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"The Lake Underneath" by Travis Flatt



The hatch in back my house leads to a crawl space. This crawl space, made of mud, winds wormlike, creeps, full of centipedes, and delves downward to a lake. The lake beneath my house wets everything above. The wet warps my floorboards, bows them hunchbacked. Upward from the ruined floors drift spores. The air within my house is poison, smells like sour cantaloupe.

On the lake beneath my house drifts a canoe. The canoe is built of boards ripped from my bedroom. The boards were nailed together by a man who lives in my garage. He oars with a rake handle. The lake he knows by heart and glides in dark.


###

I invite friends over to drink beer and swim in summertime. My text reads: “Let’s go down to the lake.” I don’t say what lake. Sitting on a cooler in my dead yellow yard, I greet my friends. They pull up, find me daydrunk, beer cans crunched beneath my flip flops, and semi-circle around, grin. I grin. Grinning. “Where are we going?” they ask. I stand, open the cooler like a treasure chest, and they take cold cans. We listen to each other drink. Someone thinks to ask after my wife. I tell the truth: my wife left me for an older man. They check their phones, glance at their trucks.

We drink. They ask about the smell. It clouds my yard, wax thick like an early August dumpster. “My house is sick,” I say, tender and hushed. Someone recommends a good handyman.

When I Iead them around back, open the crawl space–the maw–and beckon with a flashlight to show the curious my lake underneath, they grow upset..

“This isn’t funny,” they call down to me.

“It isn’t funny,” I call up to them.

It’s hot. It stinks. No one wants to swim.

###

Before I texted my friends, I dug a firepit out back. I can still dig because I’m not disabled. It was years ago when I got sick. I’m better now. I can drink cheap beer with friends; I can swim; I can dig a firepit; I can row a canoe.

The last friendly conversation I had with my wife, before I moved into the garage, she suggested I go on disability.

“I’m not disabled,” I tell the firepit. I’ve done many things a disabled person doesn’t do.

And this firepit–I thought my friends would dry themselves after swimming. Anger is a side effect of the pills. The pills make me well. Do you see how this rows circles in the dark?

Now I’m alone, poking embers with my rake. I set the house aflame and climb down to the lake to drift along in my canoe as rotten ashes snow down. Invisible things are beautiful. Invisible things devour us. I dive beneath the ash flecked surface to wait.

Come back. I’m better now.

When the house collapses and lets in the sun, we’ll have our own lake. A lake to ourselves.




Travis Flatt (he/him) is a teacher and actor living in rural Tennessee with his wife and son. He earned his English BA at U.T. Knoxville and his education MA at TTU. His work appears or is upcoming in Dollar Tree Magazine, BOMBFIRE LIT, Many Nice Donkeys, Drunk Monkeys, and other publications. For more info and writings, check out www.travisflattblog.com, and tweet him @WriterLeeFlatt

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