The Cabin

by Jake Barnes

When I got back from rehab, I cleaned my vacant townhouse.  You had taken all your stuff when you moved out.  Next I took an airplane to Minneapolis and another one to Fargo.  Then I rented a car and drove the fifty miles to a little town in Minnesota.  I visited my mother in the nursing home, and then I drove out to our cabin on the lake.

          I turned on the water, aired the cabin out, and made up a bed.  I plugged in the refrigerator and let it cycle.  Then I walked down the steps to the shore.  There were forty-three concrete steps.  I know; I built them myself.

          That evening I sat and watched the sunset.  The color of the water changed from blue to black.  The sky turned from pink to star-spangled ebony.  There was no moon.

          In the morning the fog boiled up from the ground as I padded down the steps to the lake in bare feet.  I stood at the edge of the water naked as a newborn.  Tiny ripples licked my toes.  I walked into the water until it was waist deep.  Then I scrubbed myself with a bar of Ivory soap.

          Later I dragged my canoe down from the lawn to the water's edge.  I let it sit there.  I would take it out that evening.  I liked to paddle to the shallows at the west end of the lake as the sun set and watch the colors change.

          That night I slept the sleep of the dead.

          The next day, after breakfast, I put on my old sneakers and ran from the cabin to the highway and back.  I figured it was about a mile.  I ran every day, rain or shine, in those days.  I started when I was thirty years old.  I had looked in the mirror one day and saw a man who was getting fat.

          I was no longer fat.  I had lost twenty pounds that summer.  I weighed 165 pounds when I got to the rehab.  I hadn't weighed that little since I was in high school.

          My wife and I used to run together.  We ran after she got home from work and on weekends for exercise.  We ran 10Ks.  Then, earlier that summer, she went one way, and I went another.

          At the lake all that seemed like it happened a long time ago.  I read, swam, went for walks, went fishing.  At night I watched the news on an old black and white portable TV.

          At bedtime I would turn off the TV and sit in an old recliner that had belonged to my dad and think about my dead father and my wayward wife.  I didn't drink.  I was tempted to, but I didn't.  I told myself that I didn't want it, didn't need it.  That was a comforting lie.

          I would lie in bed and think about my past life with more relief than regret, happy to have survived the train wreck, glad to be alive.  I fell asleep listening to the shrill lullaby of crickets.