Adam Corley was driving his children to the lake cottage. He'd decided someplace familiar would be reassuring. In the back of the Suburban, all four kids wore headphones with large cushioned earpieces. They were watching Monty Python and the Holy Grail for the third time in five hours. They'd left the house at six that morning; Adam told his in-laws they'd arrive in time for lunch. Now he was going too fast up Iowa 60.
Had Jocelyn been sitting next to him, she would have quoted her mother: "Better 'the Corleys were late' than 'The Late Corleys.'"
A bird darted in front of the windshield, then sheared off into the corn. Stands of dark trees—windbreaks for farmhouses—rose at mile intervals from the flat yellow-green fields. The sun glinted off the rounded silver tips of silos. It was a still day in early July.
The car bucketed over a pothole. "Frozen!" Myra yelled from the third row backseat. She was twelve.
Adam pulled the overhead screen toward the front. He glanced up—John Cleese in a chain mail hood—the wedding massacre.
"I said to skip this scene, Grady," Adam said, pushing the forward button.
"It's fake blood," Grady said. He was ten; Monty Python had been his suggestion.
Adam slowed to forty-five when they entered Sheldon.
"Hey guys—it's the giant chicken." He waved his arm to get their attention, and Myra pushed back an earphone. "We're in Sheldon," Adam said, watching her face in the rearview. She loved spotting [End Page 92] the landmarks. "Remember 'Boy holding cheeseburger at the A&W?' Wake up, Effie."
In the middle row, Effie was slumped over an armrest. Myra kicked the back of her chair and Effie jerked awake. "Where we?" she said.
Ben, Effie's twin, looked out his window, then turned back. "Push play now?" he said.
Thirty minutes later Effie screamed. "Giant silver lollipop!"
This time the kids flung their headphones onto the floor. The Wahpeton water tower was the last landmark before the turnoff; Adam could see why Jocelyn had told them that. Three summers back she'd asked Adam to pull over so they could take a picture in front of it. He hadn't stopped. He'd figured they'd get around to it.
The road bent, and now he could see the sliding surface of Lake Okoboji behind the houses and trees. The water was the color of lapis, spotted pewter with cloud shadow.
They pulled up to Jocelyn's parents' house. Adam's father-in-law was a retired physician; now he and Ruth were snowbirds. Iowa in the summer, Phoenix in the winter. The Perrys' Craftsman bungalow overlooked Miller's Bay. It was shingled in slate blue with white trim work, low-slung rooflines, and a wall of French doors facing the lake.
Ruth was waiting on the front porch. Adam stayed in the car and watched the kids pile into her arms. He could tell his mother-in-law was crying when she picked Effie up. Adam smoothed his hair and looked past the house, along the grassy slope of the backyard to the trio of Burr oaks at the edge of the embankment. Below the trees—though from where he sat he couldn't see them—were eight wooden steps leading to the dock and sand beach. Last summer Jocelyn and Myra had painted them to match the bungalow's shingles.
The bay was as quiet as he'd ever seen it: one white sail, children on a water trampoline, a wave runner cutting west. Over the water hung a cloud, flat and grey on its underside, rising into a crisp white peak. Soft-serve ice cream. [End Page 93]
After lunch, they all walked down the street to the cottage Adam and Jocelyn bought when Grady was born. It was a tiny stone structure—620 square feet. The front door was paned in leaded glass and still had the original crystal doorknob. The toilet and shower had been installed in what used to be broom closets. When they bought it, Adam had loved the simplicity...