Here is a preview of Jordy Lynch’s Holding Up the Circle, which will be published in our Spring 2013 issue. Jordy read the piece at the release party for Forum‘s Fall 2012 issue, video from which can be viewed below.
I looked up.
Clouds spread out across the sky, covering any blue the atmosphere usually reflected, resulting in a range of dark and light grey. The mottled sky peaked through treetops and around rooftops.
I was walking to the lake, the usual sounds of gunfire absent today. The gun range across the lake was only open on Wednesdays and Sundays. I think it was a Tuesday. I always wondered why the lake in the city would have a gun range attached to it, but the lake absorbed any missed rounds. Plus the water acted as an excellent surface for the gunshot reports to travel on, and I enjoyed the periodic noise of the firing range.
Without the noise of pistols and shotguns, the lake was silent. Silent and unmoving. It reminded me of a postcard. The boulevard that ran alongside me provided enough noise to shatter the picturesque quality of the lake. I made my way to a bridge near the south end of the lake.
Runners moved by me on the bridge. Several dog owners ambled across the overpass. I saw who I was looking for.
A group of young adults stood near the center of the bridge, smoking, talking, staring at the lake with arms propped up on the concrete railing of the bridge. Three girls and two guys. I only knew four of the five of them, the guys and two of the girls. My best friend Sam stood hunched over the bridge railing with a cigarette smoldering between his fingers. Next to him was Tyler, someone I hadn’t gotten to know very well. Standing near the two guys were Alisha, Corine, and the girl I did not know. Corine was holding hands with Tyler. They looked like a bunch of high schoolers that had just ditched class. I walked up to them.
“Hey.” I said.
“And he graces us with his presence,” Sam said, as if he were announcing to the runners and dog walkers.
“Thought I would treat you all to a real surprise.” I said.
“Oh we are so touched,” Alisha said, placing her hand on my arm in a display of false sincerity.
Laughs were had, pleasantries exchanged.
“Think I could bum a smoke?”
“Hell yea man. Here,” Sam handed me a cigarette. “Need a light?”
“If you wouldn’t mind.”
“Oh, I fucking mind,” Sam said with a smile and the flick of a lighter.
I inhaled, the tobacco stick wavering in the butane fire. The cherry flared up. I thanked my friend for the provided poison.
We stood on the bridge, six kids wasting time waiting for nothing on the lake in the city.
Nobody ever swam the lake. We seldom saw boats. I always expected more people would want to be on the lake, out in it. Living in the city could leave one craving nature: trees, birds, water, air–anything not man-made. Then there were the days where all I wanted was to look out my window and listen to the gunshots outside, to look at the never ending, always moving line of cars on the boulevard.
Living in the city could make you confused, could make your head hurt. Whenever I started feeling like that, a good stroll by the lake always leveled me out.
“Hey man, you alright?”
“What?” I looked to the girl who asked me if I was alright, the mystery girl. “Yes. Why?”
“You’re just standing there. Creepin’ me out.” She said this while looking away.
I looked down to my cigarette, the cherry barely alive, the tip of the stick a lengthy cylinder of ash.
“I’m good. Just need to get my head right. You guys wanna blaze in the bushes?”
A consensus was agreed upon quickly and the six of us began walking back the way I had came. We took a lesser known path that ran closer along the lake than the road and dived into the brush, navigating overgrown dirt paths, avoiding small crustaceans while we walked.
Eventually the path opened up to an embankment on the lake, an excellent view of the placid water. It reminded me of a great and natural mirror. The reflection captured the mixture of grey sky and bled the colors into each other. It looked like a painting.
“Shall we?” the girl who had received “the creeps” from me said.
“Oh. Right.” I pulled a pipe out of my coat pocket, a green leafy mix packed into the wooden bowl. “Somebody have a light?”
Four lighters appeared, held out towards me like weapons. I chose a red Bic.
The flick of the flint. The depression of the bright red button. The hiss of butane escaping. The flare and ignition of it. The fire. The flame got low. The green leaf sizzled and popped. I inhaled. I exhaled. I passed the pipe.
The lake was beautiful.
We stood in a loose circle, some of us closer than others. We looked out on the lake, the silence punctuated by the metal flick of the lighter.
In the distance, a cluster of long boats sat low to the water with rows of people manning the paddles. They worked in time to row in unison with one another. I could see that one boat with less than a full crew was stationary, the group of boats rowing in a wide oval pattern around the vessel. Someone stood in the center boat while a couple people huddled on the other end of the boat, around what looked like a burlap sack.
