Devil’s Lake

Spring 2017 Issue

Siobhan Welch: Apache Shores

Two weeks into building our house, Mr. Haskin points out there’s not enough room for a septic tank. “You can’t put in a commode in here — ain’t nowhere for the shit to run.”

Turns out, Dad hadn’t scoped out the property well enough to figure where the runoff would drain so they had to build the bathroom on a hill about ten yards off.

When Mom lost her leg, Dad and I built a ramp from the side of the house all the way to the bathroom so she could get to it easier. Sometimes I watched the two of them, Dad wheeling her up in the early morning haze, the tops of their heads so close you could hardly tell in the shadow where one ended and the other began.


Home looked worse than I remembered. Garbage bags lined the kitchen floor, and brown liquid seeped out of the plastic and into the cracks of the peeling linoleum. In the dark I could barely make out my dad in the front room.

I came up behind him in his chair and gave his shoulder a squeeze. He startled, then relaxed when he saw it was me, softened.

“How’s it going?” I asked.

Another day, another dollar.”

This coming from someone who hadn’t worked in fifteen years. Construction was hard on an old man. I made different choices. Being a project manager paid more than manual labor ever could. “Pick-and-shovel work,” he called it, until I told him it paid benefits.

“I drove up 620 and had to wait in traffic,” I said. “Guy at the Valero says they’re putting in a food truck court.”

“Everyone moved.” He looked at me like I had something to do with it. “I asked them, ‘Why? Where is it you wanna go?’ They all said, ‘To the country.’”

When he laughed it sounded like he was coughing up a lung, and for a second I thought he might be choking. Then he calmed down long enough to say, “I remember when this was the country.”

“Yeah, well. Things change. You know that.”

“You bet I do.”


Apache Shores still looked the same, a subdivision at the end of a long, caliche road where all the houses start to get a little character, the yards full of junk left out and forgotten: rusted lawn chairs, chipped stone planters, a broken down Chevy, a washing machine someone meant to fix one Sunday.

We built our house from the ground up. Me, my mom and dad, the Haskins, and some of Dad’s crew spent months laying down the foundation of a two-room A-frame, nailing the frame and beams together with 2-by-4s Dad had pilfered from job sites over the years. They let me help pound out plaster and drywall until my hair turned white and my lungs felt like they would burst. I helped them lay down tar paper and screw in the panels of the tin roof, one by one, Dad the whole time insisting we could get it done before Christmas. We did, but rain water dripped from the ceiling every time it stormed.

The Haskins moved from Michigan and hit it off with my parents right away, the way people did at the lake since no one else was around. Mrs. Haskin taught aerobics and drove their old pickup wearing hot pink leg warmers in the middle of summer. Mr. Haskin worked construction with my dad and most of the dads I knew. They had two boys, Tyler and Hunter, and for a long time, it was always the two of us, me and Tyler against the world.

Most nights the parents spent getting shitty at Lulu’s Dive, even Mom did before she got sick. They’d down Crown and Cokes like it was their job, drinking through the game shows and free buffet, then the 10 o’clock news when all the waiters showed up and took over the pool tables. At some point during happy hour someone would notice me and Tyler playing foosball and yell at us to get home since it was close enough to walk. The Haskins were usually too drunk by then to care.

“Your mouth better not write a check your ass can’t cash,” one of them would slur, then yell at Lulu to cut the other off.

Lulu would kick one or both out, depending, then they’d yell at each other some more in the parking lot until one of them got tired, or got left.

Sometimes, Mrs. Haskin wound up at our house. Mom would race around the kitchen, frying johnnycake, which she swore soaked up the drunk. Then she’d make a pallet for Mrs. Haskin on our couch, where she’d sleep it off till Mr. Haskin came by the next morning and laid on the horn. Mom always said they’d be better off getting separate places, since that’s where they ended up anyway.


We called it the lake, but it was really a part of the Colorado River. Lake Travis had been created when they dammed up the river back in the 40s, and Apache Shores had once been a summertime resort for people looking to get out of the city to escape Houston’s traffic or Dallas’ downtown, or the slow-boil heat of San Antonio.

Before the diabetes, Mom would take me down to Mansfield Dam whenever they’d drain the lake to kill off the duckweed. The air would be hot and thick as fish stew, and seagulls would flock there for miles, hundreds of them at a time. Mom said the birds reminded her of being home in the Bahamas.

