by Jeremy Luke Hill
Jack put the stovetop espresso maker on the one working eye of the propane stove. Spatter from weeks of cooking formed a kind of mixed-media art around the flame.
Then he walked naked onto the rough-cut cedar porch, following the dirt path to the diving rock. The air was cool enough to give him gooseflesh, but he dove into the water without hesitation, surfacing in the middle of the narrow bay, the estuary of the fast flowing river that passed by his cabin.
Three strokes returned him to the shore. He clambered up the rocks and walked back to the cabin without drying. Water dripped beside the counter as he poured his espresso. He replaced the espresso maker with a cast iron pan and heated two sausages left from the previous night, turning them with his fingers, then eating them straight from the pan without cutlery.
Still naked, his coffee cup in one hand and the second sausage in the other, he went back out the screen door, took a looping path along the river and up through the bush. Mosquitoes settled on him in the still warming morning, but he let them be.
He came to the first of the large wooden sculptures he had arranged among the trees, a kind of abstract totem pole carved from a single upright log, almost three feet thick. There were the suggestions of faces in it here and there - eyes and noses and mouths - but nothing more than suggestions. They always slipped away from the imagination when he looked too closely.
He saluted the carving with his coffee cup. “Morning,” he said. “Any action last night?” He ran a hand, now empty of sausage, along a ridge of wood that might have been a bent arm or maybe a heavy jaw. He scratched beneath it like it was a dog’s neck.
The path took him by other such sculptures, all in much the same style, maybe eight or ten of them all together. He stopped at each, touching them familiarly, speaking to them like favourite pets. He poured the dregs of his espresso in libation at the feet of the final one.
A pair of overalls were hung from a hook on the porch. Jack put them on bare chested, slung a handmade leather bandolier of chisels over his shoulder. He picked up his mallet and a dirty glass jug of water, ambled to the centre of a small clearing beside the cabin. There was another of the sculptures there, though clearly unfinished.
Jack circled it, setting the water jug at the base of a tree as he passed. “You’re an ugly son-of-a-bitch,” he told the sculpture on his third time around. “Let’s see if we can pretty you up a touch.” He selected a chisel from the bandolier and set it against the wood. “Don’t worry,” he said. “This won’t hurt a bit.”
He worked in flurries, stalking around the log for several moments, then striking ten or fifteen blows in quick succession. Wood chips made not quite random patterns around him as the time passed. He stopped only to drink occasionally from his bottle, to fill it when it emptied.
The sound of bicycle wheels on the gravel road made him pause, and then the bicycle itself came up the ruts of the road. It was ridden by a girl, older than a girl by her face, but girlish in her figure, short and slim. She stopped and leaned her bike against a tree, then went to peer into the bay.
She said nothing at all to Jack, and he resumed his work, unconcerned by her interruption of his day.
“Hey,” she said at last, “is this deep enough to dive?”
“In the right spots,” he said, still circling the sculpture.
Jack put the mallet in his belt loop, the chisel in his bandolier, walked to the girl, unhurried. “Right off the end of that rock is plenty deep,” he said. “Plenty.”
“What are you carving?”
He was still looking at the diving rock. “It’s a sculpture. There are some finished ones up along the path.”
She gave a long breath, as if trying to keep her composure. “Show me,” she said again.
He turned back to the unfinished sculpture. “Nope,” he said. “You need to see them for yourself.”
She stayed looking into the water as he went back to work, stayed a good long time. “I’m Neve,” she said then, calling across the open space between them, and she started up the path toward the sculptures.
Jack didn’t answer, didn’t say anything as she made her way through the sculpture garden, but when he saw that she was almost finished, almost returned to where he was working, he laid his tools aside again, went into the cabin and came out with two apples.
“I’m Jack,” he said, as she approached. He handed her an apple.
They ate in silence, standing just beyond arm’s reach of one another. Then Jack went back to his sculpture, circling it as before.
Neve went to the diving rock, stood out on the very edge of it, testing its limits. Then she took off her clothes, put a rock on top of them to keep them from blowing away, though the wind was little more than a breeze. She dove neatly beyond Jack’s view, hardly raising a splash.
Jack looked up at the half-finished sculpture. “What do you think?” he asked. “What’s her deal?” He went to take a drink from the water bottle, laid his tools aside, settled himself on the ground against a tree to wait out the heat of the afternoon.
There was a scrambling sound from the shore, and Neve’s face appeared over the rocks. She hoisted herself up the last ledge with hand and feet, her small breasts jutting. Shaking the water from her hair, she sat on a rock where the sun would find her.
Neither of them moved. A slip of a breeze came from across the lake against her drying hair and the ferns along the treeline. At last she stood and stretched, her hands clenched like those of a child waking. She wandered down the path toward him, trailing her fingers to brush the Queen Anne’s lace and the goldenrod.
Jack closed his eyes as she approached. She sat, straddling his lap. He didn’t start, didn’t even raise his hands from where they lay at his sides, only opened his eyes as if he had expected nothing else. He looked at her, into her delicate face, down her naked torso, said nothing.
She undid the bib of his overalls and laid her hands on his chest, then slipped her arms around him and pressed her cheek just below his shoulder.
“Are you touristing here?” he asked.
“Moved in with my grandparents, the Bissets.”
He turned his head, looking away toward town. “I knew your mother,.” he said. “A long time ago,”
Neve slid her hands up between his shoulder blades, pulled herself tightly against him. The sun began to decline. The trees threw out their shadows steadily, until she at last stood and returned to her clothes. She dressed, looking out into the lake.
Jack remained beneath the tree, watched her retrieve her bike and point it toward town.
“I’ll bring lunch tomorrow,” she called over her shoulder. “I hope you eat egg salad.”
The shadow of the sculpture crept out across Jack’s chest to the place where Neve’s breasts had been.
Copyright © 2017 by Jeremy Luke Hill