Spearfish Lake Tales
Contemporary Mainstream Books and Serials Online
The rest of the summer moved on quickly for me. Mostly the days were routine, and things began to slack off as schools went back into session around the state.
Susie and Annette were the first to go. They spent several days selecting what they wanted to take back to Grand Valley State and packing it. They were going to be sharing a room again this year. Every now and then I got pressed into service to haul something out to their old Camaro, and soon it was getting full. This called for agonizing reappraisals, and I had to haul several boxes and bags back into the house so things could be sorted through again. After more of that than I cared to think about, they finally managed to reach the point where they ran out of stuff before they ran out of space in the car. It was close – Annette had things stacked both under her legs and on her lap as Susie drove the car out of the parking lot a week before the Labor Day weekend. Classes would start the following Monday, and they wanted to get their room set up before that happened. I also had the impression they wanted to make contact with old friends before they settled down in their classes.
I was sorry to see them go. The two of them had livened up things on several fronts, not the least of which was what went on in my room after the sign was turned off. While I don’t think I could have fallen in love with either of them in the long run, they were fun to be around and had been a big help in the busy season. This was probably going to be Susie’s last year in college, although she had no idea what she was going to be doing when she graduated, so it was anyone’s guess whether she’d be home the next summer. Annette still had three years to go, and possibly more considering that she was in a teacher training program, but still it was anyone’s guess if she would be around another summer.
Wayne also left for college a day or so later, and that meant I was going to be busier down on the fuel dock. I had liked Wayne. Having him around meant that I was able to get out on the boat with Nate and Rachel a day or two each week. With the three of them gone, the crew around the Channel Stop had dwindled to just Barb, Debby, and me, and we still faced one of the big weekends of the summer.
If that wasn’t enough, Rachel went back to school on the following Monday. She was not happy about it, since she mostly saw school as something to get over and done with so it wouldn’t interfere with her time on the Chinook III with her father. The only thing that made it go easier was that she had finally taken the time to get her driver’s license. The decision had been made that since Marge was rarely up to driving anymore, Rachel could take the car to school. That saved her close to an hour on the bus twice each day, most of two hours that now she wouldn’t have to put up with Darryl and a couple of other teenage morons he hung out with.
Rachel going back to school and depletion of the help around the Channel Stop meant that Nate would be taking parties out by himself for a while. He wasn’t real happy about that, and also wasn’t happy about having to leave Marge mostly by herself for several hours each day. Barb did her best to take the sting out of that by going over to Nate and Marge’s house in the slower parts of the mornings and afternoons. That meant things were going to be stretched even thinner, leaving just Debby and me to cope with the business. Usually what we tried to do was to let Debby handle the inside of the building, which meant tripling as cook, storekeeper and waitress, while I handled the stuff outside, which included making up the motel rooms along with handling the fuel dock. We got everything done that really had to be done, but I sometimes wondered how we managed to do it.
That week saw the break of the summer heat. There were a couple stormy days when there was little traffic going up and down the channel; Nate even cancelled a couple of charters since the weather was so rough. That meant we had more people hanging around the snack bar waiting out the weather, so I had to help Debby out inside as much as I could. Once the stormy days were past, there was a definite nip in the air when I got up in the mornings, and even when it got warm it wasn’t anything like as bad as it had been even the week before.
That gave us a breather before Labor Day weekend. It was the last gasp of summer for practical purposes, and everyone knew it. Boats that had been taken north to their summer homes back around Memorial Day were now headed back downstate to their winter quarters, and we frequently had people stopping in for a brief fuel stop. The only way we managed to struggle through at all was that Wayne made a quick trip home to work those three days, which bought me enough time to give everything else a lick and a promise.
Over the Labor Day weekend I half expected Lisa to show up on that party boat she had been on in the spring, but thankfully I never saw her or the boat. As far as I knew she was back at college, and I hadn’t heard a word from her since our argument over the telephone weeks before. That much was a relief.
