At our twentieth high-school reunion last summer, BiDi and Devera were
both voted "Least Changed." They pranced around the stage giggling,
pumping their cheap little trophies in the air like they had won the
Stanley Cup or something.
BiDi did look good, standing on tiptoe in red high-heeled shoes with no
backs, her tight little body squeezed into this red leather dress. ("It's
leatherlike," she explained later while we stood eating Triscuits and
Colby cheese at the buffet table, "and I sweat three pounds off every time
I wear the thing.")
Devera looks the same in the face--she should, the jars of Noxema she
pickles herself in--but you can't tell me her body looks like it did when
she was doing back flips on the Rebelettes squad. When she's got her
clothes off, you have to wonder: How does skin pucker around a butt like
that? When did her breasts take that drop in altitude?
If I asked her, she'd probably say something like, "If you don't like the
view, don't look."
The thing is, I do. I'm just curious about gravity's toll is all.
Once we were dancing at King Olaf's Hideway and I said whoa, no more of
that shimmying--all that loose flesh is going to pop me in the face. She
just about popped me in the face after I said that, but instead she
grabbed the car keys right out of my sports-coat pocket and gunned out of
the parking lot, the gravel under the wheels flying like confetti. I had
to hitch a ride home with Glen Pauley, an insurance agent who likes to
talk about his work, as if normal people are fascinated by actuarial
tables and annuities.
Devera married me the day after her twenty-first birthday. We both were
going to White Falls State, but she had been thinking of transferring her
credits to "somewhere exotic"--the Sorbonne or the University of Cairo or
UCLA"--but then her dad, Evan "Fair Shake" Bergdahl, was robbed and
pistol-whipped (with a toy gun, but Dad Evan said when you're smacked in
the face you can't tell the difference between real and fake). After that,
Devera put her plans of exotic study on "temporary hold" and decided to
"Always remember," Devera reminds me, holding up two crossed fingers,
"Daddy and I are like this."
I always answer back with my standard joke. "Easy for him, he's not
married to you."
They caught the guy who robbed Dad Evan; he was holed up in a shack on
Uncle's Lake, ice-fishing and drinking Champale. They arrested him on a
bunch of charges, including assault, robbery, and fishing without a
license. They must have tagged him for exceeding the limit, too--Sheriff
Buck told me there were over two dozen northerns and crappies swimming
around in pails in that icehouse. At his trial I wanted to ask the guy
what he used for bait but Dad Evan would not understand any mingling with
the accused. He takes loyalty very seriously, and I take my new-model
Caddies and the future ownership of Viking Automotive pretty seriously
myself. I'm in line to run Viking Appliance and Norse Man Liquors, too,
but it's the dealership I care most about, being a natural at car sales.
So of course, I just sat there quietly in the courtroom, bored, with
Devera and her hysterical mother, Helen.
"Just look at that man," she'd say, shredding Kleenex like a hamster. "If
he's not put away for life, he'll come after us for the final revenge."
The poor guy was French-Canadian, and his accent, you can bet, added a
couple of years onto his sentence. Around White Falls, people tend to
think you can judge a book by its cover and foreign accents are most often
up to something.
After our wedding reception, Dad Evan and Helen drove us out to a
three-bedroom ranch house on Flame Lake. The front door was wrapped in
ribbon like a present and Dad Evan tossed me the deed like it was spare
change. Dad Evan likes to give big presents away as if he's doing nothing
more than picking up a check for pie and coffee. It burns me--his Mr.
Casual act--so I go right along with it, like it's no big deal. Of course,
as a bridegroom of twenty-two, I hadn't figured this out yet and I jumped
right along with Devera, hugging and kissing him like he was Monte Hall.
Last fall we bought a bigger lot and built a new house--five bedrooms and
a sauna in the basement--on the east side of the lake, because Devera
thought it was time to move up. My wife keeps our upward mobility on a
At thirty-nine, Devvie is going through an early midlife crisis. It's
harder on me than our daughter's puberty. The things I'm sure would please
her--a "greatest hits" disco CD, a bottle of Jungle Gardenia--now make her
cry or get mad. She says things like, "Have I ossified?"
To answer her I sniff the air. "I thought I smelled something."
She started taking some night courses (she says just because she earned a
degree doesn't mean she learned anything) and she takes a book wherever
she goes. She tried to read at the dinner table, and even my daughters
backed me up in letting her know there is a limit to rudeness.
I'm hoping it's a passing stage. When we moved to the new house, she threw
out her little plastic "Least Changed" trophy, saying she now considered
that award an insult. I've noticed BiDi still has hers in the
glass-and-walnut display case Sergio built for Franny's hockey honors.
