Today, it is our pleasure to present “The Visible Spectrum” by Carlee Jensen. This lovely, languid, and aching summer story is the perfect start to June. It is told from the perspective of Samantha, whose older sister is determined to swim the length of the lake one summer. As they embark on their journey—Samantha in the rowboat, her sister Ingrid swimming—the endeavor becomes increasingly complicated.
“The water was clear, and when Samantha looked over the side of the rowboat, she could see fractals of sunlight splintering over Ingrid’s bare back. Ingrid cut a sweeping, irregular path: now a burst of sparkling drops a few yards from the rowboat, now a rippling figure just below Samantha’s oar. It had a magical quality, this series of appearances and disappearances. However Ingrid might have been struggling on the other side of that rippling divide—whatever fear she felt as she opened her eyes on that emptiness below her—there was a power in her body, the clumsy way it cut through the water.”
Ingrid stood with her back turned on her mother and younger sister, her eyes fastened on the brilliant orange sunset swallowing the sky, and announced that she was planning to swim across the lake the next morning.
Samantha, who had fixed her gaze on the pale streak of sour cream in her chili, surfaced at the sound of these words. Ingrid was leaning against the railing of the deck, still dressed in the sweaty clothes she had worn running. She liked to run at sunset, when the road was not so hot and dusty. Their mother accepted this arrangement despite the fact that Ingrid was almost always late for dinner as a result. Most nights that summer, Ingrid had not had dinner with them at all. She waited until late in the evening to microwave a bowl of whatever they’d had, and ate it standing in the kitchen.
Samantha watched as her mother took a contemplative bite of chili. The lake was a mile across where they were, maybe a little more, and the water was still frigid though it was the second week of July. “You can’t go alone. You’ll need someone in the rowboat,” her mother said.
“Sam can come with me.” Ingrid turned to look at her sister and raised her eyebrows, conveying a message that was neither a request nor an order.
Samantha was, of course, the obvious choice. Their mother was not averse to rowing, but she had spent that summer preoccupied with little invented chores: riding her bike into town at sunrise to collect the daily newspaper; securing loose boards on the deck, though they had spent years simply stepping over them. Twice a week, she drove forty-five minutes into Syracuse to see her own mother, who still lived in the big, unwieldy house where she had raised her children.
Their father was a good rower, strong though he had always been small, but he was home in Connecticut. He would materialize for a few days at the end of July, working on his laptop in the full sunlight of the deck.
Their mother followed Ingrid’s gaze, resting her eyes on Samantha’s face. Samantha did not know which one of them to look at, so she looked over Ingrid’s shoulder at the sunset. The muscles in her neck seemed to stretch and compress involuntarily. Yes, she said, she would go along. She watched her sister’s face relax into a smile.