“Dead End” by Margot Douaihy

Reading by the author

Twilight soaks the lake in blue ink & when I swim, if you could call it swimming, I avoid every rock to pretend the lake has no bottom at all. Outrageous, isn’t it, the way the body conspires to help the mind lie.

Lakes are impermanent. Lakes are unpredictable. A new lake appeared in Siberia—no one knows why. Groundwater rupture? Rainwater? One hundred lakes have disappeared in Mongolia, leaving gasping shadows behind, like the ghost eyes of a skeleton. 

Walking through the pine forest where the lake hums like a sleeping heart, I found a petrified pine. The little tree wanted too much, grew too fast, sap blasted through its bark & hardened into armor. Is it fuel or a cage—that kind of desire? 

We’re a dead end, I said. But secret passages hide behind dead-end signs, you replied.  

Everyone says stay safe & have a happy summer! But August shadows are as restless as we are, pining to slip through the membranes of themselves, touch what hums out of reach, the stone echo (moon) of the blue planet (earth) pinned invisibly by gravity (a saner word than desire). 

Lakes live underground, under ice, under ancient burial sites. The moon & Saturn’s moon once cascaded with lakes. Lakes form in the craters of old volcanoes, quietly illuminated, like placed coins. Lakes are bodies of water that are surrounded by land. Lakes are smaller than oceans but bigger than ponds. Every day, ten Americans perish in open water, a dare too delicious to resist.

In high school, my friend Tina & I used to sit on the dock at her dad’s lake house. We counted One, Two, Three, then pressed our fingers to each other’s necks (the carotid artery, I’d learn later), to see who’d pass out first. It feels like dying, Tina said brightly. I don’t want to die, I said, but being reborn would be alright. I left my body for the length of a scream & woke up choking on blue light. 

It’s summer in the pandemic year & the air is sweet with syrupy heat, so why not levitate on the skin of the lake, or the porch, or the dead-alive lawn. It shouldn’t surprise you that my favorite smell is fresh-cut grass, the trauma of mowed lines, each blade screaming stop! But there is no stopping what’s already in motion, the dying storm is just as deadly. 

It’s been months since we ended it, but I still see you everywhere—your heart-shaped mouth, your lake-dark eyes, impossible as Hume’s blue. Hume’s missing shade of blue is not the only color worthy of obsession, but it’s the last color of the spectrum absorbed by water & this uncertainty pulses through every invisible wave. 

When I first saw COVID, I read Ovid, the covert beauty of fear, the oscillating mirror of sorrow. I miss you, still. Maybe it’s because I love you. Maybe because I felt doubly alive with you, so alive my blood wanted to boil through my skin. Missing you is like missing the missing blue—a color that might not exist, Hume’s hue that will never be captured.

In The Cold time, glaciers carved basins as they crawled the surface of the planet like mammoth slugs. When the ice melted, artic water filled the gaps, and lakes slowly breathed into being.

I adjust my mask so my eyes can breathe & watch a plane named after a queen tow a glider through cobalt. Out of sight, the plane will release the glider by cutting the rope. Out of sight, the tiny crownvirus never jumped from body to body, & our marriage never happened, except it’s only happening, like the stillness of the lake taunting me, knives of underwater light magnifying silt, cerulean, gold—elements too small to hold. 

A small lake in a hot climate is too precious, too rare to last—a dead end. But an ending is also a beginning.

If only we had a vaccine for us. If only we knew the way out of the maze, because we want to touch each other, to hold each other, but to want what we cannot have is a dead end. Though in the propane flame of the pandemic summer, a dead end feels like the best wrong turn to take.

Margot Douaihy, Ph.D., is a queer writer, editor, and educator. She is the author of the Scranton Lace and Girls Like You (Clemson University Press). Her true-crime poetry project, Bandit Queen: The Runaway Story of Belle Starr, will be published in 2021. Her multi-modal writing has been featured in Adirondack ReviewColorado Review, Florida Review, North American ReviewPBS News Hour, Tahoma Literary Review, South Carolina ReviewThe West Review, and elsewhere. She serves as a section editor of Journal of Creative Writing Studies and the editor of Northern New England Review.

Image: “Night Swim” by Margot Douaihy

Special Feature: F2020

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