Fiction · 04/13/2016

Backscratchers

Alice inherited her family’s bungalow on Carter Lake after her father died. The man her parents bought the house from said the lake just appeared one rainy summer. But Alice doubted it. The lake never got any fuller, even after all the snow melted in the spring. Alice kept a pink inner tube tied to her dock for the people to look at as they drove from the Super 8 to the airport. Real idyllic, Alice wanted the plane people to murmur.

That humid summer afternoon, Alice made herself a piña colada and decided to go float in her inner tube. She made herself Polynesian cocktails every humid summer afternoon, and every afternoon that summer had been humid. Her house was hot. The man her parents bought the place from was no good. He hadn’t done the insulation right way back when, so Alice sweated through her sheets now. She was floating and drinking all afternoon most days.

When Alice headed towards her dock, she saw the kid from next door in her inner tube, twirling around. She’d met the kid, but she couldn’t remember his name. He had kind of reminded Alice of her father way back when, back when Alice was a kid and her father had cared about things.

“Hey, little kid!” Alice shouted. “This is my dock!”

“My parents are replacing ours, ma’am.” The kid squinted up at Alice behind a pair of goggles that covered half his face. “The ground there’s all muddy.”

“Boys like mud.” Alice put her hands on her hips. “Don’t you?”

“No, ma’am,” he shouted back.

Ma’am. The neighbor boy seemed like fine company as far as neighbor kids went. “I can bring out an old Scrabble set. Kids like hot dogs? I don’t have any buns. Ketchup, though.”

The boy looked up at her. “Just want to float here. If you don’t mind.”

The kid didn’t seem like he was going anywhere. So, Alice crouched down slowly—her knees gave her pains—and put her feet into the water. Her house was quiet. Alice’s dad used to live with her. Alice’s high school friends sometimes came by to drink Backscratchers, a bourbon and rum cocktail garnished with hilarious miniature bamboo backscratchers. Her friend Karen always cried about her dead husband, though, so their visits weren’t always that fun or relaxing.

“The man who used to live here said this lake just appeared,” Alice said. “Miracle or something?”

“That was Josephson,” the boy said. “Dead now.”

“How’d you know that?”

The boy stared at her, unblinking.

“But this lake never does get any bigger, does it? Even in the spring when all the snow melts?” Alice kicked her feet in the water. “I keep that inner tube in here for the people to look at when they drive to the airport.”

The boy scrunched up his eyes. “Your house is too far from the road to see this inflatable, I think, ma’am. ‘Specially at night.”

“My house is hot. I just came out here for a swim.” Alice’s head had filled up with heat, and she remembered this cocktail hadn’t been her first. “Heard you had a lot of flies at your place. Heard that around.”

“Heard that right. Flies. But also a lot of beetles getting in there.”

“Installed better screens at my place. On account of my dad spending the springtime dying.”

Alice’s father’s back had never been right after his plant accident back in ‘68, when he was young, and afterwards, he rarely moved from his recliner. During the worst months of that dying springtime, her dad made Alice put on his socks, and then, right after she’d gotten them on, he made her take them off. In the very worst month, Alice fed her dad microwaveable dinners, fried chicken or beef and peas, by hand, but he spat up more than he swallowed.

“Sorry for your loss,” the boy said, nodding gravely.

Alice nodded back. “Saw Mr. and Mrs. Smith at church. They’re both getting heavy.”

“She’s thin now,” the boy said. “He’s dead. Haven’t seen you at church in a while, ma’am.”

“I was thinking about buying a Sham-Wow from the Infomercial,” Alice said. “Say it cleans the car and the oven. Both.”

“Your got a car, ma’am?” The boy looked towards her driveway. “Don’t see one.”

“I don’t know about the composition of this lake,” Alice said. “Think there’s pesticide run-off in it?”

“You aren’t mutated.”

“True. True.” Alice sipped her cocktail. “Ever wonder about Mrs. Dean? All alone out there. She keeping her sanity?”

“S’pose so. She had zucchini bread at the church potluck. I ate it.”

“I missed that potluck.”

“You miss most things.”

“You want to stay for dinner, kid? Eat hot dogs?” Alice looked at the neighbor boy. She wanted him to put his hand on her forearm and say, “It really is too bad about that insulation”, or to tell her that the Good Lord really would like her to attend church more regularly. Alice wanted him to remind her she existed outside of the water and the house, in the world.

“Meatloaf tonight.” The boy shrugged and kicked his feet out from the inner tube. He pulled himself onto the dock. “Maybe another time.” He ran across the muddy grass to his house.

Alice watched the boy until he got to his front door. Really, he wasn’t like her father at all. Really, her father was one of a kind. Dad had only wanted to make other people happy, even the ones who didn’t deserve it. Alice eased herself into the water, wiggled through the inner tube’s opening, and threw her arms over its side. Alice squinted up at the sky, looking for planes. She supposed that was where her dad was now. “Do you think I came on too desperate, Dad?” Alice’s head spun, so she looked back down into the water. “I used to be so killer with people.”

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Alicia Bones is a second-year MFA student at the University of Montana. Previously, she earned her master’s degree in literature from the University of Iowa. Her work has been published in Entropy, Qu Literary Journal, Maudlin House, Spry, and Matador Network.