At Hiverblue Lake
I am sitting in my car by Hiverblue Lake, staring at a sky the colour of granite. The birds sing glumly, smearing the sky with minor chords.
An elderly man knocks on the car window and I wind it down further. "Yes?" I say.
He contemplates my face. "Try not to plait the braids of gloom for too long."
"Blue!" I exclaim. "Miles of blue."
He gestures with a trembling hand to the lake in front. "There is always this. It belongs to all of us, including you."
I shrug. "I'll try it."
"That's all you can do." He smiles quietly and ambles off, leaning on a stick, his gait rocking slightly from side to side.
I get out of the car and stroll down to the lakeside. A woman with a beanie hat is sitting cross-legged on a bench. She looks up at me with blue-green eyes. "Otters," she says.
"In the lake?"
"Otters, scented with lake water, drumming on the unknown graves of pike."
I walk on, past a stretch of Scots pines with terracotta-coloured bark. Pine cones are scattered on the ground, sending up a sharp aroma. The branches of some trees are entangled with one another; this is almost too intimate to bear.
I turn to look at the lake. Something pokes through the surface. It grows into a pipe, then a head with a snorkel, then an upper torso with a cupped hand holding a shell. The snorkel is removed and a woman, brown hair slick wet over her skull, is revealed.
"The bottom is peppered with empty shells. Where are the cogitating molluscs?"
"They can be a disease," I say.
"But one cured by symphonies."
"Symphonies of swans?"
"Among other things, Yes." She puts her snorkel back on, slips back under the water. What is left is concentric ripples on the lake surface that expand into circles, dissolve into nothing.
I see no swans on the lake today, I reflect. I plod on, looking up at the bloated grey sky. It's going to rain, I think. But aren't I often expecting rain? Particularly since he left. Or rather, since I drove him away through my indecision and insecurity. I sigh; a wilted question mark drifts from my lips, drifts off on a passing eddy.
I look up to the hillside where one small block of luxury flats has been newly built. They are inhabited by executive aspiration, by middle-class, picturesque logic — a logic I feel I will never be able to aspire to. A woman with binoculars leans against a balcony. She spots me, lowers the binoculars and waves. I hesitate, then wave back. She waves again. I wonder if the pores of her self are tight or loose, and if she ever pitches thoughts at clouds. She shouts something, which sounds like, "Lemon polenta cake."
"What about chips," I shout back.
"Only with humus," comes the reply.
I find myself smiling a touch and stroll on.
A 25m stretch of sand beach has been imported — from Eastern Europe, I believe — primarily for residents of the flats. A sign says, No Entry Without Permission. I glance around furtively, step over the rope railing, and walk down onto the beach. I kick my shoes and socks off, and let my soles knead the silky grit. It feels good — free, adolescent.
I poke my toes in the lake, uttering quiet gasps of excitement. I dip a foot in and swivel it around, making slow, rhythmic circles in the water. I like the slippery aquatic feel and am tempted to slip my trousers off and wade right in.
A sign held by a dark hand emerges slowly from the lake: 'Beware of Underwater Things: They Bite.' I hesitate, then remove my foot from the water. I put my socks and shoes on and walk backwards, step by step, staring at the sign which gradually sinks beneath the surface.
I return to the path which goes round a bend, coming into a grassy area and then a small wood of oak and ash. The leaves shiver on the wind, the light bends through moss and memories, the shadows hold clumps of sorrel. It is chilly and I button up my denim jacket.
A woman in a white apron steps out from behind an oak with a large platter. On this, which she thrusts towards me, are small sugar skulls, like those sold in Mexico."Care to take one?" she asks. "They're edible and as inevitable as uranium."
"Sorry. I don't think I want one. Not now."
"We all have to take one eventually," she says, and struts past me, disappearing into the wood.
I turn and go back towards the lakeside, following another path which wends it ways towards the far end of the lake. I pass a copse of lime trees, a wooden bench with a radiating sun painted in yellow on its back, and a profusion of rhododendron bushes.
I come to the furthest tip of the lake. I can see no sign of humans or habitation and the only sound is the hush of wind rustling long grasses. Spotlights of sun penetrate the clouds and gulls orchestrate unfeasible glides above the lake. Quite suddenly, a sense of calm falls upon me and what remains of my hollow morphs into stillness. I sit down on a wooden bench nearby and taste the colour of soothing, a pale-green shade of blue.
I notice a fox trotting along the path in front. It doesn't even glance at me, just goes past, absorbed in its trotting, its panting. I stare after it, wondering.
"The nature of wonder is a wonder of nature," says a voice. On the other end of the bench is an elderly man with a huge (false?) fox-red moustache. I have no idea how or when he got there. I stare at him.
"Wow!" I say.
"Don't be impressed," he says.
"Not even with things that impress me?"
He glances down, shrugs, then awkwardly rubs the gilded silver fox-head on top of his walking cane.
I get up and sniff untainted air. "Nice," I exclaim.
He looks up at me and smiles. "Very nice."
I venture on. The path veers uphill, over rougher, rocky terrain. Gorse is sprinkled about, the yellow flowers like floral flame. The route gets steeper and I find myself breathless. I come to the top, with a vista out over the lake. The water is shiny pewter. Geese move across the sky in a V, offering up a throaty, unwieldy music. I watch them fly, wing-tip to wing-tip and fearless.
I stand, looking at the lake and sky. Just looking.
Yes! I think.
Eventually, I continue on the path, which now winds downwards towards the lake. Crows, perched on the rocks, launch into the air as I approach. I continue down and come out at a path nearby where I left my car.
The woman with the blue-green eyes by the lake looks up at me.
"Is... this it?" she asks.
"Is this what?"
She glances away. "You know..."
"You mean, the end?"
"The beginning, the middle, the end, Yes."
I turn to take in the lake. I feel the whole of it in my eyes, grey-blue and open and glittering in patches. I know it won't ever be easy for me, but there is always this, always the lake.
I turn to the woman and smile. She smiles back.
I get in my car and drive away.
Katy Wimhurst studied social anthropology before doing a PhD on Mexican Surrealism. She has also worked in publishing. She writes fiction and non-fiction and has been published in various ezines and magazines, including Bust Down the Doors and Eat All the Chickens, Theguardian.com, GlassFire, Serendipity, Kaleidrotrope and DogVersusSandwich. She was a winner of the Tate Modern short story competition TH2058 in 2009.