the short story project


G.G. Hamilton

Sunflower Festival

The moon casts light on the dark waters of Lake Bernard, creating a shining reflection. Atea sits at the end of a dock. His feet dangle over the edge and sway in unsynchronized circles, leaving outlines of a Venn diagram in the air. His toes periodically break the water’s surface.
Claire approaches Atea from behind and takes a seat at his side. She keeps her feet away from the dock’s edge and sits with her legs crossed beneath her. The water is calm and the air is frozen. The cold drives away the mosquitos that would bother them on a warmer night.
“It’s a beautiful night,” says Claire, “Don’t you think?”
“Yeah.” Says Atea, staring at the water.
Claire focusses her attention on the lake before speaking again, “Did you know that this is the largest freshwater lake without an island in the world?”
Atea raises his head for a moment to take in a view of the lake, “No. That’s fascinating.”
“Yeah,” says Claire, “and to think such a tremendous body of water is here, in little ol’ Sundridge. Most people would think it’s somewhere else, like Africa or something, but no, it’s here. We have the largest freshwater lake without an island in the world. Isn’t that special?”
Dark clouds begin to cover up the night sky.
“Well,” says Atea, “if you put so many qualifiers on something, it isn’t thatspecial.”
Claire looks to Atea, “What do you mean? I think it’s pretty special to have the largestfreshwater lake without an island in the world.”

A lone duck swims across the lake. It floats over the dark blanket of water, unaware of the depth below. Its webbed feet create small ripples that slice the water, forming tiny vortexes that rise to the surface. A trail of bubbles follow.

“Freshwater, lake, no island. Three modifiers. Anything could be special if you add three modifiers.”
Claire stretches out her words, “LARGEST-IN-THE-WORLD. Are you seriously going to tell me that isn’t special?”
Atea stares at the lake, “Nothing is really that special.”
Claire stares at Atea, but he won’t return her gaze.
She laughs, “Why do you have to be so depressed?”
Atea doesn’t respond.
“You better not be this way at the Sunflower festival tomorrow.”
“I don’t know if I’m going.”
“Oh, shut up, you’re going. I’ll drag you there if I have to.” Claire grabs Atea by the shoulder and gives him a tug.
He falls into Claire and pushes her away, “Don’t touch me.”
“Why? I don’t still have cooties. My boyfriend and I got tested last week, we’re clean.”
Atea laughs, “You don’t have a boyfriend.”
“Not that you know of.”
A duck swims towards them.
“Hey look, a duck!” says Claire.
“There,” Claire points her finger at the duck, “the floating thing with the weird head.”
Atea follows her finger, “That’s a wood duck.”
“Duck, wood duck, same thing.”
“No, wood ducks don’t live in this area. You can’t find them here.”
“Well, this must be a special occasion, on a speciallake.”
A wave forms behind the wood duck and with a violent splash it is swallowed into the lake. The wood duck lets out a shrill quack before it is completely submerged.
Claire stands up, “Did you see that?”
Atea doesn’t respond.
She continues, “What just happened? Did it get eaten? What was that?”
“Probably a fish.”
“No way, that was definitely the Lake Bernard monster!”
“That’s not a thing.”
“It is now! I’m going back to tell everybody! You coming?”
“No thanks.”
A breeze pushes ripples on the lake.
“You sure? It’s pretty cold out here.”
“I’m fine.”
“Suit yourself. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
Claire walks up the dock, back to shore. She turns to Atea, but she can only see a silhouette. The end of the dock is black from the clouds that now cover the moon.
The string lights create a happier mood than the street lights could create on their own. The combination illuminates the sunflower banners that are hanging along the street. The road is filled with children dancing to music that comes from a small stage on the sidewalk. The tired parents sit on the sidewalk ledge and watch their children. The lively parents join their children on the road. Teenagers dance near the end of the road, close to the food trucks that block the street off from the rest of town. A group of teenagers huddle around one of the trucks.
“I’ll have a large fry,” says Claire.
“And I’ll have a box of beaver tails,” says Atea.
“Ooh, beaver tails? Look at you.”
Atea laughs, “I only get this opportunity once a year. I have to.”
Claire and Atea get their food and join their friends, who are walking to the sidewalk. A new song starts to play.
“Everyone!” says Claire, “We have to dance to this song! Let’s go!”
A few of the boys and girls run to the centre of the road, not needing any more motivation. Others are begrudgingly dragged to the dance floor. The rest stand where they are. Claire waits, coercing as many people to the road as she can.
“You coming, Atea?” she says.
“I’m eating,” Atea says through a mouthful of fried dough.
“Fine,” says Claire, “then hold my fries.” She shoves the box of fries into Atea’s chest and runs to join the others who have already started dancing, “And you better not take a single bite!”

