map Wave

by Robert Nordstrom

Published in Issue No. 172 ~ September, 2011

“I don’t know, they’ll see us.”

“Of course, that’s why it’s perfect. They’re looking right now. Wave.”

He throws up a hand and slides his other hand down the back of her bikini bottoms. He tries to maneuver it to the front, but his wrist gets tangled in the thin strap on her hip.

“Wave,” he says. “They’re waving, wave back.”

She does. Timidly at first. They both wave.

Margie and Julie sit on lawn chairs near the edge of the bluff overlooking the lake. “Seems like yesterday,” Margie says, “Tommy—he won’t let me call him that anymore, insists on Tom, but I keep forgetting—seems like yesterday he was paddling around down there in that little vinyl motor boat.”

“I know exactly what you mean. It was yesterday. Those little brown bodies stacking stones in the sand. What were we then? Activity directors?”

“They’re waving.”

Julie and Margie raise their arms simultaneously and wave.

Margie lowers her arm to study her fingernails. “Exactly.”

“Who are we now?”


“As long as we don’t stand too close, they’ll never know.”

“Why are you whispering then?”

She speaks in a normal tone. He doesn’t know why he’s whispering. They’re in chest-deep water. She’s taller this year and the water laps just beneath her bikini top. He rises on his toes and sees the clean line where her tan turns white, then disappears. They’re bigger than they were too.

“Look, I can’t even see my own hand in this water. Lake Erie, you can’t see a thing in this mess.” He turns his hand so his palm is against her belly and slides it down the front. They’re standing side by side now looking up at the bluff.

“No…I don’t know.” But she doesn’t try to move away. Her eyes are shiny and he can tell she’s excited by this deception, too.

“Pull them down.”

She shakes her head. But only slightly. She’s smiling. A no-teeth, tight-lipped smile.

“They’ll see.”

“No, they won’t. Look, you can’t even see my hand, how are they going to see?” They both look down at the water. “You don’t have to take them off. Come on, just pull them down a little.”

He tugs at the front, and she hooks them down from the back.

Julie lowers the sunglasses from her forehead onto her nose. Margie pats her thighs with her hands. They both stare out over the gray water.

“You know, I had this weird thing happen the other day,” Julie says. She takes a sip of her drink, then twirls the cubes in her glass. “I was walking by this day care and saw one of the teachers standing in the playground watching the kids. There was something about her. She was just standing there with her hand on her hip staring. Only it was like she was looking right through them. Like one of the kids could fall off the monkey bars and break a leg and she wouldn’t even see it.”

She opens her mouth as if to add another thought, then sits up straighter in the chair. “There was just something about her.”

Margie feels like she’s frowning but doesn’t want Julie to see that so she looks away. Their lawn chairs sit only five feet or so back from the bluff. Julie placed them there. Margie thought they were too close to the edge but didn’t say anything.

“What am I talking about?” Julie says. “Must be the vodka.”

“No, no.”

“You know…I don’t know…I don’t know what it was. I remember one time, maybe that’s it, maybe that’s what made me watch that day care teacher. Denise must have been six or seven. We decided to take a sky ride at Summer Fest. You know how the carriages come sweeping around like a ski lift and you have to look back and sit down quickly when it reaches you? When it slid up to Denise and me, I didn’t take her arm to help her on and the carriage hit her high and almost knocked her down. Where was I at that moment? How could I let that happen? The man running the lift grabbed her and lifted her on. I still remember the look he gave me and how ashamed I felt.”

Margie stretches her legs out. She pictures the way the land juts out with little support when you see it from down below and pulls them back in. “We all have our moments.” Her response is more generous than what she believes. There’s always danger. She’s always vigilant.

“I feel so weird with them up there watching. I’ve never done this before.”

He never has either but he doesn’t tell her that. He pulls his own bathing suit down and guides her hand. She just holds it. They look at each other, then quickly away, to their mothers at the top of the bluff. They look like they’re talking, but it’s hard to tell from down here. He glances at her. She’s still staring at the bluff. He doesn’t know what to do next. This is the farthest he’s ever gotten with a girl.

She moves her hand slightly. He tries to look at her, but the sun hangs above her head, making him squint. She’s smiling again. She probably thinks his squinting is a smile, too.

“You really think they can’t see?”

“No…I mean yes.” His voice sounds strange to him and he wishes she wouldn’t make him talk.

“They’re waving again,” Julie says. “What’s with all the waving?”

They raise their arms and wave back.

Julie stands, her arm extended. “You ready for another drink?”

Margie watches her walk toward the cabin, then turns back to the water, thinking it would be nice to be sitting here alone right now. This is the dangerous time, she thinks. It’s always the dangerous time.

“What do you want to be when you grow up?”

She’s looking at him when she says this. Still moving her hand. He’s afraid to look back so he stares at the bluff.


