I am pleased to announced the WINNER of my writing competition. Anna Maria won an unframed print from the series. She selected “REUNION”, which she receivedin June.
The Ladies of the Lake: Hello
By Anna Maria Junus
Beverly headed straight into the cabin, armed with her cleaning supplies and bread maker. She never could relax until she gave the cabin a good going over. It was why she always insisted on coming hours before the others could get here.
I walked from the car to the back of the cottage– or was it the front? I was never sure since the driveway led straight up to the kitchen and the great room faced the lake. The view was always beautiful at this time of year when the lake was a brilliant blue and sparkled like diamonds as the sun shone down, dappling the shadows where leafy green trees hung over the water along the borderline of the property. A boat with a rainbow colored sail went by and I smiled, waved and called out hello, even though I didn’t know the occupants. They waved back calling out their hellos, because that’s what you do here. I turned and looked at the cottage. It had been in the family for decades and I remember my father doing something new to it each year. In 1965 he replaced the porch. In ‘69 he had built the outdoor fireplace. In ’72, at my mother’s insistence, he had redone the plumbing and we could finally take hot showers. In 2010 we sprinkled his ashes under the maple where he would spend hours reading, because that’s what he wanted. Two years ago we added my mother’s.
I now gazed at the wide front porch which my husband Harry and I had repaired and painted last year, a bright crisp white. The Adirondack chairs and the tables needed to be put out and the hammock needed to be attached to the trees.
I heard a scream from the kitchen.
“Mice,” I said under my breath. Beverly didn’t like them but she could handle them. I couldn’t. I expected that after today whatever mice had wintered here would be homeless if they survived Bev. Mice. It was the one thing I didn’t like about coming to the cottage.
“Alberta!” my sister called. I sighed. She usually gave me fifteen minutes to destress and then she would put me to work. It was worth putting in the work before the others came. It meant that she could finally relax and leave behind Beverly the whirligig and become Bev, queen of chill.
“I’m here….” Minuet sang as she came through the door. Yes, that is her real name. This year she chose to show up in a floral muumuu, and she carried a ukulele. Last year she came to the cottage in a long purple and black dress and had adorned herself with layers of necklaces and bracelets. She had looked like a refugee from a Celtic Wiccan group. She asked us to call her Kasha and wanted to read our Tarot. The year before that she was in a Stetson and cowboy boots and spent the evening telling stories of getting back to the land on a cattle drive. This woman has been searching for herself for years. She always shows up in something different and by day two she’s flung aside the costume and is looking like the rest of us in battered shorts and holey t-shirts. I guess that’s what happens when your name is Minuet.
By the time she came the kitchen had been scrubbed and bread dough was rising in the machine. The great room had been given a thorough dusting and vacuuming and all the bedrooms had been cleaned and had fresh linens on the mattresses and potpourri on the nightstands. The bathrooms sparkled, the front porch was outfitted, the windows were wide open, and Bev had managed to get a hold of the teenage boy in the cabin on the next property to mow the lawn.
“Going to entertain us?” I asked Minuet, hugging her and then handing her a glass of wine after Bev got her hug.
“Our annual talent show! Of course I’ll entertain, as I always do.” She threw back the wine in one gulp and held out her glass for more. “Guess where I’ve just been.”
“If I go by your outfit, I would say an expedition to the Arctic Circle.”
“Nice guess, but no. Hawaii. I took ukulele and hula lessons and met a fire dancer. We got married on the beach and then went surfing.”
“How much of that is true?” Bev asked.
“Okay, the ukulele and the hula lessons. The fire dancer almost lit me on fire when he was tossing a stick and it went out of control. I had to duck. Almost put my back out.”
We heard the car pull up, loud voices and door slams, then footsteps. “Hello everyone,” Shirley shouted as she and Janet came through the door. Shirley proudly sported her short gray hair and trim figure. It had been gray since her thirties and it suited her even when it was long and wavy. No hair dyes for that girl. Janet on the other hand, had a different hair color every year. This year she was a deep auburn and her weight had fluctuated again to the heavy side. It didn’t matter. We were all on the heavy side – except for Shirley.
“I did not,” said Janet.
“You did too,” Shirley answered as she dumped her suitcases on the floor.
“Just because Martin is boring doesn’t mean I flirt with every man who comes along.”
To be clear, Martin is Shirley’s husband and Janet is single – again.
“I’m not even sure that argument makes sense,” Shirley said.
“Wine?” Bev asked holding up the bottle.
“Now THAT makes sense,” Shirley said grabbing the bottle and raising it up to take a swig.
