by Conor Rowell
The island. I guess it wasn’t an island in the proper sense. We had read about islands in our textbooks and they were in the ocean. The first time I saw it, when I was six or so, I remember it reminded me of Mama’s collages. She would always have stacks of magazines in the study and she’d get awful sore if we tried to read any of them. But she let us see the finished pieces, and that’s what the island looked like. It looked like God, or maybe God’s mom, cut a smallish island out of the sea and dropped it into the lake. My brother took me the first time when I saw it from his car as he turned around in the lot to avoid the parking fee.
“Ain’t she a beaut’?” Rick asked me as he sped past the pay station. So that’s what I thought the island was called: Beaut Island.
Rick was born fifteen years before me, which leads to a lot of confusion when explaining it to others. I don’t remember Rick’s dad, who was also my dad, if only briefly, but Rick really never recovered from his death. When our extended family spoke of Rick, it was usually in a hushed tone, the kind that kids aren’t supposed to hear. Looking back, I guess I learned about my brother from everyone else, not really from him. Maybe it was the age difference.
Beaut Island was never far from my mind after that. Some kids in class would talk about people who actually made it to the island. We didn’t understand why we couldn’t go in the lake at the time, so we supplied our own seven year old explanations.
“Ya can’t go there, the witches will get you!”
“I heard they scream at night!”
“That island is where their lair is…”
When I asked Rick about the lake witches, he laughed at me.
“Ain’t no witches out there,” he said, polishing his hunting rifle, “You know what? We’ll go out there, the island, this week. How ‘bout that?”
The day before we were set to go to the island, I got home and heard Mama crying. She cried sometimes and it usually happened while she was making collages in the study. But she wasn’t in the study, she was in her bedroom with her door shut. I heard it get louder then quieter and Rick met me at the front door.
“Come with me,” Rick pushed me out of the door and walked me toward his truck,” so, our adventure tomorrow, you ready?”
Of course I was ready, I wanted to say. But I nodded instead, as the mood fit.
“Good. So, you’re gonna meet me there tomorrow around noon. I fixed your bike up, so it will get you to the island and we’ll have our adventure, got it?”
I didn’t ask how my bike could get over the water, but if Rick said I could, then it must be true. He gave me a map of the lake and showed me how to get to the island. He rubbed my hair and said he’d see me tomorrow. As he got in the truck, he paused and pointed to Mama’s room.
“Don’t worry about her, she just needs some rest. I left you some supper in the icebox, just keep the noise down, yeah?”
I nodded again, and he drove off, plotting tomorrow’s adventures.
I was tired when I got to the lake. I hadn’t ridden my bike very much and the hot summer sun was out fully. Luckily, the lake is shaded by a ring of huge pines. As I sat, I looked out to it, knowing I’d be there soon. The lake, while not being a recreational one, had a good bike path going around the whole thing. It was about three miles, which meant about six at the end of the day. Rick told me to go the whole three, which is further than my friends and I ever got, but I was determined.
As I got to the island, I saw what Rick had meant when hold told me to cross the lake. As it shrank, a narrow, muddy ridge would be revealed, linking the bike path and the island. But, when I saw it that day, I thought Rick was like Moses himself, parting the seas for me.
I got off my bike and pushed it toward the island. The ground was really muddy. My shoes kept sinking into it. I kept the bike above the ground as much as I could, but I lost my left shoe down in the disappearing ground. Finally reaching the island, I caught my breath and smiled. I made it!
The island was a lot smaller than I thought. It was mainly a small mound, with a few rocks, big and small, and six or seven old pines. I leaned the bike against the pines and sat on the seat-high rock. I peeled the muddy sock off my left foot and tossed it onto the smaller, sunnier rock. There wasn’t as much shade as the rest of the lake, but I lay down on the rock and take in Beaut Island.
Scattered about were bottles of all colours. I thought of those pirate stories where people put notes in the bottles and send them to sea. But the notes were all gone, some bottles even broken open to get the notes it looked like. There were also a lot of deflated balloons, like the kind the clowns use to make balloon animals, but not as colourful. The most curious thing of the island, though, was my brother’s absence. It’s noonthirty, where is he?
I remember sitting on the island, watching the sun pass the tallest trees, and noticing how all the magic and wonder seemed to disappear with it. Crying and peddling my bike around the lake that night, I came up with a better name for it: Disappointment.