K pulls up to the office and gets out, moving behind the Jeep to open the boot and reach for the black rucksack he always uses for work. Jumping out soundlessly in my flip-flops, I pad round to join him, snatching a hungry look out at the lake as he outlines plans for the day I’m supposed to be listening to, hands stuffed in the too-small pockets of my jeans. I shadow him as he opens the passenger door to say goodbye to S, before finally turning to me and dispensing a kiss. I throw my arms around his neck and press myself against him – even the most routine and insignificant of goodbyes carry a sting for me. He returns the pressure and smiles, because he’s happy or because he knows what I’m like, I can’t tell. Then he bounds up the steps and is swallowed by inscrutable tinted glass and concrete. Above my head the Maple Leaf snaps and flutters, framed by cerulean blue. The hollow clink of hook and halyard on the metal flagpole brings me back to the moment and I turn my back on the building.
Sliding into the drivers seat I adjust the mirror, mind scanning for reasons to go home. There are none. I close the door and turn the key, flicking my eyes to the rearview mirror and smiling in anticipation of S’s shout of joy when we turn left not right, heading for the lakeshore car park instead of retracing the way we came. She’s right on cue.
There’s something hypnotic about the lake. It’s hard to tear myself away once I’ve glimpsed it and however long I spend there I’m always greedy for more time to stare uninterrupted out across the water and let my mind wander where it will. Perhaps it’s the changing light and shadows on the water, shape-shifting before your eyes so that, in the same way you can’t discern where exactly water meets sky, you can’t tell at what moment what was became what is now.
I guide the Jeep into a spot facing the water and feel its weight roll back slightly as I put the gearstick in Park and cut the engine. S undoes her seatbelt and waits for me to open her door before hitting the ground running, her stocky little legs pumping, curls bouncing as she flies across the short stretch of grass that peters into sand and pebble before it meets the water.
There are already a handful of cars here but the waterfront trail stretches for miles and you can walk for quite a while without meeting anyone in some parts. Lots of people come just to sit in their cars and gaze at the horizon – a popular pastime, day or night. I’ve done it myself, driving down here after a petty row with K one night. I left forty minutes later, so calm I was halfway home before headlights looming large in my path told me I was driving on the wrong side of the road. Expat occupational hazard; old habits die hard.
Time passes, seagulls wheel and cry and the surf sweeps tirelessly in and out, gathering and re-distributing its flotsam on the shore like a shopkeeper with OCD, “Not like that, like this… no that’s not right, take that out and try this…” Amidst the relentlessly demanding reality and superficial preoccupations of daily life, this is where I come to reclaim my peace.
I love it at this time of the morning, when there’s still a veil of mist hiding the smooth ripples of a lake at rest and the travails of humanity seem like something imagined. The water moves languidly like quicksilver, a tranquil meditation on ease in your own form and the blush of early sunshine brings just enough warmth to the hazy opalescence to make a swim seem the most desirous thing in all the world at this particular moment.
Somehow, completely unintentionally, I’ve always lived close to rivers, seas or lakes. There’s something so incredibly soothing about the sound and sight of water moving I can’t imagine how I’d feel if I couldn’t come and saturate my senses. But for now there’s no need to. I push thoughts of desert living from my mind – bits of the mind’s string too short yet to be of use – and squeeze the key fob. The central locking beep-beeps to reassure me of what I’ll forget in subsequent seconds as I follow S down to the water. I know it’ll be lunchtime before we leave…