I took the bottle from Shirley before she could drink and poured her a glass. “Every year you two come here together and every year you end up in a fight on the way.”
“We’re not fighting,” Janet held out a glass Bev had handed her. “We’re discussing with dramatic flair,” she said with dramatic flair, waving her hand, and tossing her head.
Shirley gave me a hug. “Besides, it makes that long drive much more interesting.”
Dinner that night was Bev’s homemade lasagna which she had made the day before and brought to the cabin, her whole wheat buns, and a fresh salad. It was what we had every year on the first night. Oh, and plenty of wine and cheesecake. Lots of cheesecake. Everyone brought a cheesecake. It was tradition.
I looked around the table at my friends. We had been doing this since we were kids. Back then the others had family cottages too. In those long lazy days of summer we were always with each other having sleep overs either inside, or outside in tents. As we grew the talks about boys changed as did the pictures we shared. We went off to college, got married, had kids, and suffered through divorce, illness and death. We lost one of us. The number of cottages between us dwindled down to this one. But through it all we still continued to put aside one week in the summer to meet together. When we were younger we would bring our kids – no husbands allowed, but now our kids were grown, although occasionally one of our adult daughters would join us.
Shirley held up her glass. “I want to make a toast to Nell. May she be kicking up some hell up there in heaven.”
We raised our glasses, “To Nell,” we all said. It had been a ritual for the past five years. The cabin was a breakaway from our daily lives, but we still clung to our traditions. Lasagna on the first night – Friday, a toast to Nell, shopping expedition to the local farmers market on Saturday mornings, our meditation/blessing program for believers and unbelievers on Sundays, talent night on Monday, and our going away party the following Sunday. In between there was swimming; card and board games; the jigsaw puzzle that was always left up in the great room; chats in the sun while knitting, doing needlework, or scrapbooking; water-skiing and boating; long walks; scooter rentals; at home movie nights; a couple of rounds of golf; at least two dinners in town; spa day; and lots of naps.
We made the most of our week together, catching up on each other’s lives, laughing and crying. When we got together we picked up where we left off as if we hadn’t been apart for the whole year, although the year that Nell died, we saw her and each other often as we pulled together to be there for her.
One thing’s for sure. Cancer sucks.
“You’re quiet,” Minuet nudged me with her elbow.
“I’m always quiet.”
The all laughed. “You’re only quiet when you’re thinking of plotting one of our deaths for one of your books,” Shirley took a sip of wine.
“Remember the time she climbed up on the roof to get the Frisbee and she found a dead squirrel?” Beverly said.
“She screamed so loud I thought she was giving birth!” Janet had a forkful of cheesecake in her mouth.
“Well, I might have been giving birth. I was pregnant. What was I doing climbing on the roof when I was pregnant?”
“That was the year we were all pregnant,” Bev said. “You were the least pregnant.”
“We were not ALL pregnant. Minuet wasn’t.”
“I had twisted my ankle.”
“Oh, yeah, running from the neighbor’s dog.” I pushed my plate away.
“It was a pit bull and it growled at me.”
“It was a toy poodle and it yapped,” Janet said. “And when it caught up to you while you were lying on the ground screaming, it licked your face.”
“Testing me to see if I was edible.”
We all laughed.
“But let’s get back to Alberta,” Minuet said. Nice segue Minnie. Subtle. “Remember the bar night when she hopped up on the counter and danced like she was in Coyote Ugly?”
“I was expecting her to take off her shirt and twirl it over her head!” Shirley added.
“And she wasn’t even drunk!” Bev said.
“I was gathering information.”
They all roared. Before long the whole conversation descended into things I had done in the past, which really wasn’t fair, because they had done things too and nobody was mentioning that. Thanks Minuet.
They were having so much fun they hadn’t noticed that the sun was almost gone, even though the great room had large windows on either side of the fireplace. I stood up and casually went to the door.
“Oh, no you don’t!” Bev got up and made a dash towards me. I opened the door and ran into the twilight, tearing off my clothes as I sped towards the lake. The others followed. And I did too sped. I just wasn’t spedding as fast as I used to.
“First one naked in the water!” I yelled as the cold wet hit me. I swooped under the waves I created knowing I would be warm as soon as my body acclimated. When I came up I watched as the others join me, their clothes flung all over the lawn and hanging in bushes.
Bev was next, Minuet was last, which meant that she had to do the dinner dishes.
I guess I forgot to mention our other first night tradition.
I heard a whoop and I turned towards it. It was only then that I noticed the sailboat passing by with the people watching us.
We all smiled, waved and called out hellos. Because that’s what you do here.