The lake was still in the late spring pre-dawn. I thought it was going to be far too hot as the morning wore on to catch anything, but Justin swore that the weather would be perfect. It certainly was pretty, what with the sun just beginning to peek over the horizon and turning the sky a thousand shades of gold, pink, peach and just a touch of elusive green, so subtle maybe one in a hundred people could actually see it. Being an artist, I just naturally had a gift for seeing the nuances and often incorporated them in my work.
But right now, I was spending quality time with my oldest brother. We'd never been really close, and because I couldn't wait to leave home to find myself as an artist and person, we hadn't spent all that much time together. Justin hadn't understood me at all, and although we hadn't fought about it, it was like trying to explain color to the blind. But, although he didn't "get" me, even after all these years, he had still asked me to shelter in place at his house in our home town of Salt Lick, Missouri at the start of the Covid lockdown, and I wound up riding the entire pandemic out in my schoolie RV parked in Justin's backyard, behind the barn. He and Mary had been great, really... helping me clean out the barn so I could use it as a studio, even giving me some money for expenses when my savings dried up. So here we were, a year later, and Justin had invited me on a fishing expedition. I was... intrigued.
I watched Justin watching the sun rise. Even though neither one of us were exactly kids anymore, I noticed the lines on his face and the greying hair with a sort of shock. When had he become an old man? Hell, when did I become an old woman, for that matter? I felt a pang of regret for the time together we had lost over the years.
We stood in silence on the little jetty for a while, the only sounds the soft splash of a pair of herons diving at the far end of the water. The air was absolutely still, with a glassy quality that magnified the light. I wished I had brought my camera, but I knew it wouldn't see what I was seeing, so I set out to remember as much of the scene as possible.
Justin cleared his throat, and I jumped like I'd been shot at. He just gave me the side eye and handed me a foil packet.
"Mary made us some breakfast. Coffee, too, and I brought Co-Colas in the cooler, but you might want to stick to decaf." He said it with his patented dry delivery, but looked like he wanted to laugh, and I had to chuckle myself at my wired nerves.
"Coffee's great. Thanks." He handed me a travel thermos from his knapsack, sat down on the edge of the jetty and began to eat. I sat next to him, feet dangling over the water as I bit into my sandwich, still warm from the stove with the egg the perfect combination of firm white and slightly runny yoke on fried bread with a thin slice of salty sweet ham.
The food kept us quiet for a few minutes, and I used the time to reflect on the past year.
Probably the worst part of any of it was the early days, what with the uncertainty about the pandemic, the economy, the election... everything just felt unsettled and had a surreal quality that kept you off balance. Even if you tried to retain any normalcy, you were shot down the moment you turned on the TV or radio, and forget the internet...the fringe elements on both ends of the political spectrum were fomenting the most outlandish theories. And, scarily, people were repeating them as though they were pronouncements from On High, rather than agitprop and clickbait masquerading as "news". It was craziness. I had tried to escape the worst of it by giving up my gallery and my studio apartment in Provincetown, Massachusetts. The tourist season was not going to happen in 2020, and my landlord wanted to make over the apartment for his own family...I couldn't blame him, but it left me at loose ends until I had spoken to Justin and Mary. Frankly, living in urban areas was getting scary, and of course, that all got worse as the year progressed. By the time the election was over, the cold weather had put an end to the worst of the rioting and we were looking at a Covid upsurge that caused most people to cancel their holiday plans... I was so burnt out that I just wanted to sleep for a month. I knew it was depression...a reaction to everything that had happened, but I just couldn't shake it off.
One morning in mid-December, there was a knock on my camper door. I stumbled down the center aisle to the front door and cranked it open when I saw Mary standing there. It had snowed overnight, and the early morning sun sparkled in the fairy-dust swirls of dry powder that eddied in the light wind. She dragged me out into the snow in my bathrobe and began spinning us around in a giddy circle of swirling snow, misting breath turning the air into clouds of gold and the giggles that burst forth unbidden as we twirled. Finally, dizzy and frozen, we went back in the converted bus so I could dress, chattering like a couple of kids. It was unexpected, but absolutely the best medicine to jolt me out of my funk.
I felt myself smiling at that recollection, but it quickly faded as I realized that with the Covid lockdown over, the vaccine program up and running and life returning to "normal", my time with my family was drawing to a close.
As much as I had desperately wanted to get back to my old life a few months ago, I realized that I had found something so much better. A burning lump of grief rose in my throat at the thought of leaving this place and these people, and I swallowed some coffee to get it down. Justin spoke.
"Well, sis, now that this craziness is over...I guess you'll be wanting to get back to your work in the city."
My heart sank. I had overstayed my welcome. Well, I couldn't blame them for wanting me to...
"...stay, if you're interested." He paused, waiting for my answer.
"Uh...huh? I didn't catch that, Jus." He shook his head... little sister was spacing out again.
"I said," he replied with emphasis, "Mary and I would love to have you stay with us permanently, if you're interested. It's going to take time for you to rebuild your business, and..."
The rest was cut off by my "hugging the stuffing out of him" as my heart swelled with gratitude and love.
We went back to the house to discuss plans, fishing forgotten, and it was just as well. A fierce line of thunderstorms tore through the area, starting just about an hour after we got home, and weather reports said that a tree got hit by lightning and smashed the jetty where we had been sitting. Justin joked that he'd gone fishing, almost caught a concussion and did catch his little sister. I joked that it was all about the bass. Neither joke was particularly hilarious, but we laughed at them anyway, happy to be together.
Later that evening, I walked out into the storm-cooled night to the lakeside and breathed deeply the scent of spring growth, wet earth and rain. As I looked around, the moon broke through the ragged clouds and silvered the once again still waters as the peepers started their spring chorus, celebrating the annual renewal of life. I sighed and smiled and quietly celebrated the renewal of my own life with my family. Amongst the destruction of the jetty and my old world I had found my perfect place in the universe and I was content.