Short Story: Compliments of Lake Superior Short Story: Compliments of Lake Superior | Shades of Crimson

Short Story: Compliments of Lake Superior

by Davina on September 12, 2010

Prelude to the story

The Superior Connection is my first attempt at writing fiction; my first short story. It was born from a third 100-word writing challenge where I chose to use nine specific words*. If you’re interested in the nine words, I have written them at the end of this post. The first section of this story takes place on the front porch of a farmhouse. It was the original 100-word piece and has since been edited to launch into this short story.

Mother Nature’s graceful (and sometimes not so graceful) presence helps to tell the story and add to the atmosphere.

I first saw Lake Superior when I drove across Canada with my father in August of 2002. It took my breath away. That was eight years ago and the memory is still strong.

While I was writing this I found myself, for some strange reason, remembering Lake Superior. And so, I wrote that memory into the story. As it ended up, this supported the plot quite nicely. What I love about writing fiction is that you can take elements of the truth and stretch them any way you want. The story takes place in a farmhouse that represents the same farmhouse I grew up in on Granite Hill Road in northern Ontario.

I hope you enjoy reading this as much as I did writing it. Just so you’re aware before you start reading; this post, in its entirety, is over 2,700 words and should take about 10 to 15 minutes to read.

Dedication: I’m dedicating this to my father, Dave. If we hadn’t driven across Canada I would have never experienced the surreal beauty and incredible depth of presence I felt from seeing Lake Superior. Without that, this story would have never been written.

The Superior Connection

Vanessa was standing on the front porch of the farmhouse, deep in thought. Her stony gaze waded beyond where she stood, casting those thoughts forward into the fog, to where she could not yet see. The welcome mat was rough beneath her bare feet, rousing her senses from their recent sleep. It was not welcoming, though she felt connected in that space and thankful for a small island of clarity.

Cold droplets from the frosted beer mug trickled past her wrist, pooling at her bracelet before dripping onto her feet. Threatening storm clouds hung low, just above the distant treeline in the pasture behind the barn. The trees in the apple orchard stretched upwards, their rugged branches reaching above a gentle blanket of white fog. The morning was haunting. So was Reg’s not-so-distant memory.

Above her, an airplane carved a solitary path across the sky, painting wispy visions of departure. She raised her mug, “Cheers”.

A lightning flash startled her and the beer mug tumbled. His last Corona spilled at her feet. Thunder rumbled a hearty applause as she bent down to retrieve the mug, setting it aside. It was still in one piece.

“Mother… breakfast.” Her daughter was calling her from the kitchen.

Wearing a paltry smile, she headed inside, letting the porch door swing shut behind her.

The table was neatly set for one. Hope was standing at the stove, wearing old blue jeans and a baggy white cotton blouse that hung casually below her waist. Her long red hair was loosely tied back in a pigtail and she was leaning over a pan of sizzling bacon.

Vanessa took her place at the table without a word, inhaling deeply, enjoying the appetizing breakfast aroma. It was comforting but her comfort was quickly overshadowed by a pang of guilt that it was Hope at the stove cooking breakfast for her. Again.

She’d appreciated Hope’s company after Reg had left just over a month ago, thankful for having salvaged something from their marriage. However, with the impending end of the marriage heavy on their minds, the past few weeks had been difficult. Vanessa desperately wanted to reconnect with her daughter; to tell her the truth. But she’d been unable face the truth herself.

If it were not for family, the farm could be a lonely place. Located in a remote wooded area on Granite Hill Road, it was a 40-minute drive to town and the nearest neighbour was a few miles away. Hope had been home most days during the month of July. Having just graduated from high school, she was soon to start university in preparation for admission to a master’s program in criminology.

Though much of her spare time had been spent in her room, it was comforting for Vanessa to know there was another person in the house. Hope had cooked most of the meals, taken care of the three horses, tended the garden and kept the house stocked with groceries.

Depressed, Vanessa hadn’t been out of the house for weeks, except for the short trip to the porch this morning. That had been progress.

“You shouldn’t be drinking so early.” Hope was standing behind her with a plate of toast.

Vanessa sensed the disapproving stare and choosing to ignore her daughter, took a sip of coffee. Impatiently, Hope set the plate of toast on the table in front of her mother without another word. Then she took her mother’s empty plate to fill it with bacon, eggs and fried potatoes.

Another flash of lightning startled Vanessa and she almost spilled her coffee, just like the Corona on the porch.

