Something about a competitive man, or woman, let’s just call it a person because there are all sorts of them these days and there always have been, they’ve just been hidden more or less, but anyway, something about this kind of person makes you feel pressed for time, a little under the thumb, showing up with fewer minutes than you had previously counted, and who has time for that? Like the day you found a four-leaf clover on Mackinac, it must have been, maybe five or six years ago now, in front of the dark bronze or alloy statue of Father Marquette. Better call him Pere, like the fruit, not the place for boats. You wanted the game to go on. What did you expect me to do, find a five-leaf clover? I was pretty certain they didn’t make them that way, but then again. You’ve probably seen a dandelion hydra. All kinds of configurations are permitted now and then, as long as it doesn’t get out of hand. And even then. We were thinking about clovers, however many leafs, and how it was like asking why insects have six legs, which, when you think about it, doesn’t actually make any sense, not necessarily, but we’re taught these things as kids as if they’re laws when really they might be more like suggestions. It must have something to do with morphology here on Earth, but nobody has the secret codes to the body plans of every kingdom and species. And you hope they never do find them. I searched our picnic square of grass and, oh, clover too, and I must have examined individually every green blade in that square, about two yards by three, and there wasn’t another four-leaf clover. You win. Hooray. And we got into it because I said would you pick on a man with three limbs if you later saw one with four? You threw some leaves in my mouth. Each clover leaf serrated and crimped a little, like a special fabric for the cuff of a jacket, and sometimes a pale lunar shape in the center that reminded me of the part of your fingernail I once read could indicate some kind of vitamin deficiency if it was too big or small, I can’t remember. I picked up your hand and checked, yours looked all right, they looked like mine anyway. Maybe we shared a vitamin K deficiency, or potassium, not a vitamin at all, but one of those minerals you never really consider despite them being fundamental to the things we do every day.
The cannon at the Fort went off, scared half the population of the island even though they know it’s coming, but they don’t calculate the exact minute. You wouldn’t either after so many years. It scared me, as it did almost every time, but not you. Didn’t even flinch. Stoic as Pere Marquette up the green. A pro at this, honorary islander. Your aunt’s an islander, and you spent a portion of your youth beneath the cedar trees, collecting rocks and watching moss grow. What a way to live. But when you started working on the island, you had a lonely year working at Aunt V’s shop, where she sold scrimshaw medallions and bone handled knives inscribed with minutely detailed scenes of mountains and rivers, maybe a panther or moose offset just to the left of center, stuff people who go up north tend to like to look at for some reason. Inspires courage, maybe, or awe. They buy it anyway. You spent a season keeping to yourself, not talking, not making friends, except with rocks, which brought you farther along than you could possibly know or expect. So shy and anxious, awkward, sure. Black sheep boy. And then something happened to open you up, at least a little, enough to date other men, which brought us to the moment on the grass, even though there was a book or two worth of material between then and now. The way you looked over my shoulder when I asked about it. You saw something big. I would never know what it was, which is okay.
That day might have been the one we went to what I called the forest theater, off the beaten path, deep off course, a place no tourist would ever find. Fudgies they called them. There’s a caste system on the island. You might not know. Islanders at the top, year-rounders, and in some ways we let them have their royal title. It’s cold, hard, tough living. Takes a certain kind. Makes you, too, chiseled a bit and strong. Icy. Tourists, visitors, these are the Fudgies, who come for the candy and a selfie with Arch Rock which they’ll only remember from the phone screen. Seasonal employees are a kind of third class, somewhere between or maybe perpendicular to. A bunch of women fly up from Jamaica every season because they make more cleaning up after rich yacht owners and the women who definitely aren’t their wives, who are probably similarly having fun back on the mainland, than they do down there at home. They feed their families for the rest of the year on good tips. Praise God. They’re very religious. And their prayers are answered, I guess. Housekeeping pays the rent. The forest theater, anyway, was up in the center of the island, and you say up because you have to go up a hill one way or another, no avoiding it. The island is shaped roughly like a hill or mountain rising out of Huron, which makes you wonder what it would look like if there was no water. Up there near the top they buried horses, and you can dig up old bones if you know where to look. Vertebrae like mossy crucifixes and horse teeth as big as all your teeth combined. If only bones could talk more than they already do. Near the landfill too, which most tourists will never know about, but it’s there. All kinds of green and brown snakes hiding in the strange tall grass fed by whatever gets thrown away. The landfill is an improvement on the past, when they just threw their garbage into the woods, broken vases, couch springs, that sort of trash, which you can find pretty easily if you leave the paved roads, and you should the first chance you get, when mom’s not looking or she’s gone to the bathroom over by museum. Stray a bit, bend your ear to the ground, get your toes caught up in the wildflowers. See a yellow lady slipper. Does you good. It might have also been the day we didn’t do much of anything, just walked around the island again because it’s worth doing, twice a day even. Take the eight mile loop around, watch the rocks, listen to the water, maybe talk to a few snails about what’s bothering you and has been for a while. They don’t really listen, per se, and I’m not sure they have ears or the mollusk equivalent, but they can’t speak, which is an improvement on some level, relative to humans. No interruptions.
