Callie often flirted casually with men all night long, but it was hard to remember their faces when she woke. The men were all figments of her dream life—squishy, morphing amalgams of actual men she’d known or encountered—populating half-remembered settings. They smiled at her hazily, beckoning across auditoriums, begging her to sit next to them in echoing gymnasiums. They waved to her with chaste hands, bowing slightly, tucking narrow-brimmed hats behind their backs like old-fashioned suitors as they strolled through cubist versions of her childhood neighborhood. They gazed out from leafy groves like jungle cats, purring her name. The furthest things ever got was with one indie-rocker-type who played a kind of semi-recurring role. He had a ‘90s slouch, the lingering scrawniness of someone not long out of adolescence, and a way of touching her gently on the back of her neck—so gently that she felt the painful restraint in his touch and understood that he wanted her desperately. Nothing ever happened after that.
Times were hard and she loved her husband.
There he was, twisted up in the bedsheets beside her, in need of a shave and a haircut, gentled by sleep, face relaxed into a ruddy approximation of youthfulness. Charlie. Her Charlie. Their situation was no longer acute. There was none of that fervent, mouth-gobbling hunger for the other person, not anymore. Time had leavened that urgency into something placid and immobile. Steadfast. She’d been bound to him so long it almost hurt to move, like the pleasant stiffness of a taking long flight when the much-anticipated destination was, surely, somewhere delightful.
The streak of sunlight that fell upon Charlie brightened, and he shifted beside her in bed. She could see the blue under-color of his throat, of the vein in his forehead. It scared her to be so aware of his living body, such a fragile thing: the pulse in his throat, faint breath across his lips, the vulnerable way his chest rose up and down. He was fair with fine, russet curls. A ginger. At some point back in her twenties she’d fallen for it: his impish charm and swagger, like that of an overgrown leprechaun. Back when she’d first met him, he’d been in a band. She’d been a server, still biding her post-college time, deciding what was next, the whole world ablossom with possibility. She’d seen him for the first time, stage lights on his face, sweat streaming down his brow, playing bass in a small club. His band—Charlie, plus three other guys, all of them grubby and hip in thread-bare t-shirts—had been modestly popular, a regional favorite among college stations and music nerds. It formed an impression, seeing someone before a crowd displaying such easy competence. He’d been radiant on stage.
You mistook me for a rock star, he liked to joke.
She hadn’t, but she did miss seeing him perform, missed being on the list, knowing the roadies and sound engineers, exchanging knowing looks with managers at small clubs. Sidling up to the bar for cheap drinks with the other girlfriends, she’d been part of a ferocious posse, bored and dangerous to groupies. And there had been groupies, at least a few. She’d felt a pleasure in her own superiority to them, a pleasure so distinct it was shameful to admit. As a unit, Charlie and his bandmates had been beautiful—the roughshod camaraderie they shared, the four of them grappling with one another fondly, trading jokes, popping cans of PBR. None of them as individuals were classically handsome men, but their collective appeal was undeniable. Onstage, their brilliance shimmered grungily beneath the lights. Charlie’s stained t-shirts from those days were a sort of aphrodisiac to her, a reminder of when everything was still a promise yet to unfold.
He’d gone back to school for speech language pathology. Steady work. It made sense. He’d traded his dark jeans and black t-shirts for scrubs. So had she, during medical school. There was no greater concession to practicality than the wearing of scrubs. Charlie now did post-stroke swallow assessments; Callie worked in the ER and inpatient crisis unit as a psychiatrist. It was good work when it was good, although not so of late—but wasn’t that true of everything, especially at the hospital?
Something clanked upstairs. There was the sound of a large object toppling and then the scraping sound of something against the walls. Their twins. The twins were twelve years old, a boy and a girl who had recently made it very plain that Callie and Charlie were on the brink of obsolescence. Other than as a source of rides to various places, the twins had no use for them. The girl, Hailie, had already perfected a teenager’s eyeroll and dabbled in acquiring a high-school-aged boyfriend. She had golden-dark curls, the coloring of her father tempered with something more Mediterranean from Callie’s side, and Callie worried she would be too beautiful, too smart. It was damaging to be in possession of an abundance of gifts, gifts so plentiful they could only be squandered, leaving the person unquenched, unappreciative, always craving more. Their boy, Jacob, was shy and slump-shouldered, with a reading disability and a lackey’s craving for subservience, designating himself sidekick to the most awful boy in his class each school year. It was hard not to hold such things against yourself when you were the mother.