Things stayed busy for a few days after Labor Day, but they quickly tailed off as people who were heading downstate got their boats home, or the boats that were going to stay north were taken out for the winter. By the time the following week was past things had slowed down so much that other than catching things up, Barb, Debby, and I were able to catch our breath. Except for the late-season salmon and lake trout fishermen, the busy season was over with.
As things slowed at the Channel Stop I had time to go out with Nate on the weekdays again. While there’s salmon and lake trout fishing most of the warmer months on the Great Lakes, fall is considered to be the big season, and Nate had a pretty good load of customers most days. He was happy whenever I was able to join him, which was three and four days a week as the month of September rolled on, and even more in October. Since Barb was a good friend of both Marge and Nate, she was usually glad to let me go so he’d have some help. At that, since Barb was with Marge so much, it often left Debby holding the fort for much of the day, but Barb was only a few minutes away if things got to be too much for Debby to handle.
By early October I wasn’t working at the Channel Stop very much, nothing like the hours I’d put in earlier in the year, even less than in April, and the work was mostly on the weekends. It wasn’t hurting my income much, since it was being made up for by my being out with Nate, but I also knew that salmon season closed at the end of the month, so that looked to be the end of that. I didn’t have any idea of what I was going to be doing over the winter, but it was pretty clear that I’d have to be moving on. I considered going to Florida and trying to find some job to hold me over the winter, or perhaps longer, and at that point in time I was still kicking around the idea of going back to the Navy. After all, there was nothing to hold me in Winchester.
It was getting too cool in the evenings to sit out on the balcony to smoke a cigarette or two, and getting dark too early to do much reading out there anyway, both things I’d often done in the evenings over the course of the summer. I spent part of an evening now and then hanging around Dot’s Bar down in the main part of the village, what there was of it. That really didn’t interest me much, since I was not much of one to hang around bars in the first place, and there really wasn’t much happening there anyway.
The one thing that made life interesting was that Debby often came over to my room in the evenings. Now that Susie and Annette were gone we’d been getting together more often, sometimes just for an hour or two, but occasionally spending the night together. It was pretty much the arrangement we’d had all summer. It was still enjoyable, and we had a lot of fun, even though we both knew there was no chance of it ever going anywhere besides being friendly fuck buddies. She reported that she’d seen John briefly two or three times over the summer, and that he was still going with Karen. I got the impression that Debby thought there might be a little trouble in paradise between the two, and she was hopeful that it would be ending between them when they both graduated in the spring.
I was sitting in my room one evening in early October, trying to read a book and mostly trying to figure out what I was going to do when the fishing season ran out, and thinking about whether I’d even want to come back another summer. I wasn’t coming to any good conclusions when I heard a knock on the door, and of course I went to answer it.
It proved to be Barb. “Hey, Jake,” she said. “You doing anything?”
“Not really. There’s not much to do, after all.”
“Can I come in? It sometimes gets a little lonely in the evenings for me, too, especially this time of the year.”
“Sure, nothing better to do,” I replied, stepping back so she could come inside. “I’ve got a few beers in the refrigerator. Would you like one?”
“I’d love one. There’s nothing I’d like better, in fact.”
She went to one of the two rather uncomfortable chairs in the little room, while I got us each a beer and went to join her. We talked about nothing in particular for a few minutes, including comments about how hard and uncomfortable the chairs in the room were and how lumpy and uncomfortable the mattress on the bed was; she agreed that she ought to do something about that some time.
It took her a while to get around to what she had come for: “Jake,” she said finally, “I’m in an uncomfortable situation right now, and I’d like it if you could help me out. I know the season is coming to an end, and that you’re thinking about moving on.”
“I can’t help but think about it,” I replied. “It looks to me like I’m just hanging on as it is. I’m working more for Nate now than I am for you, and that ends at the end of the month.”
“I know. In the past the dock hands usually have moved on. In other years you would have been gone by now, but with the situation with Marge, it’s been just as good that you’re here.”
“I don’t know much about it directly,” I said. “I haven’t talked about it much with Nate, but I get the impression she’s not doing well and he just doesn’t want to admit to the reality.”