But I think that was the day we went kayaking on the east side, just a little piddling about, nothing fancy. We borrowed your aunt’s kayaks, but she didn’t keep the paddles and the kayaks together for some reason, so we had to bike the paddles down to meet the bodies of the kayaks. They were in a storage locker, code 6-2-3 if you’re ever up that way, and we got our ankles wet. It’s always cold, even in deepest summer, but you don’t mind. We puttered about, thought about crossing the channel, not to the mainland, but to the other island nearby, can’t remember its name. But people make the trek. We didn’t. There’s a current somewhere in the middle that might take you exhaustingly far out, and besides, freighters and other big boats come through there, and if they don’t see you or you aren’t good enough at kayaking, which we weren’t, you might be taken by surprise. Ambush, capsize, meet the fishes. So we fussed about in the shallows, the water as clear as any. People like to go to Mexico or the Bahamas to see screensaver blue water, but you don’t have to go so far. If you live here. Then again, you don’t get palm trees and sun tans, which people seem to enjoy for some reason. But maybe the women from Jamaica are reminded of home.
Aquamarine Huron crinkled with light like wrapping paper. The water washing the rocks, and so many of them. A petosky’s dozen eyes staring up at you. Old coral given a second life. A seagull complaining about their society, what else is new? When you’re on the water though, the island sweeps up and towers above, like it might fall on top of you, but you get a better view. Rock formations pitted and scored like styrofoam been in the water too long, but brown colored. Not really brown, but the amount of color you can see breaks out of the words we have for it. It might have been the perfect day if I hadn’t, on the way back, fallen off my bike, or, really, with it, like we were a single system pumping muscle and steel or aluminum maybe, all together. No, I didn’t have a helmet on, yeah yeah. I tried to readjust the paddle or the handlebar, my skin pinched between, and I knew it went wrong as soon as it went wrong. I landed clean of the manure at least. I felt a hot sharp fire in my wrist and you were terrified, I think I heard your breath leave your chest, and someone stood up from their reclining chair on the porch of a bed & breakfast, and I stayed down for about ten seconds that really didn’t add up that way at the time. I heard a sound like a pick dragged against the ribs of a guitar string. Concerned hands all around, yours mixed in with them. Where? I was mostly disappointed. Sorry for falling on an otherwise diamond day. Making all those good folks get up out of their warm seats in the sun, but, put another way, falling makes a day more interesting for everyone involved, and someone probably had as good a laugh as they get, watching from a distance, maybe over by the bicycle repair shop I would visit sooner than I had expected.
We can be forgiven for not spending that night together, we can all be forgiven. The last ferry of the evening. Maybe you were hungry and I had no food, or we had spent a couple of nights together recently already, or I couldn’t afford the ticket, or somehow my injury put a few yards between us. You went home to your room in Mac City, a blue motel turned into employee housing. Once, we sat inside and watched a seagull swallow a sparrow whole, the air spring cold. You made dinner, probably some egg rolls in the oven, cooking supplies being limited, and I bet you were tired. You’re a good cook, but tired’s tired. Took a shower and dried off with one of those thick fluffy towels that glide right over and don’t seem to do their job but feel right anyway. Yours always smelled musty because you didn’t dry them quickly enough. You turned on your pink salt lamp on the dresser next to your bed, which was next to your roommate’s bed, and maybe you read a little and maybe you wondered where the day had gone.
Kyle E. Miller can usually be found in Michigan’s dunes and forests, turning over logs looking for life, if he’s not in water. He currently teaches first year writing at Eastern Michigan University. His writing has appeared in Clarkesworld, trampset, and Outlook Springs. You can find more at www.kyle-e-miller.com.