The Queen of Something.

A short story about the romance and beatitudes of summer retreats.

Robert Cormack
Mar 5 · 8 min read
Photo by TRAVIS NESBITT on Unsplash

It’s a good thing I was born a girl, otherwise I’d be a drag queen.” Dolly Parton

“Whoosh,” she’d say, tossing another log on the fire.”Whoosh, whoosh,” the next time, and the time after that. Sparks flew in and out of the hearth.We moved the rug back, then the old colonial furniture, then her.

She kept saying she wanted more fire. “You’re going to burn the place down, Sylvia,” we kept telling her. Ten minutes later, another log got tossed. “Whoosh,” she’d say, firelight in her eyes. She was a monster.

We were renting this old lodge we’d found in the paper. “Big century-old log building, overlooking its own lake, exotic duck pen on the property, miles of woodland.” We rented for a month, eight of us. It was agreed we could each bring a guest. Kevin, innocent as a deaf puppy, brought Sylvia.

Kevin was maybe twenty years older than Sylvia. They’d met at a singles function a few weeks before. He thought bringing her to the lodge would show he wasn’t a bad guy, he had friends. Sylvia agreed right away. Kevin couldn’t believe his luck. Sylvia couldn’t believe he asked.

Up they came in Kevin’s car, Sylvia insisting on the music blaring. Kevin turned off his hearing aid. Arriving late, Silvia went straight to the fireplace, tossing on a log without asking. “I’m freezing,” she said. It became her daily mantra, outside of telling us she couldn’t sleep and didn’t believe in God (in case religion came up as a topic of conversation).

Sylvia was always hugging herself, complaining about the cold. “Put on a sweater,” we’d say, but she hated sweaters. Each day, she’d stand out in the sun with her sunglasses at an angle. We asked her if the fresh air was helping her sleep. “You die if you sleep,” she said. This became a mantra, too. Sylvia had very dark circles under her eyes.

When the sun got hotter, she’d walk into the water, saying the sandy bottom felt good between her toes. She didn’t actually like sand between her toes. She asked Kevin to towel them off. Kevin was pretty sure he was in like Flint. That night, he made his moves and was smacked across the head. Sylvia was a tough customer. Kevin hoped the fresh air would loosen her up.

The lodge sat on a hill, overlooking a private lake. It was a very old lodge made of logs. There was an abandoned mill nearby with rusting saw blades leaning against the wall. The blades helped build the lodge that Sylvia found freezing. The fact that it was summer and seventy-eight degrees didn’t seem to help at all. Sylvia said she didn’t trust thermometers.

The original owners had also used logs to form steps down to a beach. This is where Sylvia would go when it was hot enough. She still kept the fire going. It was very hot in the lodge.

The owner of the lodge had his own house about three hundred yards away. Every morning, he’d come over and feed the exotic ducks. Sylvia would go outside to watch. She still couldn’t sleep. Kevin’s snoring was particularly oppressive. It did keep her alive, though.

One morning, after the owner had fed the ducks, and gone back home, Sylvia saw a mother duck leading her young down to the lake. They were learning to swim and find tender shoots along the bottom. One duckling, however, looked like it was crippled. It lagged behind, distressing the mother duck to no end. She’d quack, then it was like she was saying, “Suit yourself,” and took off into the water with the other ducklings.

“You bitch,” Sylvia said, going to help the poor duckling. The mother duck suddenly took offence, rushing up the hill, flapping her wings, pecking at Sylvia’s legs. Then a drake came out of nowhere, attacking Sylvia with the same savage thrusts. Sylvia ran inside crying. She put a log on the fire. “Whoosh,” she said when she’d calmed down. This helped tremendously.

The duckling, it turned out, was a con artist. He didn’t want to go swimming around the lake. Once the mother duck kicked his little feathered ass into the water, though, he swam like a champ. Sylvia thought she’d been duped. Her legs bore the bruises to prove it. It was tough getting her outside after that. So Kevin devised a plan he hoped would help.

He offered to take Sylvia for a gondola ride. There wasn’t a gondola for some six thousand miles, so Kevin lined the bottom of a canoe with life jackets. Sylvia was thrilled. The black circles under her eyes seemed to disappear. Kevin was hoping for romance — or, more importantly, sex. Sylvia’s smile enforced this possibility, along with her saying she liked sex.

Paddling serenely across the lake, a soft cantata playing on a ghettoblaster Kevin borrowed from the lodge, Sylvia laid back with her eyes closed. All was peaceful. Kevin figured for sure he was getting some.

He paddled to a small secluded beach, taking out some towels, a picnic basket containing a bottle of wine and sandwiches. Sylvia laid on the towels. Kevin applied lotion to her legs. As his hands moved up to her thighs, she gave him another great smack across the head. He wasn’t crazy about that.

