Photograph by Anna Moller
COAST OF INDIANA
by Dan Lopez
We’d come to Indiana on a lark. Even this late in the season the water was too cold for swimming. We hadn’t even brought swimsuits. What we did bring were jackets because once the sun went down we’d be cold in nothing but shirtsleeves. In the meantime, we had little to do but relax and enjoy the views, which amounted to a few cooling towers up and down the coast and the ghostly silhouette of the Chicago skyline on the horizon. Later, the ferry would take us back there.
Issue #8 soundtrack: The Acorn "Bobcat Goldwraith"
Lucky was making the most of it. He’d drop a piece of driftwood at Peter’s feet then sit expectedly, waiting until Peter picked up the stick and tossed it away in a long, languid arc. Then Lucky would retrieve it. This happened a few times. Each time Peter threw the stick farther out, and each time Lucky returned it, panting and wagging his tail, as if to ask: Again? When Peter tossed the stick into the lake, I gave him a look.
“Don’t be cruel to that dog; he’s old.”
“He likes it,” Peter said. “Besides he doesn’t need to get it if he doesn’t want to.”
Lucky bolted down the beach, but came up short at the water’s edge. He sniffed the wavelets as they came in, doing a dance of sorts to keep his paws dry on the hard sand. He looked at us. He looked at the stick, bumping further out on the tide. He looked back at us then scampered off, happy enough to find a new diversion. It wasn’t long until he befriended some people over by the dunes, well away from the water.
“See?” Peter said, scratching his elbow. It was red from where he’d been leaning into the sand. I shrugged.
Abigail approached, an open jar of salsa in hand. From her tote bag she produced a Tupperware container full of homemade tortilla chips. “He’s friendly to a fault,” she said, cocking her head back vaguely to indicate Lucky on the dunes.
“It’s because he’s never known any danger,” Peter said, brushing some stray hairs aside. I was surprised that there wasn’t more of a breeze this close to the water’s edge. He opened the Tupperware then grabbed a chip for himself and one for me. Abigail passed the jar around.
There was plenty of room on the blanket, but instead she lowered herself onto the sand and folded her legs beneath her body. She had a long bird-like frame and wide, alert eyes framed by her short curly hair. She was pretty in an unconventional way. Peter said she never missed a thing and I remembered that now as I buried the joint I’d been rolling under the beach blanket. I don’t know why I did that, only that I felt right then like this was something I wanted to keep from her.
“When do you go back, Cam?” she asked.
I lay back and pulled my sunglasses down to keep the light from giving me a headache. “Tomorrow evening,” I said. “Our flight’s at six. From O’Hare,” I added.
“We’re just out here to see the school this time,” Peter said by way of explanation.
She nodded and I couldn’t decide if there was maybe more to it. After all, she was Peter’s friend, and though she’d been gracious with me throughout our visit I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was being vetted in some way and that I had already screwed something up.
She grabbed a chip and loaded it with so much salsa that I thought the thin tortilla would snap then, in one smooth motion, she rose to her feet.
“I’m going to dip my toes,” she said, and asked us to let the other girls know when they returned from the bathroom. Then she slinked down the beach, making the most of her long stride. In all, there were five of us: Peter, myself, the three girls and, of course, Lucky. With him we made six.
When Abigail had gone, I turned to Peter. “The dog’s all the way down the beach.”
“What’s that?” he asked, without looking up. He had his nose in a book and was stretched out on the blanket belly-side down.
“I said the dog, he’s all the way down the beach.”
Peter looked up for a minute, shrugged then returned to the book.
I helped myself to more chips and salsa, and hoped the girls were bringing something to drink back with them. We’d brought some beer, but between the five of us they were gone before we left the ferry and now I was getting thirsty, and despite everything I was feeling a headache coming on.
Peter retrieved a pen from his backpack and scratched a note in the margin of his book.
“Are you almost finished?” I asked.
“Just another ten pages,” he said, without looking up.
“Well, I’m going for drinks. I can’t wait anymore. Want something?”
“Nah, I’m good.”
“You sure?” I asked. “You won’t just get thirsty when I get back?”
“Okay,” he said. “Just bring me back one of whatever you’re having.”
“I’m getting a root beer, I think. You don’t like root beer.”
“Fine.” He was doing that thing he does when he gets annoyed of biting his nails. “Then bring me back a diet soda.”
“Okay,” I said and stood up. “Do you have cash? I only have a couple of bucks on me.”
“Jesus Christ.” He squirmed onto his side to reach for his bag again, and I saw the beginnings of a nasty sunburn on his neck, but I wasn’t going to say anything. “Here,” he said, “Take my wallet. Can I finish reading?”
“I’m just asking a question,” I said.
“That’s okay,” I said, and kissed the top of his head where his hair had begun to thin. “I’ll be right back. Keep an eye on the dog.”
When I returned, Abigail and the other girls were circled around Peter on the blanket. He was applying sunscreen to his neck, so I figured one of them must have warned him. They had also found the joint.
“So, what do you think?” One of the girls asked, exhaling.
“Yeah,” Peter said, clearing his throat. “It’s a good program.” When he saw me approaching he folded his hands in his lap. “But we’ll see,” he said. “I have a lot of things to consider.”
