Pam Houston's short story "Highwater," published in her 1992 best-selling work Cowboys Are My Weakness, differs in some ways from the other stories in this collection. There is no high outdoor adventure in "Highwater." But there is, as in all her stories, plenty of relationship material.
In "Highwater," the narrator's girlfriend Casey is pregnant. Casey's sure that her boyfriend Chuck is a keeper, but she has not told him about the pregnancy yet. Chuck's a musician and is often on the road. But one day when Chuck comes back, Casey makes the announcement. She thinks that Chuck takes it well until his trips on the road become more frequent and last longer than they used to. He finally fails to return.
Meanwhile, the narrator, whose name is Millie, is involved in her own problems. She is in love with Richard, a man who has yet to get over his last girlfriend. The other woman's name is Karen, and she calls Richard on the phone almost every day. Sometimes more than once. Richard goes over to see Karen and often spends the night. He swears it is not a sexual relationship with Karen. Richard is merely trying to end the affair nicely. Millie believes Richard.
Out in the landscape, a nearby lake is rising. No one seems to know why, but the water is destroying the land and threatening to swallow the nearby freeway. Millie likes to go the lake for picnics. But each time she goes, she has to sit farther back. The lake becomes a metaphor for the Millie's relationship with Richard. He keeps making demands on her patience and tolerance in his dealings with Karen. At one point in the story, Richard tells Millie that he needs to make only one more visit to Karen, then he and Millie will go away to Santa Fe. Millie becomes very excited about this proposition. But a few days later, Richard tells Millie that he is going away with Karen to Santa Fe. Millie drives her car to the edge of the lake and wonders if she waits long enough will the lake consume her car and therefore also swallow her.
Casey has her baby. Millie wonders if Casey had the baby to fill a hole in her life. Millie says she could never do that.
The collection Cowboys Are My Weakness earned several rave reviews. Marianne Brace, writing for the Guardian, described Houston's fictional women as "cleaver and strong but susceptible to macho types who are emotionally unavailable."