We live in a summer resort town. In the winter, no one is around but us and the workers at the flour mill. For our exercise, we jog laps in the drained lazy river at the water park. Sometimes, as we are walking back in the evening, we see the illuminated forms of the mill workers trudging home, the white powder coating their bodies luminescent beneath the streetlights, the vaporous smell of bread floating in the air.
Most of the bars close in-between seasons, but there is one that stays open, and we go there and drink elbow-to-elbow with the guys from the flour mill. They are large, gruff men who intimidated me at first, and who were distrustful of the two of us, but there is a light in Jane that is hard to ignore, and soon she won them over. Now they’ll invite us warmly to join them in their games, despite our nervous bookishness.
One evening as we returned home from the bar, Jane said that the laborers were rubbing off on me, and I paused and tried to identify any changes in myself, but she simply smiled and licked her finger before cleaning a dusting of flour from my cheek. I laughed and together we tumbled onto the bed.
What serve as over-crowded swimming holes in the summer become oases of solitude in the winter. Jane and I will sit beneath our blanket and watch the frigid water slide by. Once, we watched as the mill workers pumped each other up before stripping naked and leaping into the water. The river turned white as milk for a minute before the discoloration was sucked downstream. The men clambered out of the water; unencumbered by their nakedness, they ran through the park towards their still-running cars. Jane and I briefly considered copying them, but were unable to work up the courage.
The buses which, in the summer, shuttle tubers up and down the river, in the winter slumber in a lot. Most are old school buses, painted anew in garish colors. Over half misspell the word tube as ‘toob’. Jane thinks it’s a meticulously planned capitalistic plot to stoke the subconscious lust of potential customers by triggering the word ‘boob’, probably written up in some far-removed boardroom in New York or Berlin.
I think it’s because it’s cute.
She defends her hypothesis by citing the soft squishiness of innertubes and cites the fact that the imagery of busty women in bikinis goes hand-in-hand with most people’s idea of ‘toobing’. She also begins a half-hearted argument that the hole in the center of the innertube allows men to perceive their entire bodies as phallic. She says it doesn’t matter if the idea was thought up in a metropolis, or in a dingy tubing outfitter along the river here, because we have all had New York City boardrooms commissioned in our skulls, and it is our duty to demolish them.
I defend my hypothesis with a shrug, feeling won over.
Most summers, we rent our house out and make enough money in those three or four months that we don’t have to hold steady jobs. One summer a few years back, we wanted to see what our beloved town was like during its busy season, and so returned for the final week of its height to pretend as if we were tourists renting our own house.
We had to pay a teenager in a kiosk to gain access to the river and there we could hardly see the water for all the bodies. The flour mill workers hold some patriarchal power over me, and I thought I’d be ashamed if they saw me among this drunken hoard.
Although I cannot speak for anything so magnificent as a river, my own manifestation of it was distraught. After some reflection, I see how self-righteous I was being. We ended up passing the rest of the afternoon with a drinking game that Jane made up. Each time we overheard a tourist proclaim: I can see why the Indians loved this place so much, we were to take a drink.
Drunk, we returned home in eager anticipation of an early winter.
Jacob Austin moves boxes in a grocery store warehouse.