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The Girl of the Lake Bill Roorbach Chick Flexhardt grinned at the banner Grandma and he and his cousins and siblings had made a decade past—1961—from felt scraps and home-boiled glue, a dozen colors: WELCOME TO THE LAKE. He himself had cut and glued the last E (and how childish it was, tall and narrow). The screen door banged and here was Grandma herself, undiminished at eighty, bustling up the steps to hug him. Her face was speckled and pale and full of expression, her eyes bright and blue, liquid at sight of him. She smelled of cookies and lotion and woodsmoke and patted at his back as he patted at hers, hugged him longer than he'd been hugged since he was five, pushed him away to look at him, drew him back in. He fell into her willingly and hugged her back willingly. Poor Grandma, all alone now. She knew what he was thinking as always. Cheerily, she said, "This place is a little quiet for just one of me!" She wouldn't make any more direct reference to Grandpa's death, Chick knew, and so Chick would say nothing either. All that could be said about the old man's death, sadness and grief and abiding love and anger, had been in the hug. In the cabin, everything was in place as it had been. Old-fashioned toys, some from Grandpa's childhood, the building blocks GreatGrandfather had made, chewed by a dog named Frisky who was dead almost a hundred years now. "If you'll open some windows, I'll serve cookies and milk." She'd been here a week with the shutters closed! Chick remembered the drill, could hear Grandpa as he carefully flicked the eyehook latches, pushed the shutters open, letting in light plane by plane till the years of dust sailed in it, swirled by the new breeze. The mildew tang left the living room, left the dining room, left the sunroom built out over the retaining wall to the very edge of the water. From the sunroom windows he watched the lake a long time: whitecaps, which, as Grandpa had taught him, meant at least a fourteen-knot breeze. "5 Ecotone: reimagining place Straight out one mile away was Conflagration Island, then another mile to the far shore. Off along this shore to the right was the Gilman place on Abenaki Point, twenty-five rooms seldom occupied, and it didn't look as if anyone were there now. Then the DuPont place, almost hidden in the bassing cove, huge pines unmolested. Next there was the Mulvaney's more modest place with its half-mile of shorefront, looking somehow raw, Chick thought, then realized that most of its large old trees were missing. Further, there were signs of construction, bright plywood gleaming in intervals along the shore where thick forest had always prevailed. Chick recalled all those dozen or more Mulvaney kids Grandpa had made such fun of—they'd been teenagers when Chick was small. They'd be grown-ups now, lots ofbabies in their arms, not a chance to find a person his own age or even close. Grandpa had predicted this: new cabins being built in choice spots on the land old man Mulvaney had bought so presciently when he'd become rich from ball-bearings. To the left, a long bight of untouched shoreline, all the land Grandpa Flexhardt had himself bought up, a stretch called Grandpa's Mile among the family. His money had come from the small-town insurance business Great-Grandpa had started and Grandpa had expanded into national prominence then sold at peak value (such were the terms of the family story), only to fare poorly in subsequent ventures . But faring poorly was all relative—here still was the summer cottage Great-Grandpa had built, here still was the land Grandpa had later purchased outright from a logging outfit, unbroken for one mile, all the way to the rocky point where the cluster of regular houses started, their rear windows facing the lake blandly, as if the water—so glorious— were just a wet backyard, nothing to put a dock in. Working...


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pp. 115-135
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