by Alex Reece Abbott
At night, they read, draped over each other like pale kelp stranded on the waterbed.
“What’s that?” she asks.
Keith cocks his sandy eyebrows as if it boosts his hearing. “Computing Now.”
The magazine raises, a portcullis.
Sophie knows he’s lying. No semiconductor ever made him smile that way.
Lately, Keith’s been watching nature programs on the television, his eyes glinting with longing.
“Imagine. Waking up to that view,” he says.
“Imagine. Mosquito and tick bites,” she says.
Rustic. He says that. A lot.
She sees Rock and Doris lounging by a crazy-paved fireplace with ugly built-in shelves, surrounded by turbo-gingham log cabin decor. She sees childhood camping trips. Dank, leaking toilet blocks, where hairy spiders lurk and hairier bears maul. Poison ivy. Poison mushrooms. Hauling water from a bacteria-ridden creek. Long, cold days stuck on a muddy bank, fishing with her father. Home empty-handed, to a tin of budget beans.
Keith burbles about new super-efficient solar batteries and storage tanks and instant hot water. Maybe it’s the stress. He’s been getting jittery about moving his mother into a new place. Suspecting a mid-life crisis, Sophie worries that he’s turning into a survivalist. Or a naturist … or both.
He’s started scouring listings for cabins on shaded woodland with slight lake views.
“But, I … our house is perfect,” she says.
“We can downsize, downshift …”
Down, down, downer.
“Your laptop? Web access?”
Keith beams with the leathery resilience of a S’more marshmallow. “Solar.”
Getting back to nature. It’s his code for singed meals, tainted with pungent accelerant, lovingly destroyed on his Chernobyl barbecue. Keith’s flames never get too big: they just don’t make the tongs long enough.
He buys her On Walden Pond.
“Let’s do it,” says Keith. “My name’s Scottish for forest.”
“Mine’s Greek for wise, so O’hi … as we say in Athens.” She exhales. “That’s no.”
His bottom lip juts so far she could park a moose under it.
“Keith, you can’t even put air in the tires, let alone fit a set of snow-chains.”
Over the weeks, he wears her down with photos of autumnal leaves, and sweetens her with promises of Vermont fancy maple syrup. Organic, of course.
“C’mon. Just look at one place. Remember that treehouse you wanted as a kid? This could be the next best thing.”
The cabin is beautiful, centered in a clearing in sun-dappled woods. The air is pine-fresh. The creek flows over smooth stone falls. Woodpeckers peck. Jays swagger on a rustic bird-table. Rustic on the outside — inside, the cabin is modern as a city apartment. If she ignores all the burl and gingham.
A narrow track snakes off into the woods.
“A hike on the doorstep,” she says, warming to the place.
“I knew you’d love it. And, I found Mom a great little place — only fifteen minutes away. We can hike over anytime.”
And so can she, thinks Sophie.
“She’s offered to do our laundry — and she’s already invited us over for dinner a couple of times a week. You’ll love her huckleberry pie.”
Oh God. His nirvana is a not-so-hidden hideaway, a comfortable stroll from his Mom. He doesn’t really want the hassle and complexity of a log cabin: it’s Thoreau’s wilderness fantasy, with mater in the next clearing.
Only with good wi-fi. And laundry service. And home-baked pie.
It’s his cabin porn.
Published here and there, Alex writes across forms, genres, and hemispheres. Her literary historical novel, The Helpmeet, was a 2016 Greenbean Irish Novel Fair winner and her contemporary novel, Last of the Lucky Country, shortlisted for the 2015 Northern Crime Competition. A Northern Crime Competition and Arvon Prize winner, her short fiction often shortlists, including for the Sunday Business Post/Penguin Short Story Prize and the Bridport Prize. She barely blogs at www.alexreeceabbott.info.