The Jacksons – for Sep. 2, 2010

Jennifer Jackson and Kendra Toews grabbed a couple of towels from the top of the pile on the blanket that was spread out on the sand, but didn’t bother to use them before they settled their still-dripping bodies into their beach chairs. Jennifer took the chair next to the lounger on which her mother, Rose, was soaking up the hot August sun. Jennifer’s father, Andrew, looked up from the newspaper he was reading in his chair at Rose’s other side.

“How’s the water?” he asked.

“Warm. Like, bathtub warm,” said Jennifer.

“Yeah, it is,” said Kendra. She looked out

at the crowds of people splashing happily in the somewhat murky water of Lake Manitoba. “I hope it’s just warm from the sun,” she said, “and not… other things.”

Jennifer’s brother Brady, who was parked in a chair next to his girlfriend Amanda across the blanket from the others, laughed at that.

“A little of both, maybe,” he said. Next to him, Amanda wrinkled her nose.

“Eww,” she said.

There was a moment of silence. A gull swooped down close by, looking for the stray potato chips and scraps of dropped snack food that make up a large part of the diet of a modern-day Manitoba seagull.

“Mine?” Jennifer said on the gull’s behalf. “Mine? Mine? Mine? Mine?”

A flock of pelicans appeared from around the stand of trees at the end of the beach and winged their stately, dignified way across the sky to some other place only they knew.

“Those birds are huge,” said Kendra, to which nobody replied. The sun rose higher in the sky and the temperature rose with it, heat waves turning the people at the far end of the beach into a wavy, shimmering impressionist painting.

“It doesn’t get much better than this,” said Jennifer.

Brady picked up the water bottle that stood upright in the sand between his and Amanda’s chairs, unscrewed the top and took a long drink. He passed the bottle to Amanda, who also took a drink and then replaced the top.

“So, Dad,” said Brady.

Again Andrew looked up from his paper. “Yeah?” he said.

“I’m going to buy the body shop from Peter,” said Brady.

Andrew folded the paper and dropped it on the blanket in front of him. “Right,” he said. “And I notice you didn’t put that in the form of a question.”

“What do you mean?” said Brady.

Andrew grinned. “Well, for instance,” he said, “you could have said, ‘Hey, Dad, do you think I should buy the body shop?’ or, ‘Hey, Dad, I want to buy the body shop, how do you think I should go about that?’ Or even, ‘Hey, Dad, how much money can you give me to help me buy the body shop?’”

Brady thought about that for a moment. “Hey, Dad,” he said, “what would you say if I told you I’ve already made a deal with Peter to buy the body shop and all I’m going to need from you is your signature on a couple of pieces of paper at the bank?”

“I’d say I’m surprised the bank thinks my signature is still worth something,” said Andrew.

“Hey,” said Brady. “You are the community’s most successful sheep rancher, you know.”

“The community’s only successful sheep rancher, you mean,” said Rose, who had opened her eyes and begun to pay attention when the conversation began.

“My sheep-ranching experiment has lasted almost four months now,” said Andrew, “so I guess that gives me a track record.” He paused. “So, what do you think, Amanda? You think Brady’s got a good plan together?”

Amanda pushed her sunglasses up on her nose. “I told him to watch out for the self-employment trap,” she said.

“The self-employment trap?” said Andrew.

“Yeah,” said Amanda. “The trouble with working for yourself is that sometimes your boss is an idiot, and sometimes your employee is a fool.”

Jennifer hooted with laughter. Brady jumped up from his chair, and scooped Amanda up in his arms.

“Time you went for a swim,” he said, laughing as he threw her over his shoulder and ran down the beach and into the lake, till he lost his balance and the two of them splashed merrily into the water.

Rose looked at Andrew. “Are you sure that boy is ours?” she said.

“Whatever,” said Andrew. “We’re keeping him. He’s our only hope for a decent retirement. No offence to you, Jennifer,” he added.

“None taken,” said Jennifer. “Can I have money for ice cream?”

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