“That probably sums it up pretty well,” she said. “The truth of the matter is that she’s slowly sinking, and I don’t see much chance that she’s ever going to get better. She may make it till spring, and she may not. Look, Jake. Nate and Marge have been my best friends since clear back in grade school. When we were in high school, the three of us, and Sam were a foursome. We were always hanging around with each other. When Sam and I came back here, it was as much because we missed Nate and Marge as anything else. In fact, Nate was the one who heard and then told us that the Channel Stop could be bought, and he and Marge helped us buy it and get our feet on the ground.”
“I guess I knew bits and pieces of that, but never all together like that.”
“Well, there was actually more, but we don’t need to get into that,” she said, obviously recalling a pleasant memory. “The thing of it is, I know Marge is sinking, and that Nate is having trouble dealing with it. That’s part of the reason I’ve spending as much time as I can over at their place, and I’m afraid it’s going to get worse.”
“That’s the impression I get.”
“Look, Jake, this is going to be hard for me to ask, but is there any way you could stay around for the winter? There’s not going to be much you can do, and I won’t be able to give you many hours, but I’m willing to give you the room and your meals. There’s going to be times you’ll have things to do, like a few maintenance jobs that need doing and shoveling snow when snow season gets here, but having you around would mean that I could spend as much time as I need to with Nate and Marge. And, it would mean you’d have a job here in the spring.”
The idea caught me as a surprise. As I said, I had no firm plans, other than to move on when the season finally ended. “I might be willing. The thing of it is, it’s going to get awful dull around here with nothing much to do.”
“It always gets awful dull around here in the winter with nothing much to do,” she agreed. “There have been times that Debby and I have been just plain bored to tears. Jake, I think I can tell you that before Sam died, we really looked forward to the winters, because we’d have plenty of time to ourselves. It was just him and me in the cold months, and as soon as the lunch rush was over with we’d close up, go back to the house, and take advantage of the fact that the girls were still in school, if you know what I mean.”
“I get the picture,” I said, wondering where this was leading.
“It gets slow for Nate in the winter too. In the years past, he usually had a boat in his shed that he worked on. You know about that.”
“Yeah, something that needs major repairs or refinishing or something. We’ve talked about it a bit out on the Chinook. He has something lined up for this winter, I’m not sure what. He’s not sure he’s going to be up for doing much with it, considering Marge and all.”
“That’s my understanding, too,” she nodded. “Look, Jake, while I’m concerned about Marge, I’m concerned about Nate, too. He needs something to keep his mind occupied and get him out of the house. I know I’m asking a hell of a favor of you, but maybe somehow if I can keep you here, we could work out some way for you to help out on that project with him as a way to get him out and away from worrying over Marge. The hell of it is, I don’t want him to expect to pay you for it.”
“I know,” I said. “Things are tight enough that I’ve felt real guilty about getting paid for going out fishing with him, but there just hasn’t been a good way to turn him down. I’ve just been hanging onto the checks and not cashing them. I figure I can just give them back to him when he needs the money.”
“God, that’s good-hearted of you, Jake.” She shook her head. “You really are the nicest guy. You’ve been a hell of a good worker, and you’ve put up with a lot, especially all the messing around with the girls and Debby. I haven’t heard a word of complaint about it, and I think you handled it just about the best it could be done. That could have turned into a real mess in that it could have pissed off a lot of people real easily, and you just went on being yourself and kept the lid on it.”
“I tried. Mostly I just let it happen, and the girls worked it all out among themselves. Don’t get me wrong, they did a lot for me, especially Debby, but your girls, too. I was in pretty sad shape because of Brittany when I came here, but the three of them managed to force me to put her where she belongs, which is out of my life.”
“Yeah, and I’m glad that worked out for you,” she said. “So, will you consider staying on for the winter?”
I thought about it for a moment and replied. “Yeah, I think so. It’s not like I had anything to do this winter anyway, other than the Navy, which I don’t want to do. One of the neat things about working here is that my expenses have been just about zero. I mean, a few beers, not very many, an occasional carton of cigarettes, and a few odds and ends. I don’t think I’ve even bought two tanks of gas for my car all summer. Even though I’m not making much, I don’t think I’ve spent a tenth of what I’ve earned. If I can continue getting my room and food for free, I don’t see why I can’t hang on for a while. Don’t get me wrong, Barb. You and Nate have become friends, too, and I hate the thought of just walking away if there’s something I can do to help out.”
