Fiction: Waushakum Pond
By Orli Van Mourik
When Mona was little, Archie used to take her fishing. It felt like the trips had been going on since Mona was old enough for waders, but it was possible that they started in the fall of 1957 during those first few months when they both still woke up every morning to the shock of her mother’s absence. Mona couldn’t remember ever crying for Eve, but she did remember those chilly mornings when the house still felt abandoned—all traces of her mother gone apart from a few framed photos and a lingering smell in the hall closet. Saturday mornings were the hardest. Normally Eve would have been bustling around in her ratty bathrobe, whipping up a batch of leathery buckwheat pancakes while humming along to the radio. The lack of her was so acute in those moments that neither of them could bear to stay indoors and Archie would go fetch his red metal lunch pail from the garage and pack it full of liverwurst sandwiches and Nila wafers. He’d send Mona upstairs to get dressed while he brewed up a thermos of coffee and then they’d set off for Massachusetts in the old wagon, leaving the cat to fend for herself overnight.
There are plenty of fish in Connecticut—lakes and rivers chock full of them—but for Archie fishing was an activity reserved for the place he came from: Middlesex County. There was nothing particularly special about Waushakum Pond. It was bordered by the same hemlocks and spindly spruce trees as any other pond in rural Massachusetts and the swampy fields of wild rye surrounding it were alive with same croaking frogs. The only thing distinguishing it from any other pond was that it was where Archie’s father Leonard had taught him how to skate when he was a boy and the first place he’d ever managed to snag a bass on his line.
To Mona, it seemed clear that the pond was Archie’s natural habitat. When they were there she could see that he was a creature of the woods: built strong to withstand tough winters, with careful hands that could thread an arrow or tie a knot in a line without fumbling. His movements, which appeared fussy and painstaking in normal life, seemed in perfect tempo with the pond.
Had anyone asked, Mona would have told them that she and her father were close—and, in many ways they were. Years of living together had taught them to anticipate each other. If they sat down to dinner, the salt arrived at her elbow before she’d had a chance to open her mouth. And she knew to keep to her room on those nights when she smelled cigar smoke coming from the den. She pressed his shirts every Tuesday and hung them on his doorknob and he made sure that her bicycle tires never went flat. But Archie’s mind had always been a locked box. No matter how Mona tried to read him, she was never sure quite what he was feeling and when she guessed wrong he made her feel it. He did not suffer fools gladly, so she endeavored not to be one. But when they were at the pond, there was no need for guesswork. The pond was a leveling force. It brought Archie out of his mind and into himself. As soon as they arrived, he settled into a silence so complete that when Mona wasn’t facing him, she’d sometimes worry he’d stopped breathing.
In the week it took Mona to work out how to tell Archie the news, only one thing was clear to her: it would have to be at Waushakum Pond. But it had been so long since they’d gone there that it took her days to work up the nerve to ask him. When she finally did, he hesitated, and she saw from the pained looked on his face the reason for her own hesitation. It was one thing to stay overnight with your ten-year-old daughter at some fleabag motel. It was another to go with your seventeen-year-old. As soon as she suggested it, Mona pictured them trading places at the room’s yellowing washbasin before retiring to neighboring twin beds. The thought made her squirm.
“Why don’t we take a drive instead,” Archie said. And, like that, Waushakum Pond vanished from view taking with it all of Mona’s courage.
They decided to go visit the Glass House in New Canaan. Instead of piling into the wagon, they took her father’s new MG. Mona wore a scarf around her head to keep her hair from whipping around in the wind and felt alternately silly and glamorous, a gawky Grace Kelly. In her mind, she had pictured them chatting on the way up and then eventually settling into a companionable silence that left room for what she had to tell him. In reality, the wind was so fierce they barely spoke and when they did, they were stilted and formal with one another.
After forty minutes, they arrived at the spot on the map. It took them forever to find the entrance and once they did Mona was horrified to see a chain strung across it. They both got out of the car and walked close enough to read the sign hanging off it that read, “Shut.”
Archie turned to look at her, “What should we do?”
She shrugged and nodded toward the car. None of this was turning out as she’d expected. She couldn’t imagine telling him now.
They got back in the car. “It’s an strange thing building a house out of glass and then walling it off from the world,” Archie said, contemplative. “I don’t even know why I brought you here. Your mother liked Glass. I’ve never cared much for him.”
“Did she?” Mona said. Archie nodded. “What else did she like?”
“She liked Bogart movies and Quaker quilts—a hodgepodge of things. I never could keep track. She had eclectic tastes.”
“I don’t remember,” Mona said.
“I don’t expect you would,” he said, and then, after a long silence, “She was a good mother.”
“She wanted you to be happy,” Archie said. “I’ve tried to do that.”
“You have,” Mona agreed.
“Is everything okay, Scottie?” Archie said, suddenly searching. “I thought this class would help, but Boorish-Barney-the-professor seems to have made things worse.”
“Please don’t call him that,” she said.
Something in her voice made him turn toward her. “Archie,” she said, realizing there would be no better time. “I’m having a baby.”
Her father’s face went white as the sky behind it; it was like all the youth bled out of him in an instant. “I don’t understand.”
He placed his hands on the wheel to stop them from shaking. “How could this happen? Did you let that boy Chad—?”
“—No!” Mona shook her head. “Nothing like that.”
“Who then?” he demanded.
Mona was aware that, in that moment, she held Archie’s heart in her hands. She cupped it gingerly, terrified of crushing it. Maybe it wasn’t too late not to tell him. Maybe she could take it all back. “Barney,” she said finally.
His face fell. “Barney.”
Archie slammed his hands against the wheel so hard it made the small car shudder. “How could you?” he said, and Mona said nothing. She knew that outside of Waushakum Pond there was no way he’d ever accept the real answer: love.
Orli Van Mourik writes fiction and nonfiction and holds a Master’s in Journalism from NYU. Her work has appeared in Psychology Today, The Brooklyn Rail and Brooklyn Based, among other outlets. She teaches fiction for the Sackett Street Workshop and is working on her first novel. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband and two daughters.
This story was the winner of The 2015 Annual Pen Parentis Writing Fellowship, which promotes the creation of new work by writers who are also parents. Pen Parentis is a literary nonprofit organization that provides resources to writers to keep them on a creative track once they start a family.