Until she was twelve, Christine considered her father a god and flourished in his unspoken love. Every Saturday, she pleaded to spend the morning with him in the cramped hardware store he managed for Mr. Moore. Her mother, motivated Christine surmised from jealousy, only allowed her to be at the store during open hours, on the grounds her daughter would be less likely to get in the way.
Despite her mother’s tactics, for years, each week, to her joy, her father grudgingly agreed to her presence “if she didn’t get in the way.” Month after month, Saturday morning found her sorting nails or standing on a stool to dust the shelves.
Her mother described her father as sour but she didn’t see him at the store. There he was patient and able to please customers—listening to their concerns, finding the right gadget, demonstrating how to operate a tool. He knew them all, solved all their problems. It was only at home with family a gruff silence descended.
Before things turned, Saturday mornings were the happiest time of Christine’s week. Surpassed only by the first two weeks in July, the weeks the family went to her Uncle Jim’s cottage for their summer holiday. For years afterwards, she worried if she had inadvertently done something to shatter that glorious July afternoon.
The family was picnicking at a favored rocky point around the bend from the cottage, the midday sun broiling them into lethargic contentment. Moist from swimming, the young girl stretched out on the ledge above the shimmering lake, lulled by the hypnotic bees in the nearby bushes. Caught in euphoric child-time, Christina savoured the prospect of another swim, her thin body cutting through the cold, clear water to the other world.
When her mother and brother rose and begin gathering their things, she turned reluctantly for her towel. Her father smiled tentatively and suggested that she stay behind with him. They could swim back together to the cottage. Joyfully agreeing to the unexpected offer of comradeship, the girl proudly watched the rowboat below the point bump across the water and spirit her mother and brother, small coloured figurines, around the bend.
Sitting contently by her father, Christina was proud she had been asked to swim with him. It was a day of firsts. It was the first time she had worn her new turquoise bathing suit—a bikini. She was conscious of her emerging breasts pressed tightly against the thin material as she sat proudly in the sun. She pictured herself a mermaid in a Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale.
When her father’s breath prickled her bare shoulders, she shivered, delighted by his tender gesture. Before that moment, he had never touched her; not even a bedtime hug. But as he moved closer she felt strangely uneasy, almost frightened. What was she expected to do? She longed to hide in his arms, but when his hands rubbed her bare stomach, she recoiled. For some shameful reason, he made her shiver as if a snake were touching her.
Stiff and exposed, she stared at her beloved lake, so often celebrated in ceremony. The flat water lay before her unresponsive. Her father’s rough hands touched the back of her suit loosening the strap. She clutched her breast fearfully, catching the ineffectual cloth as it fell away. He surrounded her, his moist body against her, the heavy hands encircling her thin frame.
Wordless, she held herself tight, praying to suddenly awaken and find the lake shimmering, to be laughing with Peter. She longed for her mother to call her to supper, for Peter to run in flushed and happy. The family framed at the table.
She leaped up, flinging her arms to the side, stumbled to the edge of the cliff and threw herself into the water. Her rigid body cut through the glass surface into the black depths. Down, down, she hurtled. Down where the weeds snaked her legs and dead fish decayed. Down, down until her chest ached, struggling and fighting, her body switched back and forth, until finally lungs bursting, she surfaced. Her father, now a shrunken figure abandoned on the rocky ledge, his face in his lap. She struggled back towards the cabin, thrashing to get around the corner before he lifted his head and obliterated her.