The Government Lake
By James Tate
The way to the toy store was blocked by a fallen tree
in the road. There was a policeman directing traffic down a
side street. I asked him, “What happened?” He said, “Lightning
in the night.” I took the turn and drove down the street
looking for a way to turn back. Other streets were blocked by
fallen trees, and I couldn’t find a way back to the toy store.
I kept driving and soon I was on the outskirts of town. I
got on a highway and drove, soon forgetting the toy store and
what I was supposed to get there. I drove on as if I was hypno-
tized, not noticing the signs for turnoffs. I must have driven
a couple of hours before I woke up, then I took the next exit
and had no idea where I was. I drove down a straight tree-lined
lane with farm houses on either side. There was a lake at the
end of the lane. I pulled over and parked. I got out and
started walking. There were several docks along the shore.
I walked out on one and watched the ducks swimming and diving.
There was something bobbing in the middle of the lake. I stared
at it for a long time before I realized it was a man’s head.
Then, a moment later, it was a coconut. No, it was an old tire
floating right side up. I gave up and started following the
ducks. They would suddenly fly up and circle the lake and
come down and splash land again. It was quite entertaining.
A man walked up behind me and said, “This government lake is
off-limits to the public. You’ll have to leave.” I said,
“I didn’t know it was a government lake. Why should it be
off-limits?” He said, “I’m sorry. You’ll have to leave.”
“I don’t even know where I am,” I said. “You’ll still have
to leave,” he said. “What about that man out there?” I said,
pointing to the tire. “He’s dead,” he said. “No, he’s not.
I just saw him move his arm,” I said. He removed his pistol from
his holster and fired a shot. “Now he’s dead,” he said.