Our daughter Lin won't have anything to do with Franny; she calls her a
dork with a capital "d" which perturbs Dev and BiDi, who'd like their best
friend thing to be passed down to the daughters. I get along okay with
Sergio, but I'd known Big Mike, BiDi's first husband, since the second
grade, so there was this loyalty thing there. Big Mike and BiDi divorced
about four years ago. Big Mike said he needed his freedom. He told me this
one late-October day when we were laying on our stomachs in a duck blind.
I almost shot my arm off, I was so shocked.
"Freedom from BiDi? What are you--crazy?"
The wad of tobacco Big Mike always had in his mouth traveled the length of
his lower lip. "She's a lot different at home, Dick."
"I'll bet," I said, wiggling my eyebrows.
Big Mike laughed and waved his gun at the autumn sky, a big full blue.
"Damn ducks know we're here," he said. "They've changed their flight
pattern." His tongue poked the chew into the corner of his mouth. "Believe
me," he said, squinting up at the sky, "BiDi puts on a hell of a show, but
at home it's like living with a warden. That big cookie jar? The one
that's shaped like a caboose that she made in ceramics? Every time I do
something that bugs her, I gotta put a quarter in it. A quarter if I chew
in the house. A quarter if I don't put the toilet seat down. A quarter if
I drink more'n two beers a night. Christ, pretty soon it'll cost a quarter
just to put my arms around her."
I wanted to pursue this, but Big Mike just shook his head and spit out a
slimy wad of tobacco.
BiDi went through sort of a wild period after the divorce was finalized
and Big Mike moved to Wisconsin; she was out dancing at King Olaf's almost
every night, getting drunk with strikers from the meatpacking plant and
truck drivers who had pulled off the interstate.
Sergio had a booth at a confections and chocolate convention in Fargo and
came across King Olaf's on his way down to Minneapolis. He and BiDi were
married three weeks later, in our backyard, under a trellis Devera made me
rig up. BiDi wore a dress that looked as if it would transfer straight to
the honeymoon, no problem. Pastor Egeqvist miffed a line or two; put a
cleavage like that in front of any man--of the cloth or not--he's going to
Sergio started up a store on Main Street--about five blocks from the car
lot--and he's done so well that he's thinking of going national. He'll
become a rich man off chocolate cakes, of all things. They are good,
though, and I'm not all that big on chocolate in the first place (unlike
my wife). Sergio says the original recipe came from his Spanish
grandmother who fell in love with a Viennese baker.
Sergio's family has led dramatic lives--his father was an opera singer who
lost the use of his voice during his first week in America. He was mugged
and punched in the throat by some thug wearing brass knuckles (whenever I
think of that story, my hand automatically goes to my Adam's apple). His
mother was a psychic, but Sergio says if she had a gift for it, she never
unwrapped it. She died last year in a bus crash, an accident, Sergio
points out, she obviously failed to predict.
Sergio's an interesting guy, but, man, he's got way too much energy for
me. I think the only time he sits down for an extended period is when he's
driving his car. Ask him to shoot a game of pool with you and you'll get
dizzy watching him run around the table.
Franny's nuts about Sergio, even though she's Big Mike from her shoe size
(huge) to her skill on the hockey rink. (Big Mike's hat trick won White
Falls its first and only state high-school championship.)
BiDi told us when Sergio met Franny, he actually cried.
"I cannot believe you have the name of my own beloved grandmother," he
said, holding her head in his hands. Franny (he never calls her by her
nickname, it's always Francesca) had gotten scared and BiDi had to explain
that Sergio didn't mean to frighten her, he was just an emotional guy. Now
Sergio plays goalie in Franny's pickup games on the lake. He wears boots
because he never learned to skate.
Lin won't acknowledge us on Family Skate Nights; she just hangs around in
a cluster of teenagers that somehow manage to look surly, even on ice.
Devera just laughs and says, "She's fourteen years old, Dick, what do you
expect?" Still, I'm happy that Darcy at eleven lets me hold her hand when
the "Blue Danube" or "Tennessee Waltz" is piped through the loudspeakers
Alf Johannson rigged up in his icehouse.
Dev is a good skater, better than me and she knows it. She's not fancy--no
pirouettes or double axels--but she's fast. She wears black speed skates,
and even if I didn't have a mild nicotine habit, I'd never catch her. She
skates around the rink that we've cleared off on the lake, bent over and
moving only one arm like she's on the Olympic team, and I think how much
pleasure it would give me if she wiped out.
She always laughs when I tell her that and then I say, what the hell,
show-off, I love a fast woman. Most of the time she unlaces my skates when
we're ready to leave and rubs my feet until they're warm. It's one of
those married things I never knew I'd be such a sucker for.
Excerpted from Your Oasis on Flame Lake by Lorna Landvik. Copyright © 1997 by Lorna Landvik. Excerpted by permission of Ballantine Books, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.