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Double Vision

A glooming light, a gleaming darkness

By Lori LamothePublished 3 years ago Updated 3 years ago 10 min read
Double Vision
Photo by Patrick Fore on Unsplash


The three of us stared into the dark, freezing cabin. Dad fumbled for the light switch next to the door and an overhead lamp flickered on. It didn’t help.

“Why here?” Gemma asked. “Of all the places in the world.”

“I thought it would be fun,” dad said. “Roughing it.”

He set down our bags in the entryway and stared hard at the wooden plank table, as if three steaming mugs of hot cocoa and a plate of warm chocolate chip cookies might materialize if he willed them to.

I would have settled for a Christmas tree, even a fake one. On the drive up from D.C. dad had made Peaceful Pines sound cozy—the perfect spot to spend the holiday. The build-up made the reality so much worse. Even our mausoleum of a mansion back home seemed cozy by comparison.

“Once we get a fire going it won’t be bad,” No point in dwelling on how lame it is, I thought for maybe the thousandth time that year. I crossed to the woodstove and opened the tiny door. Inside, kindling was already stacked. I held out my palm to dad. “Give me your lighter.”

He pulled it from his coat pocket and watched as I knelt to light the newspaper on the bottom. It always amazed me how my father could negotiate with the Soviets but was clueless when it came to the most basic tasks.

Gemma plopped down onto the plaid couch but made no move to remove her coat and gloves. “What about the main lodge?” she asked. “At least they’ve got heat there. And hot water.”

Dad was studying the thermostat in the corner. “There’s heat here. And hot water. And we’ve got the woodstove.” He smiled at me.

“What about TV?” Gemma asked.

“What about it?” A hint of irritation crept into his voice. It was strange to hear it. After my mother took off for Paris with her lover last year he’d done everything possible to be Dad of the Year. He had even taken us to Madrid over the summer, though you’d never know it from the way Gemma talked. As far as I was concerned, a 5-star hotel near mom was a thousand times worse than a cabin in the middle of nowhere.

“Those huskies in the lobby were cool," I said. "Especially the red-and-white one. She came right over.” Even though Gemma was a complete bi-atch, I instinctively came to my twin’s defense every time.

“Sasha,” said Gemma. “That’s what the guy said her name was.”

Dad wavered. He always did—or at least he always did since mom went AWOL. “I think they’re booked solid,” he said. “But I’ll check in the morning, just in case. For now, let’s make the best of things, shall we? You girls should get to bed. They’ve got a lot going on tomorrow.”

Gemma rolled her eyes. “Snowshoeing,” she said. “Sounds like a blast.”

“There’s a dog-sled ride,” I countered. “At least according to the brochure.”

I half expected one of my sister's snarky remarks but it didn’t come. She leaned forward. “Hey," she said, "do you guys hear that?”

A rhythmic scraping filled the silence. We’d only been in Maine a few hours and we were already entering Stephen King territory. “Something's scratching the door,” dad said.

Before I could change my mind, I yanked it open. A red-and-white husky stood on the porch, its bushy tail wagging like mad.

“Sasha!” Gemma called. “Sasha, come here.”

The husky trotted into the cabin and lay down on the braided rug.

“Is she supposed to be roaming around loose like that?” dad asked tentatively. “We should probably bring her back.”

Dad was right, of course, but something about the dog’s presence steadied us. Ever since mom left we were like three planets without a sun, each spinning off in its own direction. Don’t get me wrong. Mom had never been much of a mother but something about her made you want to be near her. Charisma, my father called it once, when he was heading off to a diplomatic ball with her. Everything about her glittered—her sequined dress, her Marilyn Monroe hair, her thousand-watt smile.

Sasha was nothing like my mom. But she had charisma. No question.

Gemma bent to pat her. “We can bring her back in the morning.”


When morning came—blindingly white with an Arctic wind—we did, in fact, bring her back. Or at least Gemma and I tried to. By the time we woke up, it was already 9 and when we got to the lodge, the dog-sled team had already departed with its first batch of guests.

As for our plan to relocate, one look at the great room was enough to tell me that wasn’t happening. The place was mobbed with kids, screaming babies, tired moms and dads strutting around in flannel shirts. A plastic Santa stood next to the stone fireplace, piles of display presents at his feet.

“And you didn’t bring her back last night because?” the desk clerk asked.

“It was cold out,” Gemma said.

“It was cold out,” he repeated. Not surprisingly, the temperature argument didn’t carry much weight in the wilds of Maine. “The team left an hour ago. Minus its lead dog.”

She shrugged. “If it’s a money issue, I’m sure my dad will compensate the owner for any lost income.”

I winced. I never got how Gemma could be so brilliant in the classroom but so clueless when it came to human beings. On the other hand, it seemed to be a trait the Lancaster-Browns had a monopoly on.

“I don’t need your daddy’s money,” he said over the din. “What I need is for somebody to walk her so she doesn’t go totally loco by noon.”

“We can do that.” Gemma and I both said in sync.

“Twins.” He shook his head but handed us a leash. “Do not—and I repeat—do not let her off leash. She's a husky. Capiche?"

