Nora stood calf-deep in the cold lake water. She could feel her lower back muscles more than she had in a number of years, due to carrying the cedar planks for their new dock down to the water bank. She watched her husband swear under his breath. He had been fidgeting with a piece of galvanized steel for 10 minutes, trying to place it in the rocks for the base of the dock.
“Do you want me to do something?” she asked.
Her husband let out a deep sigh. Nora couldn’t tell if it was because he was exhausted or because she’d asked the wrong question at the wrong time. “No,” Jim said.
“They lied on their website,” Jim said.
“What are you talking about?” She walked closer in the water.
“You know, on their dock website, they said, ‘Easily installed by the do-it yourselfer!’ They lied.”
Nora pinched her lips together, trying not to laugh. “Maybe you’re just not a do-it yourselfer. Maybe we should have paid the money for them to assemble it?”
With his hands around the pole, Jim twisted it into the rocks underwater. He made a grunting sound that reminded her of her labor with their daughter. “We don’t need people to do it for us, Nora,” he said between twists.
“You sure I can’t help more?”
Jim dropped the pole in the water and stood straight up in one quick movement. “No,” he said. “Just need a break.” He said it under his breath, like he was almost ashamed.
“I’m going to get a beer,” he said.
Nora sat down on the beach to wait. They had only had the cabin for a few months and it seemed they had had more arguments in it than they had in their year-round home. She told herself it was the stress of an extra mortgage and maintenance of another house that caused it, but she didn’t always believe herself.
She sifted through some stones on the edge of the water and found a piece of rock. It was gray and smooth, even with little pieces chipped away. She had been watching documentaries on geology at night since Hannah had gone away to college. She’d learned quite a bit about rocks.
“Got you a beer, too,” Jim said when he reached the beach again. Nora saw him looking at the rock in her hand. “What’s that?” he asked.
“A piece of shale,” she said, handing it to him.
He looked at it for a second and then tossed it into the lake. She watched it go.
What she knew: It took 10,000 years to create a piece of shale, layer after layer, the finicky work of centuries. It took no time at all for it to fall apart.