Lila felt she was sitting in the lap of a giant who kept trying to cross his legs.
"Does your uncle know you're here?"
Karen frowned at Lila, momentarily suspending her search for the key to the boat. The cell phone she used as a light kept automatically shutting off and was in danger of being thrown overboard.
"Yeah, well, it's like a standing invitation. He told me he had a boat and where it was parked and that I should come see it sometime."
The rows of boats in the quay were hibernating, each tightly wrapped in clear tarp. Lila thought of when she used to stretch plastic wrap from her sandwich over her face in the school bathroom and inhale until the film snapped. She had been trying to see if she could will herself to breathe through her ear, which she read somewhere was possible. She braced her hands on the edge of the bench against the bitter wind.
Karen found a thin crowbar under a seat cushion and threaded it through the padlock on the door.
She heaved her weight forward, using the upper deck for leverage and broke the lock.
"In, or you'll walk the plank,"
"I don't want to get to the party too late. I was looking forward to going with you."
"Lila, you wouldn't let me drink on the streetcar. Just come in for one, then we'll go."
Inside, Karen flicked on a light. The boat's living and dining area was clad in a retro skin of orange and brown prints with a chartreuse couch running along one side of the twenty foot shoebox. A low door adjacent to the kitchenette led to a tiny bedroom. Karen lay the crowbar on the cluttered counter and began an expert rummaging of the cupboards.
Lila took off her jacket and shivered. She watched Karen and wondered if she knew how distinct she was from everything around her.
"Shame you're leaving just after I started."
"Are they firing me?"
"I just heard..."
Karen found a glass and dropped it on the counter.
Lila crossed her arms, "I heard that you set an apron on fire and flung it into the alley behind the restaurant."
"That barely happened." Karen winked at Lila over her shoulder and asked, "Aren't you cold?"
Lila uncrossed her arms. "I wanted you to see my dress."
"You sent me a picture this morning."
"Forgot whether I actually did that."
Karen turned back and came upon a glass bottle under the sink, filled with amber liquid.
"Belle of the ball!" she cried, uncapping it and smelling the contents.
"Is that moonshine?" Lila sat down. Karen nodded, filled the glass and handed it to Lila before joining her on the couch.
Lila shot back the drink, some of it dribbling down the side of her jaw and onto her chest. She turned without wiping her face and kissed Karen, interrupting the bottle on its way to her mouth. She shuddered at the hot liquor in her belly and Karen placed a hand on Lila's leg and slid it up her skirt. Lila broke off.
"I'm not a lesbian."
Karen sat back, "I know."
"I just. You're just so..."
Lila pulled her legs up and rested her face on her knees, nauseous with embarrassment. Karen put down the bottle.
"I wasn't invited to the thing. Craig's party. So you should go if you don't want to be late."
Lila lifted her head and felt a rush of dizziness. She focused on the floor and saw a rolled-up sleeping bag. A string of beads hanging from the cupboard door, swinging. Tiny, carved figures perched on the few clear spaces on the counter.
Karen continued, "Because they're expecting you and I don't want them to, like, think I took you or anything."
"Is someone squatting here?"
Karen followed Lila's gaze to a collection of plastic bags tied together. She nodded and pressed her lips together.
"This stuff tastes funny," Lila said.
Her face was shiny with sweat. She got up and started to unzip her dress. Contorted with the effort, she lost balance and Karen caught her.
"I don't think I'm allowed to wear this. I might spill something on it."
Blood seeped out from under Lila's fingernails onto Karen's arm.
"Lila, I need you to let go so I can call for help."
"I think I drank the universe."
Karen jumped at a sound coming from the next room. The girls heard a window scrape open and a mattress creak as a body came down into the boat. Karen guided Lila to the carpet and crept to the counter to retrieve the crowbar. She held the weapon like she was waiting for a pitch.
The man entered the room, not acknowledging their presence. He bent, so tall he could be concealing stilts, to check on a stack of items in a plastic bag. His face soured at Karen.
"Did you drink this?" His voice was thin. He came forward and picked up the bottle.
"This is my family's boat. Bottles of shitty, homemade liquor and all."
"She did,” he said. “Here." He reached a gloved hand into his coat and pulled out a wadded handkerchief. Karen swung.
"Stay away from her. Lila, go lie down."
Lila crawled between The couch and the coffee table. She could smell the herbal trail the handkerchief left in the air and it made her heart hurt.
"How much..." The man watched her head sink between each small drag she managed, "How much did she have?"
Static overtook Lila's senses. Her ears felt like they were stuffed with balled electricity and she looked up at the man, desperate to ask him why she couldn't go back and undrink the amber liquid now that he was home.
"She's not ready," the man cried as he tried to get at Lila. His patchy coat bloomed to twice its size and filled Lila's field of view with black.
Lila went limp and her face hit the carpet. With her arms out in front of her, immovable as felled trees, she felt a gloved hand graze her bare ankle and slid, pulled by a force that felt magnetic, through the narrow doorway into the bedroom.
Lila came back into herself. She lifted a throbbing hand and placed it on the orange polyester coverlet. Bed, she thought. Her other hand took up a fistful of it and she though again, more clearly, bed. She hoisted herself halfway up. She could hear shouting from the next room and turned to see what was happening. The coverlet slipped and she fell back, dragged with it into a shadow under the bed.
The feeling was familiar. Lila had often awoken at the bottom of a canoe tied to a dock, but this was different. She lay under a polluted night sky, thick with green clouds and could feel the hot lake through the bottom of the small vessel.
The coverlet, pulled up over her mouth, was wet and cold. She sat up and cast it overboard where it swirled and sank. Lila had never known Lake Ontario to get this hot, or still or vast, but it didn't seem to matter that she could see no land or lights. She would be better assured that this was real if the blanket hadn't sunk so fast.
The steam rising off the lake smelled of sleep and Lila leaned out to get a better impression, nearly tipping the boat. She snatched herself back and thought, Never grab the gunwales of a canoe. Use the rails to move around or brace your oar across the frame as you stand. Slowly.
The gunwales. Never grab the gunwales. You must practice flipping so that you will be ready when some idiot grabs the gunwales or gets up too fast. Lila smiled at the memory of her father and slid her cold fingers into the lake, wondering how deep it was. Panic rose up her spine. Who told her that about the canoe? Every blink was an evaporation.
She looked at her hands and felt betrayed. They were adorned and useless, muscles twitching with the actions of things performed countless times.
Lila could not stop shivering. She tried to call up in her mind the faces of people she knew, but there was no one left.
The fragrant lake assailed her and Lila leaned over the edge of the canoe to warm herself.
But she forgot and she grabbed the gunwales and moved too fast.