Charlie stretched beside her, touching her with one chapped hand.
“You’re leaving me all morning with these hellions again?” Charlie asked. He smiled at her—he had such warmth, her Charlie. It was a privilege to have such comfort with him, such stability, even if, all around them, the world roiled with uncertainty. So many people dying; one couldn’t think of it.
Hailie shouted something at her brother upstairs, a piercing, animal cry. She would be fine; she wasn’t the one Callie worried about.
She kissed his cheek lightly and scrambled up from the bed.
“I have to go. Before it gets too hot.”
She’d thrown on a t-shirt and her old pants, then smeared sunscreen on her face. She wouldn’t even bother to brush her teeth because why—no one got close to anyone anymore. There was freedom in being unwashed, mouth a dank pit, eyes still crusted, armpits sour with sleep. It was a twenty-minute drive to the pond, and she wanted to get there before someone took what she’d established as her own little spot.
She pulled the bait from the garage fridge. Her grandfather’s rod was already in the back of the car, along with her camping chair. Even as she backed the car out of her drive, she could feel the muscles in her neck and shoulder unclenching. Who would have expected her to take up fishing? That’s what Charlie had said, but his voice had been fond when saying it. He was in the habit of finding her whims charming, which she appreciated. Besides, everyone was taking up quaint new habits in these days of physical distancing and masks—a return to victory gardens and bread-baking and yard chickens, hiking and river splashing. Summer 2020! There are always ways of staving off terrors, busying oneself. Why not fishing, Callie had said. She’d been an avid fisher as a girl. It had been a thing she’d loved doing, sitting on the dock by her grandparents’ houseboat, enormous carp moving in green shadows beneath her feet.
It’s cruelty, Hailie had announced, looking at her mother pointedly, cool derision in her beautiful amber eyes. You don’t even eat meat. Why torture a fish?
How to explain it, that feeling she’d forgotten from girlhood when the line surged downward, the thrill of that sudden tension on the line? Her grandfather had bequeathed her some very nice gear when he’d passed away, and it had brought memories pouring back: she and grandfather on a dock together, his coarse hands, her clumsy ones, the baited hooks, the crappie and bream, whiskered catfish in their sleek skins. She wanted it back, this particular time that had felt so plentiful, so slow, so perfectly mundane in the moment. Only now could she see the fleeting preciousness of it. Time marched forward relentlessly, and into what? Pandemics. Doldrums. Unpredictability.
She’d decided to go fishing abruptly one morning after yet another troubling shift. There were no psych beds available, patients spilling out into overflow, trouble with the PCR testing, and always an undercurrent of worry throughout the ER about ICU capacity. When would they get more masks? How long until the vaccine? That morning following her shift, she’d abandoned her sleeping husband and children. With her grandfather’s gear and a chunk of stale baguette, she’d gone out to a large pond she’d heard about. She’d been so eager to get out there that first morning, she’d worn ballet flats: another mistake. The regulars had smiled like she was a joke.
But it felt good, sitting in her camping chair, letting the day deepen around her, the sun slowly turning the air around her into a kiln. She remained near the water’s edge until the black flies had thoroughly eaten her ankles, until the entire back of her shirt was translucent with sweat. All the old men were long gone, smart enough to leave by the heat of midday. She hadn’t caught a thing, not even a nibble, although at one point she’d had to work the line to unsnag it from a log. In the gravel parking area, there was still one old man leaning on the back of his truck, speaking in Spanish on a cell phone. He had deep wrinkles and wore cowboy hat, the brim pulled low over his eyes. She’d nodded curtly to him, but he’d ignored her.
Today there were already several cars and trucks in the gravel lot when she arrived. She worried her spot might not still be open—it was a little grassy place where the land jutted out, mostly shaded by a copse of trees. Someday, she would know what type of tree: large, green leaves and little spinny seedpods that dropped down. She would like to be the sort of person who could notice small, lovely details of the natural world and name them.
