When Judy was taking another sip from the bottle, the car swerved to the right. Marcus grabbed the wheel, steered all the way to the left.

Several minutes later, Judy pulled over and left the car. After staring at the valley beneath them, she crawled into the back seat, closed her eyes. Marcus sat there without saying anything. When Judy was asleep, he moved to the driver seat.

The road narrowed down and twisted as they got closer to the lake. The hot air hit Marcus’s face, and he smelled algae and ashes. He thought that this might be the place. “Let’s camp here,” he said and stopped the car.

The sky was scarred red. Storks had nested on trees that stuck out of the water.

Marcus was setting up their tent, when he heard Judy hit the water.

He smiled, taking off his clothes. The water was colder than he’d imagined. The rocks were slippery and sharp in the shallow part. After several steps, it became deeper, and he swam towards Judy.

She swam away and he had to speed up. When he reached her, she stopped swimming, wrapped her legs behind his.

He could taste the salt on her skin and feel the thumping of her chest.

The water was deep. They moved towards a tree. The back of their heads sat on the trees, their bodies floating in the water, their eyes staring at the sky.

They were still there when the surface of the water rippled, and they heard the roaring of a boat at a distance. They hadn’t seen any cars the last two hours of their drive.

They tried to climb a tree, Marcus grabbing Judy’s arm and pulling her up. They laughed like kids playing a game of hide and seek.

The boat got closer. On the boat, there were two men in purple polo shirts. The older man had a long white beard. “Howdy,” he said.

Marcus and Judy tried to suppress their laughter. Judy hid her face behind the tree leaves. Marcus dived back into the water, unable to control his laughter.

“Ma’am, you need to jump too,” the younger man said.

Marcus looked at the men, rubbing his burning eyes.

“I assume you’re going to say you haven’t seen any signs,” the man said.

“What signs?” said Marcus. They had been looking for a sign for miles, but hadn’t seen anything.

The bearded man grinned, showing his yellowed teeth. “Didn’t we know it?”

“Indeed.”

“Nothing to worry. I see that you’re getting alarmed. No reason for that.”

“We would just like to see the lady jump.”

“And after that, you’ll follow us.”

“Who are you?” Marcus said.

“And that’s it,” the older man continued like he hadn’t heard Marcus.

“You can go back to do whatever you were doing. Copulating on trees like cats.” He laughed.

The younger man took a slingshot out of his pocket, aimed it at Judy.

Marcus started to swim towards the boat.

“You just need enough force to knock her in the water,” the old man said.

The young man’s hands were shaking. He pulled the pouch back towards his cheek.

Marcus swam towards the boat, stroking the water, his face down. His eyes were becoming resistant to the salt, and he could see seaweed swaying in the water. When he reached the boat and lifted his head, he saw the young man rolling on the deck and screaming, his right eye a ball of blood.

“Fuck,” the old man was repeating.

Judy was swimming towards the boat.

*

The building looked like an old factory that had a long hallway with a high concrete ceiling and red brick walls. There were doors in the hallway with aluminum desks in the front. A female secretary sat behind each desk.

They were escorted into two rooms next to each other by two uniformed men. There was no sign of the two men who had brought them to the building on the boat.

“I really need to know what’s going on here,” Marcus said to the secretary.

“It’s a short process. No reason to worry.” She had long curly hair and big-framed glasses. She was wearing a white blouse buttoned up to the top of her breasts.

He watched the other secretary follow Judy into the other room, and then he was asked to go to his own room. The room had white walls, a white desk, and two folding chairs. Pieces of paper piled on the desk.

There were a number of questions on the top sheet.

Describe how you were directed to the site of the incident.

Provide details of your sexual encounter in the lake.

Describe your previous record with weapons.

“I’ll be back in two hours,” said the woman. “Try to be as comprehensive as you can.” She tongued the corner of her lips.

*

When she came back, she didn’t have her glasses on. She sat on the chair on the other side of the table.

“I know what you’ve written. But let me see it anyway.”

She put her glasses on and went through Marcus’s responses, scribbling notes on them with a red pen.

Marcus scratched his two-day beard and looked down on his feet.

“Why do you deny having sex in the lake?” She looked into his eyes.

“But we didn’t even—we haven’t in more than a month,” said Marcus.

She brought her chair closer to him and caressed his face. “You don’t even remember me.”

She stood up and walked to the other side of the room. Looking at her from the behind, he started to vaguely remember things.

“I felt sick for a month,” she said.

It was when Judy had broken up with him. Marcus and the girl were working on a project together in his suite late one night. She was wearing a short skirt. Sitting on the sofa, he started to stroke her curly hair. That was all he could remember.

“Two days after, you were back with her. When I called, you pretended nothing had happened. You told me I was a nice girl and you introduced me to your friend.”

*

When he woke up, the room was dark. In front of him, Judy had replaced the other woman.

“Judy, thank God you’re here,” Marcus said, trying to move towards her. But he realized he was tied to the chair.

Judy was silent. He could see the wetness of her eyes in the dim light, but it was hard to see the details of her face.

“Are you okay? What did they do?”

He realized she wasn’t tied to her chair.

“All this time, I just blamed myself. I thought something is wrong with me. I slept with someone else. I thought you knew, but you didn’t even care. I don’t really know you anymore.”

“Judy, you’re not making any sense, what are you talking about?”

In the darkness, Judy’s body seemed more unfamiliar. The length of her hair was the only thing that was hers. This woman was not Judy.

The woman stood up and left the room, slamming the door behind her.

*

Fluorescent lamps hummed. There were no desks in the hallway. He could hear his own steps on the floor.

He opened doors to different rooms, heard doors creak. He went inside rooms, touched rusted chairs with words engraved on them. He couldn’t understand the words on the blackboard.

He took a piece of chalk from the edge of the blackboard. When he was writing his name, somebody tapped on his shoulder. He turned around. It was Michael, his childhood friend.

“Michael,” he said. He hugged him. “How’ve you been?”

Marcus remembered the two of them in Michael’s father’s boat, lying down and staring at the stars, not sleeping. The smell of mountain ashes. What did they even talk about for so many hours?

Michael’s forehead was wrinkled. He had no hair. Why did he look so old? But he wasn’t wearing the white pad on his left eye.

“Your eye is okay, Michael?”

They were shooting birds together with their slingshots. He hadn’t seen Michael running.

“When my mom died she left some money for me to have the surgery.”

“I’m sorry to hear that she passed.”

Marcus pressed the chalk between his fingers. He wanted to ask Michael about the girl he’d introduced him to, about how things had gone since.

“It doesn’t make a difference.”

“I’m sorry.”

“She told me that you were with her before me.”

“Michael, I don’t remember much. I got back together with Judy right after. I couldn’t tell anyone. ”

He wanted to say something else, but Michael had already left.

In the hallway, it was cold and dark. There was no sign of anyone. It was only him, an aging man walking in an abandoned building.

 
 

Babak Lakghomi

BABAK LAKGHOMI is the author of Floating Notes (Tyrant Books, 2018). His fiction has previously appeared in NOON, New York Tyrant, and Heavy Feather Review among other places. He currently lives and writes in Hamilton, Ontario.

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