went skinny dipping out at the swimming hole.
I drove her way out into the cornfields. Way
past the city limits and past the collar communities.
Through towns that you wouldn’t know existed
if they didn’t make you slow down to 25 mph for
a few blocks. And then through towns that didn’t
stuck a mix tape into the stereo. Music I hadn’t
heard, but which blended well with the engine
and the open windows. We were wearing our sunglasses
and watching the open space of the country silently.
I’d sneak a glance over at her as she watched
the stands of trees pass. Watch as her hair was
yanked about in the wind. Watch as the loose
strands pulled back like little streamers and
ribbons darting in and out of the window. Watch
her tan hand absently sweeping to collect them
from her face.
air was warm and thick with hot summer humidity.
The sky lay heavy with a grey overcast that deepened
to dark blue towards the horizon. There were
distant flashes and I could smell the storm in
the air. We both looked left and right at the
farm and country stores, but it’s hard to ignore
a storm when you’re driving straight into it.
far are we going? Are we going to beat this thing?”
I said. “See there how the trees are all still
in the fields. Feel that calm before the rain.
This storm isn’t being chased by the winds at
all. These are summer’s lazy thunderstorms that
drift in and stay all day. They’re not caused
by shifting weather patterns, it’s more...saturation.
The sky’s full. It’ll need to spill a little.”
I saw another burst of lightning and added. “But
not before swimming.”
were really close and the storm was still a long
way off. I ducked the car down a side road I
almost always miss and then jogged a short while
past the lone grove of poplars where the witches
supposedly held sabbats on full moons. Just before
the bridge over the highway, I turned into a
gravel road and followed it down into the low
fields off the interstate. Down where the river
floods sometimes and the farmers don’t plant.
I drove straight to the “NO TRESSPASSING” sign
highway was near. Through the bushes I could
hear the sporadic traffic going by. The lonesome
cars rumbling in from the distance like the soft
thunder. Everything sounding louder because of
the thickness of the air. Sound travels better
before a storm.
the path, the yellow grasses of late summer were
taller than my waist and crisp like old paper.
Pale yellow weeds that would snap and snare in
my toes as I walked through it. I kicked off
my shoes and threw them in the front seat. The
gravel of the road was hard on my feet, but I
wanted to develop calluses so that I could go
anywhere and not worry. The small pebbles would
stick in the soles of my feet so that I had to
brush them off on the inside of my thigh. There
were two hard lines of gravel where the trucks
drove and the weeds sprang up in the middle where
the cars couldn’t reach. I walked on this where
it was free of sticker plants, taking long steps
to reach from one soft grassy patch to the next.
tried to hold her hand as we walked along, but
my awkward leaping made it ungainly. So I let
her arm swing free, and let her go so I could
watch her stroll ahead. The traffic breezed by.
Someone honked their horn. I waved absently.
It was a short little walk. The path dipped down
to a creek where she had to take off her shoes
too and wade through the calf-deep waters. On
the other side, it rose again and topped off
shortly above the swimming hole.
you drive along the interstate, notice the local
ponds and little lakes. You’ll see them every
time you cross a bridge on one side of the road
or the other. In the Midwest there’s not much
landscape, and to scrape together the long earthen
ramps of an overpass, it usually means you’re
going to have to dig a hole. And it’s usually
going to collect the runoff and rainwater. There
are hundreds of these along the highway stocked
for fishing or with a pontoon boat floating somewhere
in the middle. But this one was out of sight
of the highway. This one was forgotten by all
the high-school kids in the area. This one was
stood for a moment at the top of the embankment
looking over the dark water. It was perfectly
rectangular and perhaps ten acres. Cattails grew
lushly everywhere, choking the water’s edges
except right in front of us. The grass was thick
and soft and like a carpet after the gravel road,
and there were two great flat stones where the
reeds split. We stood there for a moment watching
the water and the storm. The thunder was getting
closer and the wind had started to pick up as
we reached the water’s edge.
is it when lightning strikes a lake, it electrocutes
all the people, but none of the fish?” She was
keenly watching the clouds’ reflections in the
the fish are grounded.” I thought it was funny.
My dad’s an electrician. She didn’t get it.
watched the crisp gusts of wind shiver over the
water in tight little waves and debated going
it,” she said. “I didn’t come all this way not
to swim.” And she pulled off her top and set
it on the rocks. Her breasts were sweet and pale,
and after a quick breeze swept over them, very
erect. I pulled her close and kissed her, pressing
tight so I could feel them against my chest.
Then I swiftly shucked off my shorts and ran
into the water.
was terribly warm and muddy and my feet sank
in up to my ankles as I walked in. The mud sucked
at my feet as I pulled them free again and again,
wading not even waist deep before letting myself
float and swim out. There was a buffer of about
three feet of warm surface water and then suddenly
the thermocline where it became very cold. It
was shallow enough that if I were treading water,
I was dangling in it below my knees. Like being
suspended between the bath and an ice bucket.
kicked up and started swimming off. Paddling
easily on my back so that I could watch her undressing
on the shore. Perched atop her rock quiet and
nude she was carefully folding her clothes into
neat piles at her feet. And then she walked into
the water until her breasts disappeared beneath
the surface before she started swimming.
craned my neck back and watched the first black-sheep
cloud drift by overhead. A vanguard in advance
of the flock. The lightning was still a few miles
away, but out here in the country the thunder
really carried. Above me everything was still
and grey except for these stray puffs of darkness
propelled across the sky, bits of broken rain
cloud spilling across the sky.
swam out to me. There was some splashing near
me and I could hear her voice. “Let go,“ she
coaxed. “Let your feet free from the bottom.