“Hey. Dude. Hello?” Someone said to me. I was holding up the circle. I took the pipe, hit it, and passed.
“What’s got you in a trance sleeping beauty?” one of the girls asked. I didn’t look to see who it was or even bother to answer. I just kept looking at those boats, rowing in a giant oval round that middle boat.
“What are those boats doin’ out there?” I asked no one in particular.
“Looks like they’re, uhhhhh, boating around?” Sam said.
The group laughed.
“Why in a circle like that?”
“Why do you care?” Corine asked. I could tell it was Corine because of the nasal whine that accompanied her voice.
The pipe came back to me.
“Why doesn’t anybody ever go out on the lake, or swim it, or anything?” I asked, ignoring Corine’s question as effectively as mine had been.
Some misplaced chuckles and shuffling of feet. Nobody wanted to talk to me about the lake.
“I don’t know dude. Maybe it’s a disgusting, disease-ridden bog, unswimmable and dangerous to children under the age of four years old?” Tyler said, laughing by the time his statement finished. Laughs passed around the circle with the pipe.
I didn’t laugh. I hit the pipe. The smoke slipped from my mouth and nose then filtered into the open air.
“This is out.”
I took the pipe and smacked it against my hand several times, clearing the bowl out. Its resin innards winked a dull pitch color. I searched my pocket for my weed, intending to load another bowl.
“Why do you think nobody swims on the lake, Thomas?” The mystery girl said to me.
I was looking down, focusing on the pipe and its contents. I didn’t speak for a long while, not till after the bowl was sparked and on its orbit. I turned away from the lake, to the group.
“I think there’s something at the bottom of the lake.”
The group answered by way of silence, the lighter the only response in the crowd. No laughs. No looks of dismay. Almost no change at all. Maybe mild interest, but only on a few of their faces. I looked back at the ground.
“The boats, they’re out there and they’re dropping guts and fat and meat down there to feed it. The gun range is here to keep it scarred. And the boulevard.” I said.
One of the girls fell into a coughing fit for a minute, hacking and choking on the smoke. The only human response I had garnered so far. I looked back to the lake.
After a bit Sam said, “You know I heard they were gonna open that range up on Mondays soon?” which bagged a, “No shit? Boy, I’d sure like to get me a gun. Something big like one of those Dirty Harry shooters, you know the big mother fuckers.” from Tyler. The group fell back into the banter from the bridge and forgot about the thing at the bottom of the lake, the boats with the bags of feed, the gun range.
We finished smoking.
With everyone pleasantly buzzed, the pipe went away. The group became anxious. A suggestion to get lunch was made. I stood by the lake and looked out at the boats returning to wherever they had come from, shrinking away into the distance.
A hand appeared in my vision, waving up and down. “Hello? We’re going to Buzz’s.”
The statement met no response. I just stood.
“Soooooooo…. you wanna come?”
“Alright man, see ya.” the group departed.
I stood by myself, but not really alone. There was the lake monster.
“How long you think it’s been down there?” the mystery girl said, startling me away from my thoughts. I turned and saw her standing behind me, alone. I tried to remember her name, to think if I had heard it somewhere at some point, but there was nothing.
“Oh.” I thought about it. I looked back out to the lake. “Longer than anybody in this city can remember. Probably before the city was even here.”
“How long before?”
“Ages. Decades on decades.”
“How big is it?”
“The size of… the size of…” I said it like I was going to sneeze. “…of those hills in the distance. It’s down there buried and blanketing the floor of the lake, its appendages slithering in and about pockets in the lake bed–an intelligence that’s never still, always curious and feeling. Every so often a tentacle strays near the surface, that faint blue green where the light still matters, before the backfire of an engine or the concussion of a twelve gauge ripples through the lake and scares it off. It goes back down. What if one night, when traffic is light and that gun range is empty, the thing at the bottom of the lake gets too curious? What then?”
I looked over to the girl. I wish I could read minds sometimes.
“You really believe that?” She asked.
“A guy can dream can’t he?”
The girl laughed. I sighed. The city chortled about, cars and buildings playing in the din.
And the lake was still.
Jordy Lynch worked on Forum during the Fall 2012 semester and his story Holding Up the Circle will be published in Forum‘s Spring 2013 issue.