Callie passed a couple older men fishing solo as she made her way around the path along the perimeter. They glanced at her, a solemn greeting if it was a greeting at all. The pond was large, with space enough for many people to spread themselves out. She loved the fact that it was quiet. An unspoken agreement dictated talking be at a minimum. She used a red and white bobber like she’d used as a girl, mainly because the sight of it pleased her. Sure, they were mostly little fish—crappie and sunfish, all tiny bones, inedible even if she weren’t a vegetarian—but she loved seeing the bobber plunge beneath the greeny-brown surface. That wonderful startle was worth waiting all morning for.
You love a thrill when there’s no risk to you, her sister, Kate, had said.
Kate had said this in the context of the dating apps. Callie had been screening online dates on Kate’s behalf, a task she’d taken to with an enthusiasm that Kate found hilarious, ironic, sad. It’s a game to you, she’d said.
But wasn’t that, Callie thought, the beauty of it?
Her sister Kate was nine years younger, beautiful and charming and unlucky in love. It was wearisome, Kate had said, all the dating apps, the rigmarole. The small talk, the coffees, the cocktails; the blowhards, the dullards, the predators. If the world made any sense, Kate would have been paired off by now with a partner who was her equal. Instead, Callie had helped her repair a hole one boyfriend had punched into Kate’s wall, picked her up when a date got too drunk to drive her home, and helped her file a restraining order when an ex began loitering outside the school where Kate taught. By then, Callie had offered to help. Had insisted. The apps were a thing she’d never gotten to experience, having fallen for Charlie back in the olden days. Oh, boo hoo, Kate had said to this, but she’d acquiesced. Callie had set up a profile for Kate, a profile which she maintained for her, swiping past faces quickly, the way one might pass quickly over ugly sweaters in a thrift shop.
Callie enjoyed it, swiping through the men on the apps who posed broodingly or smilingly or fake-casual, sharing photos of themselves in hiking gear before gorgeous vistas or beaming after half-marathons. Judging by the photos people chose, everyone was constantly in a flurry of vigorous, healthy activity. They all loved farmer’s markets, fusion dishes, frisbee golf, rescue dogs, romantic outdoor dinners with tea lights.
But you aren’t the one who has to go out with these duds, Kate said the last time Callie had asked her to “play Tinder.” The whole thing disgusts me. This was before the quarantine and social distancing effectively shut down casual dating for all but the most careless or most creative. Callie had found two nice prospects, genuine coffee contenders (even if the coffee was to be outdoors), but by then, Kate wouldn’t hear of it. The pandemic and ensuing quarantine felt like a relief, Kate explained. Shut it down. Stick a fork in me.
That had been months ago, and they hadn’t spoke of it since. Kate had been busy trying to translate her first-grade class into a series of chaotic video conference calls, and Callie and Charlie had been called in for extra shifts. They still saw Kate, but when they did, there was this ever-present new topic of conversation: the virus. But Callie hadn’t taken Kate’s profile down. She couldn’t bear to do it.
Lots of fish in the sea—the warming sea, with its melting ice caps. Lots of fish in the pond, the murky, trash-filled pond. But it took patience; Callie knew this. She had Charlie so she had patience to spare. She could afford to bide her time, satisfy her curiosity, and throw the bottom-eaters back.
She’d arranged her chair just in the spot that she liked. One of the ducks who frequented the pond trundled down the opposite bank. A fly landed on her thermos, and she brushed it off. Reaching into her box, she opened up a little jar of dough bait. The dough was hardly less gross than nightcrawlers, but she liked the size of the carp she could catch with it here—scaled giants with the scarred noses of boxers, lips pierced by old hooks, lurking in the depths. Her grandfather had collected an impressive array of lures: plugs and jigs and spinnerbaits and spoon lures, feathered flies and iridescent green beetles. While these seemed too advanced for her purposes, Callie still took them with her every time, just in case, a signal of authenticity.
A man she knew on sight in a green hat gave a small whoop then held up what looked like a good-sized trout. He smiled at her, and she felt included in the gesture—part of the unofficial circle of regulars.
