We are sitting on the jetty, a plate of perfect sunshine yellow watermelon slices between us. The plate is made from blueish-green glass spotted with bubbles, slightly uneven in a way which is supposed to suggest that it was made by an artisan, and each slice of watermelon is miraculously proportionate in relation to the others, neatly arrayed like the petals of a flower and looking as though they were artfully arranged when in fact a few deft slices of the cleaver did the work.
It is a climate which people who seem to know these things would call “alpine,” outcroppings of granite and tiny star-like flowers hidden like treasures, fantastically coloured lichens and bristling trees. The lake is one of many caught like a fly in amber in this place, clear waters dark and blue, small and splendid. At night, tiny lights sparkle in the trees and sometimes it is hard to tell where the fireflies end and the artificial lights begin.
The jetty is silvery with weathering and velvety with age, smoothed and softened by scores of footfalls across a myriad of summers. I imagine, for a moment, that each passerby left a bright wake and that the jetty comes alive with trails of blazing light. There is, of course, a rowboat, with faded paint and rickety oarlocks, which appears to be of dubious provenance and even more doubtful seaworthiness. I am told that sometimes people use it to venture to the opposite shore, which is not so far away, but far away enough, I suppose.
Let me tell you something about sunshine yellow watermelon: It is exactly like eating sunshine yellow watermelon. With each bite the pieces crisp, schhhhhhck, in your mouth and then there is an explosion of sweetness and something underlying which is slightly more complex. And when you swallow, the juices trail down your throat and tickle your tastebuds.
She picks the seeds out of her slices before she eats them, flicking them neatly into the water around the jetty and sometimes a fish lazily drifts up, eyes a seed, and then gulp, pops up to take it. I, on the other hand, spit my seeds out, pop so that they burst into the water or land just short, on the edge of the jetty, and then I steathily push them over with a brush of my hand. She is the one who cut the watermelon, and its insistence on order is perhaps a reflection of her neatness and attention to detail, just as the slices would be ragged and uneven if I cut them, because while I desperately long for order, everything around me seems to fall into disorder without any effort on my part.
The soft and tightly coiled curls of her hair are drawn back and her eyes are huge and dark and her orderly fingers pick neatly at each slice, and our legs dangle over the edge, stopping short of the water but somehow feeling refreshed and cooler just from their proximity to the glassy surface of the lake. Her toenails are pointed forest green, I notice, with meticulously even and smooth surfaces which suggest that she put a clear coat over them so that they wouldn’t be ruined. The gold hoops in her ears glow against her skin and her toe ring winks back at me as strands of cloud drift overhead.
There is a deep, quiet stillness here, so dead in the heat of the afternoon that even the insects cannot muster up the energy to call out, not a breath of wind to disturb the grasses which might otherwise rustle, not an animal astir in the woods. The air is thin and clean and clear and it smells faintly of straw and something else undefinable, ground stone, perhaps, blended with turpenes from the trees.
It is just us here, the family has gone to town for groceries and to seek refuge from the heat in the air conditioned movie theatre, leaving us on the jetty, her skim shimmering with heat while mine slowly reddens and blushes despite the sunscreen. I might care, I should care, but I am only here for a few days and I refuse to skulk inside in the warmth of the day when she is outside and there is watermelon; I will burn and crack and peel but the worst of it will not happen until I am gone, lifted up and returned to earth near sea level where fog and ocean wrap me in a blanket and it never gets too warm.
It would be oppressive but somehow it is not. It it hot, yes, but dry, and the watermelon is cool and refreshing and as I think this, she wriggles out of her sundress and leaves it pooled on the jetty, knifes into the water so smoothly that she creates hardly a ripple, and she strokes deep and long to the middle of the lake, and then back again, splashing me playfully. Drops of water appear, bright specks, on my jeans and I flail at her with one foot and she laughs, turns like a seal in the water, and darts away again.
I am almost regretful to leave the watermelon but the water is so cool and inviting and she teases me and I shrug out of my own clothes, folding them neatly with my glasses on top, and lumber into the water. It is not cool. It is cold. Shockingly, icy cold, and I gasp because I feel like the wind has been knocked out of me and then roll onto my back, hands behind my head, to drift wherever the lake will take me.
We will have all afternoon before the family comes back, she whispers in my ear when she surfaces, hot breath and a faint suggestion of her lips along the margins of my ear.
Oh really, I say.