For those of you who didn't read this story when I first published it on the blog many, many months ago and have been following it on Twitter - here it is in its entirety:
The lake shines a cool turquoise in the winter sun. A raft of cinnamon teals huddle in a tight scrum around the dock, shifting slightly as the crimson canoe draws near. The silence, solid as January ice, enfolds me and through it, I hear only small sounds: the ruffling of feathers; a drop of water from my paddle hitting the still water of the lake; the distant caw of a crow; the susurration of my own breath.
Peaceful does not begin to describe this place. In times of tension or sorrow I imagine myself here, the details growing sharper and clearer with each visit, until now, ten years after its first imagining, it has become as real to me as my own body.
It is always winter at the lake I’ve named Beautiful, always sunny, always late afternoon. I begin each visit by walking to the boathouse by the dock, pulling the canoe from its rack, the paddle from its hook, and carrying them down to the lake. The canoe is light, easily carried by one small woman, and I’ve learned to balance it on my shoulders as I walk out onto the dock. I place the canoe in the water on the lefthand side of the dock, the side closest to the cabin. The water is cold, and clear. I can see the mottled grey rocks on the lakebed as it slopes away from the shore.
I step carefully into the crimson canoe and wait until the rocking stops before I pull on my gloves and pick up the paddle lying on the dock beside me. I stroke, slowly, first one side, then another. The cabin is at my back as I glide through the still water. There are no other people at Lake Beautiful, no evidence of human occupation, save my dock and my cabin. I pass bushes of kinnikinnick, the berries beckoning bright-red in the light. Leafless poplars stand guard over the edge of the lake, and Rocky Mountain maples shed their few remaining yellow leaves at their feet.
The circuit of Lake Beautiful takes me almost two hours. I stop only once and always at the same place, a rocky spit on the far side of the lake across from the cabin – the farthest point in my journey – and drink the hot chocolate I’ve brought with me. The cabin is almost invisible from this distance but a faint reflection of light on its windows serves to guide me home.
The pale lemon sun illuminates the frosted tips of the pine branches, setting the forest aglow as it settles below the mountains. I time my return to that moment when the west side of the lake sinks into darkness, the east side still retaining the light, a beacon by which I steer for home.
Candles gleam in the windows of the tiny cabin. I know a fire warms the room, just as I know that the fragrance of fresh-baked bread will envelop me when I open the door. I have not lit the fire, nor the candles. I have not baked the bread. These things are prepared for me by my dream lover, the man who inhabits this cabin.
I move slowly now, my body tired from the long slow trip around the lake. I pull the canoe from the water and return it to the boathouse. I walk back up the path to the cabin and pull open the door. You are never there when I return to the cabin, but I know you are near.
I strip the clothes from my body and step into the bath set in front of the fire. The water is almost too hot, scented with lavender and a faint hint of orange. A glass of champagne sits on the edge of the tub, condensation beading its crystal sides. The bottle nestles next to it in a silver ice bucket.
I close my eyes and take a deep breath. When I open them, you are here with me.