“You jump out with your right leg and lift your left leg in the air. Then you jump back to the middle on your right leg and cross your left leg behind you, making a ‘P’. Then you just repeat the two steps on your left leg: jump out, jump in and cross.”
“Like this?”
“No, like this.”
“Okay, I think I got it.”
“No, you’re doing it too slow. It’s only four steps, you’re doing six. When you’re jumping in, the opposite leg crosses at the same time.”
“Sorry everyone isn’t a talented dancer like you.”
“I’m not thattalented.”

As the song ends, Claire is laughing hysterically. Her arms and hips are swaying, she has little control over the movements of her own feet. Everyone around her is drunk on the same feeling. The next song starts to play.
“I forgot this song even existed,” says one of her friends.
Claire stops dancing and looks to the sidewalk. Her eyes meet Atea’s. She runs to him.
“You have to come dance to this song!”
“I don’t want to dance.”
“No, you haveto.”
Claire reaches for Atea’s shirt. He steps back and spills some of the fries he’s holding onto the sidewalk.
“You just dropped a bunch of my fries! You have to pay me back! You owe me a dance!”
This time, Claire offers Atea her hand. She leaves it to dangle in the air.
“Fine,” Atea places the boxes he’s holding on the ground and takes Claire’s hand. The two of them run into the road.
The chorus of the song plays and Claire performs a particular dance-move. The friends cheer. Atea laughs.
Claire addresses Atea, “Show us how it’s done.”
“No, it’s alright.”
“I wasn’t asking.”
Atea’s eyes go wide. Claire returns his expression. Atea laughs and joins Claire in the dance move. Everyone begins to cheer.
The friends create a circle around Claire and Atea. Although they are performing the same move, eyes fall upon Atea. He moves with a physical rhythm that Claire doesn’t have. His dancing garners attention from not just the friend circle, but from other dancers nearby. The other dancers begin to smile.
Atea notices all of the eyes staring at him and he slows down his dancing. His movements are no longer synchronized with the rhythm of the song.
“Why is everyone staring at me?” he says.
“Because you’re a special kind of dancer, Atea!” says one of the friends closest to him.
“Atea!” Claire shouts. She points to Atea and beckons him closer.
Atea shakes his head and stops dancing. He pushes out of the circle and goes to the sidewalk. The circle collapses as the teenagers whisper to each other. The song fades out and a slower song takes its place.
The dancing children groan. The tired parents find energy to embarrass their children by running to the road and slow-dancing. The lively parents try to teach their uninterested children to slow-dance.
The slower song means the music and the night are coming to an end. Some of the teenagers find the courage to ask others to stay and slow dance, others laugh and fake groan as they go to the sidewalk. Claire leaves the road smiling. Her eyes scan the sidewalk, searching. She sees a silhouette walking towards the beach.
The beach is black. The lights from the street are too far in the distance to reach the  sand. The sky is dark and covered with clouds. Atea can only be seen as a dark figure. He walks alone on the sand and approaches a dock. Claire runs behind him. She kicks up sand with her running shoes.
“Don’t do it!” she says.
Atea stops walking and turns to see the dark outline of Claire stopping behind him. She leans over and places her hands on her knees.
“Don’t do what?” he says.
“Walk into the lake. Don’t walk into the lake.”
“I’m not going to walk into the lake.”
“Okay, good,” Claire straightens herself, “Look, I know depression is tough, they always say that in school, but suicide is never the answer. Just know that people, like me, really care–”
“I’m not depressed!”
Atea turns away from Claire and continues to walk.
“Wait!” says Claire.
Atea stops again and watches as Claire falls on her back.
“Lie down with me,” she says.
“I’m not going to lie down with you. I’ll get sand everywhere.”
“Atea, please.”
Atea looks to the dock. It’s too dark to see where the dock ends and the lake begins. Voices traveling down from the street can be heard as energetic whispers. The only sounds coming from the beach are the quiet crashing of waves and the orchestral croaking of frogs. Atea says nothing and lies down beside Claire.

