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Oct. 17, 2019 | Thursday
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Part 2 - NOTL Writers’ Circle: Moonlight with Tom Thomson
Moonlight with Tom Thomson painting. (Supplied)

 

Part Two

After she was widowed, Marla’s family tried to encourage her to sell her home in Muskoka and move into a retirement home. Earlier in the day, she’d had a strange encounter with a statue of Tom Thomson while visiting Huntsville. In the evening, she sat on her dock and watched the stars come out.

The sounds of coming nightfall were close. A horned owl hooted. A wolf howled. A frog on the shore harrumphed and in front of her, a fish splashed.

As the sun dropped, the sky flooded with violet streaks. Incredible! Marla grabbed her phone and took a photo. 

She caught a whiff of sweet pipe tobacco and turned her head. Tom Thompson sat on the dock beside her, paint-box open on his lap, sketching the scene on a wooden board. He hummed as his palette knife mixed aquamarine and crimson into a rich purple hue. He took out a wide paintbrush and filled in the trees.

“I’m amazed to see you here,” Marla said. “I thought you were dead.”

He shrugged, lifted his painting and tilted it towards her. 

“Like it?” he said.

“Love it.” She tipped her head thoughtfully and crossed her arms. “I’d give anything to have one of your paintings.”

“Want a drink?” He grinned and winked, and held up her half-empty wine bottle.

“Sure. Pour me a glass.” 

They finished the bottle. She lit an oil lantern and placed it in a corner. Tom squeezed a blob of white paint onto his palette, took a clean brush and swirled in the clouds. 

Marla asked him a question that had bothered her in Huntsville.

“The drowning on Canoe Lake... was it an accident.... or were you murdered?”

 Tom pointed to a boat puttering across the lake. “See that guy? Just caught a fish. Likely a bass.”

“You’re avoiding me. Which one’s the answer?”

He shrugged. “What difference does it make. It’s over. Time to move on.” 

He whirled a golden blaze of light around the sun. The colours in the sky faded to a deep indigo, and the wind died. A full moon rose above them, like a great white spotlight. 

“Do you miss it?” she said. “Being alive, I mean.”

“Of course... I was only 39. There was a hell of a lot more I wanted to do.”

He took her hand and twisted her diamond wedding ring. “How long’s it been?”

“Too long.” She pulled her hand back and bit her lip.

They watched the stars turn on, one by one. 

“There’s the Big Dipper and the North Star.”

Marla yawned and rubbed her eyes. He pointed at the moon’s reflection shimmering on the water. “Could you swim out to catch it?” 

“I loved to swim when Brady was alive. He didn’t, but he waited for me on the dock. I can swim for hours; I just don’t like to swim alone.”

“You’re not alone.” He set his paint-box and palette down onto her towel. “Go ahead, I’ll keep watch. Take your clothes off and jump in.”

She looked around the lake. There were no lights anywhere.

“Promise not to look. I’ve never done this before.”

“Of course, I’m gonna look,” he said. “I said I’d keep watch. Don’t worry. I’m not gonna tell anybody. I painted landscapes, not nudes.”

Marla stripped and shivered. The air was chilly. She perched at the edge of the dock and dangled her feet. Then she slipped in. The water came up to her waist, and she gasped and splashed it on her arms. Then she splashed Tom. He ducked and laughed.

“Are you watching me?” she said.

“It’s mighty dark, but I can see you all right. Go ahead, swim to the moon.”

Marla felt the water flow over her. It was like silk, skimming over her skin. Her arms beat a steady rhythm of reach and pull and her legs flutter-kicked below the surface. 

She glanced back to see if Tom was watching, and saw him wave. 

He called, “Go on. You can do it.” 

Marla held her breath, ducked under the water and glided. A dark shape was floating beside her when she lifted her head. Marla stopped swimming and tread water. It was small, and it had red eyes.

“The female.” Marla whispered, her mouth slightly above the water. The bird swam closer and cocked her head.

A pearl necklace was coiled around the loon’s neck, and white diamonds were scattered across her black-velvet back. Marla stared at her; she stared back, and moonlight danced on the water around them. Marla relaxed and lay back, effortlessly floating and gazed into the heavens. Overhead, the star-spangled Milky Way spread out like drifting smoke. A meteorite flashed by, on a burning path to the Elysian Fields. 

Was Brady up there?

Across the lake, Marla heard the male’s yodel. Beside her, the loon lifted her head and wailed. She stretched her neck and body until her feet were exposed. Her wings extended, and she ran across the water’s surface, crying, “Wait for me, I’m coming.”

Then the loon was gone. 

A sudden wind stirred up the waves, and clouds blocked the moonlight. The water was frigid and Marla felt numb. She couldn’t see the shore and choked on a mouthful of water. Her legs were heavy, as if something below was dragging her below. She closed her eyes, and started to sink.

 Tom’s voice called from the dock.

“Come this way,” he said. “Your painting’s finished.” 

She smelt his pipe tobacco and saw its glow.

“I’m coming.” 

Her heart was strong and she began to swim.

Moonlight with Tom Thomson, by Sharon Frayne, won the 2019 South Simcoe Arts Festival Short Story Contest and the 2019 Phyllis Smallman Award for Great Storytelling. Frayne is a member of the NOTL Writers Circle and the Canadian Author’s Association. Her debut novel, ‘Caught Between the Walls: Tales from the Old Niagara Courthouse and Gaol’ is based on historical research in Niagara-on-the-Lake. She has two more novels in progress. For more information about Frayne’s writing and her artwork go to,
www.fraynesharon.com.

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