Aleatoric, Philly thought. Perhaps that was the word for it. Rivulets of lake-water rolled in alternating periods of mosey and hurry down the lengths of her fingers. Once they had collected in the dip of her palm, she cocked her hand to allow the tiny pool to return to its source. This she did over and over, mindlessly, for her mind was still snagged on the morning. Yes, how utterly aleatoric: Too many windows, maybe. Not enough wood in that house, but it caught, nonetheless.
Smoke curled against the breeze as the woman gave a deep sigh, and her head flopped back against the transom. Ash-brown locks curled similarly in the water and attracted the minnows, which attracted her eyes. She leaned closer to the water, to watch them, but the boat rocked and the school fled from the resulting ripples.
How familiar. Philly took another drag of the cigarette, which was held neatly between the index and middle finger of her left hand.
She often wondered: why are other people so comfortable with watching, yet so fearful of being watched? She never gawked as they did at her, but regular and marvelous lives alike drew her attention like a cat to a radiator. If they had the propensity to stare at the empty space beneath her right hip, she had the right to stare right back and collect their petty conversations and observations. The adults were dull, but it was a mutual fascination she shared with the local children. Of her they wondered, “What happened to the other leg?” Of them she wondered, “How is it to walk unquestioned by the world?”
Killing the repetitive motion, Philly began to trace organic shapes and symbols in the water, but her eyes were on the crutch, laid neatly beneath the thwarts. The hound whose head rested on the foredeck grunted and pressed closer to the lone leg. Another drag, then the cigarette was thrown into the water. Hazel sights considered the scene as more fish, bigger than before, investigated. It took only a few seconds more for the thing to be eaten. The hound woofed softly, and Philly gave him a kick. Sound carries too easily over evening water.
She far preferred the curiosity of children to the pity of their parents. Like her own, they were always so fussy. She found a mother in every woman, and a father in every man, but she’d long since grown sick of that role. Her life was full enough of superiors.
The ash-haired woman looked east, to the greying horizon, and her mind strolled through her recent years. Perhaps things had grown a little stagnant. This town had little enough to offer a one-legged human in the way of a career, but she’d found something to occupy her ill-practiced thoughts and emotions. Maxine Tissier.
The woman was gentle to her core, that much Philly could see in the first five minutes. Life had been sweet to her, but she certainly was not naive. The day they met was bittersweet in Philly’s mind. It was one of prayer and dirt and tears, and the first time she’d leaned willingly and gladly into her widowed mother’s offered arms. The events following death seemed to move at such a crawl in her childhood years — but this afternoon stretched on. The evening memorial service was more bearable, and it was there that her hazel eyes first met Maxine’s own of blue.
She had once worked with Philly’s father, the woman with the red hair said. He was a good man — she was sorry to see him pass so young. Yes, Philly remembered saying, with sincerity. He would be missed very much, but please, tell me more about yourself.
The conversation extended far beyond the funeral, from weeks to months, and finally to a year. Philly used her inheritance to purchase a cabin on the lake, just across from the Tissier woman’s own house. Theirs was a tentative friendship turned deeper, mutual, and transparent, she thought. There was no superiority in it, no concern born from ignorance. Maxine accepted Philly’s handicap as if it were a small birthmark. By the end of that year, the ash-haired woman was utterly arrested by her.
Thomas. She spit over the gunwale as the name entered her mind, and her fists clenched.
Maxine’s house was steeped in his stench, and it hadn’t faded in the months following his arrival. He seemed to be a kind man, old-fashioned, but his cologne was insufferable, and he gawked. Philly was hurt, but she was not petty. She acknowledged their initial relationship as genuine and allowed it some room to grow. Her time with the younger woman lessened and, bored, she had turned to old hobbies. Emotions built up, and she poured them like gasoline into her work.
The kiss was a mistake, Philly knew, but it had been stewing for months. She raised a hand to the cheek that Maxine slapped, stroking it thoughtfully. It had been the triumph in his eyes, as he watched from where he leaned against his trunk full of suitcases, that was the spark. That glint of superiority he displayed so openly to the world, but to which Max was blind.
Philly had not slept that night. The plan had leapt into her mind the moment she’d locked eyes with Thomas.
The hours before dawn, she thought, always held the greater successes. By 4:30 she had gathered the necessities and boarded her little motor-less fishing boat. Olaf the hound came along for emotional support, but she didn’t think she needed him at this point. Years of practice had stained her morality with soot.
Maxine’s cats were moved to the shed, where they would be safe, with plenty of food and water. Philly wet the ground there with a hose, so the flames wouldn’t be able to reach them. The gasoline she’d poured everywhere, but she took extra care to soak the bedroom. The cologne-stench was especially present there. When she’d finished, the one-legged woman stood on the threshold, savoring the feeling of teetering just on the tilt of calm cool and chaotic heat. She remembered lighting a cigarette, thinking of a cool movie scene, and then flicking it inside and closing the door.
Olaf was waiting obediently in the boat. She pushed them off the shore just as the windows were turning grey. Another cigarette was lit, and she paddled around a bend, out of sight. Aleatoric. No, this one had had more intent, and she’d been extra precise with the gasoline. She couldn’t think of another word for it. Maxine would know.
Grey flakes like snow were beginning to drift down around her. Philly looked east again, a smile playing at the corners of her lips. With a decisive inhale, she took hold of the oars and rowed them home.