We were having a rough time--me with life, you with me--and we took a day out of the struggle to go swimming. I suppose I could undergo years of therapy to understand why I took out Alabama on you, but let's just say I was a mean fool. The relentless heat and humidity, the overbearing pace of grad school, the rapist that came to the screen door that day, the cockroaches marching in the leaves at night, the acrid fog of mosquito spray in the air, the relentless questions about whether we were married and which church we attended, the seemingly endless parade of objectionable morons with guns, including the idiot in the yard next door who shot bee-bees into a writhing squirrel he had locked in a cage... . It was all too much.
So it was off to Lake Nicol and the cool water we had heard so much about north of Tuscaloosa proper, out beyond the yacht club, tucked between the quarries along New Watermelon Road. We had a cooler of soda pop and sandwiches. We were planning a soft day. I left the books at home, the novels for that survey in modern British literature, my half-drafted short story about dog racing. What was it you left behind that morning?
Was it the resentment that you had followed me out to Alabama and its withering heat from our lovely home in the woods overlooking Monterey Bay and 65-degree summer fog? That you left the comfort of a loving family and a decent-paying job to take your place in the Women's Study department with its office in, of all places, Manley Hall? You must have left a lot behind that morning on our drive to Lake Nicol, because you were loving and kind and happy.
You had your new car with its moonroof and bright paint and the sun danced between the kudzu vines and dappled the road in shadows. We stopped at a country store at Sexton Bend for ice and laughed uneasily at the Rebel flags and fishing worms in the cooler, the Styrofoam cups of nightcrawlers stored right beside foil-wrapped sandwiches and microwave burritos.
By the spillway we stopped and watched the columns of heat rising off the water and the rooster tails of speedboats crisscrossing the lake. It was a struggle to get out of the air conditioned car, grab the blankets and food from the trunk, and head down the dirt track to the picnic area. Before we had gone 50 yards, we were soaked in sweat and your hand was wet when I took it in mine. Lord knows we needed a break.
But once we were under the shade of the pines and changed into our swim trunks, we saw that swimming would be impossible. Out on the landing, where the sand sloped into the cool green lake, hundreds of cottonmouths sunned on the rocks and darted through the water. You flushed and looked for a place to sit, but they were everywhere around us, and even as we went back under the pine trees, we saw them under the tables and curled around the fire pit, slithering through the brush, moving through the shadows, all around where we had left our clothes.
That night, back in our hotbox apartment, trapped in the bedroom where we had the single window air conditioner, we lay in bed watching bad television, rushing out for a quick dip in the bathtub we had filled with cold water, and back atop the towels we spread out over the sheets. At 3am it was still 103 degrees out in the dark Tuscaloosa night, with two more months of summer stretching out before us, venomous. It was a very small room and that night the kitty brought a cockroach into bed as a prize between her teeth.
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