Catastrophe Wild Card: Beautiful Lake

Words by Michael McGowan

Published on April 24, 2013

I came to the lake because he told me to. My housemate, Lukas. Again and again, he insisted: ‘Visit the lake,’ he said. ‘You’ve been here two-and-a-half years and you spend all your time in the city, it’s unhealthy. You have never once visited the lake’. The lake, the lake, the beautiful lake. He was obsessed. He had big hands and a wide face. He held his hands to his face in mock distress and looked like a pumpkin balancing on a tree trunk. I told him that I visited the beach every afternoon in the summer, that I had no use for the lake. ‘The beach is not the lake,’ was all he said in response, like I’d missed something obvious.

Lukas was huge. He had an orange beard. He wore Doc Martens and a black greatcoat, even in the summer. He liked Scandinavian heavy metal groups and ancient Nordic sacrifice rituals. He didn’t care about the lake. I don’t even know if he had been to the lake. But he wanted me to go, so we went finally. We went and it was cloudy, but it was summer and supposed to be a heatwave, so it was still hot. There was the lake, it was big and it was wet. I couldn’t see to the other side. We sat on a chair in the park and I made houses for the ants out of twigs and leaves.

On the water the people played games. They shed their clothes and dived in unselfconsciously. Some of them rode jet skis that looked like plastic sharks. Others held fishing rods and wore serious expressions, determined to find and eliminate fish. One of them pulled a fish out of the water, shouting. I watched while pre-pubescent children surrounded the fish while it asphyxiated on the rocks. In Rome, a couple of thousand years earlier, they pulled goatfish out of the Mediterranean or grew them in ponds. At parties the wealthy Romans served them live, covered in glass. They watched as the goatfish gasped for oxygen, its colour shifting wildly. As it gasped its blood tissue turned acidic and absorbed water from the blood stream, concentrating it. The acid in the tissue enhanced the asphyxiation and the wild colours that the Romans loved. This fish was brown though, muddy.

Lukas cleared his throat and wiped his sweaty brow while I busied myself looking for flat stones to throw in the water or to put into my pockets. I don’t know what he expected to happen. He potentially had a plan but most likely it was an intention – for me to be transmogrified by the serene beauty of the lake, or to experience a profound ontological truth while I fiddled with the ant houses.

Michael McGowan is a 23 year-old journalist living in Newcastle.