Once she’d cast her line, she sat. The coffee seemed to sedate her instead of waking her up. Even though it was still early, it was clear the day would be scorching. The water lay still and clotted. A bottle fly buzzed idly nearby, and the sun traveled higher in its arc.
Out of habit, she pulled out her phone and pulled open the dating app and scrolled. She’d chatted with a computer programmer named Colin, who had a kind smile and a mop of brown hair. A CRNA named Mike had been cute in his profile photo, but it only took brief chatting to get the sense that he was stupid and obnoxious, possibly a secret Trump-apologist. Her favorite, though, was a shaggy-haired law librarian with glasses and a propensity to reference ‘90s noise-rock and recent New Yorker articles and bad puns. Tim. Bonus points: he claimed at age nineteen to have played in a band that had opened for Pavement. Sure, she was guilty of falling for cultural signifiers as a stand-in for personality. Sure, he was a little old for Kate—older than Callie, in fact. But he was charming. The other Saturday, while fishing, he’d asked her for a photo of her doing whatever she was doing, and Callie sent one of herself: sunglasses, ball cap, hair pulled back. It had been an impulsive decision to send it, exhilarating.
You look different.
Gee, thanks. Lockdown’s been hard on all of us. ;)
No, I mean, I like it. It’s better. At first I thought you might be too young.
Not sure if this is a compliment or not.
It was sad how much the words had worked on her—but useful to find out what sort of guy Tim seemed to be. For Kate. Kate would want someone who was kind, appreciative, ready to bathe her in his adulation. She deserved that. And besides, sending Callie’s own selfie that one time had seemed harmless—she and Kate looked similar enough. Sisters. She could maybe pass for Kate on a bad day.
Tim had already offered Callie his phone number so that they could text one another outside the app, but this felt like a clear, bright line she could not quite cross.
One of Kate’s profile photos showed her wearing an old t-shirt of Callie’s featuring Charlie’s band. In the photo, Kate looked almost painfully bright-eyed, like a version of Callie untouched by all the years, by all the sleepless nights and bad coffee.
Oh, shit! You know Bad Logo!?! I used to love them. Saw them once at the Cradle back in the day when they opened for Superchunk.
Callie considered whether she and Tim might have even stood near one another in the club years ago at a show, whether they might have even bumped into one another in passing, whether she might have taken a special notice of young Tim, or he her. Kate would have still been in high school. Maybe he’d watched her, a little jealously, when she’d kissed Charlie after a set, wondering who she was, that lithe, dark-haired girl whose face clearly conveyed not just beauty but taste, an interesting mind. It was enough to give Callie something in her gut that felt like a hunger pang.
He’d been asking to meet her. Or, rather, to meet Kate. To meet Callie/Kate. Whoever he thought she was: the laughing photo of Kate holding a glass of champagne at a friend’s wedding, sunny and perfect in the golden late April sun combined with the more recent photo of Callie in sunglasses. He’d meet her outdoors, Tim has messaged, more than six feet apart—heck, he’d wear a mask the whole time if she wished!
Something tugged the line and Callie dropped her phone. The only thing she’d managed to send Tim at that point had been Hi, I’ve been thinking about your suggestion to. She pulled the line back a bit, testing it. There was definitely something there. She’d experienced this before, the way some fish would lie still, deadweight, until you tried to reel them in. She gave the line another gentle tug, and then it surged away from her, flexing the rod so hard that she had to rise to her feet, stepping closer to the water as the rod bent.
Her heart flopped to her throat. This, the unexpected excitement, was what brought her back. She could feel the gaze of the two old-timers across the way watching her with interest. Letting the line spool out a little so the fish might exhaust himself, she followed the water’s edge. It was fully hot now, and she’d worked her way out into the bright blaze of unfiltered sun. Sweat pooled under her eyes, moved in rivulets down her back. The tension on the line had given a bit, and she began to turn the crank and felt the weight on the other end, that satisfying sense of anticipation. Closer, closer.
The fish gave a great jerk and the line snapped. She was almost thrown backward with the sudden loss of counterbalance. The two old guys across the way gave her a little shrug, possibly a smirk.
Back at her camping chair, she threw down the rod and took a swig of water. Her phone gave a little ding.
A belated notification through the app from him. Tim. She clicked and read.
