Every other Wednesday, on Writing Under Pressure, you’ll find a post based on Today’s Word (from Wordsmith.org). The goal of the exercise is to write something – an essay, poem, or flash fiction – by midnight. Past pieces can be found under Wednesday’s Word on the sidebar to the right.
never-never land. noun. An idealized imaginary place where everything is perfect.
Bobbie had to walk across a long stretch of soggy ground to reach the edge of Minnow Lake. And, something stunk; she held her nose. Her mother had said that the stench was from all the algae that grew after the long, hot summer, but Bobbie didn’t think it smelled at all like algae. And, now her socks were wet. Still, once she reached the water and stood on the rocks, Bobbie forgot about her socks and the smell. She loved the open space.
A peninsula sat about a mile off to her right. It jutted out into the water like a hook. It pointed towards the campground where Bobbie and her parents stayed every year. The peninsula had a real beach — with sand, not rocks, or slime or tangled brush. And, this year Bobbie noticed a new house built near the tip; the house was white, and it shimmered in the sun. Yesterday, she thought she saw a girl standing on the beach.
She wanted to ask the girl questions, like, where are you from? Do you have your own room in that house, with a double bed? And, Do you like Justin Bieber? Bobbie figured she must be rich. She was definitely lucky.
Bobbie’s mother called her in for dinner. As Bobbie reached the camper door, she smelled fish – again – Sun Perch that her father caught that day.
“A lot of work for a little meat,” her mother always said.
Once Bobbie’s father caught the fish, he said he was “off the hook.” He always thought that was funny. It was up to her mother to clean the fish, cook them, and insist that Bobbie eat them. Then, Bobbie had to scrub the skillet three times to get the fish stink out of it.
She figured that girl on the beach never had to scrub a skillet, if her mother even owned one.
Bobbie’s father cracked open a beer.
Her mother’s shoulders slumped as she stood over the sink and ran water over the fish.
“Set the table, Bobbie, would you?” her mother asked over her shoulder. Then, her mother spoke to her father.
Bobbie’s father shot her mother a dirty look.
“I’m worn out,” she told him.
That was the wrong thing to say. Bobbie’s father stormed out of the camper. The door slammed and then bounced into its frame three times before the latch finally clicked. Now, Bobbie and her mother would have to eat fish alone.
“Wish he’d fix that door,” his mother mumbled.
Camping with her parents used to be fun, but in the last two years it had become more of a chore. She overheard her mother say so, and now Bobbie noticed the sad look in her mother’s eyes and the lack of conversation from her father. Even the trailer showed signs of exhaustion, with its door that wouldn’t latch and the table at a permanent lean since her father fell into it late one night after the campfire died out.
Bobbie imagined the gleaming house on the hill. It probably had a sturdy table with four legs, and the girl and her parent’s laughed all through dinner. Bobbie doubted the house ever smelled like freshly cleaned fish. What she wouldn’t give to know what they were having for dinner right that minute. She was sure curious about that house.
The next morning, she grabbed a package of pop tarts, a coke, and her mother’s walking stick. Then, she set out towards the peninsula.
She followed the rocks along the shoreline first. They weren’t hard to climb, though she slipped once and almost fell into the lake. The twisted brush was a different story. It scraped her legs and pulled at her shirt. Her mother’s walking stick did little except clear out the spider webs. She jumped when she saw a snake slither out from under a bush, and she made a note to hit the stick against a tree trunk on her way back, just in case. But, she didn’t stop; she could see she was getting closer to the house.
Past the brush, Bobbie ran into a big ravine she hadn’t expected. It was too wide to jump across, so she slide down the first embankment and fell into the hot sand. It burned her knees. She stood up and used her walking stick to boost herself up the other side.
Just yards from the house, she hid behind a tree until she saw that there wasn’t a car around. Most of the shades were drawn. The family must have already gone home.
That was a short stay, she thought.
She walked onto the back porch and looked into the windows. Sunlight reflected off the stainless steel refrigerator and stove, and the inside of the house sparkled. Everything was clean and new. She took the edge of her shirt and wiped her nose smudge off the window.
Bobbie turned and walked to the edge of the water.
Her own private beach, she thought.
She walked into the water, clothes and all. Her mother would be mad, but she didn’t care. The water rose to Bobbie’s knees, then her waist, and finally, it was over her head. Bobbie tread water for a minute, then she closed her eyes and let herself sink.
The cool water washed over her head and face, and her whole body relaxed. She swam to the surface and turned onto her back. For several minutes, she floated, carried by the waves.
When she got back to her camper, her mother didn’t notice she’d been swimming. Her father had dropped off his catch of the day and then left “to get some beer.”
“I walked over to the peninsula today,” Bobbie said, without thinking.
“You did what?” Her mother looked up from the fish.
“The peninsula.” It was too late now, she thought. “I got tired of that algae smell. I wanted to see the beach.”
“You walked to the peninsula.” Her mother repeated.
“It wasn’t hard. I was fine.” Bobbie looked down at the fish. “You should see it.” She looked up at her mother. “The beach is real pretty.”
Her mother shook her head. “The peninsula,” she whispered.
Her mother tossed the fish in the sink and stood there for a minute. Then, she turned to Bobbie.
“I am sick of fish.”
“Me, too,” Bobbie said.
Her mother moved the fish to a Tupperware container and motioned for Bobbie to follow her. They took the Perch to the old couple at the next site.
“Your dad will be mad as hell,” her mother said, “but I’ll make it up to him. Let’s go back to the camper and grill ourselves a burger and bake a big, fat chocolate cake.”
Her mother slid her hand into Bobbie’s.
“And tomorrow,” she leaned into Bobbie, “you can take me to that beach. I bet it is real pretty.”