Looking at the Lake

Alexander Phillips

© Copyright 2021 by Alexander Phillips


Tatiana Rodriguez on Unsplash
                                     Photo by Tatiana Rodriguez on Unsplash

That deeper sense of dread ruled her life. Shannon wasn’t good at reading faces, and her  determination to leave conversations once they started was fierce. Shannon and Mary were not friends, Shannon didn’t consider them friends. It seemed Mary did though, every conversation starting with Mary’s classic “Hello, why, isn’t it just dandy out?” Even when it wasn’t dandy out, it
felt as if Mary only saved this phrase for Shannon.  

Shannon Albrey wasn’t taken to the socialization she was destined to do. Mary Farrow was, and they
were forcibly joined at the hip, being the only girls the same age for miles around. It was June, the year was 1908. The day had started already unlike most days, Mary Farrow was early to their mid-afternoon walk.

Mrs. Albrey had scheduled the walk around midday to help Shannon gain some extra glow; she hated  how her daughter stayed inside the house. Mary Farrow loved the midday walk to show off her new skirts, which were made of old skirts, but fashioned into something extraordinary. Daniel Lewis described it that way, he said Mary’s whole life was fashioned into something extraordinary. She was beautiful, she was perfectly sophisticated and fitted like a gear to their area's social life.

Mary came at 11:32 AM. She was usually dead on arrival by 1:00 PM. “Shannon! Oh, I’m most early today, I know that, but I decided to take us on another route than usual, not just round the park.” Shannon only nodded in response. “It seems that you don’t like the park?”

It’s not my usual haunt.”

Ghastly to use that phrase, ‘haunt’ for a place you locate frequently,” Mary tsked and waved her  parasol in Shannon’s face to show her displeasure, and Shannon quickly stopped, her face seized up, and she quickly let go, face back to neutrality. Mary quirked her brows. “Oh Shannon, your face! It’s much better to use ‘purlieu’.”

I think it conveys what I need it to just well,” Shannon replied stoically. She used her parasol as a  cane, occasionally whacking at some piece of bush. “I needn’t use all the words you use Mary, I’d seem unoriginal.”

The two girls walked their usual track until they came across the crosspath that separated the open  field of the park and the more narrow continuing track to the inner parts of the woods. Shannon had suggested walking down it once, Mary had shut it down immediately. Shannon had no idea why, Mary never explained.

I picked this way because it gives us a chance to really talk, I’ve realized that after 5 years of us  knowing one another, we have never really talked.”

I’ve never wanted to know you Mary,” Shannon sharply said. Mary’s gaze froze over, her smart smile dipping. “I have made that clear about a thousand times.”

We should keep going.” Mary quickly strode on. Her pacing left Shannon breathless most days.

The path was only woods, and led to only more trees with the dirt path only getting thinner and  thinner. Shannon had to walk behind Mary now, and Shannon felt that sense of dread she usually shoved in her gut.

Mary, I don’t appreciate--” Shannon pleaded.

What don’t you appreciate, Shannon?” Mary turned suddenly. “This isolation? You know you love it, I know do, you do at home,” Mary stepped up close, her nose brushing Shannon’s face. “There’s a lake here.”

They stomped along to the lake, the ground becoming more soft with each step. Shannon looked  down briefly, and saw how her hem was now covered in mud. She would’ve lifted her skirts, but she didn’t want to catch her sleeves in the brambles of the trees. “I feel as if we should stop.”

We are.” Mary froze, her body separating Shannon from the opening of the trees that showcased a  lake. “The lake. We couldn’t come here before because boys like to jump into it, naked.”

Shannon had no idea what to say to that. “Alright.” Then she had one. “Why are we coming now?”

Mary walked right to the edge of the lake. She dropped her parasol and started undoing the buttons  on the front of her blouse. She ripped it off in a rush, and dropped it on the ground. It was bright white and lacy, Shannon gasped. Mary undid her belt, everything until she was just in her chemise, corset, and garters. Shannon never knew how waifish she was. Extremely pale, her blue veins poked through her skin along her forearms. Shannon felt ill, something black and swelling corroding her stomach. Mary removed her hat, and only took one long pin out her hair. Instead of just dropping it to the ground like everything else, she stuck it in the dirt, so it jutted upright into the air.

