“Quit struggling, will ya?” Lauren sat on a granite boulder next to the river, my head in her lap, her fingers probing the hook that she’d embedded in my scalp.
“I’m not the one who’s nervous,” I said, gazing past her shaded face to the horse-tail clouds being shredded by the jet stream.
“You want me to do what?” she asked, her voice tight.
“Push it around, don’t pull at it.”
“Oh, jeeze. You mean deeper? I…”
I could feel her knees shaking. The smell of her sunscreen made me remember how she would slather the children, sun ghosts we’d call them. I tilted my head to get a clear look into her eyes. She froze and I reached to steady her arm. “It’s alright. I’ve had worse injuries.” I felt her exhale, collapsing from the rigor in which she held her body.
“We should have gone to the beach.”
This was her gift to me, an indulgence of my youth, fishing in a mountain stream. “I couldn’t handle that. Not yet.”
She cupped my grizzled chin. “It wasn’t your fault.”
I worked my jaw, the muscles wavering beneath my skin. She slid her hand up and massaged the joint there.
She said, “If I’d have thought otherwise, we wouldn’t be here. Together.”
I watched her face, her eyes, chill with the memory. Will events of the past ever truly fade? Can anyone, in all honesty, forgive another—to the point of absolution?
“Here, after you push the curve of the hook around, the barb needs to poke all the way through.” I fumbled at my breast pocket. “Use these nippers to cut the whole point off.”
“This should be easy for me, you know?”
I nodded and flinched, the motion having tugged at the colorful fly in my head. I continued to gaze at her. I saw the circle of thoughts wind around her face and tighten the few wrinkles near her lips. Then her nose lost its flare and her smile returned. With the barest lift of my heart I watched her eyebrow twitch.
“How about Australia?” she asked. “Different kind of beaches down there.”
Before I could answer she gripped the hook and thrust it around like a suture.