The New Generation of Classic Short Stories

Vol. 10, No. 4

On the Lake

by Olaf Olafsson

They sat in the living room drinking coffee, looking out at the lake. Margret got up every now and then to check on their son. He had fallen asleep in her arms in the living room, and she had taken him into his bedroom and laid him down. He was sleeping peacefully, but she kept looking in on him every few minutes to listen to his breathing. When she couldn't hear it, she put her ear to his nose and mouth. Only then could she relax.
     They had started using the summer cabin just over a year before. Margret's parents had a cabin farther up the hillside and had given them a piece of their land for a wedding present. Oskar had built the cabin himself. It had taken a long time, since he was busy with so many other things. The cabin wasn't large, but it was well situated, with an uninterrupted view of the lake. A hollow cut by a stream and some tall trees, mostly fir and birch, separated them from Margret's parents. Although Oskar got on well with his in-laws, he liked having the stream and the hollow between them.
     They had come down after work on Friday. The weather forecast had been uncertain, but Margret paid it no attention, knowing from experience that it could seldom be relied on. She had spent her childhood summers by the lake with her mother and her siblings, her father coming out as often as he could. She had hoped it would be the same for her and Oskar. Until this evening, she had been confident that it would.
     They were drinking their coffee. Oskar had his back to the window; the men who had rescued him and their son, Jonas, sat facing him across the coffee table. Margret was sitting beside Oskar. When she got up yet again to check on the boy, Oskar said: "Leave it. He's all right."
     She gave him a sharp glance but said nothing. Once she had left the room, Oskar said: "How about some scotch? A man can't live on coffee alone."
     He was filling their glasses when she returned.
     "Scotch?" he asked.
     She shook her head.
     He added a little water and an ice cube to each of their glasses. The water came from the spring below the hollow. It was delicious and cold, even on hot days, he told the rescuers while mixing their drinks. He also told them that he had built the cabin with his own hands, as well as installed the electricity and piped the water from the spring.
     "The water at Margret's parents' place always had a muddy taste," he said. "But now they get their water from our spring."
     Easter was behind them; it was the end of April. The earth was gray and the air raw, but one could sense that spring wasn't far away. It was light past nine and then dusky for a while before it got dark. The snow was gone.
     "Not a breath of wind now," said Oskar. "Cheers!"
     Margret studied the men. One of them had bought the cabin next door to her parents' place earlier that year. She had seen him in the distance but had not spoken to him until now. Her parents often complained of his noisy boat, which roared around the lake while they were trying to appreciate the silence and sound of the Great Northern Divers.
     "A banker," said her father. "Nouveau riche."
     From time to time the new neighbor held parties—with the barbecues pouring out smoke and people swilling beer and wine on the veranda, according to Margret's father, who spied on them with the binoculars that Oskar and Margret had given him for his sixtieth birthday. Margret had the same kind of binoculars. Her father reported that his neighbor had two barbecues: one coal, one gas. "He'll end up setting the whole place on fire," he predicted.
     The rescuers introduced themselves after the boy had fallen asleep. There hadn't been time before. The banker's name was Vilhelm, his friend's, Bjorn. Still frantic, Margret flung her arms round them. Oskar stood to one side, watching.
     "All right, all right," he had said. "No need to make such a big deal out of it."
     The look she gave him did not escape Vilhelm or Bjorn, who exchanged glances. Vilhelm said: "Glad we could help."

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