Twenty miles south and waiting for a port-a-potty, we come to a halt. Winds that tossed the Jeep just minutes earlier seem dead in the gulley where Jackson Lake rests. Unlike some of the lakes that sit majestically nearby, Jackson Lake was not considered prime real estate. It was considered by many to be only good for fishing and recreational use and that any fool who bought property on the lake was a fool out-of-towner. This might have been because the lake was traditionally used by the local youth as a watering hole for minors and generally was a place in which delinquent behavior was encouraged and coerced out of hiding. When I was younger I’d seen a guy, not a friend, drive his car into the lake just to see if he could drive it back out once it started sinking. He destroyed his new car and barely made it out before the vehicle was submerged. All the while a few girlfriends and I watched on, opening cold Bud Lights while leaning between tree roots. After mere moments of reflection on the journal I’d realized exactly where Mark was talking about when he mentioned the chasm.
There had been a massive fallen tree crossing almost the entire lake for most of my youth until some idiot ran over the end of it and destroyed his propeller. When that happened the local fish and wildlife representative had paid to remove the tree in the name of safety and the roots of the tree had pulled up enough Earth to leave a hole in the ground about ten feet long. Jumping down into it used to be a preferred method of avoiding local law enforcement who’d come to check ID and incarcerate minors for under-age consumption. The great thing about this chasm and the stretch of land nearby it was that it wasn’t accessible by foot. The girls used to strip down and swim over, letting their clothes dry on them in the heat. I’d never been comfortable swimming at night.
I’d parked next to a couple lake shacks featuring kitsch life preservers and mini lighthouses in the backyards. Against the nearest dock is a rickety paddle boat with a new gas motor attached and a new rowboat with heavy oars resting in the bottom.
“I know how to swim.” I say to Cleaver.
After a few feeble attempts to start the motor in boat #1 I finally hear the familiarly relieving sound of a ripping engine coming to life. The dogs jump in after I have moved less than six feet from the dock.
Though the engine is grinding under my hand as I steer the rest of the lake is silent as the grave. Birds sit in the trees, completely undisturbed by my presence, and that of the dogs. Their glass eyes stare at me just like Mark’s, without emotion and with too acute awareness. I had almost expected the water to be partially frozen over, but it isn’t. My rear is feeling stiff against the cold metal of the boat. It’s still damp from the snow yesterday. In the distance, blades of reeds on either side of the chasm sit eerily still, topped with soft flowering heads that have been partially picked apart by birds.
When I reach the edge I turn off the engine and pull the boat in. It scrapes loudly against the rocks. The dogs come out and considerately shake themselves dry right next to me. Already, I can see concrete peeking from beneath the hole. As I approach the opening is clear and a concrete hatch leading underground is propped open with a rock.
The dogs sniff at the edge, waiting to see if I’m going to jump down.
“What can be worse than finding a decaying dead body?”
Cleaver starts to wander off into the woods.
“Yeah, you are probably right. Oh well, here goes nothing.”
I jump down.