“I know it’s a hell of a lot to ask, but again it just shows how nice a guy you are.” She sighed and went on, “For a while there, I sort of had hopes that you’d be able to work out something with Susie, but I guess that isn’t going to happen.”
“Don’t get me wrong,” I said. “I like Susie. We were pals, and she made a real good temporary girlfriend on a couple occasions when I really needed it. But I can’t see anything happening in the long term between us.”
“Yeah, I realized that probably about as soon as you did. The two of you make great friends, but I think you’re heading in two different directions, even if neither of you have any idea of what those directions are. I’m really a lot more worried about Susie than I am Annette. At least Annette has some idea of what she wants to do. Susie, well, she wants something different than what she’s known, something where she can find her own definition of happiness, whatever that is.”
“I think I agree. I think we both know we’d wear each other pretty thin in the long run. I mean, we get along pretty well together as long as we don’t have to get along permanently, if you understand.”
“That’s a pretty good way of putting it,” she said with a smile. “She and I get on each other’s nerves, too. It’s been better this summer since you were able to give her some diversion. The hell of it is, she’s going to be graduating in the spring, and while I don’t see her much now, I’ll probably be seeing a hell of a lot less of her then. I’ve got a couple more years for Annette, and then she’ll probably be gone, too. Then it’s going to be really lonely around here, especially in the winter. Christ, it’s been bad enough since Sam has been gone. I don’t know how I’m going to be able to manage it then.”
“It’s got to be hard,” I said, not knowing what else I could say.
“Yeah, it is. I’ve given some thought to just selling out and moving on myself, though I don’t have any idea of what I’d do. I like this life, Jake; it’s just that with the girls moving on and the likelihood of losing another of my best friends in the near future, it just makes me seem lonelier. Do you have any idea how bad it’s been to have lost Sam? It’s been years since I’ve had a man to love, to cuddle, or to go to bed with. Sometimes it’s just hard as hell to manage.”
“I’ve wondered about that a little,” I commented. “I would have thought you would have been able to find someone, even just for a little relief.”
“It sounds good,” she sighed. “But this is a small town and I’m pretty well stuck here. There aren’t any prospects around here, men I’d care to hook up with. Everybody knows everybody else, and as soon as I did something, everybody would know about it. God, this summer I really envied Debby and the girls being able to come over here and have their itches scratched. I, uh, well, I thought about . . . ”
She couldn’t finish the thought, so I finished it for her with gentle words, “You thought about coming and seeing me some time?”
“Yeah,” she nodded. “I got so goddamn close several times it wasn’t funny, but I didn’t think it would be right for the girls to see their mother messing around with their guy. And besides, I didn’t think the guy would be interested in an old woman like me.”
I began to see what she was really asking. “I don’t think of you as an old woman,” I told her. “Yeah, you’re a bit older than I am, but not that much older. You’ve always struck me as an attractive woman, and in some ways prettier than your daughters. Barb, I’ve kept to the policy of not asking either Debby or Susie or Annette. They always came to me, and that’s part of the reason we all got along as well as we did.” I took a deep breath and added, “Barb, if you were to ask, you wouldn’t get turned down.”
“Do you really mean that?”
“I really mean that, or I wouldn’t have said it.”
“I’d want to keep this just between us,” she said, apparently making up her mind. “I can ask Debby to keep her mouth shut about it, and I know she will. But I wouldn’t want it to get around the village.”
“If it does, it won’t be because of me,” I told her. “I know it got out about Debby and the girls because you and they talked about it so much. Debby may hear something, but if you don’t tell her the details, I think she’d be willing to keep it quiet.”
“It’d have to be here in your room. I don’t want to do it in the bed I used to share with Sam.”
“I can understand that. I can find some room in my bed for you.” I said. I gave her a big grin and went on, “Then maybe you’ll find out how bad that mattress really is.”