“Go on, Claire. Say hello.”
“Hi! My name’s Claire. What’s your name?”
“You talk weird.”
“No, I don’t”
“Claire, he doesn’t talk weird. He has an accent.”
“What’s an accent?”
“An accent is when people sound different because they’re from another country.”
“Do I have an accent?”
“No, you aren’t from another country, so you don’t have an accent.”
“Why is Atea from another country?”
“Because his country isn’t as safe as ours. So his parents came here.”
“Our country is safe?”
“The safest in the world. Now, Claire, I’m going to leave and go talk with Atea’s parents. The two of you should play a game.”
“Do you have police in your country?”
 “Do you know how to play cops and robbers?”
“I’ll teach you. It’s fun! You’ll be the robber and I’ll be the cop. You have to run away from me and I have to try and catch you.”
“I don’t want to play.”
“Why not?”
“I don’t want to be a robber.”
“But being the robber is super fun! Trust me!”

“Look at all the stars,” says Claire.
Atea stares at the dark, clouded sky.
“There aren’t any stars,” he says.
“Yeah there are, you just aren’t looking hard enough,” Claire grabs Atea’s forearm and lifts it to the sky.
“Point your finger,” she says.
Atea clenches his fist and points his finger upwards. Claire carefully adjusts the position of Atea’s arm until it is pointing directly up into the sky.
“Right there,” she says.
Atea follows his finger to a blacked out point in the sky, covered with clouds.
“All I see is cloud,” he says.
“Look harder. The stars are up there.”
Atea focusses his stare at the sky.
“You can’t see any stars,” he says.
“But they’re up there. Close your eyes.”
Atea closes his eyes.
“Can you see them now?” says Claire.
Atea lies in the sand with his eyes closed. Claire lies beside him. They both gaze at the stars on this cloudy night.
“Your hands are cold,” says Claire.
Atea opens his eyes and lifts his hands to the sky. “How would you know?”
Claire squirms, pulls her legs towards her, and sits in an upright position. She frantically grabs for her phone and turns on the flashlight, pointing it where her legs used to be.
“Something was on my leg!” she says.
The phone’s flashlight hits the sand and illuminates a lone toad. Atea shields his eyes.
“It’s just a toad,” he says, “Turn off your flashlight.”
“Great, now I’m going to get warts!”
“That’s a myth, toads don’t actually give you warts.”
“Okay then,” says Claire, picking up the toad in her free hand, “Do they still turn into good-looking princes?” She perks her lips and lifts the toad towards her mouth.
“Don’t kiss it!” says Atea.
“Woah, someone’s jealous.”
“I’m not jealous. It isn’t sanitary to put those things near your mouth.”
“Calm down, I wasn’t actually going to kiss it. I’m just going to toss it back in the lake.”
“Toads don’t swim! You’re thinking of frogs. Don’t put it in the lake. Give it to me.”
Claire hands Atea the toad. Atea cups his hands to receive the toad while gently coming to his feet. He walks to the edge of the beach and places the toad down amongst some rocks. He turns around and is met by the bright light of Claire’s phone.
“Turn off your flashlight,” says Atea.
“No, I need it to walk back to town.”
“Here,” Atea offers Claire his hand. She takes it. “I’ll lead the way,” Claire puts away her phone. “Just trust me.”

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