1928, August


Prudence Patience, never called Patty as she wishes, is summoned awake before the dawn. It is not her mother who summons, nor her father, nor her three older brothers. Nor a human voice at all, a summons only she can hear, even in her sleep.

She pulls a long gingham dress over long blond hair and over her night dress. Next are wool mittens, knit by her other grandmother, not the grandmother who owns this lake resort managed by her parents. Next is her hat, her hat, with a big flower on the side but which she wears to the front, given to her by a guest in June. But no shoes—Prudence Patience is not a willing wearer of shoes in the summer.

In her bare feet she steps in silence down the stairs of the main lodge to the side door, the hinges of which creak when opened. Prudence Patience, a small nine-year-old, a “mere lady slipper of a girl” her father calls her, can ease through the door before the hinges reach their point of protest. “Mere lady slipper of a girl” is her father’s tease about her wildness as much as her slim body. Next, before she steps out into the cold northern air which attracts their guests, she has to slink through the screen door, which is below her parents’ bedroom. She knows how to grasp the spring to stop its elastic screech and how to ease the screen door back into its frame. On the lawn, she turns and walks backwards to see the tracks her dragging feet channel in the heavy dew. She knows her route so well she can do it backwards without turning her head. When she reaches the dock, her skirts are soaked, for which she has been often chided this summer and will be again before the mother and children move back into town for school—the school, where the mist will not abide.

It is the mist levitated between lake and clouded night sky which called her awake and invited her into its otherworld of no dimension.

Prudence Patience chooses the smallest rowboat, as she always does, for which she has been often chided and will be again, not for choosing the smallest rowboat but for using a rowboat alone. With short strokes of the oars she rows out far enough to be lost from the shore. She lifts the right oar into the boat and uses both arms to give several hard pulls on the left oar. The boat spins counterclockwise. She lifts the second oar into the boat and moves to the front seat to lie down in the dew with her head below one gunwale and her bare feet hanging over the other. In silence the boat drifts its slow rotation in the sodden air and mirror water.

Creatures of water live in the mist, she knows, but she does not know their shape. The creatures of the mist are indistinguishable from the mist. Creatures of water live in the lake and are indistinguishable from the water. She wants the boat to ever spin, the mist to ever hover, the wind to never breathe, sounds to never speak. She wants to never leave here, to ever be here with dew and mist and lake and fog and rain.

The mist enshrouds her by condensing on on her clothes and hair. The mist condenses in her eyebrows and runs down her temples into her ears. O, let it fill her ears and melt into her mind! She will not move and break the spell! Her hands loll down beside the seat touching nothing. The mist condenses in her long pale eyelashes. O, let it run into her eyes like tears! She will not move and break the spell! She will dissolve into water. She will join the creatures of the mist and be unseen. She commands silence upon the lake, no sound of screen door or human voice or creature which will reveal east from west or south from north.

As she blends into the mist, she forgets to hold her spell to keep the silence. A loon vibrates its plaint from their nesting ground in the reeds near her dock. She exhales. She forgets to breathe in! Another loon calls from a different direction. The spell is saved! She is lost again!

She breathes in and surrenders to the empty moment. A fish jumps by her head, telling her nothing, nothing at all.

She drifts on in her circle. Or does not. It no longer matters. Time tendrils into the mist. Time condenses on her skin. Time drips from her feet. Mist and time condense in her eyes blurring form. From the stern of the boat a blue heron clatters its beak. She is indistinguishable from the mist! Being of the mist, she feels not cold, she feels not wet.

The mist and time condensing in her eyes cannot shield her from the increasing light. The screen door slams! Her father calls, “Little Lady Slipper, come back off the lake.”

It has ended. He can see her. The mist has arisen and will return as rain.

In the lodge her mother tells her to get out of her wet clothes and hurry back to eat. As punishment, she will help with the laundry. She always helps with the laundry. At breakfast Prudence Patience sits in silence, regretting her return to solid form, coddled and teased by her family, who will again laugh at her if she again tells them she became water and chose to live with the creatures of the mist and not the creatures of the lake.

©Clyde L. Birkholz 2017