The Girl at Big Bear

Her liquid reflection put her silhouette in wobbly contrast with the sky holding down the mountains around the lake suspended 7,000 feet above California east of Los Angeles. It had not rained for weeks. August wildfires ate up acres, houses and lives. A dog stood at the end of the dock watching two men load beer into a cooler on a pontoon boat, cheap fishing poles secured to the awning with tangled line.

“I love Big Bear more in summer than in winter,” she said. “I love the families, not the snowboarders. Well, I did love one boarder a couple of winters ago, but he never came back. Just as well. He smelled.”

Melancholy eyes, fierce lips, auburn hair falling down her back in a disheveled beauty that felt right at home up on top of the world in a place so languid and unhurried that a speeding boat cutting a white slice on the lake seemed out of place. She could have been twenty, but may have been thirty. My age meter was thrown off balance by the altitude. She reminded me of my sister when we were young, having no governor on her mouth. Me being a stranger did not tone down her opinions, many of which I’ll leave out of this telling. I do have to keep a job.

“Those men over there are drunk and should not be out here,” she said.

“You know they’re drunk?” I ask.

“I suspect it,” she said.

Full of moral absolutes, she was not shy about sharing them.

“Let me tell you something,” she said, “idiots don’t like it when you call them idiots.”

“J.D. Salinger said something close to that,” I said. “I believe he called them morons, however.”

“Let’s talk about Salinger,” she said, latching onto a conversation she had clearly been wanting to have with someone for a long time and had yet to find anyone willing to engage her – until now. I immediately wished I had never brought up the reclusive author and tried to change the subject to something closer to my heart.

“Or barbecue,” I said. “Any good joints up here?”

“Joints?” she said.

“Barbecue restaurants,” I said, wanting to be clear since earlier in the day I had caught a whiff of something skunky over next to a group of people who appeared to be waiting for snowboarding season to start.

“My mom makes great barbecue,” she said. “You should come to our house and she’ll work some up. She’ll love your accent.”

I could smell an attempt at matchmaking that felt as funky as the snowboarders’ aroma.

I made a lame excuse about having to get back to Georgia for a MoonPie meeting and got in my truck and she stopped me, leaning into the window, her face frozen in stern tension.

“A man that will concoct some lie about MoonPies is not worthy of my mom’s barbecue,” she said. She examined my face like a student in a biology class looking at a dead frog soaked in formaldehyde.

“You are right,” I said, letting the admission burst out in hopes that honesty would work. “Georgia is a long ways from here, yes, but I do have a meeting there about MoonPies at some point in the next month. So it wasn’t a total lie. I was just handling the truth carelessly enough to get out of your attempt to use my affliction with barbecue to hook me up with your mother.”

A grin spilled down her face starting with that tussle of auburn hair, moving down those melancholy eyes and rolling out of her fierce mouth.

“So I guess Southern liars can mend their ways,” she said.

“Only when barbecue and MoonPies are involved,” I said.

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