by Leonard Kress

She wades into the lake, moving slowly, using her toes to feel for sharp rocks and plants, so slowly that her movement barely disturbs the water’s surface. Three young men sit on a flat boulder at the edge of the lake. Their legs dip into the water and they watch her. One is the girl’s boyfriend, another her ex-boyfriend, and the third trembles imperceptibly in her presence. Before stepping into the lake, she removes her jeans and lets her white tunic fall to her thighs. Now the bottom of the tunic brushes against the surface of the water giving it a dark border that gradually broadens as she moves farther from the shore.

They drove up to the mountains early in the day, packed into the boyfriend’s Bonneville. They brought two small tents and sleeping bags but no food. They planned to stop along the way but never did. They began their climb in late afternoon, pockets stuffed with candy bars and packets of saltines wrapped in cellophane lifted from a diner weeks before. Halfway up the mountain, they realized none of them had matches. The climb was strenuous and they didn’t talk much along the way, conserving energy, using hand signals to communicate their interpretations of the trail markings, which were often ambiguous.

It is still early evening but the sun is already filtered by the white pine needles. Shadows fall across the lake casting a spiky mesh. The young woman’s shadow is an elongated mannerist version of herself. The young men remain silent. They are exhausted from the climb and hungry and don’t think to join her in the water. If she would gesture to them, a simple head-nod or curled finger, they would slide off the boulder and go to her, but she stands with her back to them, raising up her tunic and gathering the excess fabric in front of her. Her boyfriend says she looks like she’s grabbing onto a fishing pole. The ex-boyfriend says she looks like a guy peeing at a urinal.

Later, seated on logs and boulders at the campsite and poking sticks at the spot where there should be a campfire, they divide up the remaining crackers and candy bars. The boyfriend gives his portion to his girlfriend and she, in turn, tosses some crackers to the one who hasn’t been involved with her. Only the ex does not participate in the swap. After a protracted silence, the young woman speaks, ‘When I was in the lake, a tiny snake entered me. I think it’s still inside.’

The next morning they make their descent but lose sight of the trail markings and emerge on the opposite side of the mountain. They decide to split into pairs—the boyfriend and girlfriend together—and circle the mountain in opposite directions. They are hoping to meet right where their car was parked on the other side and fully expect to arrive at the same time.

Leonard Kress has been published in Missouri Review, Massachusetts Review, Iowa Review, Harvard Review, and others. His recent collections are The Orpheus Complex, and Walk Like Bo DiddleyLiving in the Candy Store and Other Poems and his new translation of the Polish Romantic epic, Pan Tadeusz by Adam Mickiewicz were published in 2018.