Those first summers at the lake we were practically feral children, our hair long and sun bleached and matted in rats’ nests, our ragged fingernails dirty half-moons except when we first came out of the water, pruney and smelling of the silt that clung to downy hairs on our arms and legs in a thin, brown film. Our bodies were still the bodies of children, our muscles lean and long, our feet callused and our skin tanned honey gold. We loved summers at the lake.
In the mornings we would tumble out of whatever bed we had fallen asleep in—sometimes our own, but just as often each other’s. We would pull off our clothes from the day before and slip into our swimsuits, threadbare and see-through, barely hiding our pale private parts. And then we would race to the pier.
Our dads would be there already, sitting on the edge, talking quietly over coffee, their bare feet dangling in the water. They were scientists, biology professors at neighboring universities in the Twin Cities. Our mothers were graduate students in literature. This was the third summer our moms had brought their old manual typewriters and boxes of onion-skin paper and stacks of musty library books to the lake so they could write while our dads did experiments having to do with algae and pesticide runoff and the food chain. Each morning as we trampled gleefully down to our fathers, spraying them with our cannonballs, they would shout at us to be careful!—and just ahead of our heedless stampede, they would rescue the neat row of capped test tubes, erect like toy soldiers in a little stand beside them, full of that morning’s lake water samples. And then they would laugh and shake their heads and drink their coffee.
In the evenings, when it got late enough, Gun and I would wait for the little kids to fall asleep, and while we waited we would whisper and wonder about the mysteries of the universe, and we would make our plans. [End Page 35]
“If you took everything away—the planet Earth and the solar system and the Milky Way galaxy”—I was lying on my back on the bottom bunk of the bed in the slanting attic dormer, staring up into the dim bulb of the reading lamp clamped to the frame of the bed; when I closed my eyes, the image of the bulb stayed bright against the backs of my eyelids and I silently counted how many seconds before it faded away—“if you took away the whole universe and every single star and planet—”
“There would still be interstellar matter. Gas and dust and shit.” Gun was also on his back, lying the opposite way, with his feet by my head.
“No, I mean everything. Every single molecule and atom and proton and neutron and electron and—”
“Right, and every quark, and everything. If you took it all away—”
“But where would you put it?”
“Shut up, Gun. You’re not listening. My point is, here would still be here. Even if all the stuff was gone. Here would still be here. Wouldn’t it?”
Gun propped himself up on his elbows. “I don’t know. Who gives a fuck?”
When Gun had turned eleven earlier that summer, he had decided things were going to be different. “No more Mr. Nice Guy,” he had said solemnly. “I’m going to start stealing beer from the grownups, and maybe smoke. And swear a lot. And shit.” Now every other word was shit or fuck.
“I do,” I said, wiggling my big toe into his armpit. “Stop being a jerk.”
He elbowed my legs away. “Sit on it.”
“You sit on it.”
“No, you sit on it. And rotate.”
“Your feet stink.”
“Your vagina stinks.”
“Gross! Shut up. You are so gross.”
“Shhh!” he said, and pointed at the door. “The grownups are coming!”
I flipped the light off and we both rolled onto our sides, relaxing our faces, making our jaws go slack. Gun and I were masters at faking sleep, unlike the little kids, who ruined it every...