Tomorrow didn’t ask me what was, what will be my life.

Nicole Brossard, Intimate Journal


She was loathe to admit, but she dreaded the lake.

            Instead, what compelled her: their shared preference for gin and tonics. Tanquaray, the scent on her father on Sundays. Bombay Sapphire, the sweet ironic taste of colonialism. Beefeater, far too dry for her palate.

            Emily sips, and thinks of England. She had begun to hate England.

            British army generals of the Boer War acting as though on holiday: each their iceless mix, sitting furthest from front lines. The undrinkable water.

            Why was the water undrinkable? She speculates: Cholera. The details of her grade ten history studies, long slipped from its moorings.

            But for now. Someone pours her another. Another.

            Everything depends upon: a long, late summer weekend with friends, five women in a cabin in the Gatineau Hills, the margins of Meech Lake. Just out of sight of the nudists.

            The ends of her marriage. Her shoulders tense as she grasps a fresh tumbler.


Numbers dislodge from the face of her pocketwatch. Five loose, to where gravity set. The watch functioned only as long as numbers were clear of the hands. Time progressed at the same rate of speed, but too often stalled, caught.

            Time ground to a halt, and nothing would happen.

She could no longer depend on it. She sipped at her drink.

She sat by the lake, adjective versus noun.


The margins of lake, and this cottage. What few knew, how some beaches have to be constantly replenished, otherwise they erode out completely. Sand down to clay down to stone. Back up a truck to the shoreline, and smooth.

            Sleepy cars in the driveway, nestled in gravel.

A rare piping plover, skips across sand. So far from the coast.

The whole of the Summer Olympics, a bear trap of memory. Someone always needed to be fourth. Somehow worse to be fourth than dead last.

            Tore a muscle, mid-stride, and that was the end of her. Without even an endorsement.

Those awful thoughts, wishing for someone else to disqualify. At least a disqualification ahead of her would have meant bronze.

Two summer games since come and gone, and she no longer existed. A footnote.

Hope is the worst thing they can give you.


Deep in distracted thought, she sticks out the tip of her tongue. As did her mother, someone points out.

There was the lake, and then not-lake. Beneath the trees you could not tell the difference. A patchwork of ducks float by in a crescent, akin to slow-motion buckshot. A wave of mosquitoes, or sparrows.

Internet memes. The cassette mix-tape and the Bic pen, courting nostalgia: who remembers?

Water, lake. They glide.


She recalls the obvious charms of Eddie “The Eagle” Edwards, the British skier who competed through multiple Olympics and always placed last. He enticed the public and world media, and was the first sports star she’d noticed. Six years old, in front of her mother’s black and white television. As though failure his greatest achievement.

A book on Sarah’s summer bookshelf: I could not love a human being. She laughed out loud. The title could not have been more appropriate.

She tries to blur, fall away from description. Attempts compression. Someone mentions a playlist, and music bubbles up from hidden speakers. David Bowie, “Heroes.” Susan mentions how they are all old enough to remember the mixed tape. Once a month, Susan informs them, she still compiles mixed cds for her friends, and sends them through the post. She does this entirely because it feels antiquated, she claims.

She was the cartographer, attempting to articulate the map of her distress. No, she thought. Too overwrought. She was muddled and messed up, as simple as that.

To throw stone, a woman must be lithe. As if, at will, she is able to actually curl her feet, turn them up like a fiddlehead. Think of the death of that poor Wicked Witch crushed by Dorothy’s house. Made up of muscle. Muscle, sinew, and bone. Made of a steel eye and steady hand: pitch-perfect aim.

There was a religion she’d heard of, akin to a cult, that believes humans don’t require any more nutrients or nutrition than what can be taken in from the air and the sun. Breathers, so called. She would take breath and live. Reclining in the direct line of summer flare, she could almost believe them.


What she had etched on the inside of his gold band: Put this back on.

            At the ceremony, as he read it aloud for the first time, everyone had a good laugh. And then he put it on.


Her friends on the deck with the patio door ajar, two or three who keep track via Twitter of women’s weightlifting trials. The sounds drifted like sugar in water , swirling twice before being absorbed into crisp, late summer air. Gail calls from the living room, wonders if their brown leather belts functioned like those coloured scarves from French voyageurs down the Grand, to hold in their hernias.

            The flex and the strain and the push, until something finally forced to give. Burst.

She knows they take turns in the house, on their iPhones checking stats, and scores. Each new drink, an opportunity. Let me get that for you, they offer, lifting her glass.

Women’s swimming. Air bubbles caught in the contours of swimsuits, cleaving their way through clear blue.

They swoon over Michael Phelps. Smoke on the water.


The parable ran that the lake crater created by a retreating glacier, shaving back the skin of the earth. Scraping Canadian Shield, carving ruin, an abrasion overflowing with water.

            Once the glaciers of the northern half of North America warmed, the surplus flooded most of Europe, nearly ending the earth’s brief experiment in humanity.

            Now mountain ranges rest where ice once twenty miles deep. A triangle of Scottish hills with equal shelf, scraped. A line drawn, as it were.

            She pushed and pushed and pushed until she broke. Her body raged, bubbled back to the surface.

She inched into the water. A day’s worth of drink in her skull, she submerged, and forced air from her lungs. A cool that froze solid, down to the bone. The blood in her veins cooled to slush. A cold that once familiar, warmed.

Water, water everywhere. She kicks off her swimsuit. Frees wedding ring from ring finger.

What she knows of whale music, radio waves travelling miles beneath the water’s surface, undiminished. Audible, still, even if none around to listen.

Underwater, so much like the vacuum of space. Where none can hear you.

Further Reading

Image Credit: Hege via flickr

About The Author

rob mclennan

Born in Ottawa, Canada’s glorious capital city, rob mclennan currently lives in Ottawa with his brilliantly talented wife, the poet, editor and bookbinder Christine McNair, and their daughter, Rose. The author of nearly thirty trade books of poetry, fiction and non-fiction, he won the John Newlove Poetry Award in 2010, the Council for the Arts in Ottawa Mid-Career Award in 2014, and was longlisted for the CBC Poetry Prize in 2012. His most recent titles include notes and dispatches: essays (Insomniac press, 2014), The Uncertainty Principle: stories, (Chaudiere Books, 2014) and the poetry collection If suppose we are a fragment (BuschekBooks, 2014). An editor and publisher, he runs above/ground press, Chaudiere Books (with Christine McNair), seventeen seconds: a journal of poetry and poetics (, Touch the Donkey ( and the Ottawa poetry pdf annual ottawater ( He also curates the weekly “Tuesday poem” series at the dusie blog, and the “On Writing” series at the Ottawa poetry newsletter. He spent the 2007-8 academic year in Edmonton as writer-in-residence at the University of Alberta, and regularly posts reviews, essays, interviews and other notices at He currently spends his days full-time with toddler Rose, writing entirely at the whims of her nap-schedule.