The Cabin at the End of the World(8)

Eric and Andrew lounge on the elevated back deck overlooking the sprawling Gaudet Lake; deep and dark, its basin was gouged out by glaciers fifteen thousand years ago and ringed by a seemingly endless forest of pine, fir, and birch trees. Behind the forest, looming as distant and unreachable as the clouds, are the ancient humpbacks of the White Mountains in the south, the lake’s natural fortress, both impenetrable and inescapable. The surrounding landscape is as spectacularly New England as it is alien to their everyday urban lives. There are a handful of cabins and camps on the lake, but none are visible from their deck. The only boat spied since their arrival was a yellow canoe gliding silently along the lake’s far shore. The three of them wordlessly watched it fade from view, falling off the unseen edge of the world.

The nearest cabin to theirs is two miles farther down the onetime logging road. Earlier that morning, well before either Andrew or Wen were awake, Eric jogged down to the unoccupied cabin, which had been recently painted a dark blue and had white shutters and a pair of snowshoes decorating the white front door. He resisted an inexplicably strong urge to peer into the windows and explore the property. Only an irrational fear of being caught by the absent owners and then having to stammer through an embarrassing rationalization of his behavior turned him away.

Eric lays half reclined in a chaise longue under the bright light of the sun. He forgot to drape a towel over the chair and its weave of plastic bands sticks to his bare back. He is probably mere minutes away from a slight burn if he doesn’t apply sunscreen. As a child he used to suffer through the stinging pain of sunburn on purpose so that he could later gross out his older sisters with his peeling skin. He’d carefully pry up large flakes and leave them attached to his body like miniature back and tail plates of a stegosaurus, his favorite dinosaur.

Andrew sits a few feet away from Eric, but not a patch of his pale skin is exposed to the sunlight. He is curled up with his legs folded on a bench seat under a nearly see-through umbrella that shades the old picnic table. The table sheds large strips of red stain. He wears baggy black shorts and a gray long-sleeve T-shirt adorned by Boston University’s crest, and his long hair is pulled back and tucked into an army-green flat cap. Andrew is hunched over a collection of essays about twentieth-century South American writers and magical realism. Eric knows what the book is because, since arriving at the cabin, Andrew has told him three times what he’s reading, and in the twenty minutes they’ve been on the deck, Andrew has read aloud two passages about Gabriel García Márquez. Eric read One Hundred Years of Solitude in college, but to his shame very little of that book has survived in his memory. That Andrew is not so subtly showing off and/or seeking Eric’s approval is endearing and irritating in equal measure.

Eric reads and rereads the same paragraph of a novel that everyone is supposedly talking about this summer. It’s a typical thriller involving a disappearance of a character, and he’s already weary of the contrived and borderline absurd plot. But it’s not the book’s fault that he can’t concentrate.

He says, “One of us should go see what Wen is up to.” It’s carefully worded and not a question to which Andrew can quickly say no. It’s a statement; something he’ll have to address directly.

“By one of us, do you mean me?”

“No.” Eric says it in a way that he expects Andrew to be able to instantly translate as a yes, of course, I wouldn’t have said anything otherwise. Eric doesn’t know how he’s become the hovering parent, the disciplinarian (God, how he hates that word), the one who obsesses over worst-case scenarios. Eric prides himself on being western-Pennsylvania friendly, easy to talk to, levelheaded, always willing to build toward consensus and compromise. The second youngest of nine children from a Catholic family, his ability to talk to and charm most everyone was how he survived his confusing teenage years and downright turbulent early twenties after he came out and his parents refused to pay for his final semester at the University of Pittsburgh. Eric’s response was to couch surf with the help of many generous friends and work at a popular sandwich shop near campus for two years until he paid the remaining tuition and earned his degree. All the while he talked to his parents (mostly his mom) on the phone and remained confident they would come around. And they did. The day Eric received his diploma, his parents showed up at his friend’s apartment in tears, apologizing, and they gave him a check equal to the amount of the college bill with a little extra thrown in, a check Eric promptly used to make a move up to Boston. Now a market analyst for Financeer, because of his obvious people skills he is occasionally called in to help mediate contentious meetings between administrators and his department director. Eric is laid-back in his approach to everything in his life, with the one exception of parenting. Andrew had to practically drag him out to the back deck instead of letting him remain inside, staring out the front windows and dutifully watching Wen playing alone in the yard.

Andrew doesn’t look up from his book and says, “Bears. Wen is up to her neck in bears.”

Eric drops his book and it claps loudly on the deck. “You are not funny.” The owners left strict written instructions, all capital letters, to not leave any unsecured garbage bags outside because it would attract bears. There’s a mini shedlike structure on the property for the sole purpose of housing and hiding trash. They are to bring trash to a town dump (which is only open to nonresidents on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday), a forty-minute drive away with a charge of two dollars a bag. They could’ve rented a property on popular Lake Winnipesaukee, a tourist hot spot in the southern/central part of the state, where Eric wouldn’t be obsessing about bears (as much), instead of this beautiful but remote cabin, as lost in the woods as Goldilocks (more bears . . . ), a stone’s throw from the Canadian border. Eric sits up and rubs his bald head, which is hot to the touch, and most definitely sunburned.

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