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fiction by Devin Murphy


Years ago, before things got really bad, Terrance skipped work on a Wednesday and we took the kids to Wendt Beach on Lake Erie.  We must not have paid attention to the weather, as it was one of those cool, gray days, with a low sky, that randomly break up the warm summer months.  The wind at the far end of the beach was picking up plumes of sand that looked like giant tan feathers.  The feathers dissolved in the distance and came blowing down the empty strand, scrubbing our faces, so we had to squint and walk with our heads down.  The waves were only slowly lapping at the shore early that morning, but it looked like they had been pounding in overnight and had washed a large swath of driftwood all the way up the beach against the high grass dunes.

Jamie wanted to go home immediately, but the boys were already chasing each other along the shore.  Terrance and I spread out one blanket and wrapped a larger one over our heads and shoulders with Jamie tucked in between us.

Lewis and Connor were running back toward us and falling into the wind.  Their shaggy hair was pulled back off their heads and shimmying wildly.  Lewis tripped and dug his hands into the sand to crawl forward.  They were laughing, and Jamie started laughing too when Terrance told her, “You’ve got a great seat to watch your brothers blow away.”

When the boys reached us, they crawled under our blanket.  Connor was sitting on my lap.  Lewis was draped across Jamie and Terrance and his feet were touching mine.  We tucked the blanket in under each of us so that it draped over our heads like a tent.

“I don’t think this wind is ever going to stop,” Jamie said.

“I can do a rain dance if you want something else to happen,” Lewis said.

The wind sounded hollow, and we all stopped talking as if we’d decided to just sit and listen.  We were the only people on the beach, but the wind searched for us, and it wrapped that blanket tight around our bodies as if we were the only people in the world.

Later in the morning, when the wind died down, I had Terrance go back to our station wagon and get some of our tools.  He brought three hammers, a box of six-inch nails, and a screw gun with screws.  We each made a pile by pulling gnarled logs and branches off the sand drifts towards the middle of the beach.  Each arthritic piece was smooth, water-varnished, and a soft brown with a deep reddish brown at the knots.  We worked on one pile at a time, nailing and screwing the driftwood logs together, making tripods and four corner bases by lining up whatever joints we could.  From there we built up and outward with the thinner branches until it got top heavy, tipped, and resettled.  Then we kept adding more knotted wood, binding the random scraps until the logs bloomed up like an ancient tree.

We worked our way from pile to pile down the beach making the sculptures. Terrance was showing Connor how to carve shapes into the wood with the hammer’s claw.  Jamie and Lewis pushed one of the wood sculptures over.  It caught in the sand and stood there in a different shape.  Then they pushed it over again and again until it was in the lake.  It was buoyant and bobbed on the surface.  When it got warmer that afternoon the boys went in the water.  They leaned against the floating wood and started kicking their legs to push it farther out.

“Boys, that’s far enough,” I yelled to them.  Connor dropped off the log and swam back with those wild overhead strokes that always exhausted him.  Lewis kept kicking the wood tangle in a slow arc back to shore.

When Connor got out, his suit was matted to his skinny legs.  “I’ll dry myself off,” he said and spun himself around in quick circles, his arms flailed out.  “I twirl—I twirl,” he yelled.

When Lewis swam ashore, Terrance walked toward the boys with a towel but they started running away.  Their father chased them among our sculptures, which looked like giant freaky spiders climbing out of the surf.  They weaved between them and called to me and Jamie to help, which we did, and all of us chased each other through the obstacles we’d made.  We yelled each other’s names until our voices settled on the blowing sand and were carried away on that empty wind.


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This essay is featured content from the Summer 2011 issue, The Great Lakes: Love Song and Lament.

For ordering information or to find out more about the contents of this issue, click here.

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