Thunder rumbled. From where Vanessa sat she could see the apple trees in the orchard swaying, like they were being stirred by the mass of swirling clouds that darkened the sky above them. The curtains fluttered and the wind whistled through the window screen. Hope appeared suddenly and slammed the window shut, harder than was necessary, Vanessa thought.

She set the breakfast plate down in front of her mother and sat across the table from her.

“You’re not eating?”

“I ate a couple of hours ago; after doing the chores.” There was a sharp edge to Hope’s tone of voice.

Rain had begun pelting against the window pane and the lights flickered. The two women sat at the table in silence; each more aware of the other than of the storm outside.

The toast was dry and Vanessa washed it down with another sip of coffee. Her stomach was upset and she couldn’t decide if it was from the beer, the storm… or something else.

“Shit!” Hope was staring down at herself. “There’s bacon grease splattered on my new blouse.”

“You should have known better than to wear it while frying bacon.”

“You’re welcome… mother.”

“Bacon’s good,” she managed with a mouthful of food.

Vanessa wondered why her daughter was still sitting there; it was out of character. Hope usually left the kitchen right after cooking breakfast to do some reading in her room or spend time roaming around the farm. It was unnerving the way she was staring at her from across the table. They’d barely spoke these last few weeks and Vanessa had become accustomed to her time alone. Conversation with a resentful 19-year-old was the last thing she wanted, but she knew she had to reach out to her daughter soon. It had to be today.

Hope stood up. She took a piece of bacon from Vanessa’s plate, stuffed it in her mouth and licked her fingers. Vanessa stared after her, puzzled, watching as she crossed the kitchen towards the bar. She poured herself a glass of red wine, lingering there briefly before returning to the table.

“Cheers,” she raised the glass to her mother and sipped the wine defiantly. Vanessa admitted to herself that her stomach wasn’t upset from the beer or because of the storm. The lights flickered again a couple of times before going out.

Mother and daughter were left sitting in a gray, shadowy kitchen. Vanessa rested her feet firmly on the hardwood floor, attempting to redefine the island of clear space she’d found while standing on the porch outside. Collecting her thoughts was difficult while under Hope’s watchful, almost expectant eye. She did seem to be waiting for something, Vanessa thought. Or waiting to say something; she couldn’t be sure.

The grandfather clock in the next room announced midday. The two women listened as 12 long chimes rang through the kitchen, wrapping them closer together in the magnitude of the moment. The next rumble of thunder paled in comparison.

Hope glanced at her watch, even though the clock had just struck 12 noon. Vanessa found herself wishing that Reg was there to break the spell they both seemed to be under. Had it only been five weeks since he’d left?

“I dreamt of Lake Superior last night.” Hope broke the silence. “Remember when dad and I drove across Canada last summer?”

Vanessa glanced up briefly and caught Hope’s eyes. They were a beautiful sapphire blue; piercing. She felt like Hope could see right through her. Vanessa quickly looked away, wishing she couldn’t remember their trip across Canada. Things would never be the same.

“I love northern Ontario,” Hope continued. “It’s just so rugged and remote. Untouched. When I saw Lake Superior for the first time, I felt like I was hypnotized. Dad pulled off of the highway so we could watch it. It felt like that lake was looking deep into me, you know? Like it was looking through me or drinking from me. I imagined it knew we were there and that it was watching us.”

Vanessa had become caught up in her daughter’s recollection and couldn’t help but meet Hope’s gaze. They were connecting with each other for the first time in months. Hope faltered under Vanessa’s stare before continuing.

“Ms. Superior seemed to be stretching out her arms across the horizon, inviting us in. The water was still that day and her surface looked like a skating rink, glistening in the sunshine. Mom, it was deceiving looking! Seemed that if I went to the water I would be able to walk across it. I don’t remember how long we sat there, but it seemed like forever.”

Hope paused to light a cigarette and the story trailed off — as did Vanessa. She watched her mother idly pick through her breakfast, finding it hard to believe they were mother and daughter.

Aside from sharing the same colour of eyes and hair, they were two very different people. Vanessa was an artist and had just turned 39. She avoided socializing, preferring to keep to herself. It had been her idea to buy the farm because of its remote location.

Vanessa was emotionally distant, and had become increasingly so since Hope and Reg’s return from their trip last summer. She was a woman of mystery and few people were willing to get close enough to know any more than she was willing to reveal.

