I Remember My Brother and Sister – Short Story
By: Iain Angus
I remember my brother and sister. No one else does, but I do. My parents moved from Pennsylvania to Ontario before any of us were born. I am not sure why now, but it may have been for medical reasons. I think it was 1970 or 71.
They moved to Charleston Lake, cottage country. Straight up, off I-81; half an hour north of the New York state border. The locals called it a summer place, our house. My father gutted, insulated, rewired and dry walled it. It is amazing what frost can do to cement. Part of the foundation was replaced as well.
Mr. Running, the old farmer down the road helped my father when he could. Together they scraped, primed, painted and shingled. I don’t remember any of this but I have seen pictures and heard the stories of struggle. In return my father would help with haying in the summer and with cutting wood in the winter and fall. It was a mutually beneficial relationship.
I was born in 1975, the year the house was finished. We had 300m of Lake Front and three acres; most of it bush. Our property butted up against Mr. Running on one side and Crown land on the other.
Mr. Running and my father built a small shop for dad to write in and a dock that summer, 1975. I remember watching them struggle every spring and again in the fall; taking the dock in and out bookended my summers.
We loved the lake, Sam Sarah and I. When we were old enough. We jumped off that dock a million times. Swimming under the dock, playing make believe in our very own watery land of imagination. Fishing in the little row boat or set drift; a sea for hours lost in front of the dock. My parents were happy back then also.
My Name is Daniel Hartwick. I no longer live in Canada. In Nineteen-Eighty-five my parents moved back to Pennsylvania in 1985 after the summer Sam and Sarah disappeared. Father always waited until school was out before installing the dock. How we loved the water. He knew that even though the water was still cold that we would shirk homework and play in the water. My grandmother called us waterbaby. I liked the sound of that. It wasn’t until I was nine that I heard the local myth of the waterbabies.
The summer I turned eight my father saved me from drowning, twice. I wasn’t a very strong swimmer, not like Sam and Sarah. In the summer of 83 I had been trying to keep up with them.
“C’mon Danny” They would call, laughing and splashing. So I went. The cramps started, breathing hurt and I swallowed water. It tasted rusty and bitter yet hinted at sweetness in the back of my throat. I yelled and swallowed more water. There are images burnt into my mind forever and one is of dad racing through the water towards me while mom struggled to untie the boat. I can see it so clearly it is as if I had been floating on an air mattress watching them instead of struggling to live. Dad reached me, I put my arms around his neck and he dragged me to the boat. They had hugged me, hard. They were angry. They yelled and screamed. They told me I had scared them. They loved me.
The second time I nearly drowned was Labor Day weekend that same summer. The last weekend before school starts; the last week end before the dock is removed. After the yelling stopped I said yell at them too. They made me swim out there. They looked at me, at each other, then out at the lake. Sam and Sarah were bobbing in the water watching us and smiling now that I was safe. Mother wrapped me in a towel and carried me to the house for hot chocolate.
Canadian winters are long. The first real snow around Halloween, but it’s been cold for weeks. By mid-November winter’s set in and stays til March for sure. In April everything is soft and wet. The frost melts, the rains fall. And in May you get flowers after April showers. I always waited for May. By May, everything was green again. I loved May in Canada but not as much as I loved the summer. And the summer of 84 was excellent. Met a friend. Turned nine.
Mr. Running’s daughter came to live with him: Divorced, single, parent, difficult. Dad Thought this made Mr. Running happy. Mr. Running’s granddaughter Gillian also moved in with him and we were instant friends. Gillian loved the forest
I played more with Gillian that summer then with Sam and Sarah. She wouldn’t go near it: Water. Scared. We spent most of our time Climbing trees, building forts and pretending to be. Still played with them, still went swimming on days Gillian was too busy to play. They never wanted to play with us.
Gillian told me about the waterbabies. Grew up hearing stories of them from her mother.
Water spirits, childlike luring children into the water and drowned. Lonely spirits, jealous and lonely. According to Gillian’s mother anyway.
I was happy to play in the woods but as the summer wore on I began to missed the water. And Sam and Sarah. I begged her to go swimming. I explained to her how much fun it was with Sam and Sarah. I had been swimming in the lake my whole life and not once had I seen a waterbaby.
Twards the end summer I spent mornings with Gillian, but often by the afternoon the draw of the lake was so strong, those hot August days. On those days Gillian went home to play alone.
My parents asked me if Gillian and I were still friends. I said we were. Gillian doesn’t like the water. I missed swimming. I missed it. And playing with Sam and Sarah. My parents always thought me strange that I preferred playing with Sam and Sarah then with other children. Neither of my parents had siblings so they probably didn’t understand the ties.