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And then in November we are somehow still swimming, the lake lower than ever, the water so cold it's like walking straight into a martini, says one of us, though I've never drunk a drop of this famous concoction and now I'm sober probably will never know how cold that really is. The mergansers fly so close to the surface their feet could touch it, banking up from gray waves to paler sky, monochrome except for someone's pink bathing cap, their wings flapping hard to keep those fat torsos aloft, the physics of ducks a thing my grandmother taught me long ago, her binoculars trained on some accipiter high in a pine on the Cape, also November, but she saw a flock of eider lift off the Atlantic from the corner of her eye and thought to mention it, the ratio of wing- beats to body weight, maybe one of her regular allusions to my childhood girth, but maybe just a scientist's aside, the way she also instructed me to work from the back claw toward the front while disentangling a jay's foot from the net: do the toes first because that's where they grab and make it worse, then the ends of the wings or the shoulders, whichever seems easiest, all this while holding the bird's head between your index and middle fingers because no one's strong enough to accidentally crush a neck with those and it allows the wings to open without danger of breaking. She taught me laundry and cooking, too, and how to thwart authority after being made to sit two extra hours at the dinner table facing a bowl of stewed tomatoes I hated until she walked out to the dock and I quickly slipped them under the pine duff beside her back door. That was summer though, and Canada, my grandfather still alive (speaking of martinis) and not interfering but rattling his paper on the screen porch so we knew he was there and letting me paddle the Old Town while he fished the next morning, after I'd secured a worm on the hook, mist rising off that other lake at dawn, yes, quite cold, but we were jacketed and zipped up, drinking hot tea from thermoses, and whether it was his way of placating a smart kid's fury at being bossed or he actually liked me, no one will ever know.
Molly Fisk’s many books include The More Difficult Beauty (Hip Pocket Press, 2010).
Copyright 2021 Molly Fisk