“What do you want to be?”

That’s what he thought she said. He can’t believe she’s asking him this. He doesn’t know what he wants to be. It’s something he doesn’t like to think about. He pulls away slightly but she follows, still holding on.

“I want to be a pilot,” she says.

A pilot. He can’t believe she’s saying this. Maybe five years ago when they were playing with buckets of sand on the beach. He tries to think of something serious to respond with, but the only thing that pops into his head is a fireman walking into a burning building holding a hose. Ridiculous.

She throws up her free hand. “They’re looking, wave.”

He was staring at them but it hadn’t registered. He obeys.

Margie jerks back in her chair. Julie stands above her, arm extended.

“It’s like that. The way you were just staring out over the water. That’s what that woman at the day care was doing.”

“No…I was just thinking.”

“Sure.” Julie is laughing and the ice in her glass rattles.

Margie lowers the glass and dips her chin toward it. What’s her point? And what’s so funny? She sips her drink as a way to change the subject.

He feels her studying him now, like he’s some kind of lab rat or something. He reaches for her but she’s pulled her bottoms back up.

“Why’d you do that?” His voice sounds whiny.

“I was afraid they’d float away.”

She starts moving her hand again, and he no longer cares. Small waves lap over the top of her bathing suit leaving a trail of bubbles that disappear into a shadowy cave. He struggles to regulate his breathing, digs his toes into the sand to keep his balance.

“What’s wrong?”

Margie says, “They’ve always seemed to get along well, don’t you think?”

Julie looks at her above the rim of her sunglasses, then pushes the glasses up with her finger and looks out over the water, as if this observation were actually a question to be considered.

“I mean they don’t see each other often, but it’s nice, don’t you think, how they’ve always been able to occupy themselves.”

“It’s made it easier for us. I remember when I was a kid how I used to hate being forced to hang out with my parents’ friends’ kids. A vacation was the worst. But Denise has never complained about Tom.”

“Tommy either.”

“Tom’s a good kid.”

“Denise, too.”

He tries to look at her but can’t. The sun’s in his eyes again. She seems so relaxed and normal. She must have done this before. The thought makes him feel weak, like he’s falling.

“Stop it,” she says.

She’s laughing.

“What are you doing?” she says.

She may be laughing.

“What do you think they talk about down there?” Margie asks. “It’s funny, but when Tommy was gradeschool age, I felt like I could generally tell what he was thinking. It was like I could remember what I thought when I was that age. Dumb things. I can’t do that anymore.”

“It’s just the opposite with me. When Denise was little, I had no clue. She and her friends were like little aliens to me. It’s different now that she’s a teenager, though. I’m remembering all kinds of things.” She laughs. “More than I want to. I finally feel like I have something to tell her, but she’s in no mood to listen.” She laughs again.

“I don’t remember back then. Maybe I don’t want to.”

“Maybe you’re lucky.”

He opens his mouth but has nothing to say. He doesn’t know what he’s doing. He doesn’t know what he wants to be. He’s slipping but she doesn’t let go. The water rises to his neck. With her free hand, she reaches beneath him, like a parent teaching a child to swim.

The sun glints against her teeth. Yes, she’s laughing now.

“Not a good sign.” Julie says, looking out over the water. “All this waving. I didn’t even want to acknowledge I had parents when I was a teenager. They must be up to something.”

Not everything is negative, Margie thinks.

Julie points. “It looks like Denise is helping him float. They’re at that age.”


“The touching age.”

She throws her arm into the air and he feels himself sinking. He kicks out, searching desperately for the bottom. “Come on,” she says sternly, “quit clowning, they’re looking. Wave.”

Julie’s sunglasses are pushed back to the top of her head; she shields her eyes with her hand. She sets her drink on the grass, stands and throws both hands into the air in a wide criss-cross arc like she’s inviting them, no, ordering them, back in.

“That’s my mother. What is she doing? I’m serious, Tommy, look at her—wave.”

Hands on her hips, Julie takes a step toward the bluff’s edge.

Why doesn’t she just sit back down? Margie thinks. For god’s sake, they’re kids, clowning around, let them be. They seem so small. Just lean back into the water, relax, I’ve got you—that’s how she taught Tommy to swim way back when. Nothing seems clear now. She rests the back of her head on the back of the chair. She feels as if she’s floating. She closes her eyes, just for a moment, she tells herself.


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Robert Nordstrom is a semi-retired editor living in Mukwonago, Wisconsin, who stays busy writing poetry and fiction, and transporting precious cargo over Wisconsin backroads in a schoolbus. A graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee creative writing program, he has published fiction and poetry in various literary publications, including Paris Voices, Glass Review, Peninsula Pulse, Verse Wisconsin, Miller's Pond, Staccato Fiction, and Rosebud.