The Crowd

by Keith Krogstad


Evelyn opened all the windows of the diminutive lake house, then stripped to her underwear. It wasn’t even noon yet, and already the mercury was steadily creeping well into the eighties.

For the better part of the morning, Evelyn sat on the sofa, losing herself in a stack of celebrity gossip magazines she kept on the coffee table, and after she was up to date on which young starlet was in or out of rehab, she made herself a glass of iced tea, threw on a cotton t-shirt, and started for the screen door.

Outside, the pine trees stood still in the muggy July heat, and the wooden deck bordered by a thicket of dense green shrubbery was warm under Evelyn’s bare feet. She plopped into a wicker chair next to the barbeque, and stared out.

From the vantage point of the wooden deck, Evelyn had a stunning view of the lake, which was no more than fifty yards from her property. In the distance, children shouted and splashed in the water, and further out, several motorboats droned on, tugging both inexperienced and seasoned water skiers alike.

When Evelyn finished the last of her iced tea, she placed the glass off to her right, and stood up. Her shirt stubbornly clung to her sweaty back. She watched the humble crowd on the beach for a few minutes, waiting for the sun to rise higher and attract more people, anticipating the arguments over who called what patch of sand first, expecting the tranquil conversations to smear into an imperceptible bundle of angry bickering.

But the people never came. No more than two dozen people littered the sandy beach, all smiles and laughter, all sharing the same desire to escape the heat and enjoy it at the same time. Evelyn stood at the edge of the wooden deck, resting her forearms against the splintered railing. She raked her damp bangs from her eyes, and the palms of her hands tingled, sweating slightly.

Her eyes followed a little girl who was waist deep in the lake, her red hair pulled in pigtails, whipping her arms through the water, splashing an older girl tanning on the beach. The tanning girl shouted an idle threat at the redhead, who was laughing hysterically.

Evelyn felt the tug of loneliness in her heart, and her stomach swirled with a burgeoning optimism. She wanted to walk down to the beach, lay a towel on the warm sand, and converse and laugh with the mirthful crowd. And when it got too hot, she’d cool off with a dip in the sapphire waters of the lake, then rejoin her new friends at the picnic tables for lunch. The people on the beach were so friendly, so accepting, so understanding.

Evelyn walked to the set of steps at the edge of the wooden deck. Her heart pounded in her chest. What if they are like the others, she thought and then shook her head. No, that’s nonsense, dear! Listen to their laughter, just listen... Oh, how saccharine it is! It would be a crime not to join in.

And the voice in her head was right. Every outburst of laughter inexorably weakened her ambivalence. The sight of a toddler tripping over a boxer puppy triggered a giggling fit from Evelyn, setting her feet in motion. Her face flushed with heat.

Her bare feet left the wood steps of the deck, and met the narrow, hard packed dirt trail which snaked its way through a coppice of young pines and down to the beach. Her movements were deprived of any fluidity, and she had an unshakable feeling that every pair of eyes within ten miles was on her, watching with a cynical intensity.

Through the dense foliage, Evelyn could see the picnic tables, and scrambled glimpses of people on the beach; a sunburned back here, a flash of blonde hair there. A male voice asked if someone wanted mustard or mayonnaise on their sandwich, and a girl begged for mommy to watch her cartwheels.

Nearing the end of the trail, Evelyn stopped before the sandy beach, which lay motionless and foreboding, speckled with footprints. Evelyn’s breathing became shallow and frantic. She took a deep breath, closing her eyes. The thumping of her heart muffled the serene noises on the beach. You’re so close! One more step, and that’s it! Don’t give up now! Just one more...

With a heavy, seemingly endless step, Evelyn’s foot sank into the soft sand. A blast of excitement and happiness exploded in her. After years of coming to the lake house, she was finally on the beach, and how liberating it was! Her lower lip quivered, tears collected in the corner of her eyes. No one notices you. No one even cares that you’re out. You were right all along! No one notices you! And who could blame them? On such a beautiful day, how can anyone have a shred of cruelty in their heart!

Evelyn opened her eyes, and standing in front of her, was the redheaded girl, holding a chocolate ice cream cone that dripped down her hand. Evelyn cleared her throat, and smiled warmly. “Hello, darling. My name’s Evelyn.”

The melting ice cream cone fell to the sand.

And for the next ten minutes, the redheaded girl cried and cried, shrieking to her parents about a woman with the face of a monster in the bushes near the lunch tables. Her father searched with her for a good half-hour (more in an effort to calm his distressed daughter than in the expectation of actually finding anything), looking for an elusive trail where the girl said she saw the woman. But it was never found.

Less than an hour later, the laughter resumed.


Copyright © 2008 by Keith Krogstad

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