When we were very young, we would stay well away from that lake. We would avoid it like the plague. We would stay away, because it was the place where Old Man Thibeault would drown kittens in a wool sack. Because it was the place where fish with human faces swam in the shadows and the weeds. Because it was the place where Ag Caulfield fell through the ice, and everyone knew that her ghost still walked about in the woods there on certain nights.
When we were older (i.e., old enough to steal vodka and gin from our parents’ liquor cabinets), we went there one time in the dead of winter. We went there to prove that we were no longer afraid. Not afraid of creepy old men, or fabulous fish, or the ghosts of ten-year-old girls. Not afraid of sadness or death. There were a dozen of us that went there with snowmobiles and built a bonfire on the thick ice. We laced on silver skates and took swigs from Mickey bottles as we circled like drunken moths around the bright flames. We played Black Sabbath at top volume on Chrissie’s boom box. We set off Roman candles and nailed Catherine wheels onto a dead tree trunk.
Later on, we sat on a Mexican blanket and passed around a joint. Tommy said he knew the story of what happened to Ag Caulfield. Ag’s mother and Tommy’s father had always known each other. He said it happened right before Christmas, about ten years ago. Ag and her mother were gathering firewood, and Ag walked too far out on the ice. The way her mother described it to Tommy’s father, she just slipped right through the ice, without making any sound at all. She just vanished. Her mother had tried to run out there, but the ice was cracking beneath her boots, the slushy water running up over the top of them, warning her she was about to vanish. So she crawled on her belly the rest of the way out to where the hole was, the place where her daughter disappeared. But there was nothing there, just a hole in a surface of the ice.
After Tommy finished telling me the story, we packed up our things and headed back home. When Tommy dropped me off outside my house, I stood for a long time outside with my skates slung over my shoulder. I stood watching the people moving around in my brightly lit living room. When I finally went inside, they were sitting around the kitchen table eating banana bread. The house smelled of wet dog and yeast. The television was blaring, and everyone was talking. The house seemed, somehow like a bubble. It seemed luminous, impossibly fragile, and a remnant from a warmer season.