WON THIRD PLACE IN OBLONGATA CONTEST!
Across the Lake
The early August afternoon was shimmering with heat, the sky a washed-out blue in the burning sun, wisps of white clouds here and there. Morgana Cronin stepped out of her summer cottage and walked down to the lake looking for numbers to balance the afternoon, signposts of security to stimulate her mind, the pink grass bristly under her bare feet. Oddly distorted metal trees in bright neon colors lined the shore of the lake, barely providing shade.
Morgana walked among them to test the significance of their skeletal shadows, touched the hot leaves for the meaning of the colors without seeing anything new, felt the slender trunks for an understanding she couldn’t grasp. Intent on bending the afternoon to her questions, she took the few steps to the edge of the lake to imprint her reflection on her mind. The still surface glistened like a sheet of glass under the high sun, throwing back a flickering image she didn’t recognize, her eyes unable to focus on herself in the glaring heat.
She let herself glide into the liquid glass trying to look for her reflection, only to find her body fracturing the calm afternoon, slivers of sunlight prickling her skin. Submersing herself in the warm water to meld her thoughts with the glassy splinters, she pushed out into the lake and began to slide across the sparkling surface with slow, even strokes. Her arms parted the soft water, searching for information with every measured stroke, her mind folding itself into the tell-tale backwash of her swim.
She stopped half-way across the lake, rolled over on her back, and let herself float in the calmness of her search, her eyes shut to the sun, the glass closing in around her. She could taste the stillness, could feel the whispers of the eddying waves, could hear the heat on her face, yet she couldn’t make herself understand. There were pieces missing in her tableau, her mind unable to fill in the blanks, even though she tried her hardest to know what wasn’t there.
Frustrated by her inability to solve the puzzle, she raised her arms over her head and pulled herself through the water on her back, trying not to disturb the silence of her swim. Perhaps she would find the missing pieces on the other shore, would be able to recognize her reflection when she let the lake return to its glassy self. The other shore had always been a better place for her, the grass a much lighter pink and softer to the touch. Her past experiences would help her unravel the mysteries of the lake, she was sure, if she only tried hard enough, and she was always prepared to try.
When she rolled over and started to walk out of the water, the afternoon was much cooler even though the sun was still burning bright in the pale sky. She looked up and saw to her astonishment that a big circus tent she hadn’t seen before covered the other shore. A performance was obviously in progress, the air filled with strange voices, stranger smells, vibrating in eddies of excitement, agitation. The unexpected atmosphere surrounded her like an invisible cloak, sucked her into its spell, her mind losing itself in the sudden unknown when she had been looking for reassurance, justification for her search.
She found herself standing on the back of a galloping horse holding on to a single rein with one hand, racing around a circular arena in a blazing costume, her hair still glassy from her swim. The ring master kept cracking his whip to keep her in the circle when all she had wanted was to keep a straight line. She was spell-bound, clinging to the leather in her hand, waving to a roaring crowd with the other. Worried that she might lose herself, she was trying desperately to keep her life in balance, trying to figure out what it all meant.
The ride finally came to an end and she was sitting on a trapeze high up under the big top, no safety net anywhere. Far below her, a group of clowns was entertaining the crowd while she readied herself for her act. When they completed their antics and disappeared, she let herself fall forward to the gasps of the spectators, caught the bar with the inside of her knees, and swung through the air. Her mind exploded into a confusion of uncertainties, shreds of barely understood questions, images of amazement as she swung through her routine in her search for meaning, the crowd below her wild with applause.
Back down in the ring on solid ground, she contorted her flexible body into the weirdest shapes she could conceive, pretzels, squares, waving jubilations, adding question mark after question mark to her repertoire without being able to hear the answers. Another contortionist mimicked her every move, every convolution, the crowd roaring with laughter, clapping with admiration. For her final act, she folded her body into a perfect ball, her mind into a circular continuum of insecurities and afterthoughts, and rolled out of the ring, out of the tent.
She kept rolling until she reached the shore of the lake, the roar of the crowd gradually dying down, her thoughts a confused conglomeration of surprised perplexities and unsolved enigmas in her inexplicable afternoon. She tumbled into the water still contorted into a ball, then gradually untangled herself from her predicament as she floated out into the glass. Regaining her composure, she slowly pulled herself through the water, trying to plumb the depth of her baffling experience, splintering the glass with her arms in her attempt to recover her old self.
afternoon rolled into evening as she swam back to her own shore,
perplexed yet unexpectedly refreshed and rejuvenated from her strange
communion with the lake. By the time she was back in her cottage, she
couldn’t remember the reasons, only the perturbing heat of the
Peter Baltensperger is a Canadian writer of Swiss origin and the
author of ten books of poetry, fiction, and non-fiction. His work has
appeared in print and on-line in several hundred publications around
the world over the past several decades. He writes, and has been
writing all his life, because he has to and loves to do it, and
because it adds a significant dimension to his personal quest. He
makes his home in London, Canada with his wife Viki and their three