Denise and the Lake
Denise hopped out of her canoe in the middle of Lake Arrowhead. Her bronze skin glittered under the ripples. Her brown coils unraveled into heavy fabric on her shoulders. She positioned herself to lay afloat as her husband taught her. “Water has to go in the ears, but just a little.”
She resisted. “I don’t like that feeling. I can taste the water through my ears.”
“Put your tongue at the roof of your mouth. Place your head back. Your head will guide the body. If it’s level, you will float.” Her husband coos.
In the lake, Denise did as her husband once told her. Head back, ears in water; butt tucked, toes up. She allowed her body and burdens to be light and carried away.
Her husband died three months ago. He was paralyzed from a motorcycle accident and suffered complications afterward. She remembered him wanting to die.
“I can’t live like this. I can’t walk, lift my hands, scratch. Denise, I’m dead weight, and I’d rather be dead.”
“Don’t say that.” Denise pleaded as she rubbed a damp rag under her husband’s atrophied arm.
“How can I not say that? Look at what you have to do. I can’t protect you, hug you; all I can do is just lay here and let everything happen to me. This isn’t the life I want for you.”
“I know, Marcus, but, for better or for worse.”
“Well, I opt out.”
“Opt out? You can’t opt out.”
“Thanks for telling me again, once more, of what I cannot do.”
“You know I don’t mean that. Come on, babe, you know it’s you and me.” She lifted his wrist and kissed the fish tattoo on the inside of his wrist. It was a matching tattoo they got one drunken night in Cabo.
Weeks after his death, as she forced herself to clean out his room that was once transformed into a small medical unit, she found the empty bottle of meds. She remembered the room’s initial purpose, a nursery. They never conceived, but they painted the walls a sky blue with bubbling clouds. Near the crown molding were red cardinal birds. Preparing the room was their way of hoping for the future. Days after his accident, she hired a few men from Home Depot to paint over the birds a pale grey. As she picked up bottles of meds and bed padding, she remembered granting him the wish of death. Every day for a week, she’d crumble ten pills and mix them in with his oatmeal. In four days, he was dead. She remembered him begging her to do it. Every morning, instead of pleasantries and kisses, he’d say “do it.”
“Marcus, I want you to stop saying that.”
“I’m wet again.”
Denise groaned and lifted his blanket. “It’s fine. We’ll get you cleaned up.”
“I thought about how you can do it.”
It had been a long four years of taking care of Marcus. Keeping him alive had become a full-time job. Their life consumed with doctor’s visits, catheters, antibiotics, IVs. Every two hours, Marcus’ body had to be turned to avoid skin ulcers. On top of it all, Marcus’ attitude turned more pessimistic by the day. Admittedly, she grew tired of it all, too. She raised her brow.
Tears flowed from her eyes to trail into saltwater as she remembered giving in to her husband’s request. She let out a curdling scream mixed with anger and relief. She felt guilty for the blend of emotions that swirled in her body. Looking up at the sky, it was eerily blue, the same blue as their nursery. As she wailed at what she lost, water poured into her mouth. She swallowed the bitter salt, which also tasted like her tears.
After minutes of howling at the taunting blue, she thought about how it held so much hope, all for itself. She laid there on top of the water and reflected on all the sky taken from her. Suddenly, when she felt a nip at her belt. She swatted at it. In her delicate fingers, it felt like a small fish. It came back. She swatted again. The third time, it grabbed her belt and pulled her down, down, down, down into the lake.
Camari Carter Hawkins is a writer from South Central, Los Angeles. She is a poet, self-taught editor, poetry instructor, and author. Her first full-length collection, Death by Comb, released with World Stage Press in May 2016