Shannon Albrey, I’m killing myself.” Mary said it all very definitively. Similar to when she was  talking about Adam Reeley’s new beau or Jasmine Richter’s cousin that was staying in town for the week. All very sensible, stately, and whispered.

Why?” Shannon asked, her voice sounded thin and warbled, but still steely. What was Mary getting  at? She lacked all sense, Shannon knew this. She, Mary, hadn’t the air of melancholy whatsoever.  

Not a single soul likes me, truly likes me,” Mary coughed. “You were supposed to like me, girls our  age usually like one another. You hate me. I can’t bear you hating me, I can’t bear the dislike I have for you.”

Oh, Mary, how could I not! What are you saying? Oh God, we ought to be in the park by now playing your stupid card games!” Shannon started crying. She threw down her parasol and put her fisted hand onto her chest. Breathing. She was still doing it.

Mary huffed, and walked up to Shannon with as much fury her small frame could hold. She raised  her palm and slapped Shannon as hard as possible. Shannon retaliated with a slap back, and the girls were soon wrestling.

They soon reached the shallow edge of the lake, and as Shannon’s skirts got wetter, her legs felt like  lead weights. Mary wasn’t strong, but she was relentless in the barrage of fists she was throwing.  Shannon pried her hands from Mary’s hair and went for her neck, which left her open to a hard blow to her cheek. Once she wrapped her hands around it, she squeezed. Mary seized up and went to pull her hands away, but Shannon kept her grip— her legs had fallen still. Black blurring her vision in exhaustion.

The two girls fell in a tired heap. Shannon’s head went underwater for a few seconds, and she felt like  keeping it there, until she found she couldn’t breathe and yanked herself back to the surface.

I’ll end you, Miss Farrow,” Shannon gasped. “Goodness sake, I’ll end you.”

Shut up! Shut up, your pretentiousness is a killer!” Mary screamed hoarsely. She grabbed Shannon’s  face. “You never talk, you have never held a conversation with me, don’t start now or by God I will stone you—” Mary held a small rock in her other hand. “I’ll break your head open.”

Stop telling me what to do, or what I do,” Shannon whispered. She rolled out from beneath Mary and grabbed her parasol. “Go ahead and end your life.”

I can’t now, you’ve ruined my peace.”

I was bound to end your peace Mary Farrow, I haven’t the slightest clue why you asked me to be  here.”

I thought you’d be more sympathetic, I was wrong.”

Yes.” Shannon stepped back onto the pathway, leaving Mary Farrow behind. Shortly though,  extremely shortly, she soon heard soggy steps that could’ve only belonged to Mary, and she quickened her step.

Stop,” Mary Farrow’s voice was low. “We’re going to go to the park.”

Like this? I’m soaked, you’re covered in mud—”

Shannon, you’ve never given a damn before. I don’t give a damn anymore.” Shannon’s jaw dropped.  Mary never used such vulgar language, Shannon did, in order to get the same response from Mary. “I know you, don’t you want to see their faces once? In our condition? The questions they would have?  You would love that. I always hated you for it.”

I—” Shannon stilled. “Wouldn’t you hate it? Those exact questions? You’ve told me that you’d hate  to be the center of any sort of drama.” Shannon’s face tightened. Shannon Albrey hated Mary Farrow for a singular reason, she never seemed to have trouble navigating it all. Shannon didn’t want Mary to join her in her self-relegated social ostracism. “I don’t need you and me to be completely bound in any way.”

Mary gripped Shannon’s hand hard enough to hurt. “I want to be, I want to be bound in this one way.  Truly.”

Shannon and Mary held their gaze. Mary was the first to look down. “Please.”

Revulsion twisted in Shannon’s gut. “Fine.”

The pair walked side by side, the brambles ripping holes in their sleeves. Shannon’s hair was falling  out of its do, and she felt like crying again.  

When they reached the park, it was 1:00 PM, and the sun burned into their faces. Daniel Lewis saw
 them in the clearing first, and ran over. “Oh, Good God! You girls are a mess, what happened?”  Shannon and Mary were about to answer simultaneously, but Daniel found the answer. “Oh, these thorns,” he picked one off Mary’s shoulders. “You went by the lake, didn’t you? Don’t go back there,  alright? Boys go back there, and do the most darndest things.”

Contact Alexander

(Unless you type the author's name
in the subject line of the message
we won't know where to send it.)

Book Case

Home Page

The Preservation Foundation, Inc., A Nonprofit Book Publisher