Kevin paddled back to the lodge in a huff, beaching the canoe, getting out without giving Sylvia a hand. “Did she feel like a queen?” we asked, and he said, “Queen of something.” He slept on the couch that night. Meanwhile, Sylvia—free from Kevin’s snores—became suddenly aware of ghosts.

The “ghosts” were actually pine boughs whisking across the roof. Sylvia screamed, anyway, and Kevin ran into the room. “Ghosts,” she cried and they ended up having sex. She was very loud and possibly agitated. Kevin was trying some move he’d seen — or heard about — on Seinfeld. Obviously, either he wasn’t doing it right, or it was a gag all along. Her screams were actually impatience. So much for television comedies.

By the middle of the week, they were barely talking. Sylvia stayed by the fire while the rest of us baked in the sun. At night, the “singles” played card on our beds in the bunkie. This was where we slept while the couples retired to their assigned bedrooms.

Eventually Kevin ended up in the bunkie, wanting to play cards. Actually, the lodge had become so hot because of Sylvia throwing logs on the fire, even the couples wanted to play cards. Then the bunkie got too hot from all the people, so they went back to the lodge.

On the Friday, we went out gathering firewood and vines to make garlands. It was Michelle’s birthday, one of the singles whose bed often served as the card table. Michelle was a light sleeper, and didn’t care for Sylvia’s screams in the night. Cards seemed to be the only thing that stopped her from strangling Sylvia. Michelle had particularly big hands.

It could be done, in other words.

So we gathered wood and vines, returning to the lodge where the women were baking a cake for Michelle. While the garlands were hung, Sylvia sat on the couch, arms wrapped around her knees, letting out with the occasional “whoosh.”

Dinner was served, drinks were had, the music started, and everybody danced. Sylvia loved to dance. She danced out to the porch, twirling one hand, holding a glass of champagne in the other. Kevin, meanwhile, decided he might as well take a run at Michelle. For his age, he was very sex-minded.

They danced while Sylvia twirled on the porch. When she came in, she saw Kevin and Michelle shuffling away. She went over to the ghettoblaster where Orson, another single, was kneeling trying to adjust the bass levels. She threw her leg over Orson’s shoulder and started humping. This surprised all of us since it was clearly ten years before twerking.

Even more surprising was how Michelle reacted. Without a word, she put her large hands around Sylvia’s throat. Sylvia screamed, something you’d expect since Michelle had such large hands. This brought the women from the kitchen. They screamed because obviously they hadn’t heard of twerking either. Sylvia might’ve invented it, for all we know.

Kevin, meanwhile, looked positively confused. He thought he was in like Flint with Michelle, whereas Michelle thought she was in like Flint with Orson. Orson had given Michelle a sailing lesson earlier that day. They’d had quite a nice time of it. That constituted romance in Michelle’s book — possibly Orson’s book as well.

To be fair to Sylvia, though, she’d been on the couch all day, and hadn’t seen the fireworks between Michelle and Orson. None of us had. If there were fireworks, they must’ve been very small ones.

The next morning, Kevin decided to take Sylvia back to the city. This was a good decision since Sylvia was already walking out the door. She went to the exotic duck pen first, telling each of them individually to fuck off.

She said the same thing to slow drivers on the way home. Kevin heard none of this, of course. He’d turned his hearing aid off. When they got to her place, Kevin thought she got out of the car without saying a word. In fact, she’d asked him upstairs for for coffee. Kevin could’ve been in like Flint.

Anyway, after Sylvia and Kevin left, we realized the wood supply barely went down at all. We were actually rolling in logs. Log rolling used to be a popular pastime on this very lake when the mill was still operating.

As the days passed, and the temperature rose, Orson and Michelle took to sailing again. The owner, a skilled carpenter, was just finishing a rather fine cedar sailboat. He offered Michelle and Orson the maiden voyage. They judged it seaworthy, and spent a wonderful three days sailing (even if it wasn’t the sea).

The rest of us walked around lazily in the sun, swimming occasionally, often interrupted by exotic ducks whizzing by. At night, when the pine boughs whisked across the roof, we knew it was just nature, not the ghosts of the early builders. In fact, as the owner explained, the early builders sold the property back in 1958, and started a taxi company in Scarborough. If they were haunting anywhere it would be Scarborough.

Who knows how Sylvia would take that? Not well, I imagine. She hated Scarborough.

Robert Cormack is a satirist, novelist and blogger. His first novel “You Can Lead a Horse to Water (But You Can’t Make It Scuba Dive)” is available online and at most major bookstores. Check out more of Robert’s articles and stories at robertcormack.net.

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Robert Cormack

Written by

I did a poor imitation of Don Draper for 40 years before writing my first novel. I'm currently in the final stages of a children's book. Lucky me.

The Shadow

We publish inspiring stories about different topics for a productive and entertaining life

Robert Cormack

Written by

I did a poor imitation of Don Draper for 40 years before writing my first novel. I'm currently in the final stages of a children's book. Lucky me.

The Shadow

We publish inspiring stories about different topics for a productive and entertaining life

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