The Deacon is in the yard making X marks on tree bark with red spray paint. I am at the window, looking out and the Deacon is in the yard. He shouldn’t be there. He should never be out in the yard here. I’d just rinsed out a mug for coffee at the sink and looked up. I looked up, looked out the window above the sink and saw him, saw the Deacon at the back edge of the yard spraying red X marks on the trees. He shouldn’t be out there.
I try to keep a sense of humor about things, but I don’t like this. I’m not laughing about this. The Deacon should not be here. This is the third time this week and he's been doing things like this for years.
I’ve got a piece of it cut out, a piece of the red painted bark, hung up over the back door.
Whenever he sees me, sees he’s being watched, and he leaves, I go out and chip the rest off subtly as I can, so the trees don’t have big, red X marks on them or chunks missing from their bark.
I’m at the sink. I’m looking out the window at the yard, at the Deacon in the yard spray painting the trees. I can see the red X marks clearly—even on some of the trees a few feet in.
I drove up here last week and when I was unloading some things from the car, he walked by a few times. And when I was unloading some things from the car I heard the loon hooting down at the lake. It made me feel better, hearing the loon. A family of loon—loons?—has always lived up here at the lake. I can never tell if more than one is loon or loons. I think I lean towards loon.
The drive up seems to go quicker the older I get. On the last leg of it you go through a little rotary around the gas station and The Circle Store with the seafood counter, deli, fishing tackle, take the exit past the local hardware store and then there’s the motel next to a patch of shallow water like puddle lily padded over. A second past that, the old flaking, dirty-white church with the cedar shingled second hand furniture store that was tacked on after the fact— bigger than the actual church. Higher up the hill, turn onto the dirt road dotted with produce and egg on-the-honor-system stands, lined with short stonewalls and little cemeteries. Then there it is. The small, dark brown log home that used to be my grandparents home, atop Stone Hem Road.
When I’m on that last part of the drive I start thinking about lemon and watermelon Italian ice and cherry chocolate ice cream pops at the lake when the ice-cream bell rings in the late afternoon. I like being up here. It’s nice. and it’s quiet—until my dog starts howling or barking. I’ve tried to apologize to some of the neighbors but they find him charming. There’re about a dozen modest houses spread out up here. And a lake’s just on the other side of the hill, this squat mountain.
I’d live up here, in my grandparents’ old house if I could. I don’t know what the plans for this house are. My grandparents lived here for as long as I knew them. My mother’s parents. They had 8 kids including my mom.
I’m here now to put an arsenic filter on the well line. Actually the morning after I got here I put it in, but I might have to mess around with it some. The water’d been testing high even after we replaced the old line. Seems okay now, like this filter’s working. I’ll still have to keep an eye on it.
We—my cousins, me, my father and mother, her siblings—usually rotate—there’s chore trips, there’s sit at the lake and fire up the grill trips, but I like it up here so I never separate the 2, I look for more reasons to come up. Try to take any chance I can.
We’ve often gotta check the well line it seems. And we come up to check on things in the winter, make sure pipes aren’t burst, clear a couple paths. Sometimes something needs repainting. There’s mowing the lawn too—which I always think is funny. The lawn’s mostly sandy gravel. But somebody, one of my mom’s siblings, maybe it’s my mom too, wants the lawn to be mowed so that means somebody usually does it.
I try to convince them all to just let me do it, let me be the only one that does it, that way it’s one less thing for any of them to worry about and I’d get to have the excuse to pop up when it needs to be done. I can head up after work any day and leave early if I have to, to get back to work the next day. I take a weekend when I can, but on this trip up I get 2 weeks—one of my uncles had something come up so I took advantage and I got the time off.
I don’t necessarily like mowing the lawn like some do, but I want to be the sole mower for the sake of the strawberries. No one would accidentally roll over and mow the wild strawberries outlining the yard if I’m the only one that mows. There’s more strawberries than grass. There’s almost no grass. It’s all sand, moss, rock, and a few encroaching ferns, oxeye daisies, only a couple square feet of orchard grass, and my long patch of strawberries. So when someone else cuts the lawn, since it’s really the only green part of the yard, they usually cut the strawberries, not thinking. And so the strawberries keep getting cut before they even have the chance to berry.
I’d rather be the one to mow the lawn to ensure the safety of the strawberries. My mom’s siblings, my cousins, they’d all said fine but ended up mowing anyway. I think they’re finally starting to remember, though, ‘cause this is the first time the strawberries have gone long enough uncut to berry in a dozen years. Not only have they berried, they’re ripe now. Early July and they taste just like strawberry dum-dums.
I open the window over the sink, the stain-glass angel hanging from a suction-cupped hook swings. I try to make some noise after opening the window, clang a couple pots and pans together. I drop a handful of silverware into the sink. I look out at the Deacon noticing me looking. I swear I could kill him.
With the kitchen window open, the smell of come-and-gone-but-will-return-again rain comes in. I feel like I can smell cigarettes. This all mixes with the smell of cedar and the breakfast potatoes that I forgot I had in the pan, sizzling.
Nathan Dragon's work has been in NOON, Muumuu House, The Baffler, Hotel, New York Tyrant, and Fence. Dragon co-runs the publishing project Blue Arrangements.