Stories No. 75 – Kathryn Ordiway

Saturday Siren

By Kathryn Ordiway

‘I mean, the hotter the weather, the more people murder,’ your husband says as he wades waist-deep in the murky water. ‘Serial killers and Kansas, you know?’

You have only your feet in the lake, legs stretched long from your place on a blanket because the color—the twinges of red and brown and earthy green—disgusts and concerns you.

This is your husband’s idea of a date: July humidity, a pebbly beach that hurts to walk on, egg salad sandwiches from a 7-Eleven en route, a chorus of shrieking and splashing children. Later, there will be fireworks and more shrieking children, less splashing. Later, he’ll crack open a fresh beer, cross his legs at the ankles, and look for lost magic in those fireworks. Later, he’ll probably snake his hand around your neck and bury you alive with his weight and his kisses.

Your husband is carrying a Miller Lite with him, a damp offering to his young-twenties memories of lakeside fourths with cooler, clearer water, cooler, cleaner air. Cooler friends, too, he’s quick to remind anyone who will listen. This date, this attempt at sparking intimacy and common enjoyment, it is just a ritual in remembrance of his past without you, a backward gaze you don’t quite fit in.

The Saturday test siren goes off, and you tilt your face into the sun. Here is a long, blaring reminder that you have barely reached the heat of the day, that you have hours to go until you rest easy in the cool embrace of the ceiling fan–chilled bedsheets. Noon, the siren cries. Nine-plus hours until the fireworks.

You had to pack the car on a whim this morning, barely even remembering where the beach towels were hidden. Swimsuits had to be fished out of plastic bins where rarely used clothing is stored. Water shoes, lost. Sun hats, missing in action. And all the while, your husband pacing around in the kitchen, tapping his too-long nails on the countertops to signal his impatience, sometimes clenching his fists.

You were invited to a neighborhood barbecue to celebrate the holiday, had RSVPed and volunteered to bring a raspberry and blueberry torte, but he decided not to go. ‘Too square,’ he said from in front of the stove where he was frying thick pepper bacon. ‘I have a better plan.’

Too square, as if you hadn’t spent the previous evening in your overgrown backyard, sitting in plastic Adirondack chairs, swapping facts from two separate presidential biographies about two separate assassinated presidents.

Too square, he said, and you picked up your phone and tried to figure out how to apologize for bailing on appearing and bringing dessert.

‘Think of it this way,’ he says now as he comes out of the water, dripping and goose-pimpled, to stand before you and the picnic blanket. ‘It’s hot all the time, and flat probably, and there are almost no trees, zero air-conditioning. Every time you go outside is a danger. Too hot to run or to bike. Too hot to do anything. No shade.’

You cannot tell if he’s describing his image of Kansas or the eventual apocalypse. You’re busy peeling one of the sandwiches apart, watching small chunks of egg fall onto your crossed shins. Sweat inches down your spine as your smack the sandwich back together—you hate, and he loves, egg salad, just as you hate, and he loves, the heat.

‘It’ll just go on and on, the heat, with no relief. Wouldn’t you go crazy?’

‘You haven’t even been to Kansas,’ you say in response, and you lie back on the blanket. He offers a line of shade across your feet and ankles, a welcome relief.

‘I’ve been to Kansas tons of times.’

But you’ve closed your eyes to him and the sun and the flies and the lick of green at the edge of your vision that is probably a tree.

‘Tons of times.’

Somewhere behind you, there are children throwing rocks and jumping about. You can hear the thwack of frisbees in palms, the thump of a father tossing a baseball into his daughter’s mitt. There are women comparing sunscreen brands, kids smacking each other with foam noodles.

You overhear a boy telling a girl about the octopus that lives in the lake, red and bloated, tired and angry, waiting for food, snaking its tentacles toward the shallows for prey. You hear her squeal, then giggle.

‘Serial killers and Kansas,’ your husband mutters as he joins you on the blanket. Shoulder to shoulder, thigh to thigh, the spots where the two of you touch are momentarily cooled by the lake on his skin.

‘What else is there to do?’

You turn and squint into his wide face, certain you’ve missed something.


Kathryn Ordiway is a technical editor for a scientific journal and a fiction writer. She studied English, with concentrations in Creative Writing and Literature, at Saint Vincent College. Her work has appeared in New Flash Fiction Review, 805 Lit + Art, littledeathlit, and Francis House. She lives in Oklahoma, where she’s always waiting for it to rain. She’s on Twitter @KatOrdiway.

Photo Credit: ©ricardoreitmeyer / Adobe Stock