Okay, so I wanted to warn you so you don’t think I’m a total creep…but I happened to see a Facebook photo of you at the Saturday paddleboarding group that meets at Jordan Lake, and I was like, “Holy shit, I recognize her!” Seriously, I’ve been meaning to try it out. Pandemic hobbies, right?!? Added plus that I might get to meet you now too. No pressure though! ;)
That winking emoji. She felt sick. Kate, the Real Kate, would indeed be at paddleboarding. She went routinely. And now, this stranger would show up, speaking to her as if simply picking up the dropped end of an ongoing conversation. It would be awful. Kate would be appalled. Charlie would find out. Worst of all, she realized, the whole thing would end, just like that, in nothing.
She had to reach him, to tell him to come find her at the pond instead.
Callie’s hands shook. She dialed Tim’s number.
By the time she drove back home, Callie was lightheaded with hunger, a white-searing pain behind her scorched eyes. It was after 3pm and she’d eaten nothing all day. When she pulled up, Kate’s car was in the drive.
“We were just getting ready to send out the rescue squad,” Kate said. She and Charlie were sitting on the porch, drinking from tall glasses beaded with condensation, something cold and delicious with lime wedges and ice. “What happened? Did you fall in? You didn’t respond to my texts.”
Callie let her fishing gear drop to the walkway and sank onto the porch steps below them. She was exhausted. Undone.
She’d waited in a shrinking spot of shade cast by the large tree near the gravel lot at the pond, waiting on Tim. A stranger named Tim who thought her name was Kate, a man she’d called just in time to divert from finding her actual sister Kate.
“I’m thirsty,” Callie said instead of answering. She was pouting, obstinate and guilty as a wayward child, and she knew Kate and Charlie saw this. This only made her pout more. There was dust smeared into tracks of sunscreen all over her legs and a smattering of new bug bites she’d just noticed. Looking up at Kate, Real Kate, her dark hair drying in the sun, her long, slim legs strong and sun-browned from the paddle-boarding—it felt like a taunt, like looking at her own recent past held up in a magic mirror.
“Here,” Kate said, handing Callie a glass. “Take Charlie’s. I’ll get him another.”
Charlie made a mock offended face, and Kate laughed, batting at him a little.
“Don’t you know Callie always gets everything she wants?”
Had they always been so at ease with one another, like old friends? Callie saw it, the silent communication between her sister and husband—nothing but a messaging of glances, a way their eyes moved in response to one another’s. How long had it been this way, and how long had she been left out of it? She could remember a time when this was a thing she herself had done both with Charlie and with Kate—a series of tiny glances or almost imperceptible touches to one another that expressed a desire to leave a party, say, or complete amazement at the absurdity of how someone else was behaving.
Callie drank. She could feel Charlie watching her from where he sat above her in one of the folding chairs they kept on the porch. She could feel him waiting for her answer, but she wanted the drink to bolster her before she spoke—sweet sugar and alcohol and ice clinking against her teeth.
“I met a Bad Logo fan,” she said.
The last pitiful bit of shade had vanished by the time Callie saw Tim pull up in a shabby-looking Cadillac. It was a grandmotherly car. There were long scratches down the sides of the car’s black paint, as if someone had driven it into a garage that was too narrow. Tim, when he stepped out of the car, was wearing sunglasses. He had brown hair silvering at the temples and sideburns. From a distance, he had a leading man’s looks, with a chiseled jaw and square chest, his bright smile flashing in the sun—far more attractive than even his photos had suggested. As he walked closer, however, the vision changed, like a desert mirage disappearing. The lines of his face sagged. He was shorter than it had first appeared, with the slightly kyphotic stance of an old man.
“Well, hello, gorgeous,” he’d said. “We finally meet.” It had sounded rehearsed rather than funny, and Callie, who was itchy and sweat-stained, her fingers stinking of carp bait, hadn’t known quite how to answer. The Bad Logo t-shirt Tim wore, oddly fresh for something over a decade old, was ill-fitting, pulling tight across his small paunch.
“Wow,” Charlie said. “I didn’t realize the Bad Logo fan base was still out there, fishing.”
“He wasn’t fishing,” Callie said. “He had car trouble. I tried to help him jump his car.”