“They mate for life,” she told me and while we watched the sky, I imagined them flying all the way to the islands where the rest of my family lived, people who looked like me, who I’d never met before, and probably never would.

Dad met her in Nassau while she was selling jewelry by the beach, and they’d had one of those intense tourist-meets-local romances fueled by sex and sun and gold label rum. A year later, they got married at a church in front of her eight brothers and sisters and her Catholic mother, and then moved to Texas, pregnant with me, to live the American dream.


Tyler Haskin was the spitting image of his mom, too, only they were both tall and blonde, with mean-looking mugs like they’d just tasted something sour. In junior high we liked to meet up at Low Water Crossing to smoke cigarettes and let off steam.

“It was after three, and Dad was piss drunk.” Tyler paused, took a long drag. “Mom was yelling because he’d woken up the baby, and then he went ape shit. Said how she’d fucked this guy back in Dayton, two guys, that’s why we had to move, and then she started crying.”

I tried to picture her having sex, Mrs. Haskin stretched out beneath a short and scrawny Mr. Haskin, her thick thighs squeezing his waist until he couldn’t breathe.

“And then it was all of them crying, her and Hunter and the baby, and I had that math test today, which of course I failed.” Tyler’s voice got high-pitched, then he turned around and punched a tree. “Fuck! It’s embarrassing. They’re embarrassing.”

The lake was still and no one was around except for a grey-haired woman walking her dog. She gave the leash a jerk when Tyler cussed, then shot us the evil eye.

I didn’t tell Tyler what was going on at home, how Mom kept getting sicker and sicker. About how I sometimes did stuff to make her mad, just for the hell of it, because she couldn’t do anything. How she’d get so worked up, chasing me around the house in her wheelchair, waving this wooden spoon in the air like she was going to hit me with it, but she never did. One time, she had all of a sudden stopped and slumped over crying, softly at first, then louder until she was screaming for her own mom, “Maaaaa, Maaaaa” over and over. Instead of going to her, I’d run to my room and hid. But I didn’t know how to talk about any of that. Still don’t.

I turned to Tyler and asked, “At the same time?”


“What your dad said. About your mom. Two guys at the same time?”

Then, he punched me in the stomach, knocking the breath clear out of me. “Don’t be a douchebag.”


Dad didn’t tell me the house was getting foreclosed—he didn’t have to. I may have left the lake as soon as I could, but I didn’t make it very far. Austin wasn’t even an hour away.

“Let’s come up with a timeline.” I pulled out my notebook, felt the weight of it in my hands. Having a task to execute grounded me, made things feel more normal. “A list of what we’ll need.”

I wanted to talk logistics: dates, times, number of boxes needed, the cost to get from point A to point B in the cheapest, least emotional way possible. “Where are the papers?”

He looked offended.“There are no papers. Or have you forgotten already?”

“For the land, Dad. The deed.”

He shrugged, gestured toward the hall. “If it’s here, it’s in there.”

The hall closet was packed full—a broken vacuum cleaner, a stack of faded board games, an old VCR, dozens of National Geographics, some winter coats, and in the back, wedged between some fishing poles and a bowling ball bag: a two-and-a-half foot-long prosthetic leg.

It was made of plastic and foam, old school, covered in a beige stocking so that it looked like “flesh,” still with a black slipper on one end. If I closed my eyes I could remember how it smelled, like wool and sandalwood.

I held it up by the thigh. “What the hell is this?”

Dad strained to turn around. “Your mother’s leg.”

“I see that. What’s it doing here?”

“It’s a perfectly good leg,” His eyes widened the way they did when he knew he was caught. “It didn’t feel right to throw it out.”

“You could have donated it.”

“The new legs are all titanium.”

I sighed. Something about the lake. Either the slow pace of life didn’t expect enough out of people, or it attracted the folks who were already a little off, people like my father who were content to loll through life seeing if and how they could ride out the next big disaster.

“Did Juanita know you held onto that?” Juanita was his second wife.

“To what?”

“To Mom’s leg!”

Dad shrugged. “She didn’t mind.”

“Well I do.” I sat down on the couch next to him. “It can’t be healthy, holding onto it. Like it’s a talisman or something.”

