About the Author

Marjorie Celona

Marjorie Celona received her MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, where she was an Iowa Arts Fellow and recipient of the John C. Shupes Fellowship. Her stories have appeared in Best American Nonrequired Reading, Glimmer Train, and Harvard Review. Born and raised on Vancouver Island, she lives in Cincinnati.

Books by this Author
How a Woman Becomes a Lake
Excerpt

Chapter One

Lewis

He found the car in the second parking lot at Squire Point, doors splayed, engine on. It was a fancy car—something Lewis Côté could never dream of owning. He climbed into the driver’s seat, scanned the expensive leather, ran his hands over the plush black steering wheel, and took the keys out of the ignition. Through the car’s open doors, the snow fell around him, landed on his thighs, and blew into his hair. Someone had drawn a pattern in the condensation on the passenger side window—crosshatches, as if to play tic-tac-toe. Lewis rooted through the glove compartment, checked under the seats, spun around. The back seat was covered in grey and white dog hair, so Lewis whistled and clapped, and after a few minutes, a nice-looking dog—a husky, perhaps—emerged from the woods, its fur caked with snow.

“Hey, boy,” Lewis said, patting the dog’s head and letting the dog lick his hands. “Help me out here.”

They walked together, Lewis having fashioned a makeshift leash from a rope he had in the trunk of his patrol car. The trail was icy and Lewis’s boots slid out from under him. He walked like a duck to keep his balance. The cold air slivered his lungs. There was no reason to draw his gun, but his free hand hovered by his hip, in case.

An hour ago, a woman named Vera Gusev had called the station from the Squire Point pay phone, saying that she had found a little boy. She was at the second parking lot, she said, the boy keeping warm in her car. He had been separated from his father in the woods and was cold but fine--and that was all she said. The sound of her dropping the receiver, it clanging off the side of the phone booth, a muffled cry that could have been “hey” or “wait,” then nothing. Lewis had driven cautiously to the scene, the roads slick. New Year’s Day was a quiet one on the job, everyone asleep, hung over, or in jail from whatever nonsense they’d gotten up to the night before. He cursed himself now for taking his time.

When had it ever been this cold? The blizzard had come at the end of November, blanketing the whole region, and then the temperature had plunged. All anyone could talk about was the weather. Not in eighty years had so much snow fallen. Most people in Whale Bay didn’t even own proper winter coats. Usually it snowed once or twice a year, an inch or two, and melted by the morning. The blizzard was fun at first. School cancelled; everyone out walking. The army was called in to salt the roads. No plows—there wasn’t money for that. Anyone from the East Coast—or the Midwest, as was the case with Lewis—thought this was a non-event, silly even. The high comedy of shovelling a driveway with a cookie sheet, a casserole dish, the lid of a garbage can. The snow was so high that children knocked down foot-long icicles from the street lights and used them as swords.

Only one death so far: a man whose car had filled with carbon monoxide as he waited for his windshield to defrost, the tailpipe clogged with snow. There wasn’t much sympathy for him. Should’ve known better. Maybe suicide then. A homeless man had almost died of hypothermia, but was fine—had been interviewed by the local news while eating a dish of ice cream in his hospital bed.

Of course, the requisite traffic accidents and power outages. A fist fight in a grocery store over the last carton of milk. Some looting. A collapsed roof, a destroyed greenhouse. Mostly, though, the eerie silence that accompanies so much snow, and the inevitable camaraderie from enduring an out-of-the-ordinary event. A return to kindness, Lewis thought. The simplicity of survival. He had missed the snow.

He was twenty-four, attractive yet baby-faced, unmarried and without children—still a boy in some ways, even though he carried a baton and a gun. He got a little thrill when he told people what he did for a living. “So young!” they said and he wanted to say, “Do you think I haven’t paid my dues? Do you think I don’t deserve it?” He wondered when he would stop being young. When he would cease to be the baby of the department. When all the joshing, the incessant joking around about his boyish looks, would stop. He felt himself to be a deeply earnest person. A good person. Even as a boy, he had a knack for reading people, a skill he attributed to his father, who was crazy in an invisible, functional way, so that Lewis had spent much of his life trying to piece together what had made his childhood so fraught, and why as a child he had been so nervous and unhappy. His mother had died so long ago that he had almost no memories of her, but there was an uncle he planned to contact someday, who he hoped could provide answers. But Lewis hadn’t gotten around to it yet. It seemed like such a huge undertaking: to go after the truth like that.

It was snowing again. It had been snowing all day and the forest was silent except for Lewis’s footfalls and the heavy panting of the dog. The dog pulled hard on the leash and Lewis had to brace himself on a tree trunk so he wouldn’t spill forward.

“Whoa, boy,” he said, then again more forcefully, snapping the leash a bit. But the dog was unrelenting and led him off the trail and into the woods. The snow fogged his glasses and Lewis could taste it on his lips, metallic and cold. He hoped he wasn’t about to uncover some grisly scene, though he did feel something bubbling up within him, something like excitement. He looked behind him, trying to memorize his way back to the trail. Squire Point was a confusing place. There were two parking lots with trailheads—both led to a large reservoir with a swimming hole that locals called “the lake”; the second trail cut through a small campground. The trails were unmarked and it was easy to go in circles. People often got lost, but all were usually found within a few hours. There were only so many ways a person could go.
“Vera Gusev? Hello?”

Why come out here in such bad conditions? Why not stay home? The dog leapt over a fallen tree and Lewis scrambled over it, caught his pant leg on a branch. He felt the snow creep into his socks, cold water between his toes. His hands burned. He passed the abandoned campground, and then he and the dog were standing at the edge of the lake, frozen over and covered with a dusting of snow. The dog whined and pulled against the leash, wanting to go out onto the ice.

“No, no,” he said to the dog. “Bad idea.”

Although the snow was falling fast, Lewis thought he could make out a trail of footprints on the ice. He squinted, snow in his eyelashes. Nothing. The footprints were gone. He hoped Vera and the boy hadn’t wandered onto the ice. People thought frozen lakes were stable, and they walked out onto them. People did this sort of thing all the time. They drove snowmobiles and trucks onto lakes! Lewis had done this as a boy every winter, in his father’s red pickup truck, on Lake Mendota. Even there, two or three people fell in every year, fishermen mostly, their bodies pulled out—sometimes alive, sometimes not—covered in icicles. That was the trouble with frozen lakes. There was no way to tell the thickness of the ice, nor the depth of the water beneath.

“Okay, boy,” Lewis said to the dog, and the dog sat, obediently, by Lewis’s side. The snow stopped, as if someone had flicked a switch. Now that the sky had cleared, Lewis could see the great iced-over expanse of the lake, a pale blue colour like a wolf’s eye, and the bright swatches of beach sand that lay below the ice, looking almost tropical despite the cold. A bird loitered on a branch, repeating its song. Lewis put his hand on top of the dog’s warm head. His hand seemed to mould perfectly to the shape of the dog’s head, as if it was meant to be there, meant to fill the emptiness of his hand. How did anyone get through life without a dog? He’d had a border terrier when he was a boy, and perhaps that was why he was largely okay, despite what he had been through with his father. Someone had to love you unconditionally in order for you to survive. Someone had to love you as much as you needed to be loved.

He scanned the lake, but there was no one. No signs of anyone having fallen through. He looked at the dog, tongue out, expectant. He heard the rumble of an airplane overhead. What can you see that I can’t see? What do you know that I don’t know? If Vera Gusev and the lost boy were out there, in the forest or under the ice, the lake, the dog, the plane, the sky—they gave away nothing.

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edition:Hardcover
also available: Paperback
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