dinner as a threesome again, like they did back in Alaska when he was growing up. After dinner, Tom would walk the grounds and make sure everything was in order before joining Chuck in front of the TV.

Chuck spent all his time in front of the TV now, it seemed. She wished they had friends to socialize with, but she suspected that the townies resented them, or at the very least considered them outsiders. As far as the guests were concerned, they came and went; there was no point in making an effort to build relationships. She observed them closely and knew most of their names, but wanted to maintain a professional distance. Riding to and fro with loads of laundry on her golf cart she would wave hello to the guests but would never slow down.

“Hello, honey, I’m in here”, Enid called out.

Tom stepped into the kitchen, but he wasn’t alone.

“Ma, there’s someone I’d like you to meet”, he said.

To be continued . . .

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