"Capiche," we said.

He eyed us skeptically. "Anything happens to her and your daddy will indeed get a bill.”

We hadn’t been outside more than two minutes when Gemma unhooked Sasha’s leash.

“What the hell are you doing?” I asked as the husky bolted ahead of us at full speed. I watched as her form diminished at an astonishing rate. I started to jog, which wasn’t easy in brand-new boots. “He said not to let her off the leash!”

“I thought she’d stay with us.” Gemma started jogging too, her breath coming in erratic clouds. “She stayed with us this morning.”

“Well you thought wrong,” I snapped.

She didn’t answer, only lunged ahead of me into the forest. Her voice rang out between the pines but no bark came in response.


By the time we caught up to Sasha she was half-way across a frozen lake. She stilled when she spotted us, as if we were a type of prey she’d never seen before. I couldn’t feel my fingers—or my toes. Or my face. I wondered how long frostbite took to set in.

“We’ve got to go back and get the guy.” I rubbed my hands together and blew on them. “She’ll probably come to him.”

“By the time we get back she’ll be gone.” Gemma walked to the shore and took a step onto the ice. Somebody had cleared it but at the center was a circle where the water beneath shone darkly. Had it been warmer than usual lately? Did people in northern Maine even skate in December? Warwick felt colder than any place I’d ever been but that didn’t mean anything. No one goes skating on lakes in Washington, D.C.

“I don’t think it’s safe,” I said.

Gemma took a few more steps. The ice held. “It’s safe for her.”

“She’s a dog,” I said. “Dogs don’t weigh that much.”

“Yeah, well, in case you haven’t noticed, neither do I.”

Even from where I stood on the shore, her voice sounded accusatory. I had noticed, I’d just never said anything. She’d always been thin but since mom took off, she’d gotten scary skinny. I couldn’t even remember the last time I’d seen her consume anything besides Tab.

I heard the crack before I saw it. The lines webbed out from where my sister stood with the leash draped around her neck. She wasn’t close enough to Sasha to grab her collar but she was near enough to the center of the lake for the ice to break.

The husky watched my sister for a second then trotted off into the woods.

“Sasha!” Gemma screamed. “Come back!”

She tried to run after the dog as if the cracks didn’t exist. The ice opened and swallowed her in seconds. “Gina--” she called out to me. Her arms beat the water as she struggled to stay afloat.

“Your arms,” I shouted back, “lay them on the ice.”

If she could do that, then they would freeze to the surface. She might die of exposure, but she wouldn’t drown. And it probably took longer to freeze to death. Which meant more time.

“I can’t,” Gemma called, desperation seeping into her voice. “I can’t.”

I studied the ice. If it hadn’t held my sister’s weight, it would never hold mine. I scanned the shore for a long branch, a random life jacket, anything.

A blue canoe lay upside down near a locked shed. I sprinted toward it. No paddle. Of course.

I was pushing the canoe onto the ice when Gemma’s head went under. “Hang on!” I pushed harder. The ice broke into jagged chunks as I jumped into the canoe.

Freezing water filled my boots. But I was almost there. I reached out and pulled my sister toward me. Water sloshed over the side of the canoe.

Gemma’s arms were like blocks of ice. She couldn’t grip my hands, couldn’t move her legs. I noticed I was bleeding.

“Try,” I pleaded. “Try.

“I am trying.” Her teeth were chattering so loudly I could hardly hear her.

At last, Gemma rolled over the edge into the canoe, coughing hard. More icy water poured into the boat. I leaned forward and gasped for air.

It hit me that everything I’d done had been for nothing. The struggle to get Gemma into the canoe had broken up most of the ice around us. Without anything to push the boat toward shore, we were stuck there. Nobody knew where we were. By the time dad realized we were missing, it would be too late.

Gemma raised her head, let it drop. Her whole body shook. “I saw her,” she whispered. “When I was under. I saw mom.”

“Mom?” Clearly, she was in shock.

“She was there,” Gemma said. “Is there. Right under us. She's been watching over us. This whole time.”

My sister might be dying, but I couldn’t find it in me to allow her this last fantasy. “Mom’s in Paris,” I said firmly.

“I. saw. her.”

“No,” I insisted, "you didn't." I couldn’t help it though. I peered into the water and tried to see beneath its scalloped, metallic surface. It just looked black to me.

Gemma’s eyelids fluttered closed. The sun slipped behind a cloud and I wondered if its bruised color meant it would snow. My mind latched onto that idea as I lay back and closed my own eyes. I saw the two of us laid out in the canoe as the flakes sifted down, covering our bodies. Like ice princesses in some snowy coffin.

Somewhere far off, a dog howled. Then came the clerk's voice followed by my father’s frantic shouts. There were other voices, too, voices I didn’t recognize. I pulled myself up and saw a knot of people and dogs along the shore. A red-and-white husky was inching across the ice on its belly, a rope between its teeth.


About the Creator

Lori Lamothe

Poet, Writer, Mom. Owner of two rescue huskies. Former baker who writes on books, true crime, culture and fiction.

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