Kate stretched languorously so that her perfect toes—painted pale peach, so dainty you might want to pop them into your mouth and suck them like little candies—touched Callie’s shoulder. The movement was a question, a prod; her sister knew that Callie was hopeless with anything automotive.
Callie took another swig of her drink, and smiled at them both, emboldened, baring her teeth. Confidence was what made a good liar. She drank again. The alcohol was going right to her head.
“You always go above and beyond, Callie,” Kate said.
A touch of irony, possibly even another glance between Kate and Charlie. Her sister and her husband. What right had they anyway, trading glances, acting so knowing with one another? As if she were a specimen pinned on a board? She would emerge from this strange time shining with hard-won strength. Her life could become a sort of base camp from which she sought grand and changing vistas. She had the feeling she used to get sitting at the bar before one of Charlie’s shows: central, somehow, to the narrative rather than merely a bystander.
Callie’s phone dinged then with a text notification, and she experienced a wave of relief at her foresight. She’d already blocked Tim’s number, had already deleted the app, erased the call record. The text would be from someone else, a legitimate acquaintance with some harmless request.
Tim had followed her from the parking lot down to her preferred fishing spot, even though it was sweltering now. “I love the color in your cheeks,” he’d said, and she had the strangest feeling that he was nothing like the person she’d been exchanging messages with, nothing at all. Her face dripping, she’d shown him how to tie on and cast, guiding his hands with hers. It was the height of midday, and the fish would not be biting, but she showed him anyway. “I get it,” Tim said. “I can see how you could while the day away doing this.” But he’d stood there stiffly, holding his arms out like a robot, and seemed to relax only when she’d taken the rod away again, packing her grandfather’s tacklebox back up.
Tim’s car had smelled of old lady’s lavender hand cream. There was a tiny prayer card with a somber blond Jesus in the corner of the windshield. She guessed—hoped—that the car had indeed been left by some dead relative. “You mind?” Tim had asked, indicating his mask. “I work from home.” She nodded, and he’d slipped it off. He’d looked at her pointedly then. She’d told him she worked in a hospital, that they were low on PPE, but he merely shrugged. “You too. I insist—I’ll take my chances.” She felt reckless removing her mask, exhilarated simply by sitting there, enclosed and in such proximity, baring their naked faces.
At first they’d just driven: back toward town, over the curving rural roads, down into the adjacent town. They’d stopped at one of the farm stands where people lined up carefully outdoors in their masks for blueberries and soft serve. They ambled over from the car, marveling at the heaping piles of perfect berries so blue they were black. She’d let Tim take her hand in his. It was soft, much softer than Charlie’s hand. He’d kissed each of her knuckles like she was a child who had fallen down and needed consoling, then pulled her towards him with unexpected forcefulness. No, there wasn’t time to wait in line for ice cream, they’d decided. “What a beautiful day,” Tim said again as they walked back to his car. He’d said it twice earlier, and Callie could see now that it was almost a nervous tic, a way of filling the silence. The way he spoke was wooden, like someone who’d learned to communicate solely by watching old sitcoms with canned laughtracks. It seemed like this could well be Tim’s very first day on Earth, his first interaction with an actual member of the human species, and whoever she’d been messaging on the app had really been nothing more than a very cleverly designed bot, specifically designed to impress and flatter her. She wondered if this Tim-bot, whoever he was, had simply googled Bad Logo when he saw the t-shirt in Kate’s profile and then found a shirt on eBay, the same way Callie had carried a Kierkegaard book around with her for an entire semester of college simply to impress a boy in her honors seminar.
“We were thinking of getting takeout for dinner,” Charlie said, and Kate nodded.
Looking at them now, the way the light fell on their faces, Callie felt she didn’t even recognize them anymore. Who was this middle-aged man pretending to be Charlie? And the woman enthroned beside him, assuming Callie’s rightful role? From the backyard came the yelps of children, the sound of a sprinkler, a neighbor’s yapping dog. She almost recognized the children’s voices as Hailie’s and Jacob’s. But they sounded tinny and off-key, like a bad bootleg recording of something she’d once heard live.