Fill your lungs up with the storm’s breath and
let your body rise to the surface like the tiny
bubbles the fish spit out. Let it float away.
Can you feel? I have you. You won’t sink.”
held one hand beneath my neck and the other in
the small of my back, barely touching me, barely
supporting my weight. Like her hands weren’t
there. Like fingers on a Ouija board. Light as
a feather she guided my body out into the deeper
water. I shut my eyes to the sky and listened
to her voice as the lake wrapped its arms around
my chest and throat. I took slow deep breaths
and held them so that I was buoyant in her hands.
Buoyant as she steered me towards the center
of the lake. Deeper and up to her neck until
she kicked her ankles free of the timid shore
reeds and started swimming out with me towards
the center. Pushing me ahead like an air mattress.
Like an inflatable toy in the pool.
how light you are? You’re a child again. Lying
naked in the wading pool in your front lawn.
Surrounded by flowers, and your eyes pressed
tight against the warm press of the sun. Steaming
it all to bathwater. Can you feel it?”
I can,” I said. She held my body in the first
few bathwater feet of the lake. The air was hot
and moist and it blew across my face with a sense
warm,” she whispered. “Warm like the sidewalks
in June. Warm like a hot chocolate. And your
skin is soft and young again. And your heart
and lungs are small and full of life and it pulses
in the water and your belly. And the flesh is
warm and tight and it’s all around and it’s your
swollen belly full of baloney sandwiches. And
it’s your swollen belly full of hot dogs. And
it’s your mother’s swollen belly full of you.
And you fill her up from within, and you curl
up tight and hide amongst her ribs. Embracing
her insides. Feeling her breath. Feeling the
rhythm of her heart.”
storm belched out a choke of thunder as I floated.
We paused and listened to it roll away like a
gutter ball at the bowling alley. It rippled
over the surface as the lake’s tiny storm waves
were lapping at my cheeks. Splashing over my
face and collecting in my eyes.
water is everywhere. The flesh is all around.
Wrapping you. Holding you tight. Swaddling your
head and legs until you’re bundled up so tight
that you can hardly move and you’re stuck. You’re
stuck there so warm and so tight that at first
you resist and test your muscles against it,
but then you tire. And you relent your body to
this persistent hold. Holding you tight. Holding
you down. And when it starts to unravel, it seems
as if it’s your body that’s unraveling. One layer
at a time. Very slowly. A thin ribbon of gauze
unwound. A knot untied. The knot in your mother’s
stomach. So subtle that you don’t notice it at
first. It just seems like a lessening of the
tension. You breathe a little easier. Begin to
stretch as the pressure relents. But soon it’s
just all coming off until you don’t know where
it begins and ends because it simply doesn’t
hold you down anymore. It doesn’t hold you close
anymore, it doesn’t hold you tight, and in the
gaps it gets confusing. Does this space belong
to you? To your body? And you watch the space
closely, waiting to see if it’s you or if it’s
just the space you were watching. Watching the
darkness so close. Waiting for yourself to emerge,
and then suddenly you just realize that your
body is gone. It was never there. Just the space
you were watching. And this is terrifying at
first, and you’re disorientated, but after a
while, this is normal and you stretch out to
embrace all of this and fly. There is no flesh
to hold you. There is no world to bind you. You’re
free as you always were. Like it’s always been
and the body was just a dream. Now that you float
free. Let this world go. It isn’t yours. You
never belonged here. Aren’t you unfettered? Free.
Open. You are full of the space. The gap. It
just goes on forever. And so do you. You just
stretch and never stop reaching in the space.
And you’re thin. And you’re cold and perfect
felt her hands slip away from my body as I floated,
eyes closed. My feet swung down beneath me and
I sank. Dipping my toes into the cold undercurrent that
dragged my body deeper into the lake. I
took one easy breath and then my face slipped
body was so relaxed. Everything was perfectly
still as I drifted. I could feel my body slide
deeper into the cold water as my ankles and then
legs fell into the thermocline. Sliding in so
slowly like when you lower yourself into a cold
pool by inches. It reached my groin and then
my chest and then it swallowed me up. Cold and
gripping. Silent and sure.
sense of motion had stopped. I felt suspended.
Like I was in limbo. Like I was packed in styrofoam.
The surface of my skin was alive with the sweet
chill, and then I felt it permeating me. Growing
colder. The blood would be leaving my toes. My
fingers. My lips would be blue and my skin white.
I had an awareness of my muscles getting colder.
After the thermocline there was no feeling anymore.