Hope was more like her father; adventurous, expressive and determined; eager to share and connect with people. Though lately, she’d adopted some of her mother’s characteristics, hiding in her room and spending as much time as she could outside, away from Vanessa.

Despite living together, just the two of them in the farmhouse for the past month, and after everything Hope had done for her mother, they’d continued to grow apart. There was a wall between them that neither believed the other was willing to break through.

Vanessa continued to play with her food, dangling the fork lazily between her fingers. Hope had always thought her mother had beautiful hands. Her fingers were long and shapely, and when she spoke… when she spoke… her hands did more of the storytelling than she did.

The lights flickered on and Hope continued talking. “So, in my dream, dad and I were back at Lake Superior, sitting on a log by the water. Suddenly, the water came alive. It was breathing. It grew long fingers that crawled from the shore, towards us across the sand. They carried dad away. He didn’t have a choice.”

Rain was pounding on the kitchen window. The noise was thunderous and made both women shiver.

“I screamed and tried to run after dad but the water formed a wall between us and wouldn’t let me pass. I couldn’t walk through the wall. It was solid; not like real water. Dad disappeared and I sat there crying.”

There was an unmistakable sound of a car engine in the driveway just then. Hope flicked ashes into the ashtray and stood up. “I miss dad.”

The lights flickered again but stayed on. Vanessa couldn’t look up from her plate. She didn’t want to.

“Let me take that.” Hope seemed uncharacteristically awkward trying to bridge the gap between them. She carried her mother’s unfinished breakfast plate to the counter and then returned to the table to butt out her cigarette and swallow the last of the wine.

Hope set the empty glass down and stood there, towering above Vanessa. Their eyes met briefly, before the front door opened. Reg entered and stood in the doorway waiting expectantly, his gazed fixed on Hope and then on Vanessa.

“Ready?” Was all he said, to no one in particular.

Without a word, and very much to Hope’s surprise, Vanessa rose from her chair and strolled across the kitchen, retrieving the suitcase that Hope had left behind the bar.

“You knew I was leaving?”

Vanessa said nothing. She handed the suitcase to Hope and leaned forward to kiss her lightly on the cheek. “Love you,” she somehow managed through the lump in her throat. There was so much more to say.

Hope set the suitcase down. Slightly thrown, she reached for her mother, determined to hold the tears at bay. They hugged and Vanessa felt a glimmer of hope, daring to believe they would renew their connection. She would miss her daughter if she stayed at her father’s too long, but had convinced herself it was best Hope didn’t know the truth; at least for now. She was afraid that if she knew now, she might never forgive her.

“Mother…?” Hope pulled out of their hug rather decisively. “I know what happened last summer while dad and I were up at Lake Superior. I know about the affair you had.” And with that, she picked up her suitcase and walked out the door, pausing on the porch to wait for her father, with her back facing them.

A breeze blew in through the open door, sweeping past Reg, swirling, reaching for Vanessa. She felt exposed and cowered from the sudden intensity of the truth. She closed her eyes as the wind wrapped around her, tousling her already unkempt hair.

Her eyes opened again with the realization that ironically, Reg had broken the spell between the two of them. She considered how in her daughter’s dream, Lake Superior had separated Hope from her father. And now, as if by some cruel twist of karma, in Vanessa’s reality, Ms. Superior had returned to separate her from her daughter.

“I’m sorry.” Reg handed Vanessa the beer mug she’d left on the porch and followed his daughter outside. Vanessa watched the car back down the driveway and disappear.

It had stopped raining. Long fingers of mist rose from the ground in the orchard, painting wispy visions of departure. Vanessa stood on the porch holding the empty beer mug, the welcome mat rough beneath her feet.

Copyright: 2010 Davina Haisell
Photo credit: Benimoto

* * * * * * * *

And so there you have it. My first child, lol.

If you had to write this from the point after Vanessa leaves the porch, how might you write it?
1. What might the dream sequence be?
2. Do you think Hope made up that dream? What do you want to believe? Why?
3. What secret would you write about that Hope and Vanessa are keeping from each other?
4. Did you suspect what Vanessa’s secret was?
5. At the end, who else might drive up in the car besides Reg?

Oh, the possibilities….

If you’re up for the challenge… maybe you’d like to write a new ending.

*The nine words that I started out with were: mist, bracelet, airplane, heron, apple, account, yum, doormat, scope

Accidental Pun — when I was typing in a keyword tag, I “happened” to type “shore story” instead of “short story” — How perfect is that? LOL.

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