Tim’s breath had smelled like stale coffee and probably the bacon biscuit he’d recently eaten—she’d seen the crumpled wrapper on the floor. He’d been hairy and foreign to her, graceless and over-eager, but she’d allowed him to kiss her, had even willed him to go further, to complete whatever was required if that meant avoiding further awkwardness or explanation—as if this were a thing, once set in motion, she was obliged to finish. His soft hand scrabbled down her shorts, and she flinched ever so slightly. He’d smiled buffoonishly at her. A series of breathy fumblings, the hurried caresses of an adolescent: she let it go on for a while. “What a beautiful day,” Tim said yet again when he finally dropped her back off at her car. “Call me. I had a great time.” His face as he waved from the Cadillac might have been that of a passenger waving from the porthole of a departing ship, someone she would never see again.
“Takeout sounds great,” she said.
“Let me look up the Thai place,” Kate said, gesturing for Callie’s phone. “Mine’s inside.”
Callie handed the phone to her sister, and Kate took it. She frowned at something on the screen, studying it. She handed the phone back.
Callie saw what her sister had seen: a text and a photo, sent from her friend Martha, a fellow psychiatrist who ran the consult service. The photo showed Callie and Tim from a distance, hours earlier, walking by the farmstand heaped with pints of blueberries. In the photo, Callie wore sunglasses and her mask. She was holding Tim’s hand. A strange nausea passed over her: she didn’t even know herself, wouldn’t be able to identify her face in a lineup, Callie thought. The text read:
Hey! Look who I saw! Kate must have found a quarantine boyfriend!
She read the text twice before looking back up at Kate. A blue-green dragonfly mating with another dragonfly buzzed over the porch, creating a bumbling, double-humped contraption, and Charlie, God bless Charlie, sensing some sort of private sisterly conflict, broke the silence by announcing it.
“Look at that would you.”
He pointed, and they looked.
Callie remembered back when Charlie had still been in the band, how she’d sat, laughing knowingly with the bartenders in the clubs, drinking free drinks and making snide remarks about the girls who mooned by the stage, pathetic in their carefully curated little outfits. She’d had a trick of sidling right up to them at a certain point in the show and bumping into them so that their beer or mixed drink spilled all down their shirt. Oh, pardon me, I’m so sorry, she’d say while they stuttered and swiped at their sticky chests, her posse tittering behind her, all of them elegant and black-clad, a beautiful coven. She wanted to pull something like that on Kate right now—on Kate, of all people—to spill her drink, to remind her where things stood, the proper order of things, all of it so silly and inconsequential and grand. A time of luxury, of excess, of so much bounty to be taken for granted, gone forever.
She rose to her full height, the fishing rod toppling from where it had been propped beside her. She stared into her younger sister’s eyes ready to make her small again, to prove some unprovable point. But Kate was already smiling a weary, indulgent smile, and Callie found she could do nothing. Her mouth opened but no sound came out. She thought of the fish she’d almost caught earlier—long, glittering muscle, mirrored eyes, haunted mouth—and all that opaque water, teeming with restless life.
The dragonflies bumbled in their ritual dance, flying clumsily in tandem right into Callie’s forehead. On instinct, she smacked them. They fell, clasping one another, to the paved walkway below.
Hailie must have wandered up from the backyard right then, for she stood there to the side, wearing a damp pink swimsuit and a sneer. With a grownup’s seriousness, she appraised them all—her mother, her father, her aunt, the dragonflies still bound to one another, stunned or possibly dead, at her mother’s feet. She walked closer and knelt, studying the jewel-colored bodies of the insects on the ground, her wet bare feet and dripping suit making a dark shapes around her. To Callie, it was like looking wrong-way through a telescope. Never before had she been so struck by how much her daughter resembled herself as a girl: Callie remembered perching on a dock in a wet bathing suit, bored and imperious, turning to her grandpa to tell him she was done with fishing, that it was stupid and she was too old for it. Callie’s grandpa, with his kind, mournful eyes, had simply nodded and patted her hand.
The sun was low in the sky, long and piercing—almost a personal affront. Like so many things, it was a problem one could not gaze at directly.
Hailie turned to her mother and sighed, as if for the millionth time she had to say it.
“That’s cruelty, Mom,” she said. “That’s just cruel.”
Photo by Erik Karits