Just the cold constant pressure. Uniform and
unchanging and persistent.
moment lasted for what seemed like forever. Time
gets lost so quickly in the confusion of sensory
deprivation. It began to be measured in the permeation
of the cold. How cold I had been underwater.
It was measured by the air in my lungs. It was
measured by these two remaining gauges. And by
the cycles of my mind as it flitted from one
to the other. Monitoring. Watching the trickle
of feedback it had left. The motherboard had
gone dead. The control panel went black and there
were just two lights blinking. The deepening
cold. The dwindling breath.
felt like I hadn’t moved in so long. It felt
like hours. And I wondered if my body would respond
at all going quickly numb. No feeling and suddenly
so ignored and removed that I had to look to
find it. That I wasn’t sure if it was there anymore.
Certainly I’d be feeling something.
then I thought that I was still sinking. I had
no clue how deep I was. I was in the middle of
a cornfield. At the bottom of a lake in the middle
of a cornfield. But I was dropping still. Dropping,
and it was dark and cold and by now I couldn’t
feel a thing.
of not having a body. Of slipping away. Of drowning.
most of all I was afraid of touching the bottom.
filthy, muddy sucking bottom. The rotting reeds
that had been collecting for years. In the shallows
it was plenty creepy, but this was the dead,
cold, lifeless bottom of the lake bottom. And
I was waiting to touch it. Waiting for my numb
not-there toes to feel the first touch of clay
that would never see the sun. And suddenly I
wanted to get out of there as quickly as possible.
kicked. One leg. And then the other. My body
jump-starting slowly. It was a frozen second
before I moved my hands. And as my senses slipped
into awareness, I did the quick tour, and was
startled at how little air I had left myself
and hoped I was close to the surface. What started
out as a lazy kick to the surface fast became
frantic with fear. I didn’t think that I would
die. I thought not of death or life, but was
obsessed with the terrible fear of where I was.
The place disgusted me, this bottom of the lake,
and I wanted to leave it as quickly as possible.
I began to swim furiously, my arms cartwheeling
in the deep like I was spastically trying to
climb a ladder.
the water was still cold. And I was sure I should
have been on the surface a minute ago. Now there
was really very little air left, and I was trying
to evaluate how much longer I had. I was wondering
if my vision would begin to fade. And if in all
this blackness I would notice it. And still no
surface. And still the cold. And could I really
have drifted this deep? I wasn’t under the water
this long. All my thoughts were suddenly moving
terrifically fast, and I was thrashing forward
with my arms although I couldn’t feel my hands,
and I was wondering if I hadn’t mixed it all
up in this daydreaming and was actually diving
toward the bottom, and then I hit the warm water.
gave one tremendous last heave to get to the
surface, with the last of my strength.
I was still underwater.
I found another one and then there was sound.
Thunder strong and powerful, drowning out my
desperate gasp of breath. The wind was quick
on my cold wet body, making me shiver so that
when I fell back into the thin layer of warm
water, I stayed there but for my choking mouth.
storm had arrived while my eyes were closed,
and by now the sky was black and boiling over
with the fury of it. Lightning, nearly overhead,
made me blink and the thunder was instantaneous
as I watched the retinal burn fade.
stuck my head above water.
was waist deep on the shore and going for her
clothes. The wind was beginning to whip the waters
of the lake with fast short waves, peppering
over the surface, now black and angry, reflecting
the face of the heavens. I could feel it as it
washed over my face cool and swift.
kicked up and started swimming, but I was still
a long way off, racing the storm. I wasn’t sure
I’d make it. But there were still no drops as
I felt the first ensnaring lengths of underwater
weeds graze my knees and belly. Unfortunately,
she was nearly dressed as I pulled my dripping
body from the lake.
didn’t think you were coming up,” she said as
she looked me over.
you have gone down after me?”
shrugged non-commitally and started climbing
up the hill.
shook all over like a dog and wrung out my hair
as the first warm drops began to hit. The first
patter of the rain is one of the most beautiful
sounds in the world. It happens everywhere at
once. I watched as the splotches accumulated
on the rock. Watched them hit the mud and grass.
The first soft speaking of the storm before it
bellows forth. I almost slipped in the mud reaching
for my shorts as the rain dribbled on my back.
The sweet blessed showers of summer.
we left the car windows open.”
ran back together, laughing as it really began
to come down. I was completely nude, but we didn’t
notice until we were in the car with the windows
both glanced beneath the steering wheel with
the gasping laughter that a sprint can give you.
Looking for what was half revealed beneath the
dash. Then I leaned over the stick and kissed
her. Her mouth was wet and furious like the storm,
and my hand got tangled in her hair as I pulled
her towards me.
the windows fogging, it makes me feel like I’m
in high school again,” I gasped.
hated high school,” she said.
agreed, so I started up the car. We wiped the
fog off the windows with our hands and got on
a dare I drove all the way back naked.
at that poor guy walking in the rain,” I said,
teasing. “Maybe we should pull over and offer
him a ride.”
to stop and get gas?”
to hit a drive-thru?”
finally agreed on ice cream.
buy if you go in like that.”
don’t think so.”
then,” she said. “You buy.”