“A talisman!” He laughed. “Just trying to get a leg up, son.”

“When’s the last time you saw a doctor?”

Dad waved me off like I was a bad smell and turned his attention to the TV, pressed Volume on the remote. Channel 24’s Matilda Gomez was at Mansfield Dam, reporting on the low lake levels. We were in the middle of a five-year drought.

“Pray for rain,” he said.

On the drive in I’d stopped off at the Marina to get a look at the lake. I guess I did this every few years. Probably most of us did who grew up out here, like we weren’t really home unless we saw the water. But I hadn’t been out to the Dam in years. On the screen the lake looked lower than I’d ever seen it, almost other-worldly, like the surface of the moon.

“So what’s gonna happen to you?” I asked Dad.

He ignored the question, ignored me, still intent on the television. The last time we talked, we’d agreed I wouldn’t be held responsible for his poor end-of-life planning. After a while, he cleared his throat. “I have a little something saved.”


“That plus Social Security should be enough to get by on.”

I wasn’t sure whether he was telling the truth or fishing. “Are you sure about that? Because I can help.”


“I mean it.”

“I found a roommate.”

He wanted me to to say I was proud, that I approved, a few words that might wrap up the last twenty years into something meaningful, but all I could do was pat his shoulder. “Look at you,” I said. Pat, pat, pat. “Look at you.”


When Mom went to hospice, Dad put a basketball hoop in the driveway, hoping it would be something I’d get into. Instead it was he who ended up using it when he wasn’t at Lulu’s, and I still get stressed whenever I hear a ball thumping on concrete, expect to hear it hit a rock, to hear Dad out of nowhere yelling, “Shit-ball!”

We took turns staying with Mom, and, one night, for some reason, I came home early. The kitchen light was still on, flickering, and on the counter top were two brown drinks, the ice cubes not yet melted. I could smell perfume, the sweet, sickening smell of gardenia, feel Mrs. Haskin’s presence, like a heaviness in the house. The master bedroom was shut, and the old bed Mom bought at a garage sale was creaking up and down like a rusty hinge, the headboard thudding against the wall, Rod Stewart wailing in the background.

The only thing stopping me from kicking down the door was how big my dad was. At thirteen, I hadn’t even broken five feet yet, and with the slightest effort he could have knocked me into the next week. Instead I turned around and ran, grabbed a Sprite from the fridge on my way out. I thought about running all the way to Tyler’s, telling him what he already knew—that Mr. Haskin probably wasn’t even his real dad, that his mom should have been the one who was dying, and not mine, who was perfect and good and true.

I cracked open the Sprite and chugged it until it burned, then I walked over to Dad’s truck, kicked it a few times. He’d left the window cracked, so I reached inside and rolled it all the way down. Then I unzipped my jeans and started pissing all over his seat, all over the passenger seat, the steering wheel, the dash, watched it spray everywhere, and for the first time in a while, maybe ever, I felt alive.

When I was done, I jumped on my bike and rode it all the way to 620, up to Mansfield Dam, almost an hour away, pumping as fast as my legs would take me against the glare of occasional headlights, fueled by adrenaline and grief and fear and the feeling of needing to run, but not knowing when, or how, or what it would take to leave the lake for good, forever.

At the Dam, the water was low after nearly a year without rain, the beginnings of another drought. The next summer, to overcompensate, it would flood so high they’d have to close off the bridge. I sat there looking at the sky, wondering where Mom would go when she died—if there was a heaven, or if everything just went dark, like sitting by a lake in the middle of nowhere, or being underwater, or up in space where the sky stretched out into nothing, like the mouth of a cave opening into a big, blank question.

I stayed out there all night, knowing no one would notice, and the next morning, when I came home, Mrs. Haskin was sitting in our kitchen bleary-eyed, brewing a pot of coffee. She looked up when she heard me, smiled bright, motioned for me to sit down. “Your mom’s brave, you know that?” Her neon leotard was shining with sweat. “A goddamn brave warrior goddess.”

a photo of the author, Siobhan Welch SIOBHAN WELCH lives in Austin, Texas. Her writing appears or is forthcoming in Split Lip Magazine, Hobart, Jellyfish Review, Switchback, Belletrist, and elsewhere. More from this issue >