The girls made room for me and I slid down onto the sand beside Peter. He thanked me for the soda, and left it on the blanket to sweat and collect sand. Even though they’d made room for me I felt additional, like the joker in a deck of cards. They talked for a while about the merits of the program, and I drew lines in the sand with my finger only half listening.
“Where’s the dog?” I asked, after a while.
“He’s joined a pack down there, it seems,” Abigail said. With the joint in her lips and the late afternoon sun on her tinted glasses she looked beautiful, almost classical, and suddenly I felt bad about not wanting to share the joint with her earlier. If I had more pot I would’ve rolled one just for her. But, as it stood, I’d only brought the one.
“And what about you, Cameron,” one of the girls asked, “Would you move out here?”
I accepted the joint before answering. It was getting cold and soon I’d need to put on my jacket, but there was finally a breeze off the lake and I was enjoying it as long as possible. “I don’t know,” I said. “My whole life is back east.”
“Well, anyway,” Peter said. “We still have some time before we need to make a decision.”
“Definitely,” one of the girls said. I sipped my soda and grinned. The pot had taken some of the edge off. Right now it all felt right, and I decided to live in the present and not worry about the future or act out of obligation to the past. I kissed Peter because I felt like it in that moment. Afterwards, I led everyone down to the water. The sun would set within the hour and I had the idea that I would like to see it dip beneath the horizon. I couldn’t recall the last time I’d seen that. The wavelets were coming closer and closer to our feet, and I realized that this lake was large enough to have a substantial tide. “Wow,” I said, and one of the girls nodded, but there was no way she could’ve known what I was thinking, so she must’ve meant it in a general way.
The dog pack had broken up and Lucky was trotting around the beach aimlessly, which was just as well because the ferry had sounded its first boarding whistle. Abigail called him back and he came along at something approximating a hop. We shook the sand out of our blanket, brushed as much as we could out of his fur and gathered our things. Peter slung his backpack onto his shoulders and lifted the collar of his jacket against the wind. At the ferry there wasn’t much of a crowd, so we got good seats by the starboard windows. Lucky promptly fell asleep at Abigail’s feet and with a few minutes we were silently off the dock.
“Here’s to an impromptu beach day,” Abigail said, cracking open a fifth of cheap bourbon she’d been keeping. We all took a swig before parceling out the rest of it into our sodas then I stepped out of the cabin to catch the last of the light.
The sun was low enough that standing on the deck looking out over the lake was painful, but I wanted to see the coast recede – as much as it can on a lake, even a Great Lake. I had a feeling I would see those cooling towers for a long while still. Just then my headache was flaring up again, but I kept looking out. Peter came up behind me and rested his chin on my shoulder. It was chilly as we bumped over the water, so I was happy to have the warmth of his arms around me.
“So what do you think?” he asked, and I knew that he meant not just the beach but all of it: Chicago, the school and all the rest, what I’d be giving up in either case.
“I don’t know.” I picked at the white paint flaking off the railing. The engine was too loud to allow us to hear the girls’ laughter inside the cabin, but I could see them in there, happy in their own world. I was happy for once for the excuse of an engine hum. You couldn’t say much with that going on in the background. “There’s a lot to think about.”
“Sure,” he said. “And we don’t have to decide right now. Just think it over.”
I nodded. “I will.”
But, I had already decided. I had nothing keeping me back east, not really, not anything at any rate that I couldn’t recreate here given a little time, and there was all this coastline to explore, this lake that could shake off its serenity like a heavy sweater and riot like the most boundless ocean. I got the thought that I’d like to watch that from season to season. It wasn’t enough to keep me going forever, but I reasoned I could get a few years out of it, and then I could move on to the next thing, and then the thing after that, and the one after that, as well. I could keep moving. We couldn’t do that forever, perhaps, but I could. I was sure of that. I could cut over the surface of the water without anything ever sticking to me.
Dan Lopez is a graduate of the creative writing program at the University of Central Florida. He is a past associate artist in residence at the Atlantic Center for the Arts, where he worked with the poet and novelist Sapphire. His poetry has won the Editor's Choice award in Cypress Dome, and his work has most recently appeared in Ducts, Prick of the Spindle and Time Out New York. He currently lives in Brooklyn.
Anna Moller is a fine art and commercial photographer. In 2009, Anna was awarded the honorable mention for "best fine art image" in the New York Photo Festival. She was most recently published in American Photography 25. Anna's latest solo exhibition, The Long Way Home features a series of moody landscapes shot in Varmland, Sweden. Debuting at the Wild Project Gallery in New York City, the work was later commissioned by the United Nations. Anna also shoots for Getty Images. Visit her online portfolio at annamoller.net.
The Acorn are based in Ottawa, Montreal, and Toronto and are happy to be celebrating the release of No Ghost, the follow up to 2007's critically acclaimed Glory Hope Mountain. No Ghost was born after the band retreated to a remote cottage in Northern Quebec to write and record in June 2009 and found themselves singing along with the local birds, lapping lake waves, and amphibious friends (the last of which can be heard in the intro to this song, "Bobcat Goldwraith"). The Acorn is on tour now; check their Myspace profile for dates.