Excerpt from The Other Side of the Lake by Anna Carolyn McCormally

Laure navigates even though she’s not sure where she’s going. She hasn’t come this way for years, and there are no streets signs on these backroads. The turns listed so confidently on the directions she printed out from the campus library are useless.

It’s the middle of January and the landscape could’ve been carved out of a single slab of marble. There’s the rhythmic crunch of the borrowed car’s tires on the gravel, and the shimmer of snow when the trees shake their shoulders. Nothing has changed since she was fifteen years old, and the road is unfolding like the pages of a story she used to know by heart. With each turn, Laure remembers something new.

Are you sure you know how to get there?

I’ll know it when I see it. There should be a sign for the town soon.

She doesn’t want to tell Jacob she recognizes that dip in the road, that creek, that clearing. I walked this way once when I was younger. I carved my initials into that tree. He rolls his eyes when she says things like that, and she doesn’t want to annoy him.

His presence in the car feels like a gift, something generously bestowed and not to be taken for granted. When she first asked if he’d come to the wedding, he didn’t immediately say yes.

It’s a long drive.

I know. I just really don’t want to go alone.

She wanted him to come because he was her boyfriend, and being her plus-one at a wedding is a thing boyfriends do. He’ll see the lake house, meet her father, her uncles, her aunts, her cousins. This is my boyfriend, Jacob, she’ll say, and they’ll love him and whisper about what a nice couple he and Laure make. Because it’s a wedding, someone will ask if they’ve thought about getting married. Laure will pretend to be embarrassed, but she’ll be able to sneak a look at Jacob. To see what his eyes reveal when he’s asked.

Sometimes when she’s falling asleep, she indulges herself in a fantasy about their wedding. She imagines herself in a white dress with pink and yellow flowers embroidered on the hem, saying vows in a barn in Indiana like where they first met. Do you promise? I do, Jacob would say. Do what? Laure interrogates him, pushing her veil up, putting her hands on her hips. What do you promise? What exactly are you going to do?

Not leave.

They will graduate soon, leave Woolman for the real world. Whatever that is. He hasn’t brought up staying together, but he hasn’t tried to break it off, either, and when he said he would be her date to the wedding, it felt like he was agreeing to something. Not that she knows what that is, either. The unknown is dark, deep water. If they aren’t careful, they’ll drown.

The sign for the town is the first real landmark since they turned off the highway. It comes into view so solid, so verifiable, that she feels silly for doubting it would be there.
They turn from the asphalt onto back roads to follow it. Gravel crunches under the tires and pine branches scrape along the side of the car. Laure puts down the window.

Hey, it’s too cold for that.

Look, there’s the gas station! I told you there’d be a gas station. And a post office and a market and—that’s pretty much it. I used to get that old-fashioned stick candy at that market. Did you ever have that stuff?

I think I know what you’re talking about.

She leans her head out the window and takes a deep breath. Just smell that fresh air! That’s what her father would exclaim, every time they turned up this way. He repeated himself a lot. She loved that, the same way she loves letting a record play and play without ever flipping it over. If you’ve found something you like, why change it?

Laure, come on, put it up. I’m freezing.

She rolls up the window. There’s the bridge across the stream. There’s the house where Mr and Mrs. Davidson used to live. She recognizes their mailbox, a funny wooden one shaped like a little chalet.
I had a friend who lived there. We’re just the other side of the lake from my dad’s house. We could walk it from here. Rosie. Rosie Davidson. I was, like, fifteen. She was a little older. We hung out on the dock and drank vodka and lemonade from a water bottle.


Once we kissed to see if we’d like it.

You never told me that! Was that your first kiss?

No. I think my first kiss was in truth or dare.

That doesn’t count. Did you?

Did I what?

Did you like it?

She liked it, but for the wrong reasons. That’s what the therapist said, anyway. It was a few months later. They were supposed to be talking about the divorce but Laure’s mother had called the therapist and told her about Rosie and now they had to talk about that. Laure always told that therapist the truth. You have to tell the truth, they’d told her. No one can help you if you don’t tell the truth.

There’s a lot of feelings, when your parents separate.

I can imagine why you might not feel like you have a lot to hold on to.

I’m sure this girl is really nice and kissing her sounds like it was really comforting. But it’s important we don’t confuse that with other feelings, like love, or real attraction. So that’s all we’re here to do. Just tease your feelings apart so you can see them better.

Now the smell of the forest brings Rosie into the car with them, blond hair and blue eyes and a silver bikini like mermaid scales. It’s too cold to have the windows down now but it was August then. They took off their bathing suit tops while they lay on the dock to get an even tan, and Laure tried not to look at Rosie’s nipples. They shared a Twizzler for an afternoon snack, the Pull n Peel kind where you get your fingers around one of the strands and strip it away from the rest of the candy like a piece of sticky spaghetti. They ate the strands one by one until they had eaten them all. It seemed like there should have been something at the center. But when they’d pulled it all apart, one strand at a time, there was nothing left. It wasn’t a surprise or anything. Still, it was a letdown, every time.

That’s where she lived.

What happened to her?

What do you mean what happened to her?

I mean where is she now.

Oh. I have no idea. We lost touch. We got in trouble, for the drinking. My mom said she was a bad influence and didn’t let me visit her or anything over the school year. We wrote letters for a while but then we stopped.

She stopped writing you back?

I guess. …no, it wasn’t like that. We just stopped writing.

It was a wooden mailbox, that chalet, with a painted redbird on the side. If the redbird is still there, Laure can’t see it. They’ve passed too far up the road.

She looks over at Jacob. Ski-slope nose, curls hanging in his eyes, the corners of his mouth tending toward a frown. She doesn’t often see him from this angle and it’s odd how different he looks. Or maybe she’s looked at him so much she doesn’t see him anymore, like a word said over and over gradually loses its meaning.

She reaches over and puts a hand on his knee. I’m glad you came with me.

She’s hoping he’ll say, Of course, or, I really wanted to.

What he says is, Sure. Which isn’t really the same.



Read the rest of “The Other Side of the Lake” in our eighth print annual, available now.




Anna Carolyn McCormally reads and writes in Washington, D.C. Her stories have been published in The Lost Country and Pacific Review. In 2017, she completed an MFA in fiction from University of Maryland College Park, and she currently works at the Friends Committee on National Legislation.


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