My intentions were good that golden summer afternoon. I was off to visit my beloved, as Ramona then was, to propose marriage. Driving away from my one-room flat, heading out of the city toward her family’s splendid house in the Cove overlooking the sea, I ambled about in my mind for the protocol I should employ to negotiate her sire’s consent. I pictured her standing with her mother outside the closed door, both of them giggling at how cute and awkward her boyfriend and her daddy were inside. She still called him Daddy. What did she still do that for, at twenty-three? It had sounded charming when I’d first met her, but it had lately begun to get mildly on my nerves. What, by the way, if Daddy said no?
But I heard him now in my mind’s ear interrupting my opening gambit: “I thought you’d never ask,” he muttered low, so as not to be heard on the other side of the door. “The answer is yes. What were you waiting for? Yes. Yes. Yes.” I was intuiting in my car, perhaps with some slight exaggeration, that Daddy wouldn’t be that much of a challenge. He plainly loved his daughter dearly, if “Ask and you shall receive” constituted fatherly love, but he did not give the impression of wanting to detain her as a resident in his home any longer than strictly necessary.
It was the same with Mommy. Yes, she called her Mommy still. Last month when I complimented Mommy again on the house and the superb view, she said, “Don’t be intimidated by this house, Bill. I’m sure Ramona could get used to living in something small and unpretentious for a little while.”
A couple of weeks ago, I heard Daddy whisper ferociously to Mommy in the kitchen, “What is it with her? She’s so bloody contrary and pigheaded about every damn thing.”
To which Mommy sighed, “I know, I know. But this too shall pass soon—be patient—it’s coming soon, soon . . .”
I mentioned that parental exchange, which had sounded like they were desperate for a bailout, to my wise, older sister, Ruby, and asked her what I was missing, because I didn’t find my divine Ramona that way at all.
Ruby put her arm around my neck and looked sideways into my face with a droll smile. “No, of course you don’t, my Billy boy,” she said, “because now you two only meet day and night to kiss and cuddle, if that’s the right word. But just wait till you’re walled in with her every breakfast, dinner, and bedtime, and she unearths a few irksome habits of yours—that might bring it out in her.”
Motoring along Portugal Cove Road, I reached Windsor Lake, still called Twenty Mile Pond by some old-timers who liked to bring to mind the distance around its shores. I was always partial to that ancient, down-to-earth name myself, and wished it had never been changed.
The northwest wind crossing the water during this brilliant couple of hours before sunset made everything look unnaturally clear and close. Maybe that was why the crows were squawking out a raucous din louder and in greater numbers than I’d ever heard before. My eyes were drawn, high up in the sky, to a wide-winged osprey soaring above the lake. That magnificent raptor and its mate, called sea-hawks by some around here, were a common sight this summer, and the constant talk of people was the joy of catching sight of one abruptly diving from a lofty height to the water far below, and seizing a trout in its talons.
Preoccupied by wavering thoughts in my head, I glanced under the sun at the long, gilded stream of shimmering waves, and a striking image all at once seized my vision. It was the osprey. The great bird was now just above the waves, and struggling to hover there, talons spread, as if it had brought its dive to a hasty, unforeseen halt. Then, in a merest instant, through the dazzle of light, I glimpsed a snakelike limb whip out of the water near the osprey, seize a seagull from midair, and vanish with it beneath a splash of spume and foam.
I was astonished. I jerked the car across the road into a space by the shore and stopped. The osprey was already climbing fast from the thrusts of its mighty, five-foot wings. I swept my eyes over the lake for many minutes, but nothing appeared on its surface again, and I could see only the glittering crests of waves. At last, I moved my car onto the road, but instead of continuing on toward the house overlooking the sea, I turned around and drove back to my little room in the city, the plans in my head altered utterly.
“But why?” Ramona beseeched me. “Why are you doing this? We were so perfect together.” I had no answer for her, especially since I well realized that I was giving up the woman who had physically excited me more than anyone else I’d ever met. What was I to say to her? That I was doing it because I’d seen or, more likely, hallucinated, a tentacle emerging from Twenty Mile Pond and snatching, and dragging under, a pitiable gull that looked a lot like me?
I said nothing. But perhaps I should have answered her question. She may have been more content if she’d understood that the man who was breaking up with her was a raving lunatic.
Never again, after that life-changing day, did I view anything like my vision of the glorious sea-hawk and the doomed seagull. And I never heard tell of anything lurking beneath the waves of Twenty Mile Pond that could have produced it. Not until now, twenty-two years later.
The Monster of Twenty Mile Pond
by Bill Rowe
$19.95, paperback, 203 pp.
Flanker Press, September 2014