The boy sits on the concrete lot that juts out onto the water, his feet dangling over the nook where water meets sand. There is no one on the shore but an old man, oddly dressed in long sleeves, trousers, and socks. The television forecast said steady rain but it has held off, clouds knitting together in the distance. The lake is dark as ash, uneven and unsteady before the storm. He imagines the crests, these wide-mouthed gasps of water, in his bathtub, swallowing him whole, splashing out onto the tile, soaking the soiled towels and bath mat. He looks for fish, but today he has seen only shadows, the receding tide revealing an empty bottle, shells, a spindly rope of algae. There are planks of wood in the wet sand, still as fossils.
He should leave soon, he knows. He has been sitting there for several hours, occasionally rising to run in a lopsided loop around the lot, chasing seagulls like a dog. It is two miles to the house, and he fears walking through town at dusk. At that time of day the only people on the street are men escorting women into cars, families traveling in a pack to the movie theater, their taillights spotlighting his solitary figure before lumbering off into early twilight.
He slams the rubber backs of his tennis shoes against the concrete, sees an object being lapped towards the sand, and pauses. The shape is barely moving, its motions not the quick flips of a fish. He hops off onto the shore and leans closer to the lake’s surface, finding not a dead perch or carp, but something the same flat color as the sand. He finds toes, the slope of an arch. He finds a foot.
He breathes deeply in and holds the air in his lungs. All he hears is the thumping of his heart and waves: the sounds of water lapping against stone, water lapping against wood.
“It’s going to rain soon,” a voice says from above. He jumps back and sees the old man standing on the lot. “You should head home before it hits, I’m sure your parents are worried about you.”
He nods, looking back into the water to see if the foot is more visible, if the old man will notice. He feels complicit with its presence, as if the crime was in the discovery. But the man has turned, padding towards his toffee colored Lincoln. Once the car has rumbled off, he moves closer to the shallows. The current has shifted it slightly so that the sole is tilted upwards. He is grateful, not wanting to see the void of the ankle, the violence implicit in its existence.
He wishes he was with Jim or Donny or even Kevin, knowing that there would be some delight in this with company — challenges to touch it, arguments over who they should tell, who they should show it to, but they are hundreds of miles away. So he walks home, stretching his toes to the tip of his sneakers to assure himself that his feet are still there, skin stitched to skin, bone hooked to bone.
Like all young boys, he loves the summer. Summer to him is washing caked dirt off your feet with a hose, trying to catch fish with your hands in the shallows of the ocean, sitting shoulder to shoulder with other boys on the wooden bench of a baseball park.
But in Ohio, in his grandparents’ home, it is different. It’s warmer, and the front strands of his hair are always dark with sweat. He knows no other boys. The television is older, and hums even when it is turned off. There are tufts of dust beneath radiators, moths in bags of flour.
When he arrives home, his mother is alone in the room they share. She gives him the bed to sleep in, but then spends most of her days stretched along the mattress, so that at night her scent is thick as wax on the pillowcase. He would rather sleep on the couch, but she won’t let him refuse the bed, one of her dwindling maternal gestures, now that her parents make his toast, rub the grass stains from his trousers, buy him toothpaste.
“How was the beach?” she asks, placing her book down next to her, its cover lined with plastic. Most of the books in the home are overdue library books.
“It’s not a beach when it’s not the ocean,” he says.
“Well, what is it then?”
“I don’t know. Just a lot of sand.”
Three weeks ago his mother left his father in Weymouth to be with a man named Daley, and he trailed after her like a kite roped around her wrist. But when they arrived at Daley’s house on the north shore of Massachusetts, their clothes stuffed in brown paper bags in the backseat of the car, Daley made no move to open the screen door. The boy’s mother slipped inside as he sat on the sloped concrete steps, rubbing the eraser of a pencil down to the metal against the concrete. They drove the twelve hours to her parents’ home in silence, tears still against her face like water running down rock.
His grandfather said you should never trust a man whose name you can’t spell from sound. His grandmother said they could stay as long as he didn’t terrorize her senile spaniel.
His mother returns to her reading as he walks in slow circles around the room. He wonders what would happen if he jumped through the window screen, whether he would break a leg or an arm or just die. He wonders what they’re having for dinner.
“I found a foot in the water,” he says.
“A foot? A foot as in feet?” she says, not looking up from the page.
“Yes, like this,” he says, lifting his foot up to her face, holding it in his hand. She brushes it away, and he tips back onto the carpet.
“Well, I hope whoever lost it finds it.”
“That doesn’t make sense, you can’t find anything when you’re dead,” he says, spreading out like a starfish.
She doesn’t respond to this, proceeding to the next chapter. Still on his back, he turns the closet door handle with his toes, and closes it and opens it until she tells him to go to the other room.
When he is older, he will remember his grandfather taking him for a drive that evening, that they stopped to buy root beers. He will not remember that the drive was to the pharmacy, to buy light bulbs and toilet paper, and that they drove back to the house directly after, his grandfather lecturing him on Kosovo.
As an adult, he will have
an unabashed pride in his grandfather. He will keep the photo of him — age nineteen, his cotton army uniform bunching around his shoulders and knees — in a frame of polished wood. He will find any excuse to mention him. If big band music plays in a film, he will share tha