Andrew, his mother, and his mother’s new boyfriend, Randy, were spending a week tenting on the lake. The campsite, Sacrifice Canyon, was full of families, in rows of nylon tents separated only by cedar picnic tables with peeling yellow paint. Toilets and shower stalls were located in a brick building near the entrance to the campsite, by the office; showers were a dollar for seven minutes of hot water. Toilets were free.
There was a gang of kids thrown together by their parents’ choice of vacation, a group that raided orchards, made a lot of noise on the big raft the campsite floated on the lake, took long walks to the nearest grocery store, which sold popsicles and pop, and gathered around a large bonfire on the beach each evening after dark.
His new grandpa, Bernardo, had given him some girl advice, because he could tell that Andrew was a late bloomer and a bit shy, just as he was as a boy. Pick a quiet one, he said. Be nice, and don’t push it.
It turned out to be pretty good advice.
Andrew and Sophie were a couple for the week. When they walked with the gang, they walked hand in hand. When they hung out around the fire, he draped his arm over her shoulders. He didn’t push it.
Talk about things you really like, Bernardo suggested. “I really like hockey,” Andrew told Sophie, one blistering sunny day as they sat on a log on the sandy beach. Sophie liked hockey too; at least she said she did.
Give an honest compliment, Bernardo said. “You have the shiniest hair I’ve ever seen,” Andrew told Sophie. She blushed– the reddest blush he had ever seen, though he didn’t say so.
Be genuinely curious. “Does your mother blush?” Andrew asked. Sophie wasn’t angry or embarrassed by the question. She laughed out loud.
On their last night, they made plans to see each other when they got home, maybe go to a hockey game or a movie, and they exchanged text numbers, though he couldn’t text her right away because her parents had confiscated her phone for the week. Which was kind of annoying.
He lay in a sleeping bag in the backseat of Randy’s car, a Toyota Camry, which is where he slept each night (not in the tent with his mother and Randy), wishing he could text Sophie and tell her he couldn’t sleep. He’d never done that before. He thought it would probably feel good. He felt good already. He wished he could share this good with Sophie. He closed his eyes.
No, he could’t sleep, that last night at the campsite, so he slid out of the sleeping bag, and crept down to the beach, as quietly as he could, since the camp had a strict, enforced curfew.
On the way he listened to a sea of sound: snores, sighs, whispers, grunts, and coughs. It was the Sacrifice Canyon nightly, summer symphony. And when he reached the beach and the log that he and Sophie had shared in the shimmering heat of the day, he looked up and saw another sea, another symphony, of stars. It was quiet there, with only the muffled sound of the waves slapping the shore.
I really like the sky, and Sophie, and hockey, and Bernardo. Andrew stared at the stars reflected, rippling, in the lake. It might be possible to be happy, he thought. It might be possible, after all.
Then he saw the buffalo. The lake was no longer liquid– it was a vast plain of scorched yellow grass. The herd was huge, hundreds, maybe thousands of animals, dust rising in a massive cloud around them as they thundered towards the shore where Andrew sat. The sound of their hooves pounding on the hard, dry ground was deafening, surely enough to wake the world. Instead of running, Andrew stood up and faced them.
What he always remembered most vividly was their eyes. They became ghosts, spirits as they reached the sand, but for their ghostly eyes. Eyes as expressionless as a shark’s, until you looked inside, was how he described it to his grandpa.
“Andrew?” It was Randy, with a flashlight. Andrew heard the waves again, and somewhere an owl called to its mate.
They walked back to the Toyota Camry in silence and darkness, so as not to disturb the other campers.