Sandra Benedetto: Black Spruce Beach (Conclusion)

Read the beginning of the story here:

Black Spruce Beach (Part I)

Black Spruce Beach (Part II)

 

Enid crossed the paddle over to her right side. A droplet pinged in the bottom of the canoe, breaking the silence that shrouded the lake at that hour. She couldn’t remember ever waking up so early to paddle around the shore, especially on a cold November morning like this one. The few houses that ringed the lake sat empty, the docks bereft of boats.

She felt a thud on the underside of the canoe. The contact wasn’t enough to shift her off course, but it was unmistakable. She peered over the side trying to identify a fish in the murky water. All she could make out was a dark shape. Could it be a snapping turtle? Something black and glistening broke the surface. A snout? A beak? Before she could conjecture any further the creature climbed into the boat.

It was the drowned chipmunk that she’d disposed of in the dumpster last month. That’s odd, she thought. It had grown to ten times its size. It put its oversized paws on her lap so the two of them were nose to nose. He spoke in a clipped, earnest voice, barraging her with the same phrase over and over. High and dry. Enid was confused. Who is high and dry? What do you want me to do? Shouldn’t you be dead? Even though he seemed friendly she was upset that he was disturbing her tranquil morning with his broken record message. She wished Chuck was there to tell her what to do — not sick Chuck, but Chuck from five years ago. Now the chipmunk’s sopping head rested in her lap. She suddenly knew what she had to do. She reached down to pet him gently so he wouldn’t see it coming when she wrung his neck.

It was mid-December, almost a month since Enid first dreamed about Orville. She’d named the chipmunk after Larry Manetti’s character on Magnum P.I., Chuck’s favorite TV show. She thought a name would give him a goofy quality and make the whole dream something to laugh off. It didn’t work. That first week had been awful. The dream recurred every night, with the only variation being an increasing level of agitation on her part. It didn’t take a psychoanalyst to interpret Orville’s High and dry mantra. She would be high and dry when Tom and his gold digger girlfriend got their hands on her resort. They’d put her and Chuck in a home and forget about them. It broke her heart.

After that terrible week she developed a new sleep routine. She took uppers in the evening to defer sleep as long as possible. It couldn’t have been easier to get the drugs; Dr. P. was done writing out the prescription by the time she finished her sentence about feeling unfocused. Sometimes she’d stay up all night, starting out the day with a pot of strong coffee. Other times she’d have a nightcap around 3 or 4 a.m. and pray it was strong enough to induce dreamless sleep. The only thing Chuck said to indicate that he’d noticed her new habits was “It’ll be alright”, when he went to bed without her each night.

Her interactions with Tom and that woman had become increasingly strained, even though she saw them less frequently. For all intents and purposes they were living together in town. That’s why Tom’s sudden appearance in the house the day she burned her will came as such a surprise. He caught her throwing papers into the fireplace and started asking questions. She told him they were old bank statements, but she could tell he didn’t believe her. She waited until he left before locking herself in the bedroom to write up her new will. Chuck would sign the new document, no questions asked. He wouldn’t care if she invited a three-ring circus into their house — hell, he probably wouldn’t even notice.

About a week before Christmas, Tom came over to help set up the tree. Enid was dismayed when she saw what’s-her-name enter the house with him. She had already asked Tom to stay for dinner, so she couldn’t very well uninvite them. At the table, Enid fought the urge to call the phony bologna out on her wide-eyed, innocent act. She kept her mouth shut and channeled her irritation into the tough pork chop — not that it did her any good, because Tom pushed her into the conversation and then got all bent out of shape when he didn’t like what she said.

“Ma, did you hear what Jenna said?”

“Of course she thinks a slide is a great idea.”

“What does that mean?”

“It’ll bring in more guests. Maybe next she’ll say we should have more cabins.”

“Would that be such a bad thing?”

“We have eight cabins. We’ve always had eight cabins. She can’t come in here and turn our resort into some kind of Disneyland! I won’t let it happen. You hear me?”

“Ma, are you OK?” Tom looked at her warily.

“I’m fine,” she snapped.

“Dad, has she been getting enough sleep?”

Chuck didn’t say anything.

“Now you’re going to have your father spy on me. You’re all against, me, is that it?”

“I think we’d better go.” Tom stood up from the table and held out his hand to Jenna.

“Fine, go! Leave me high and dry. High and dry!”

Tom and Jenna left Enid sitting at the table with the imperturbable Chuck.

Enid and Tom later reconciled over the phone. She apologized for her behavior, even though she wasn’t sorry, and pleaded for him to spend Christmas Eve with them. She couldn’t bear to go to all the effort of preserving holiday traditions if he wouldn’t be there. It was understood that his girlfriend was not welcome.

Christmas Eve afternoon, Enid was in the kitchen putting cooled cookies in a tin when she heard a car door slam. Chuck was in the living room watching TV. Enid hurried to open the door to welcome her son. Although Tom recovered quickly, Enid could tell from his expression that he found her appearance alarming. Now that she thought about it, she had lost some weight since she’d started taking the pills. She’d been so busy making arrangements that she’d neglected her looks. She self-consciously touched her hair and straightened her sweater. She was already out of sorts because she’d spent an hour that morning searching for the land deed before finding it in Chuck’s bedside table. She didn’t remember putting it there, but in her fuzzy-headed condition of late it was certainly possible. Tom’s discomfort made her feel even more off-kilter.

Once inside, Tom told her that he needed to make a phone call. She went upstairs to listen in on the extension. She recognized Dr. P.’s voice. Tom said that he was worried about her, Enid, because “she looks terrible and she’s been acting weird . . . paranoid.” Enid gently replaced the receiver and sat on the edge of her bed. Her hands were shaking. It was already happening — Tom was going to have her sent away. Exactly like in her dream, she suddenly knew what she had to do.

As she descended the stairs, Enid heard a gunshot. She’d been hunting enough times to know right away that’s what it was. Then she heard a soft thump, like a heavy package being placed under the tree. She leaned into the railing as she rushed down. When she stepped into the living room, the first thing she saw was her son lying on his back. Like part of some unholy nativity scene, his limbs were splayed out in all directions. An expanding circle of blood darkened the mauve carpeting. Then she saw Chuck, standing on the other side of the room, looking sorrowfully at the gun in his hand.

“What have you done?” she said.

“I had no choice,” he said, “They were going to take everything.”

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